Lots of activists are gnashing teeth and rending garments over the passage in the House of Representatives of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act which would require both houses of Congress to vote on any new regulations issued by federal agencies that have an economic impact exceeding $100 million. The Union of Concerned Scientists asserts the REINS Act exists "to 'rein in' public health, safety, and environmental protections, and nothing more. They have been written and drafted by corporate lobbyists not to improve the federal regulatory process, but to stymy it, and add yet another roadblock for implementing sensible safeguards."
Over at The New Scientist, physical sciences editor Lisa Grossman dismisses the REINS Act supporters' claim that its purpose is "increase accountability for and transparency in the Federal regulatory process." Instead she sees a darker motive: "In practice, [passage of the REINS Act] could mean that years of painstaking research that go into writing regulations can simply be ditched, replaced with simple political whims….the fact that Congress seems eager to strip science out of the rule-making process is part of a larger trend: replacing scientific expertise with the vagaries of politics."
As necessary and valuable as scientific expertise is, scientists and federal bureaucrats are not experts at evaluating and making benefit-risk tradeoffs. If members of Congress get those tradeoffs wrong, voters can fire those whom they believe are not acting in ways that adequately protect their health, safety, and livelihoods.
As my colleague Eric Boehm has reported the federal regulatory state is out of control with new rules proliferating under President Obama at near light speed. As Case Western University law professor Jonathan Adler points out the Constitution vests the power to make laws in Congress, not in federal executive agencies. Adler concludes:
Federal regulation reaches nearly all aspects of modern life and is pervasive in the modern economy. Much of this regulation may be necessary or advisable, and nothing in the REINS Act would hinder a sympathetic Congress from approving new federal regulations. In all likelihood, however, the REINS Act's congressional approval process would prevent the implementation of particularly unpopular or controversial regulatory initiatives. The primary effect of the legislation would be to make Congress more responsible for federal regulatory activity by forcing legislators to voice their opinion on the desirability of significant regulatory changes.
It is past time for Congress to take responsibility to reassert its authority to make the rules that affect the health and livelihoods of millions of Americans.