White House appoints industry-backed extremist as regulatory czar

Corporate special interests are about to have the best friend they could have wished for installed in the White House office that oversees regulatory policy. The White House announced today its intention to nominate Susan Dudley, an anti-regulatory extremist from the industry-funded Mercatus Center, to an obscure but powerful office, where she would have the power to gut the federal government’s very ability to protect the public.
All the safeguards we take for granted – everything from the air we breathe to the water we drink – are now at risk. The position she is nominated for, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House Office of Management and Budget, is the administration’s “regulatory czar.” It is a single office with enormous power over regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and much more.
All of these agencies have seen their policies weakened and their ability to develop new safety and health standards diminished during the Bush administration. Nominating Dudley to this office is a signal that the White House is not interested in reversing course; clearly, the Bush administration is signaling all-out war on the public’s protections.
From her perch at the industry-funded think tank Mercatus Center, Dudley has been steadily attacking the standards that protect us all, with arguments that boggle the mind.
She has attacked the Toxic Release Inventory, the program that protects the public’s right to know about the toxic substances released into our own backyards. In Dudley’s opinion, the war on terror is an excuse to leave the public in the dark about the hazards we are breathing and drinking.
She has criticized standards that protect workers from breathing in silica dust, to keep them from dying an excruciating, suffocating death as their lungs crystallize. In Dudley’s opinion, we cannot regulate until we know just how deadly all the different types of silica are.
Her writing is intellectually inconsistent. On the one hand, she urges that we should not have improved standards for air bags (standards which have been proven to save lives), arguing that we should instead give consumers more information about air bag options and the choice to buy a car without them. One the other hand, she argues that the public cannot be trusted to handle information rationally, and that we should therefore be kept in the dark about the potential consequences to all of us from accidents in chemical plants. The only consistency is a relentless hostility against regulations to protect the public from the harms caused by corporate special interests.
We know from Dudley’s own writings that she wants the very White House office she will be given to set impossible requirements before any new protective standards can be developed. Dudley’s approach would require a public health or safety crisis to become irreversible before an agency could act, even in cases when scientific evidence justifies intervening sooner. As she notes in comments on the fish kill rule (the rule to govern industrial plants that suck up water from the environment to cool their systems, but end up killing billions of fish every year), it’s not enough that EPA can show that the population of fish is significantly depleting. Rather, Dudley believes we have to wait until the fish population is depleted enough to raise the price of fish. By this logic, an agency would have to wait for the death of an ecosystem, the epidemic of a foodborne illness, or the emergence of a rare cancer associated with a known carcinogen before it would be allowed to step in and regulate.
We expect our federal government to work for us, to protect the public from the dangers that are too big for any individual to tackle alone. The big problems, like global warming, the safety of the food chain, and so many more: we need federal regulatory policy to produce the standards that will keep us healthy and safe. Dudley is a threat to the federal role in protecting the public.
Contact: Anna Oman, aoman@ombwatch.org, 202-234-8494

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