Republicans Are Making Sure Asbestos Continues to Harm Americans

by Sokolove Law

Both republicans and key industry lobbyists are shouting themselves hoarse about the “bipartisan” Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017 (S. 951). Known as the “RAA,” for short, the bill passed the House with 238 votes in favor, only 5 of which were Democrats.

Only in a Washington driven mad by President Trump could this vote be construed as having a bipartisan consensus.

A Dark Bill Painted in Bright Colors

But look, say Republican Senators Portman (R-OH) and Hatch (R-OH): we are introducing this bill alongside Senators Manchin (D-WV) and Heitcamp (D-ND). Doesn’t the support of 2 Democrat co-sponsors show how commonsense and non-extreme the RAA is? It could, but their support would be a lot more authentic if both Machin and Heitcamp weren’t running for reelection in 2018 in rural states Trump won handily in the 2016.

Clearly, politics-as-usual and lobbying dollars are what’s driving this deceitful bill. Supporters of the bill are painting it as a moderate and agreeable reformation of federal regulations. In fact, the new requirements for federal agencies are nothing more than a gift to businesses that want to avoid regulation.

Put simply, this bill cuts red tape designed to keep businesses honest, and uses that red tape to tie the hands of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This is important to keep in mind when you read Sen. Portman’s press release, which pledges that the bill will “result in a more transparent, accountable regulatory process that would yield more effective regulatory outcomes for American businesses, workers, and their families.” It sure sounds good, but when looking at the actual language of the RAA, it’s clear that this bill will allow businesses to influence the agencies that are supposed to regulate them.

What about the claim that the RAA helps workers and their families? It’s a lot like saying this bill is “bipartisan.” The misleading statement is designed to make people think the bill is safe when it is anything but.

Businesses Will Be Able to Halt Science They “Dispute”

America’s scientists worry about the new requirements which force agencies to hold public hearings on “genuinely disputed” issues will allow industry hacks to grind scientific progress to a halt. Polluters, for example, will always dispute the effects of global warming, but that has nothing to do with the science.

As Yogin Kothari of the Union of Concerned Scientists writes:

“If this provision had been around when the federal government was attempting to regulate tobacco, the industry would have been able to use it to create even more roadblocks by introducing bogus studies to dispute the facts and put a halt to the public health regulations.”

Under the new rules in the RAA, businesses will continue to pay for “science” that slows down the regulatory process.

Other provisions in the RAA include hurdles for federal agencies, like mandatory monthly reports about new regulations. Besides creating more paperwork (wasn’t this bill supposed to make regulation more efficient?), there is a requirement that new regulations must be published in these reports at least 6 months before going into effect (wasn’t this bill supposed streamline government?).

Where the RAA isn’t directly slowing down the work of necessary federal agencies, it’s providing loopholes for Big Business to use its money to influence regulations they don’t like. For instance, if an agency rule will impose an annual cost of more than $1 Billion, a petition seeking judicial review may be filed, and the rule will be postponed until after the review.

How bad is this? Given that thousands of chemicals are slated to be reviewed by the EPA this year, it’s terrifying to think of the what could happen if industries are allowed to prevent regulators from making safe evaluations.

The RAA Ensures Future Asbestos Victims

Asbestos was listed as a hazardous air pollutant by the EPA in 1971. Through the Clean Air Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act, countless lives were saved as regulations were put in place to protect workers and families from exposure to asbestos.

Despite these regulations, asbestos continues to put millions at risk of developing horrifying chronic diseases such as asbestos-caused mesothelioma, an incurable cancer. Earlier this year, a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that:

“…the continuing occurrence of mesothelioma deaths among persons aged <55 years suggests ongoing occupational and environmental exposures to asbestos fibers and other causative EMPs, despite regulatory actions by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aimed at limiting asbestos exposure.”

OSHA and the EPA have played crucial roles in limiting the damage asbestos has done to workers and families, but they clearly have more work to do. Instead of helping these agencies, however, the Trump Congress wants to handcuff them with the RAA.

Trump Congress: Make America Sick Again

If anything, asbestos needs to be banned entirely, as it is in 58 other developed nations. But instead of that, America gets a president who thinks the anti-asbestos movement is a conspiracy, and Scott Pruitt, the EPA Administrator who testified before Congress that asbestos needed further “risk evaluation” to determine whether or not it should be banned.

There should be no new cases of mesothelioma – the risk is very well documented. And yet, there are around 3,200 new cases reported every year. If the RAA is passed, people are going to continue to be exposed to asbestos while federal agencies find themselves mired in needless and never-ending “risk evaluations.”

Make no mistake: the RAA is not bipartisan. It is not good for workers and families. If passed, regulators at federal agencies are going to find themselves in straightjackets, unable to make authoritative recommendations on the health and safety of chemicals, substances, and toxic minerals such as asbestos. With asbestos still legal and still killing, this is the last thing America needs.

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