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Re “Bull Market” (3/8): The Mercatus Center’s campaign to repeal environmental, labor, and public health safeguards extends beyond the policy briefs and Capitol Hill seminars mentioned in your article. In recent months, Mercatus has found a receptive audience in the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), a little-known agency within the Office of Management and Budget that reviews all federal rules that significantly affect the economy and are costly to implement. OIRA has the power to delay and reject proposed regulations from federal agencies.
John Graham, OIRA’s newly appointed director, is something of a kindred spirit to the Mercatus scholars. Graham has criticized many high-profile environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, and he advocates using cost-benefit analysis to evaluate regulation. Environmental and consumer groups complain that Graham’s methods give short shrift to public health, while business groups have applauded his work. Like the Mercatus Center, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, which Graham founded in 1989, received most of its funding from industries that had a bone to pick with regulatory bodies.
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According to a February article from CQ Weekly, Graham recently solicited suggestions on regulations that should be updated, changed, or killed, and 15 of the 23 rules Graham has decided to review were prompted by the Mercatus Center. Mercatus’ nominations included a rule from the U.S. Forest Service to protect 58 million acres of undeveloped land, a Transportation Department regulation to limit the number of consecutive hours truck drivers could be on the road as a safety precaution, and a proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce water pollution from animal waste at large factory farms.
I’m not surprised that the Mercatus Center has decided to leverage OIRA’s power to achieve its policy goals. After all, Mercatus’ Wendy L. Gramm was once an OIRA administrator herself, and she is no doubt aware of the agency’s power to influence government rule-making. However, I am deeply concerned that a small group of libertarians, backed by corporate money and friends in high places, have positioned themselves to overturn regulations that enjoy broad public support. Prior to issuing its roadless rule, for example, the Forest Service asked the public to comment on its proposal and received statements from 1.2 million citizens, the vast majority of whom supported greater protection from road building, logging, and other destructive activities on National Forest land. I’m sure the Mercatus Center weighed in against the rules, and that is its prerogative, but the center should limit itself to participation in the formal rulemaking process like the rest of us. Connections don’t entitle it to a second bite of the regulatory apple.
Takoma Park, Md.