Pass a Regulation, Repeal Another: House Approves Provision Tied to Koch Industries

B.C. Minister of Finance Colin Hansen and Laura Jones cut ceremonial red tape

On January 5, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act of 2017 in a 237-187 vote, a bill pushed for years by Koch Industries-funded entities, which will make it harder for federal agencies to enact regulations. 

Passing mostly along party lines, the bill also included an amendment introduced by U.S. Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) and passed by the House, which states that for every federal regulation created, another must be amended or retired. In announcing the amendment on the House floor, Messer said Canada has a similar law on the books.

A DeSmog investigation shows that the amendment is actually a clone of the SCRUB (Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome) Act, a bill lobbied for by America's Natural Gas Alliance, the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and others, which passed in the House in January 2016 but not the U.S. Senate. And the Canadian law it's based on, the Red Tape Reduction Act of 2015, is oft-cited by Koch- and industry-funded think-tanks — who also pushed the Canadian bill before it passed — as something the U.S. should emulate.

The American economy and taxpayers are being crushed by endless and often unnecessary federal regulation,” Messer said in a press release after his amendment passed. “We have got to get this under control and rein in the ever-growing federal bureaucracy. The collective weight of federal regulations puts a giant tax on the American people, and enough is enough.”

Messer, serving in his second term in office, maintains Koch Industries and ExxonMobil as two of his top campaign contributors.

Previously, the pro-regulatory alliance Coalition for Sensible Safeguards had denounced the SCRUB Act as something that would “leave the public vulnerable to the next public health tragedy.” The White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) opposed SCRUB's passage at the time.

REINS has the support of President-elect Trump, who on the campaign trail said he supports a two-for-one policy. That is, nixing two regulations for every proposed regulation (see from 1:30-1:41 in the following video).

Koch, Canada Roots

The Red Tape Reduction Act of 2015 was the first national-level bill of its kind in the world. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) heavily pushed and lobbied for the bill, according to the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada. 

CFIB does not list its funding sources on its website, but its U.S. equivalent — the National Federation of Independent Business — largely serves as a front group for big business interests and has received millions of dollars from the Koch brothers. One critic of CFIB opined in the publication Rabble that it serves as a “typical example of pure, unadulterated AstroTurf pretending to serve the interests of one group while actually working against them.”

Laura Jones, who runs CFIB's anti-regulatory advocacy, formerly worked as Director of Environment and Regulatory Studies for the Koch-funded Canadian think-tank, the Fraser Insitute. And through a key node in the Koch network, Jones has led the intellectual charge in the U.S. — pointing to the Red Tape Reduction Act as an exemplar — for passage of a similar “one-for-one” regulations bill.

That node: the Mercatus Center, a George Mason University-based think-tank founded by long-time Koch Industries operative Richard Fink. In November 2015, as SCRUB awaited a House vote, Mercatus commissioned Jones to write a report titled, “Cutting Red Tape in Canada: A Regulatory Reform Model for the United States?

Though titled in the form of a question, it was rhetorical, with the pre-cooked conclusion being “yes.” The report calls for the voice of “small business” to lead the way in pushing for deregulation.

“Canada’s experience with regulatory reform offers some very practical lessons for U.S. governments,” wrote Jones. “The essential ingredients of effective reform include political leadership from the top, public reporting of clear metrics, and constraints on regulators. It is also very helpful to have a credible group outside government pushing for less red tape. In Canada’s case, that group was and continues to be small business.”

In Canada, Jones founded and helps facilitate CFIB's annual Red Tape Awareness Week and serves on the country's Red Tape Advisory Committee. Jones has also previously spoken out against endangered species protections, penning a 1999 Fraser Institute report titled, “Crying Wolf? Public Policy on Endangered Species.”

Kentucky “Red Tape”

Beyond Canada, Jones has taken the anti-regulation fight to Kentucky, whose Republican governor, Matt Bevin, has pushed his own Red Tape Reduction Initiative. Kentucky points to Canada as a case study on the initiative's website. Jones spoke at the initiative's launch ceremony, and appeared in multiple videos promoting the initiative on YouTube.

Gov. Bevin, in the attempt to legitimize the cause for its Red Tape Reduction Initiative, pointed to Mercatus Center studies as well. Mercatus published a report in October 2016 called, “Deregulation Can Fuel Economic Growth in Kentucky,” pointing to Canada as a case study for promoting deregulation in the Bluegrass State.

“Kentucky’s plan has been informed by the success of the Canadian province of British Columbia, which instituted its own red tape reduction effort over a decade ago,” Mercatus analysts wrote in a September 2016 article. “British Columbia’s model succeeded largely by changing the incentives at government agencies.”

Partners listed for the Kentucky initiative include Koch front group Americans for Prosperity, NFIB, Kentucky Coal Association, and several Kentucky-based chambers of commerce.

Jones: Climate Denier

Of course, federal rules to address climate change would likely be a major target for legislation aimed at cutting regulations. And lo and behold, Jones does not believe humans cause climate change.

In 1997, Jones edited the Fraser Insitute book, Global Warming The Science and the Politics. It contained essays written by prominent industry-funded climate deniers, including Willie Soon and Patrick Michaels, as well as others such as John Christy, Sherwood Idso, and Sallie Baliunas.

Jones contributed her own chapter to the book, in which she made her view on climate change clear.

“There are many scientists, including those who have contributed chapters to this book, who disagree with what has been popularized as the consensus,” she wrote. “In fact, the only real consensus in the global warming debate is that there is a great deal of uncertainty about predicting future climate changes and it is difficult to determine why these changes occur.”

Further, Jones wrote a 1997 opinion piece for the Vancouver Sun stating that “global warming is a theory, not a fact.” In 1999, Jones co-edited the book Facts, Not Fear: Teaching Children about the Environment, which decries educating kids about environmental and climate issues.

“When teaching about the environment, many textbooks and children's books include vague, unsupported statements of doom,” Jones said in a press release announcing the book's launch. “They misinform children about facts and examine only one view of complicated environmental topics. In some cases, children are even urged to become activists.”

A year later, the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) passed its “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act” model bill, which calls for a “range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner” pertaining to climate change and environmental issues in K-12 public school classrooms. It passed as actual legislation in multiple statehouses.

“All Of Us Suffer”

Though its proponents try to sell it as a populist, mom-and-pop shop bag of goods, which benefits society-at-large by opening doors for small business entrepreneurs, not everyone buys this vision. Physicians for Social Responsibility counts itself among the dissenters.

“All of us suffer when health-protective rules are weakened, delayed, or blocked. And children, low-income communities, communities of color, and people with chronic disease suffer most,” said the group after the passage of REINS. “Congress should be ensuring that federal agencies enforce laws designed to protect our water, air quality, and public health — not curbing the power of these agencies to carry out their mission.”

REINS and its amendments now await a vote in the Senate. 

Main image: B.C. Minister of Finance Colin Hansen and Laura Jones, Vice President, Western Canada for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business launch Red Tape Awareness Week in 2011. Credit: Province of British ColumbiaCC BY-NC-ND 2.0