We need rules and regulations to protect workers, consumers, and the public. However, opposition to regulations comes from organizations and individuals that have strong self-interests at stake and often lots of resources. Typically, it’s large corporate employers and producers of goods and services that oppose regulation. They use campaign spending and lobbying to persuade public officials to side with them. They use public relations campaigns to try to win support from voters and the public, often using deceptive messages. They claim that the costs of regulation are too high, but they almost never discuss the benefits.

My previous two posts described the war being waged on regulation by the Trump administration and some Members of Congress, particularly Republicans. (You can read them here and here.) My last post highlighted examples of rules and regulations that have been repealed or delayed. Every one benefits corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, or the public.

How does this happen in a democracy? There are several factors, but ultimately it comes down to the concentrated self-interests of large corporations and their political power.

Regulation typically has immediate and sometimes significant costs that are concentrated on a small group of organizations or individuals. The benefits typically are spread over a much broader group of people and often over a longer time period. The costs are typically easy to identify and measure in dollars, while the benefits are often much more difficult to monetize and some are even hard to identify.

As a result, those bearing the costs of regulation have strong self-interests in opposing and stopping or weakening regulation. When they are large corporations, they have tremendous resources to use in their opposition (e.g., money, people [including lobbyists], and the ability to sustain efforts over time).

Those who benefit (i.e., workers, consumers, and the public) have a self-interest in regulation. However, the impact is much smaller at the individual level and often gets lost among the many demands of every-day life. Furthermore, individuals’ resources (e.g., time, energy, and attention span) to use in supporting regulation are generally quite limited. Although the aggregate benefit may be huge, it is often very diffuse – spread over millions of people and across many years.

Therefore, the politics of regulation tend to favor weak or no regulation and even de-regulation. It typically takes political leadership that stands up for the broader public interest to push through (and maintain) strong regulation. With our corporations growing larger and more powerful all the time, the ability to stand up to them has become more difficult.

Let’s look at a specific, current example of regulation that is being considered.

Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies, along with advocates for public health and the environment, are urging that certain pesticides need to be regulated. However, to-date, the Trump administration has failed to act on findings that the pesticide chlorpyrifos (for example), a Dow Chemical product, can cause significant harm. (By the way, Dow Chemical contributed $1 million to Trump’s inauguration activities and its chairman heads a White House working group on manufacturing.)

Chlorpyrifos has been widely used on fruit crops since the 1960s. Dow Chemical sold 5 million pounds of it in the US last year. Traces of it are commonly found in drinking water and umbilical cord blood, which is the blood a mother provides to her baby while pregnant. It can harm children’s brain development at very low exposure levels. Scientists have also compiled over 10,000 pages of evidence that chlorpyrifos harms animals, presenting a risk to 1,778 out of the 1,835 animals and plants that were studied, including endangered species of frogs, fish, birds, and mammals. [1]

The costs of the regulation of chlorpyrifos, i.e., a reduction in its use, fall immediately and directly on Dow Chemical, an $8 billion corporation (that is about to merge with DuPont and get even bigger). The benefits of regulating chlorpyrifos are clear but are hard to monetize. They occur over time to a broad range of people and to animals and our ecosystem.

Dow Chemical has strong political connections and lobbying capacity. It has spent about $12 million per year on lobbying in each of the last 5 years. [2] The political resources and clout of the beneficiaries of regulating chlorpyrifos are nowhere near as great as those of Dow Chemical.

Unless there is strong political leadership on behalf of the public and the environment, regulation of chlorpyrifos probably won’t happen or will be very weak. Given the current political environment in Washington, D.C., I’d bet that Dow Chemical corporation’s efforts to block regulation of chlorpyrifos will succeed.

This is a classic example of why democracy won’t succeed if the public and voters treat it as a spectator sport. We need to be informed, sometimes down to the level of detail of this example, and engaged. We must insist that our elected officials – and candidates during elections – are committed to standing up for the public interest despite the power and resources that large corporations can bring to bear on our political system.

