Of Helmets and Hamburger
Soon after Lori Maddy moved into her Sedgwick County, Kans., farmhouse in 1982, she noticed that wind blowing from the direction of the nearby Vulcan Chemicals plant carried a smell like "the inside of an inner tube." So Maddy joined with neighbors to ask Vulcan what, exactly, it was venting. None of your business, Vulcan replied. Then came a 1986 law requiring companies to report--not stop, just report--their toxic releases. Vulcan turned out to be spewing 50 percent of Sedgwick's total emissions, including carcinogens. Spurred by local outrage, Vulcan voluntarily reduced its pollution by 90 percent. "We felt obligated," says plant manager Paul Tobias, "to win back the public's trust."
The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) seems to be a smart way to reduce pollution, but Congress has put TRI and every other federal health, safety and environment rule in the crosshairs. The House passed a strong regulatory-rollback bill in February. Last week the Senate fought over whether it, too, would (pick one) "wage a full frontal assault on the American people and their environment," as Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner put it, or "take the heavy hand of the federal government out of people's lives," as GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine said.
Washington is already well down the road to deregulation. Congress is moving to free the states to raise speed limits and eliminate the requirement that motorcyclists wear helmets (table). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to exempt small-property owners from the Endangered Species Act so they can build on their !and even if that damages the habitat of a rare breed. EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration no longer fine first offenders. But the House's anti-reg bill, and now the leading Senate version, are much broader, affecting anyone who eats meat, drinks water or breathes:
Republicans respond with horror stories of regulators run amok. Some are hyped, but many are not. Limits on how much chloroform from paper mills may pollute drinking water, they say, cost $99 billion per year-of-life saved. Even Clinton has a bit of regulation-cutting religion; he's eliminated hundreds of silly federal rules. But more rollback seems inevitable. Ironically, it's coming at a time when GOP budget cutting--EPA is looking at a 40 percent hit--will make it even tougher for agencies to meet the stiffer requirements for justifying rules. But maybe that's the idea.
Washington appears determined to review, and in some eases dismantle, health and safety rules. The results will affect everything from beef to how fast you can drive.
Status Quo GOP Plan Democratic Retort
Inspectors "poke and The Senate bill The GOP plan would
sniff" for spoilage, require the USDA delay reasonable re
but 4,000 people a to prove that the -forms that would
year die anyway, USDA benefits of its save hundreds from
proposed more scien- inspection system dying and millions
tific methods. outweigh the costs. from getting sick.
The United States The Senate voted The government esti
imposes a cap of to drop al federal -mates that up to
65 mph on rural speed limits and 4,750 more traffic
interstates and let states set deaths could occur
and 55 on most their own caps. each year without
others. Motorcy- Bikers may go federal speed
clists must wear bareheaded.
The EPA regulates The EPA would have Lawsuits could
pollutants from to choose the new regulations for
leading gasoline cheapest way to years, and even to
fecal bacteria reduce pollution existing rules would
in water. Cost is risks. Industry be vulnerable to
secondary or not could then cha- court challenge.
considered at all. llenge the rules
Department of Trans- Federal officials Detroit always cha-
portation's design would have to sub- llenges federal and
safety standards, mit all past and safety rules;
under the future safety rules under the GOP
including airbags to a detailed cost- bill it would
and crushable front benefit analysis. prevail more often,
ends, save lives. and more live could