A Masterpiece of Bad Regulation

January 25, 2017

As congressional Republicans head for Philadelphia today to set goals for the new year, the president announced one of his own: erase 75 percent of government regulations affecting business.

This is either hyperbole, intended to grab attention. Or its aspirational, less an expectation than a stretch that will still achieve a lot. In any event, 75 percent of anything is a big chunk. Especially if it’s three-quarters of the 3,300 new regulations that a recent survey by the National Association of Manufacturers found are promulgated each year.

So even though the president set an ambitious goal, the Obama administration left behind a target-rich environment for pursuing it. And it’s a goal that job-hungry voters will approve. They understand that whatever their presumed benefits, regulations do not create jobs; they only come from investment and economic growth.

That’s why the president’s de-regulatory goal is ideal for a GOP eager to deliver the goods to restive voters as well as a smart goal for Democrats who’ll face them in two years. Today’s voters aren’t traditional party loyalists; they want action to spur good jobs.

With an embarrassment of bad regulations to choose from, where to start? There is no better place to start than with the stream rule, a massive regulation finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration by the Office of Surface Mining  Reclamation and Enforcement.

The stream rule is to bad regulations what the Sistine Chapel is to Renaissance art.  It’s a pure expression of all that ordinary Americans loathe about rule by bureaucracy.

It costs jobs (a third at least), it’s redundant (duplicates what states and other federal agencies are already doing), unnecessary (state reports show companies achieve reclamation with little off-site impact), unlawful (contradicts clear congressional intent in existing law) and self-serving (OSM expands its authority at the expense of states and other federal agencies).

What’s there not to hate about the stream rule?

There is one redeeming thing: it’s ripe for extinction under the Congressional Review Act. With a simple majority vote of both houses, Congress can send the president a gift-wrapped pledge of allegiance to the larger goal of creating good jobs and growing the economy.