We need to join and support advocacy groups that will act on our behalf on issues such as these, and that will let us know when there are opportunities for us to act and have an impact. We need to support the regulatory agencies (more on them in a future post) that are working to protect us. Many of them are under attack by President Trump, corporations, their lobbyists, and some of our other elected officials. And finally, we need to pay attention to and support information sources that will cover these issues.

We certainly can’t do all of these things all the time. But each of us, as a voter and citizen in a democracy, needs to be an active participant in our political system, and to do what we can to ensure that government works for us, not for the big corporations.

[1]      Biesecker, M., 4/21/17, “Dow wants Trump to set aside report on pesticide risks,” Associated Press in The Boston Globe

[2], retrieved from the Internet on 5/27/17, “Dow Chemical,” Center for Responsive Politics (



The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress are repealing or delaying rules and regulations that protect workers, consumers, and the public. Some of these rules and regulations protect workers from unsafe working conditions, help them save for retirement, or protect their rights and pay. Trump and the Republicans are also delaying rules that would protect investors and the environment.

For example, over a dozen rules that provided important protections for workers have been repealed, including: [1]

  • Repealed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplace Rule that required companies applying for federal contracts to disclose past violations of labor laws. As a result, companies that have violated labor and employment laws will continue to be rewarded with federal contracts and taxpayers’ money. The rule would have required disclosure of violations of laws on:

o   Workers’ pay (including pay for overtime),

o   Workplace health and safety,

o   Collective bargaining rights, and

o   Civil rights.

  • Repealed the Workplace Injury and Illness Recordkeeping Rule that required employers to keep records of injuries and illnesses on the job. As a result, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) will be unable to accurately identify and protect workers from unsafe, and potentially life-threatening, working conditions.
  • Repealed a pair of rules that allowed state and local governments to set up retirement savings accounts for private-sector workers whose employers do not provide a retirement plan. Therefore, 55 million workers without a retirement savings plan will not be afforded this retirement savings opportunity, primarily because Wall Street lobbyists made it clear they did not want this competition from a public-sector sponsored program.
  • Repealed a rule that blocked drug testing (which is probably unconstitutional) of applicants for unemployment insurance (UI). Drug testing is an unnecessary and inappropriate hurdle for laid off workers applying for UI. However, whenever a former employee is denied UI or delayed or discouraged from obtaining it by drug testing, it saves their employer from having to pay for unemployment benefits.

The Trump administration has also delayed the implementation of many regulations that would benefit workers, consumers, and the public. These include: [2]

  • Delayed for at least 2 months, the Fiduciary Rule that would require financial advisors, including retirement planners, to put their clients’ best interests first. This is what most people seeking financial advice assume they are getting, but nothing currently prevents financial advisors from steering clients toward investments that pay the advisor a larger commission even if the client is likely to get a lower return on their investment. It is estimated that such behavior costs investors $17 billion a year and that each week’s delay in implementing the rule will cost retirement savers over $400 million over the 30 years (on average) until they take their money out to support them in retirement.
  • Delayed rules limiting exposure to silica and beryllium in the workplace. Roughly 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica dust at work. It is estimated that the rule’s limits would have prevented 900 new cases of silicosis each year and saved over 600 lives. The net benefits are estimated at $7.7 billion annually. In the case of beryllium, an estimated 62,000 workers are exposed to it at work and this can lead to lung disease and lung cancer.
  • Delayed requiring mine operators to inspect their mines for safety hazards and notify miners of hazardous conditions that have not been corrected. The rule also would have required mine operators to keep a record of safety examinations, hazards found, and corrective action taken. In 2010 – 2015, 122 miners died in 110 workplace accidents.
  • Delayed the implementation of a regulation requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and reduce methane (i.e., natural gas) leaks. This delay is occurring due to lobbying by the American Petroleum Industry and other industry groups. Methane gas is a potent global warming gas that is 100 times more harmful than carbon dioxide (i.e., CO2). This is one example, of many, where Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head, Pruitt, is working to repeal or delay environmental regulations that benefit the public and the environment, but are opposed by corporate interests. [3]

Repealing and delaying these regulations, and many others, puts large corporations and their profits first and America’s workers and consumers in danger. It demonstrates the continuing influence of big money, corporate special interests, and their lobbyists in Washington. This is not what many voters expected when Trump spoke (and speaks) about putting America (and its workers) first and draining the swamp of special interests in Washington.

