On April 26, the U.S. Senate introduced the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017. Detractors of the bill say it could cripple the ability of agencies like the USDA and EPA from regulating private industry. The House of Representatives on January 11 had quietly passed the Regulatory Accountability Act while the country focused on confirmation hearings and efforts to repeal Obamacare.
A modification of the Administrative Procedure Act passed in 1946, which let national agencies regulate the private market, but required public hearings on proposed rules and court suits to overturn them, the new act would give courts the power to rule without deferring to regulatory agencies. It also would require agencies to use less costly regulations to achieve an objective.
Opponents of the new act say it will add obstacles, such as layers of bureaucracy, and hold up regulations that could, for example, improve food safety. Supporters say it will address costly and heavy regulatory burdens on the industry.
“One of the likely victims of these new regulatory roadblocks would be new food safety rules,” writes Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group.
He adds, “Before any new food safety rule could be adopted, agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture would first have to consider an endless array of regulatory options. Then their proposed rules would have to withstand two layers of review by judges newly charged to second-guess agency experts. Finally, any new rule would have to be approved by both the Senate and the House.”
“In all likelihood,” he writes, “no food safety rule would ever emerge from this obstacle course. No wonder some experts have started to dub the Regulatory Accountability Act the ‘Filthy Food Bill.’”
In a letter to Sen. Ron Johnson, chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, a committee ranking member, a dozen groups including EWG, the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, and the Center for Science and the Public Interest, strongly opposed the bill writing, “Good rules help the food industry build consumer confidence, weed out bad actors, quickly recall contaminated food, and open new markets.”
But, if the act is enacted, the letter says critical food safety rules and guidance “might still be held up in unnecessary, wasteful reviews and needless red tape.”
Ryan Young, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public policy organization, Competitive Enterprise Institute, supports the bill. “The Regulatory Accountability Act is not a perfect bill, but it is certainly better than what we have now—just ask anyone who has tried to start their own business. As advocates for free markets, limited government, and economic and individual liberty, CEI supports this bill,” he wrote in his blog before the House passed the bill in January.
As the bill made its way to the Senate, on February 6 more than 600 national and state industry groups signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Charles Schumer asking them to support the bill.
“We believe that federal regulations should be narrowly tailored, supported by strong and credible data and evidence, and impose the least burden possible, while implementing congressional intent,” the letter says.