June 17, 2002
Regulations Boogeyman

Molly Ivins had a lot to say in her column today, but it is a combination of slanders, half-truths, and junk science. Let's take a look.

AUSTIN, Texas — In the Most Chilling Quote category, consider this gem from Mitchell Daniels, director of the office of Management and Budget, concerning the administration's ongoing campaign to deregulate everything in sight: "We must learn to speak the vocabulary of consumer protection."
Oooo, Grandma, what big teeth you have! The Wall Street Journal did an admiring profile this week of the "regulatory czar," John D. Graham, who works for Mitchell. Graham, you may recall, was the subject of a peppy confirmation fight on account of he founded Harvard's Center for Risk Analysis. The center is heavily funded by business and industry groups and by individual businesses. You will be amazed to learn that the center often criticizes regulations disliked by the very people who give it money! Graham once claimed that government regulations kill 60,000 Americans a year, a figure that turned out to be ... evanescent.

Gee, a pro-business group that gets support from business—go figure. I fail to see where that is a problem. Do you think that the groups that give wads of cash to environmental litigation groups are opposed to their activities and reports? As to the "60,000 deaths a year" claim, it isn't backed up by any stats, but then again the nanny-state advocates don't back their claims up with facts, either.

Graham said in a recent speech: "There is no grandiose plot to roll back safeguards. This administration is pursuing an agenda of smarter regulation." Ah, smarter regulation; well, that's different. The Journal appends a handy graph showing that on Czar Graham's watch, the Bush administration has rejected rules at the highest rate since President Reagan's first term.

This appears to be an attempt to show how evil Graham is, by invoking the spirit of the liberals' Anti-Christ. As far as I am concerned, I think it is a good thing that the person in charge of regulation isn't rubber-stamping everything that comes before him. We have too many regulations as it is; thorough review of a regulation is not a bad thing.

Less than two weeks after Sept. 11, The Washington Post reported on an e-mail written by a lobbyist and circulated at Graham's request. Graham had asked her "to convene key lobbyists to identify and rank" the regulations business most wanted to target. Among the 57 listed were parts of the Family and Medical Leave Act, food-labeling requirements, reporting toxic emissions and mine-ventilation standards. That may sound to some like a grandiose plot, but here's the genius part of smart deregulation: Instead of doing this secretly (well, OK, the memo wasn't supposed to become public), the OMB now puts all the info about who meets with Graham right up on its website, www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg/regpol.html. The site offers a log of his meetings, letters he sends to agencies and general guidance he issues on rulemaking, says the WSJ.

In what way does this differ from the previous administration's policy of rounding up all of the enviro-nut jobs and nanny-state advocates to identify "loopholes" that they wished to close, previously unregulated realms to manage (remember OSHA's attmept to regulate the homes of those who worked from their house?) and otherwise boldly go where no rules had gone before? As to the public disclosure of with who Graham is meeting, it should be a refreshing change of pace from the stonewalling tactics of both the Bush and Clinton administrations when it came to disclosure. Of course, as far as Ivins is concerned, with Republicans, it's "damned if you do, damned if you don't" because she will find a way to put a negative spin on any action.

OMB Watch, a public interest group, took a close look at Graham's performance on the problem of underinflated tires: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates hundreds of people die each year as a result of underinflated tires.

Since Ivins is so down on groups that get support from business, I took a look at OMB Watch. Despite their claims to be all for openness and accountability, their financial disclosures (available at their website) are unrevealing. They don't have any reports later than 1999, and the reports they do provide block the groups that provide them with their income. Since that info was not available, I took a look at their Board of Directors. There are two board members who do not list an affiliation, and two university professors. The remaining seats are filled by the Preamble Collective, Jobs Now Coalition, Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy, AFSCME, The Arc, Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers, and Food Research and Action Center. Given the large number of unions and environmental groups running the show, it's small wonder that they would be critical of a Republican appointee.

