(The following op-ed first appeared in Roll Call on May 7, 2013) The Environmental Protection Agency is always looking for ways to expand its power and scope. That’s not exactly news in Washington and not dissimilar to most federal bureaucracies. But unlike many other agencies, the EPA has figured out a way to completely eschew government transparency and circumvent the traditional regulatory process in a way that needlessly spends more taxpayer dollars. This unconventional tactic, known as “sue and settle,” works when the EPA and a like-minded group, such as the Environmental Working Group, coordinate a lawsuit between each other where there is no aggrieved party. The court then quickly adopts a pre-arranged settlement. In addition to undermining the adversarial litigation process, that settlement paves the way for new regulations that are favored by the environmental groups and the EPA — such as tougher emission standards for fossil fuels.
The net neutrality world is all-abuzz with the announcement that Federal Communications Chairman (FCC) Julius Genachowski is retiring. According to The Hill, “The net neutrality rules were one of the defining achievements of the tenure of Chairman Julius Genachowski,…” That is not a good legacy and should not be considered an “achievement.” “Net neutrality,” which is loosely defined as a system that allows information on the Internet to move freely without regard to content, is in reality a not so subtle attempt to regulate the Internet and the next Chairman will determine the fate of net neutrality. The Hill also noted that, “Berin Szoka, the president of libertarian think tank TechFreedom, said he hopes the next chairman abandons the fight over net neutrality. ‘I am mystified why we have spent the last seven years arguing about net neutrality,’ Szoka said. He argued that the Federal Trade Commission's existing authority to police anti-competitive and deceptive business practices is sufficient to address potential net neutrality abuses.” The truth is that the Internet has thrived because government has, up until now, kept a light regulatory touch on the Internet. Quick reacting business and free market forces will keep the Internet thriving, not slow unresponsive government bureaucracies. A new regulatory regime for the Internet will stifle innovation and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in a newly created bureaucracy.
On January 17, 2013, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance sent Freedom of Information Act requests to the General Services Administration requesting, “a copy of all e-mails to the U.S. Green Building Council or the ‘USGBC’ from the General Services Administration from 2002 to 2011,” and “a copy of all e-mails from the U.S. Green Building Council or the ‘USGBC’ to the General Services Administration from 2002 to 2011. A third FOIA request was sent for “a copy of all General Services Administration e-mails that mention the U.S. Green Building Council or the ‘USGBC’ from 2002 to 2011.” These requests are part of an ongoing investigation by TPA into the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification system promulgated by the USGBC and mandated by the GSA for all new federal buildings. As of March 7, 2013, TPA has received no response to the FOIA requests. Even if there were no records that were responsive to the requests, GSA should have notified TPA with that information. USGBC may have inadvertently forced GSA to play their hand when they mentioned to a reporter (in response to TPA’s FOIAs), “The group is likely to be disappointed, says Lane Burt, USGBC’s director of technical policy, who adds that USGBC staff members correspond regularly with GSA staff members.” The good news is that the USGBC has at least acknowledged that records exist. The bad news is that there hasn’t been a response from the GSA.
Today, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) intensified it’s investigation into the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification system by submitting three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (click here, here, and here.) to see what kind of collaboration there was between the General Services Administration (GSA) and the U.S. Green Building Council USGBC (USGBC). Since 2010, GSA has mandated LEED gold standards for all new federal buildings. TPA has been concerned about private, non-science based non-profit organizations like the USGBC being involved in creating environmental standards that are then relied upon to dictate government policies and in turn cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Last year, TPA highlighted the fundamental problems with LEED and the attempt to institute LEED v.4 (read here and here). In TPA’s public comment letter to the USGBC, TPA pointed out that products such as plastic insulation, vinyl roofing, and LED lighting are discouraged through the chemical avoidance credits in LEED v4, which uses the European Union’s REACH regulations as a benchmark. This is a standard that small and medium U.S. based manufacturers are unfamiliar with and will struggle to meet. Moreover, there are credits for certification in this new standard that could reward architects for rejecting modern technology and chose instead to use a thatched straw roof, yet the standards dissuade builders who use bullet resistant glass in federal courthouses. LEED v4 is filled with arbitrary and requirements that pick winners in losers in the marketplace. The USGBC seems to have undue influence in mandating LEED standards and now TPA wants answers.
