The Regulatory Accountability Act: A New Threat to Wildlife

As Americans travel for summer vacation, they expect safe picnic food, clean, swimmable and fishable rivers, and clear scenic vistas. Yet, the U.S. Senate could soon consider the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA, S. 951), a bill that would make it significantly more difficult for federal agencies to take new environmental and public safety measures, even when required by Congress to so.

National safeguards are needed to protect American health and wildlife populations from pollution and other threats. Over time, Congress has passed environmental and safety laws recognizing that corporations cannot be relied upon to self-regulate, and that states do not have the resources, capacity, and legal authority to clean up cross-border pollution problems alone.

Bombus Affinis. Photo by Dan Mullen

Congress has recognized that changes in land use, technology and other factors could require new measures to ensure laws are effectively carried out, and it has required that agencies appropriately act when needed. As such, Federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration regularly establish new and revised rules under laws like the Clean Air Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act. To enact such rules, agencies must already undergo a thorough public process that requires opportunities for public and stakeholder input as well as the option for judicial review to ensure the agency action is reasonable and consistent with the underlying law passed by Congress.

The RAA would force these and other agencies to jump impossibly high and time-consuming hurdles during the rule-making process that implements laws passed by Congress. This bill is aimed at impeding agencies from carrying out their duties to protect the public by giving powerful industries an unbalanced voice in the process, prioritizing least-cost options that are less protective of public health, and making it easier for judges to discount agency experts. For more details on the Regulatory Accountability Act, read our factsheet.

There are many reasons Congress should not make it more difficult to set environmental and public safety protections. Here are just a few examples in which the RAA and similar bills would jeopardize health and safety:

1) Stable ecosystems and abundant wildlife
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) creates a framework to conserve and protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats. Determining if a species needs to be added or removed from the list of at risk species needs be left to the agencies administering the ESA, namely the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service. Yet, the Regulatory Accountability Act would threaten this science-based decision-making by putting the White House in charge of rules, and choosing politics over agency knowledge. It would make it next to impossible to both list species in need of conservation (like the recently listed rusty-patched bumblebee), and delist species that have been successfully recovered (like the Delmarva fox squirrel), crippling the Endangered Species Act.

2) Clean air
Under the Clean Air Act, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) protect public health and welfare by regulating emissions of harmful air pollutants like lead, ozone, and particulate matter. EPA is required by law to periodically review and potentially revise these standards. It is critical that the EPA maintain the ability to make updates when data show that the American public is in danger. If the agency is hamstrung by unreasonable processes and a requirement to favor options of least cost to industry, American lives could be at risk.

3) A safe home
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is responsible for the regulation of manufactured and imported chemicals in the United States. Section 8 (b) of TSCA requires EPA to keep a public list of each chemical substance that is manufactured or processed. This list flags substances that are harmful and have restricted use, ensuring that the public knows which chemicals have potential environmental or health impacts. Before much needed reforms were enacted last year, updating the TSCA list to include harmful substances like asbestos was extremely difficult. The Regulatory Accountability Act would bring back these backward, cumbersome processes and apply them to a wide range of environmental safeguards. It could make it impossible for the public to know if new dangerous chemicals are polluting the environment and being used in their products.

4) Clean Water
Over the past few years, there have been toxic algal outbreaks in places like Lake Erie, which poisoned the drinking water for more than 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio. In Charleston, West Virginia, toxic chemicals that spilled into the Elk River contaminated the drinking water of more than 300,000 people. These disasters show why we need Clean Water Act safeguards to ensure safe water quality in lakes, streams, rivers, and other water bodies that provide fish and wildlife habitat as well as help replenish our drinking water supply. Clean Water Act standards help reduce nutrient pollution, develop cleanup blueprints for impaired waters, control industrial discharges, and protect against burying streams and wetlands in sediment, among other protections. Americans who support the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy by hunting, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors depend on healthy, clean waters.

Additionally, lead pipes are a serious problem in many places in the US. This water infrastructure crisis was highlighted in Flint, Michigan, exposing thousands of children to lead. For the last two years, EPA data shows that 18 million people used water systems with unsafe lead levels, violating health standards. These figures do not count unsafe water at our schools. We need public health protections under the Safe Drinking Water Act and other laws to address such problems.

However, the Regulatory Accountability Act would make it next to impossible for agencies like the EPA implement new water quality standards.

Delmarva fox squirrel

Delmarva fox squirrel. Photo by Larry Meade/USFWS.

Environmental and public safety protections that already undergo vigorous public vetting do not place an unnecessary burden on industry and economic development. They are very much needed, as demonstrated again and again by stories like in Flint, Michigan. Americans want clean air and water, and they want polluters to be held accountable for their actions.

The Regulatory Accountability Act weakens agencies’ ability to safeguard public health, the environment, and wildlife from pollution and unsafe products and practices.

Please reach out to your Senators and ask them to oppose this harmful measure.

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