Monday, May 20, 2019

Op-Ed: House Republican Anti-Regulation Proposals Don’t Offer Common Sense, Science-Based Solutions, Only More Bureaucracy

By Dr. Richard Kaplan

The Republican majority in the Pennsylvania Legislature continues its assault on regulatory agencies, especially the Department of Environmental Protection.  
Already five House bills were approved in the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, four of which were approved by the House and have gone to the Senate.  
These House-approved bills (House Bills 509, 806, 430 and 762) would establish a number of legislative oversights of rule-making, replacing technical and scientific expertise with politics. House Bill 1055 (The Repealer [sic]) did not get enough votes to pass the House.  
These bills have been described in previous editions of the PA Environmental Digest, including a link an Op-Ed by Rep. Frank Dermody.  
Nonetheless, not satisfied with this onslaught, the House is contemplating more bills.  
For example, House Bill 1107 would have the Governor establish, with Senate approval, a Permitting Commission that would take over all permitting functions from DEP.
In essence, this adds another bureaucratic organization that can also propose regulations.  
And it is these very same Republicans who demand reduction in regulatory programs and agencies.
The philosophy of the Republicans that support these bills is that--
1. Regulations interfere with the economic development and productivity of the Commonwealth;
2. Regulations, of which there a far too many, should be within the specific language of statutes directing agencies to promulgate regulations;
3. Pollution is not a significant problem; and
4. Regulatory approaches to governance fail because they are often neither reasonable nor fulfill “common sense.”
Economic Development
Regulations slow industrial projects down, requiring resources to be invested in environmental and human hazard evaluations.  Controls, both technological and bureaucratic, are also expensive to purchase, install, maintain and monitor.
It should go without saying, but it never seems to do so, that the history of the damage and human misery inflicted by several centuries of pollution necessitates this impedance of industrial developmental zeal.  
Again, the history of pollution’s effects in Pennsylvania is littered with disasters, abandoned towns, disappearing rivers, very high levels of cardiovascular disease, etc.
To pretend that industrial development, to feed the amoral maw of progress, can have little impact on humanity’s health is to pretend that industries have our best interests in mind.  
I am not saying that economic development is bad; what I am saying is that industrial development without oversight and controls can be (and has been—dramatically) injurious and even lethal.
Regulations—How Many and How Specific
If laws and regulations could see the future, then they would be specific to all those current and future hazardous activities.  The reality, of course, is that not all future chemicals and processes are foreseeable. That is why these requirements are written broadly.  
The Federal Clean Air Act allows for future Priority Pollutants by how they are characterized not by their names; this is the nature of regulation and law.  It is smart business, also, when writing contracts.
Are there too many regulations—perhaps, but the rule-making process is arduous, detailed, and pain-staking.  
The rules we live with were not just dreamt up one night but were developed based upon past problems and future potentials by those experienced and educated in the areas being regulated.  
Replacing them with legislators who are neither scientists nor engineers nor public health medical personnel is akin to having one’s local ward commissioner make health decisions for you, instead of a physician.  
Establishing a simple formula for reducing the number of regulations is just plain silly—such arithmetic ignores hazards and history.
I often do not understand the approach by those who think there is over-regulation of pollution and pollutants—pesticides, air pollutants, chemicals in drinking water, etc.  Scientific evaluations have found chemicals characterized as pollutants and/or toxics to have characteristics that are injurious to health and the environment.
Instead of controlling these materials and their processes to reduce dramatically the risks, what the anti-regulatory folks have shown, especially of late, is for pulling back from strict controls, allowing higher concentrations to enter the air, the land, and the water.  
Examples abound today, such as reducing the controls on mercury emissions from coal plants, overturning the EPA-ban on chlorpyrifos, etc.
It seems, over and over again, that these anti-regulatory folks have decided that the strength of the economy and the large profits of many corporations are far more important than the health of ordinary citizens.  
It is reminiscent of the military concept of “acceptable losses.”  We are the armies for the economy—and not all of us are going to make it through the minefields of necessary industrial pollution.
Common Sense
What do the bills’ authors mean by a “common sense” approach to government?  My version of common sense may not be equivalent to that of another’s.
Since the DEP regulations are founded on scientific principles—toxicology, engineering, chemical pollution, etc.—these scientific principles trump common sense, whatever that is, any time.  
Since the air no longer smells bad in many parts of  Pennsylvania, common sense would tell me that controlling air pollution is no longer necessary.  However, a review of what is emitted into the air and what levels would be emitted without burdensome regulatory controls also tells me that it is nonsensical not to regulate these emissions.  
Prevention is an intrinsic part of medical care and should continue to be so in environmental care. An analogy to medical treatment of infectious diseases may be helpful.  
When one contracts one of many kinds of local infections, the antibiotic prescription says to finish all the doses—often for 10 or 14 days.  
Usually one’s symptoms clear up after 3-4 days.  So common sense tells us to stop after 4 days. Since the bacteria could still be in one’s body even after symptoms subside, it is important to complete the full regimen.  It takes medical science not common sense to protect the public’s health.
These proposals have common themes—blame the regulatory agencies, such as the DEP, for their being underfunded by the Legislature, and ignore the enormous complexity of the by-products of industrial civilization which cause pollution and injury/illness.  
Common sense would not have prevented the appearance, 10s of years later, of cancers caused by asbestos in Ambler nor of PFAs appearing in drinking wells near the Naval Air Station in Willow Grove.
Only a strongly supported DEP will minimize the potential for such future public health and environmental problems.

Dr. Richard Kaplan is an Adjunct Professor at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA, a volunteer for PennEnvironment and a retired pharmaceutical environmental executive; from Fort Washington, he can be contacted by email at
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