The good folks at Center For Progressive Reform recently released their report on the issues surrounding Cass Sunstein, Obama’s pick for OIRA: the part of OMB with the power to kill off food, enviro, workplace, drug safety and any other regulations intended to protect us and the living world upon which we depend.
The report fleshes out a number of significant differences that we have with the regulatory methods and outcomes Professor Sunstein has embraced – his approach to cost-benefit analysis first and foremost. We believe OIRA’s 25-year record of applying cost-benefit amply demonstrates that it is an inherently flawed method of evaluating proposed regulations. Time and again, benefits (to the public) are understated and costs (to industry) are overstated, with the result that badly needed regulations – developed by environmental, health, and safety experts at regulatory agencies pursuant to a congressional grant of authority – are scuttled or weakened by OIRA economists.
While David Stockman and the Reagan Administration didn’t invent cost-benefit analysis, they turned it into a tool for defeating needed regulation. Somehow they managed to sell the Washington establishment on the idea that cost-benefit brought mathematical precision to the regulatory process. That idea was a scam. The Clinton Administration should have dispatched cost-benefit analysis or at the very least diminished its role in the process, but it missed the chance. The Bush II Administration turned this reactionary methodology into a bulldozer, and developed a series of cost-benefit-related tools that they used to lay waste to needed protections for health, safety and the environment.
So while there’s good reason to expect that EPA and the other regulatory agencies will once again put environmental, health, and safety interests first in their regulating, there’s ample reason to worry that OIRA may yet be a barrier.
We don’t support or oppose presidential nominations, because we’re not in that business. But if and when Professor Sunstein is confirmed, we plan to pay very careful attention to what happens at OIRA.