Lax congressional oversight has let regulators go wild

Bob Tippee

Return of the US House of Representatives to Republican control–uncertain at this writing but considered likely—offers hope too easily obscured by spicier controversies preceding Nov. 2 elections.

The hope is for reinstatement of congressional oversight of federal regulators.

In the first 2 years of the Obama administration, regulators have been on a rampage. Congress, led by fire-breathers from the liberal flank of the Democratic Party, has shown scant concern.

Among the most aggressive regulators have been leaders at the two agencies with most influence over energy policy: the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior.

Of the two, Interior has been most in the news recently with its toughening of offshore oil and gas regulation after the Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet even before Macondo, Interior was systematically slowing leasing and loading operators with new administrative requirements.

The EPA, meanwhile, is out of control. Its push to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act is nothing less than a kidnapping of the energy economy. Its partial waiver of the 10% ethanol limit on gasoline blends is a reckless sop to ethanol makers and corn growers. And its study of hydraulic fracturing might well turn into an excuse to curtail oil and gas drilling.

EPA will call its frac study balanced. But a pattern—manifest in the agency’s preelection move on ethanol before completion of a study of likely consequences—is clear.

Tough questions are in order. In any review of regulation, they should start with, “Do these activities constitute proper functions of government?” And they must include, “Will this regulation work?” and “Are prospective benefits worth the costs, which include the encroachment on economic if not personal freedom?”

Questions like those have been missing lately. If Republicans win control of the House, and if they revive public debate about power balances and tough scrutiny of any proposed expansion of government, the takeover will prove to have been an important turning point.

(Online Oct. 29, 2010; author’s e-mail:

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