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Regulatory Bill Threatens Protections for Montanans, Critics Say

Asbestos is a toxin linked to deadly illnesses, but critics say it is still not properly regulated in the United States. (Ktorbeck/Flickr)
Asbestos is a toxin linked to deadly illnesses, but critics say it is still not properly regulated in the United States. (Ktorbeck/Flickr)
September 29, 2017

LIBBY, Mont. – The Regulatory Accountability Act in the U.S. Senate follows the lead of President Trump and the House in changing how federal agencies make regulations. But Montana critics of the bill are concerned it would set the bar too high for passing regulations and weaken agencies' abilities to enforce laws.

Gayla Bennefield lives in Libby, which has been devastated by asbestos, a toxic byproduct of vermiculite mining. Bennefield's parents and husband died of asbestos-related illnesses. She says the Environmental Protection Agency finally is working on rules to regulate asbestos - rules she and others have been fighting to get for nearly two decades.

"But now with the new regulatory act, everything that we've ever worked for and everything we stand for, I think, in Libby, is going to be wiped off the slate," she says.

The bill requires agencies to prioritize "cost-effective" solutions, which supporters say will save the government money. But opponents worry it will mean cutting corners on protections for people's health and the environment. They also worry about the bill giving more regulatory oversight to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

David Ditloff with the National Wildlife Federation in Montana says the bill flips an essential part of the rule-making script. Instead of the current benchmark that a rule not be "arbitrary and capricious," agencies would have to show "substantial evidence" of the need for a rule.

Ditloff says this could hamstring rules in court. In his view, the bill is presented as making the rule-making process more efficient - but would do just the opposite.

"The Regulatory Accountability Act would actually add 53 new requirements to the regulatory process," he explains. "It's solution to too much bureaucracy, and red tape is adding more red tape."

Ditloff says all of this tips the scales away from protections for Americans and toward special interests.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT