If you haven’t heard about one of the scariest bills moving through Congress—the REINS Act—don’t worry, most people haven’t either. Despite the quiet nature of this bill’s progress, it has the potential to roll back some of the biggest, most important consumer safety laws we have at the federal level. And for me, this is personal.
As you may know, I’ve spent the last decade working with some of the brightest minds in the country to pass consumer safety laws. These include regulations and bans on toxic chemicals in consumer products like BPA from baby bottles, phthalates from children’s toys, flame retardants in couches and triclosan in personal care products.
Before heading to the West Coast, I spent five years in Washington D.C., where I helped start and run the nation’s biggest coalition to update our federal laws on toxic chemicals. We lobbied, we organized and we negotiated, and as a result of our collective efforts, Congress passed new regulations on toxic chemicals. While the law is far from perfect, the Environmental Protection Agency is actively working to ban or restrict toxic chemicals found in the products we use everyday. WIN!
So the proposed REINS Act, a roll back of these major steps forward, is deeply personal.
Former Republican hill staffer and current NRDC hill pro, David Goldston, summarizes the REINS Act well,
The public would be less protected, and the political system would be more abused. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more far-reaching, fundamental and damaging shift in the way the government goes about its business of safeguarding the public.”
What would the REINS Act do?
The bill name stands for Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (somehow that’s supposed to make sense and translate into the acronym REINS). But all snark aside, this seemingly innocuous bill would require that Congress approve rules created by our federal agencies for laws that cost more than $100 million a year. If Congress doesn’t approve the proposed rule within 70 days, the rule wouldn’t count. You can read more about this from The New Yorker HERE.
What does this mean in English?
When a bill is passed by Congress, it’s done with the legislative process and is sent to our federal agencies (think FDA, or EPA) to implement. A good example is the recent reform I mentioned earlier, which seeks to increase regulations of toxic chemicals used in consumer products. The bill was negotiated for years and was signed into law by President Obama. Now it’s up to the Environmental Protection Agency to create “rules” for the chemical industry to follow the law. This is an obscure, but extremely important part of our democratic process. These rules should be drafted by the federal agencies because they are technical experts, not politicians.
The REINS Act would have this final rule (i.e. the EPA creates a ban on toxic PERC used in dry cleaning), go BACK to Congress for a vote. This is unprecedented and would drastically alter the way the current legislative process works. Right now Congress can barely pass a budget, and under this bill, they would be responsible for adding a major new role of approving rules created under existing laws?
For those of you who aren’t as familiar with the inner workings of Washington…this is just nuts.
What’s at stake?
Consumer safety, public health and environmental laws are at stake. This bill wasn’t really designed to give Congress a final say in regulations, it’s a poison pill for all consumer safety and environmental laws. It’s a political move to ensure that new regulations that could hurt big business never get implemented or enforced. In a nutshell, the chemical industry, oil industry, pesticide industry, coal and gas industries will make out well.
The public, our health, future generations? Not so much.
Does this really impact my daily life?
The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and safety of the products we use are all at stake.
How can I help?
Call your U.S. Senators and tell them to OPPOSE the REINS Act: 202-224-3121.
When you call the Capitol Switchboard, ask to be connected to one of your Senators. Either leave a message with a friendly staff person or leave a voicemail. Then call back and ask to be connected to your OTHER Senator!
I’ve seen the public stop big, bad laws before. It takes lots of phone calls, please share this message far and wide!