After the big flap over bad tires on SUVs, Congress told the highway safety people to fix the problem. The safety people were fixing to require a pressure sensor in each tire with a dashboard warning to tell the driver when one was dangerously low. But no new rules can be put in place without the OK from the rules czar, and Graham told the safety people to go back to the drawing board.
In rejecting the safety folks' plan, Graham argued that they should instead allow a cheaper "indirect system" favored by automobile manufacturers, which works with anti-lock brakes. Graham fully acknowledges that the "direct" system works better, but he claims the cheaper, less effective alternative would serve as incentive for manufacturers to install anti-lock brakes, and the brakes would save more lives than the tire pressure gizmo.

No, that is incorrect. Graham did return the proposal for further review. He instructed the NHTSA to consider the alternative system, and the effects of increased antilock braking system usage, which was not considered by the NHTSA in their original report. He did not direct them to rewrite the report to suit an agenda, as Ivins implies.

Now this might make sense if anti-lock brakes saved lives. But Graham cites a study whose own author contends it does not show that anti-lock brakes would save lives.

I am not familiar with the report he cites, but there have been studies that have shown a significant reduction in multi-vehicle accidents due to the effects of ABS.

"This is hardly the first time Graham has implausibly interpreted evidence to fit his preconceived point of view against regulation," says the OMB Watch report. In 2000, while serving on the EPA's Science Advisory Board, he claimed studies showed low levels of dioxin can actually protect against cancer, that it is an "anti-carcinogen."
I always wonder if people like that would feed dioxin to their own children. According to the EPA, dioxin — even at low levels — is linked to cancer, infertility, immune system damage and learning disabilities. The Bush administration is dragging its feet on regulating the chemical.

There is significant doubt to the effect of dioxin on humans, other than temporary skin conditions caused by contact with large quantities of dioxin. For a dissenting view, see this report from the Ludwig von Mises Institute, regarding the largest dioxin accident in history. For a more humorous view of dioxin, see this report on dioxin levels in Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

Gary Bass, chair of Citizens for Sensible Safeguards, says Graham is "a nice guy doing enormous damage. He deserves credit for more transparency at OMB so we can see how he's gutting safety, health and environmental protections. He cloaks his actions under the guise of science, but it's mostly pseudo-science."

Gary Bass is, coincidentally, the Executive Director of OMB Watch. Further, CSS doesn't have a website of their own; their website is part of the OMB Watch website. One source, one message.

I love how the left always refers to any efforts to reduce bureaucratic red tape as "gutting" regulations. Any attempt to consider the economic effects of regulations is portrayed as an effort to poison us all and pillage the land.

The OMB Watch report concludes: "By invoking anti-lock brakes, Graham gives the appearance of being chiefly driven by safety concerns — although it should be remembered, this concern is expressed in the context of rejecting a safety standard. This is reminiscent of Graham's opposition to EPA's 1997 regulation to prevent against smog, which he argued would actually increase the rate of skin cancer. As with the tire pressure monitoring case, Graham did not attack the standard directly, as an industry lobbyist would, nor did he focus on costs alone. Instead, he cast himself as an advocate for greater public health while opposing the regulation. Ironically, when Graham expresses concern over health or safety, this is usually bad news.

"In playing this role, Graham frequently pits one possible health or safety measure against another, forcing an unnecessary trade-off to justify inaction, which has long been his hallmark."

Of course, any type of dissent from the prevailing views of regulatory superiority must be considered nothing more than wrongheadedness. More regulation is always better.

Once again, we have a press release masquerading as news. At least this was in the opinion section, where it belongs. (Of course, one could argue that it belongs in the comics, because it is a joke. But *I* would never suggest such a thing.)

posted on June 17, 2002 07:00 PM


Why wouldn't a tire gauge in the glovebox serve the purpose of regulating tire underinflation?

posted by Janis Gore on June 18, 2002 11:19 AM

1) It's inexpensive ($2 to $15).

2) It requires the vehicle owner to do something slightly more complicated than peering at the dashboard.

3) If the tire should prove to be consistently underinflated, it could undermine the case against the automaker and/or the tire manufacturer at the inevitable trial.

Other than that, I can't think of a single reason.

posted by CGHill on June 18, 2002 01:04 PM

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