On its way out the door last January, the Obama administration took care to satisfy the demands of helpful special interests, issuing many new and often loosely written environmental rules. One of these, the “Waters of the United States” rule, which attempted to declare everything short of milady’s bathtub a navigable river or stream, and subject to regulation by overly zealous bureaucrats, has been ruled out of order. But others just as absurd have not.
For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a final rule imposing limits on exposure to beryllium in the workplace just two weeks before the Obama administration expired. Beryllium is a chemical substance that machinists, welders, abrasive blasters and others risk coming into contact with at one time or another. OSHA, claiming exposure may produce a significant risk of harm, drastically reduced the allowable limit of exposure but failed to offer scientific evidence to back up the claim, and without seeking proper public comment, as the law requires.
The initial draft, published in the Federal Register in August 2015, regulated worker exposure to beryllium in the manufacturing process, and said it “would not cover “those performing abrasive blasting work with coal slag in the construction and shipyards industries.” Nevertheless, these industries were covered in the final rule. To justify this, OSHA claimed the new rule would “prevent 96 premature deaths each year” and produce an “average $575.8 million in annual benefits for the next 60 years.” But neither scientific research findings nor economic analysis were produced to back up the claim. With no research to examine, no studies to vet, and no cost-benefit analysis to analyze, it was impossible to disprove the claims. OSHA clearly wanted to see what it could get away with.
The Trump administration has proposed an updated beryllium rule that eliminates many of the regulations covering abrasive blasting in the construction and maritime industries, which OSHA already regulates to protect workers. The new rule includes what many in the industry regard as unnecessarily restrictive exposure limits, and say in its natural form beryllium in trace amounts has not led to worker illness.
Alex Acosta, the new secretary of labor, has rolled back unnecessary rules imposed by the Obama administration, and this is the right thing to do. Mr. Acosta must make sure policy is always based on sound science. He should order reviews to determine just how final regulations were allowed to be made lacking in transparency, and how this was done without apparent scientific basis. Congress, in its oversight function, should work with heads of Cabinet agencies to make sure such abuses don’t happen again. Zealotry is no substitute for sound science.
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