[1]      Shierholz, H., & McNicholas, C., 4/11/17, “Understanding the anti-regulation agenda,” Economic Policy Institute (

[2]      McNicholas, C., Shierholz, H., Bivens, J., & Costa, D., 4/27/17, “The first 100 days: President Trump’s top priorities include rolling back protections to workers’ wages, health, and safety,” Economic Policy Institute (

[3]      Associated Press, 4/21/17, “Trump EPA balks at new emission rule,” in The Boston Globe Talking Points


The Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress have declared war on regulations. This puts large corporations and their profits first (not America) and puts America’s workers and consumers in danger.

Regulations and rules are what the Executive Branch of government (i.e., the President and his administration) uses to implement laws passed by the Legislative Branch (i.e., Congress). Rules and regulations are also used to update the implementation of laws over time as things change. For example, new products are brought to market, new medical procedures are developed, new chemicals are formulated, new financial instruments and transactions are invented, and so forth. If rules and regulations can’t be updated to respond to these situations, the implementation of our laws would fairly quickly become outdated and inappropriate. New laws would have to be passed to deal with every significant change in the real world. This would clearly be an inefficient and ineffective way to deal with our changing world, especially given the current dysfunction in Congress.

Rules and regulations protect public health and public goods (e.g., our air and water, our environment). They also protect workers and consumers from unsafe situations and products.

The Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress want to block new regulations and repeal existing ones for two, inter-related ideological reasons:

  • Belief in an unfettered free market that allows corporations to make profits without any constraints, and
  • Belief in a very limited role for government.

I believe there is another, non-ideological reason: our elected officials want to reward and do the bidding of their large campaign donors, both individuals and corporations. (Note that their donations are often given via intermediaries that are used to disguise the actual donors and their interests.) These large campaign donations buy essentially unfettered access to our elected officials so large donors can lobby and communicate their perspective on every rule or regulation. This, along with paid lobbyists, skews rules and regulations to favor the interests of these large donors. For example, the oil and gas industry spends $300 million per year on lobbying and has over 1,600 lobbyists working to communicate and convince officials in the legislative and executive branches to follow the industry’s preferences on rules and regulations.

The current war on regulations is being fought on multiple fronts and with multiple tactics:

  • Repealing the 150 or so regulations implemented by the Obama administration in its last 6 months in office. Currently, there are over 50 resolutions in the House or Senate targeting over 30 regulations for repeal.
  • Passing legislation that would give Congress the power to review and veto new regulations. This would substitute the political judgement of Congress for the judgement of scientists and experts in federal agencies in developing rules and regulations.
  • Passing legislation requiring new regulations to be evaluated with a focus on costs, reducing or ignoring the importance and value of their benefits.
  • Requiring that 2 regulations must be eliminated for every new one issued. This is being applied only in areas where the Trump administration opposes regulation but not for new regulations they favor, such as ones restricting the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
  • Appointing executive branch personnel who do not support the mission of the agencies they head or are in. As a result, the agencies’ regulations won’t be effectively enforced. This clearly applies to Secretary Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) (which regulates banks and financial institutions) and the Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees the implementation of the Affordable Care Act).
  • Underfunding agencies so they do not have the capacity to enforce the regulations they oversee. Again, this applies to the EPA and the SEC, among others.
  • Reducing opportunities for public input into the repeal of existing regulations and the development of new ones.

In my next post, I’ll share some specific examples of rules and regulations that are being repealed, delayed, or weakened.