House Attack on Major Health Standards Likely Linked to Debt Ceiling Negotiations


With a contentious political fight brewing in Congress over the debt ceiling, Republican members of the House have indicated they are considering several “riders,” or supplemental legislative language, that would significantly limit the government’s ability to set standards that are essential for protecting public health and welfare.

Of particular concern is a rider that would require Congress to approve all major regulations developed by federal agencies. H.R.367, the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2013, would require a joint resolution of approval for all major regulations estimated to cost more than $50 million annually. Such a requirement would, at best, significantly extend the long delays of several years or more that already exist for implementing important regulations, and at worst result in a contingent of anti-regulation members of Congress blocking important public health and welfare safeguards.

An example of an important existing regulation that may not have been adopted had the REINS Act been in effect is the 2012 national air quality standards for particulate matter (PM). Particulate matter, also called soot, has been linked in hundreds of studies to early death, development of heart disease, and heart attacks, as well as hospitalizations for heart and lung diseases, among other serious health effects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that reducing PM levels to meet the 2012 standard will result in avoiding 460-1,000 deaths, 52-480 heart attacks, 250 hospital admissions for heart or lung disease, and 40,000 asthma attacks in children each year, among other health benefits. Avoiding these health impacts translates into between $4-9 billion in avoided health costs each year, while achieving the standards is estimated to cost $53-350 million annually.

The House majority is also considering including restrictions on the ability of the EPA to issue energy-related regulations with total costs that exceed $1 billion. H.R. 1582, the Energy Consumers Relief Act of 2013, could prevent the EPA from adopting important pending regulations to further limit pollutants that cause serious health problems from cars and trucks, based on findings from a Department of Energy analysis that the impact of these regulations will have an undefined “significant” impact on the economy. 

These legislative proposals represent an assault on the ability of government to provide essential public health protections and deserve to be rejected.

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