Life Saving Regulations Stalled In Bureaucratic Abyss

There is an unspoken rule in American politics: when you have bad news to deliver, do it on a Friday afternoon.  This helps to ensure that fewer people will see it, fewer will have time to analyze it, and the media will forget all about it over the weekend.  If you really want the issue to die, release it on a Friday before a holiday weekend, and that’s exactly what the Obama administration did last week when they released their bi-annual Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.

The Unified Agenda reads like a laundry list of proposed safety regulations from nearly all the major regulatory agencies.  Digging into the Department of the Interior section of that list, you will find countless stalled regulations pertaining to the dirty energy industry, some of which have been in limbo since the days of the former Bush administration

Ben Geman at National Journal explains:

Consider long-planned Interior Department rules to set standards for subsea “blowout preventers.” Those are devices to seal off runaway oil wells, but the fail-safe equipment failed to stop BP's blown-out Macondo well in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.

Interior has been pledging to launch a rule-making that toughens blowout preventer standards for years, but it hasn't materialized. Last fall's version of the unified agenda projected the draft rule would finally be released in March of this year and completed in November.

Friday's updated version? It lists a November 2014 target date for a draft rule that would be finalized in mid-2015.

Certainly nothing in these regulatory agendas is written in stone or even sand. But they do provide a snapshot of agencies' current forecasts.

And those forecasts show that a plan dating back to President Obama's first year in office to protect Appalachian streams from mountaintop coal mining remains on the slow track too. The agenda released Friday projects a draft rule in arriving in December 2014.

Other stalled proposals include drafting rules to protect the arctic from oil companies, a 2007 proposal regarding coal residue in underground mines, and a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) proposal that would update the agency’s standards to the same level as those required by the Clean Air Act. 

Some of the items on the Unified Agenda are fairly new proposals, while others have been sitting in regulatory limbo for years.

The fossil fuel industry (and the think tanks that they fund) loves to paint the “federal bureaucracy” as a major obstacle in their daily lives, but the truth is that this regulatory backlog is working in their favor. 

There are proposed standards on everything from disclosure of the chemicals that are in fracking fluids, monitoring carbon emissions at power plants, recouping royalties from oil drilled on federal lands, and countless others. 

As long as these regulations stay off the books, the industry is getting a free pass to poison and rob the American public.

Following the money of the dirty energy industry makes it painfully obvious why these safety standards are falling by the wayside.  Since President Obama took office, the industry has spent at least $140 million a year on lobbying activities alone.  Direct political donations have not fallen below $35 million during this same period of time.  That money has bought the industry plenty of time to operate without the government looking over their shoulder.

In addition to stalling regulations, the industry and their elected official friends will often file lawsuits when the new standards are enacted, holding them up in the federal courts before they can be enforced. 

To make things worse, we’re currently living in an era of unprecedented dirty energy accidents.  As I recently pointed out, the oil industry averaged 20 spills per day in 2013, and there have been at least 11 oil/gas train derailments in as many months. 

Every day that these safety standards are stalled puts American citizens and the environment at an unnecessary risk.