December 26, 2011

Regulatory Overload

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

According to a recent Mercatus Center report, this year, Americans must comply with at least 165,000 pages of federal regulations.  Federal government overreach, particularly when it comes to federal environmental laws, puts unnecessary pressure on hardworking Americans.  Additionally, to dig out of the current economic difficulty, America's small businesses, which drive job growth, need the breathing room necessary to expand and hire American workers, a task made more difficult by a growing mound of paperwork.  The federal government must encourage innovation and job growth and honor individual and property rights by decreasing this regulatory overload.

We do not have to go far to find examples of overzealous interpretation of our environmental laws.  After Mike and Chantell Sackett obtained the proper permits from the county and began laying a foundation for their dream home on Priest Lake, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials told them to cease construction, remove the foundation and restore the property because it could be a wetland, even though there was no water on the Sackett's property, or face up to $32,500 a day in fines.  Seeing no other way out, the Sacketts sued the EPA.  Six years and millions of dollars of possible fines later, the Sacketts have had their case thrown out by two federal courts.  The Sacketts were in Washington, D.C. in October as part of a forum convened by Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and attended by myself, Idaho Senator Jim Risch and Idaho Representative Raúl Labrador.  The Sacketts emphasized their case is a violation of their constitutional rights.  Early next year, the Supreme Court will decide if the EPA violated the Sacketts' constitutional rights. 

Unfortunately, countless cases, where the EPA and other federal agencies seemed more interested in forcing compliance than giving any consideration to private property rights, individual rights or common sense, abound.  Reports indicate that Jack Barron, another Bonner County Landowner, is facing similar difficulty with the EPA over home development also on Priest Lake.    

For 2010, EPA Region 10, which encompasses Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, touts the assessment of nearly $5 million in administrative and judicial penalties, which is a nearly $2 million jump from 2009.  Clean air and water are essential.  However, working with individuals and businesses to correct legitimate problems, not heavy-handed fines and penalties, should be the focus of environmental achievements.  

Overregulation and smart regulation are not one in the same, and I have co-sponsored legislation to reduce the growing regulatory burden while maintaining necessary protections.  These legislative measures include prohibiting the issuance of new regulations until the unemployment rate decreases considerably, requiring the Administration to account for job and economic impacts when proposing new rules and requiring congressional approval of federal rules that may have a $100 million or more effect on our economy.  I also support legislation to restrict the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, livestock manure emissions as toxic substances and dust in rural America, while maintaining public health protections.  These are just some of the many remedies being considered in Congress.   

The Congressional Research Service identified nearly forty rules proposed, promulgated or under development by the EPA alone.  Too much attention cannot be paid to ensuring that the federal government is not regulating job creators out of business and Americans out of their jobs and homes.  We still have time to change course, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress in the coming year to reverse the regulatory overload. 

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