Looking at Only One Side of the Regulatory Scorecard Tells Misleading Story

train track

Last Friday, in The Washington Post, I responded to a recent anti-regulatory attack by columnist George Will, writing:

Mr. Will’s answer for the supposedly runaway regulatory costs across federal agencies – more direct congressional control of rulemaking – makes no sense. The railroad safety rule he bemoaned was mandated by Congress. In fact, federal regulatory agencies cannot make rules without enabling legislation. Rules simply implement laws passed by Congress. Industry groups, individual companies and trade associations have ample opportunity to weigh in on the standards that affect them, and they do. (The trade association for railroad companies supported the train safety law Mr. Will railed against.) In fact, industry often exerts so much influence that it undermines public safety concerns.

We can create rules that protect public safety and still reward enterprise, but giving more oversight to an extremely partisan and obstructionist Congress won’t achieve the outcomes the American public deserves.

Will’s column started with an attack on the positive train control rule that's designed to override human error, prevent accidents, and save lives. He then went on to call for increased use of cost-benefit analyses to determine if a rule is in the public interest. However, he doesn't just overlook the fact that cost-benefit analysis calls for putting monetary values on human life and disease. In fact, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs estimates that major rules issued in the first term of the Obama administration produced at least $193 billion-$800 billion in benefits and cost no more than $84 billion. If Will and other opponents of standards and safeguards are going to trumpet cost-benefit analysis as a way to measure the value of agency rules, they should at least report both sides of the scorecard. Otherwise, they're telling the public an incredibly misleading story.

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