When consumer demand exists, the market will satisfy it. Earlier this summer, Google unveiled a new product, Google Fiber, which provides super-fast Internet. How fast is super fast? As the New York Daily News reported “Google promised to provide Internet access at speeds of over 100 times faster than today’s average broadband rate…” Now that is fast. While Google’s formal announcement for Google Fiber only took a few minutes, preparation and creation of the service has been a long time coming. In spite of significant financial hurdles and with careful consideration, Google has chosen to take the risk and – when the time comes – rightfully reap the reward for the creation of Google Fiber. Google’s decision to begin to build out its new Google Fiber service was certainly not a rash one. As the Kansas City Star reported, “… no matter how badly the corner geek wants Internet speeds of one gigabit-per-second… he won’t be able to get it unless about 10 percent of his neighbors also register for Google hook-up.” There’s a good reason for this. A company doesn’t want to waste its money and resources on an area or product that is without demand among consumers. Google didn’t have to be too concerned about this though. It was reported that “More than 1,100 communities pleaded with Google to make them the company’s Internet service Guinea pig.”
Today the House of Representative’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing entitled, “Continuing Oversight of Regulatory Impediments to Job Creation and Job Creators Still Buried by Red Tape.” Given our nation’s current economic plight, job creation should remain at the forefront of every policy makers’ considerations. In order for companies and small businesses to be able to hire more employees, a hospitable environment must exist that will encourage businesses to invest in new endeavors. On the other hand, what businesses need least when it comes to prompting job creation is another unnecessary, ineffective government regulation. More often than not, additional government regulations not only dissuade companies from expanding, the new requirement actually will create an environment where it is cost prohibitive for the company to remain in business. Today’s hearing examined potential changes to the government’s flavor-of-the-day regulation, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, which the Government Services Administration (GSA) uses as its only green building rating system. If these new LEED standards are adopted, another blow to job creation will likely result.
Last week the internet was abuzz with the idea that some countries were proposing that the U.N. should take over management of the Internet. Later this year in Dubai, at a meeting of the International Telecommunications Union, the technology arm of the U.N., a plan will be debated that would allow this international body to take over some control of the Internet. According to the Associated Press on June 23, 2102, “Secret negotiations among dozens of countries preparing for a United Nations summit could lead to changes in a global treaty that would diminish the Internet's role in economic growth and restrict the free flow of information.” Allowing the U.N. or some member countries to manage the Internet could result in a myriad of problems. As people often quip, if something is not broken, there is no need to fix it. As Ariel Rabkin told The Weekly Standard in 2009, “The management of the Domain Name System has been largely apolitical, and most of the disputes that have arisen have been of interest only to insiders and the technology industry. IANA [Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, operated on behalf of the Commerce Department] has concerned itself with fairly narrow questions like ‘Should we allow names ending in .info?"’ Commercial questions about ownership of names, like other property disputes, are settled in national courts.’” Rabkin as noted that allowing international government bodies to manage the internet could result in more problems like such as “Domain names presenting political questions. Which side in a civil war should control Pakistan's Internet domain. . . ” and the “Control of Internet names could become a lever to impose restrictions on Internet content.”
There are plenty of examples where government programs come up short, but one area where we usually can count on the government to come through is in its creation and implementation of nanny-state regulations. As recent examples make clear, there’s certainly no shortage of government dictates that walk us closer and closer down the path toward a nanny state. From what size soda you’re able to purchase to how you can transport your pet, each example seems more egregious than the next. And just when you think you’ve heard the worst of them, a new one comes along to rear its ugly head: the “Safe Routes to School” program. Like most government programs, the title of this program is at best innocuous and vague. And even after examining its stated purpose: “to reduce vehicle usage, increase foot traffic, and consequently create healthier children and a cleaner environment,” a lot of questions remain unanswered. For example, a lot of ambiguity surrounds what constitutes a safe route and who determines what a safe route is. Perhaps still the most confounding element of this program is demonstrated by the amount of money the government has spent on it since 2005 – a whopping $1 billion!
Regulations are crippling American businesses and burdening taxpayers with a bloated bureaucracy to enforce the regulations. While some regulations are important, it is also critical to make sure that there is a system of checks and balances in the system. The Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act would be that safeguard. The REINS Act may not be as sexy as Bridge to Nowhere or the Solyndra loan scandal, but it is an important piece of legislation that is needed to put the brakes on unnecessary and burdensome regulations. Before any regulation is imposed on the American people, the REINS Act would require Congress to take an up-or-down vote to approve regulations that have an economic impact of $100 million or more. The birth of the REINS Act actually goes back to 2009 when Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) offered the legislation after talking to a constituent about excessive regulations. This week, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the measure and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) is urging every member of the House to vote for the legislation (read the TPAPB here). And, TPA urges everybody to call their member of Congress to tell them to vote for the legislation. You can find your member here or call the Capitol Hill switchboard at 202-224-3121.