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Don’t politicize safety regulations

Last April, I cited an open letter by the dean of Duke University’s School of the Environment to the Environmental Protection Agency urging regulation of coal ash disposal as among the “Top Three Must-Dos” in President Obama’s second term.
Yet, following five years and more than a billion in clean-up cost for the TVA’s Kingston plant spill, this toxic detritus of electricity generation through coal burning remains unregulated.
In June 2012 the Coalitian for Sensible Safeguards (CSS), an independent alliance of consumer, health, small-business and scientific and environmental-advocacy organizations, reported that the EPA proposed rule on improving coal-ash safety was being held up in the White House.
Lack of transparency and corporate influence in the rules-review process, CSS asserted, had made this and several other important rules disappear into a “Regulatory Rabbit Hole.”
In an article that month, the New York Times noted a baffling contradiction: President Obama had vowed to take executive action on climate change, if needed, yet “even as he was making this pledge, the White House was blocking several Department of Energy regulations” which, through making buildings and some major appliances more energy efficient would significantly reduce global-warming pollution.
Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to switch street lights to energy-efficient LEDS garnered $150 million in savings for New York City In this vein, CSS stated that the financial cost of the rules’ delay had already exceeded $4 billion in savings for consumers and businesses.
It did equal damage to the environment: Had the standards been issued on the planned schedule, more than 40 million metric tons of climate-destabilizing carbon emissions would have been avoided.
In December, a story in the Washington Post revealed that “a series” of overdue rules, on worker and imported food safety, low-pollution vehicles, coal-ash and other protective standards had been systematically held by the White House ahead of the 2012 election, “to avoid controversy.”
Although hardly a defense, in principle, of such politicizing of needed regulatory action, no president in recent history has faced a like wall of opposition to ALL policy initiatives as has Mr. Obama.
Bills by a corporate dominated GOP faction in Congress have repeatedly “forbidden” the EPA to pass federal coal-ash regulation, enact standards to limit greenhouse gas emissions, protect the nation’s waters and biological resources, or otherwise fulfill its mission as laid down in the law.
Industry funded think tanks and media outlets have misrepresented and incessantly attacked such regulation.
The safeguards embodied in regulation protect individuals and communities from (often) unseen threats they cannot address on their own.
They ensure that all businesses in an industry follow the same, basic guidelines, that air, water and other common resources are not excessively polluted, that consumers can trust the services and products of the marketplace.
While the White House should release the overdue federal rules, the public also has a responsibility in this regard.
As Theodore Roosevelt often noted, “this government by the people” cannot do its duty “unless you do yours”; its public servants “have to depend upon the jury drawn from the people.”