We expect our drinking water to be clean and safe and our lakes, rivers and streams to be places we can fish and swim. Why is this so? Forty-four years ago on April 22, the world embarked upon a still unfinished journey to protect the environment from the unintended effects of our industrial society. The Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act are just two of the key pieces of legislation our Congress enacted to ensure America’s skies were clear and its waters were fishable, drinkable and swimmable.
How does this happen? How do we make sure that our waters and skies are free from pollution? The same way that we make sure our food and drugs are safe, our workplaces free from crippling injuries, our children’s toys properly labeled – regulation. Yet this idea of regulation is one of the most politically charged in our civic life, and unnecessarily so.
Recently, the Grand Canyon Institute published a policy report on regulation in Arizona entitled: “Why Arizona’s Regulatory Moratorium is Unnecessary.” The report examines Arizona’s regulatory story, particularly its environmental regulatory story, from 2000-2012. This policy report illuminates the Arizona record of pragmatic regulatory responsibility that ensured our state maintained pace with important changes needed to protect our environment even as the state’s economy grew. All this occurred before the state enacted, in 2009, a politically-driven moratorium on producing regulations under the claim they were “job-killers.” Our research suggests while not every regulation is wise, overall economic studies find regulations have little, if any, impact on job growth, while a blanket moratorium can be harmful, as shown with recent problems at the State Board of Medical Examiners, where outdated rules needing modernization led to a difficult operating environment. Hence, there are better ways to improve the regulatory system.
Our report suggests that the Arizona way of implementing regulations, initially the work of the Bruce Babbitt administration and later improved upon by subsequent administrations, provides a comprehensive approach to creating regulations that serve their intended purpose and are fair, provide benefits that justify their costs, and are not burdensome to small businesses. There is absolutely no reason to require a moratorium that discourages agencies from doing their jobs.
Arizona has worked to continuously improve its regulatory process and the Grand Canyon Institute report suggests there are three things that can be done to make a good approach even better. First, we should end this moratorium on regulations. Second, we can improve the economic assessments of regulations by increasing efforts to secure more specific industry data on the cost side and from the community on the benefits side. Agency staffs are typically ill-equipped to conduct more robust analyses, but our universities could assist as well as appropriating additional funding for third-party analysis. Finally, we need to enhance both transparency of the regulatory process and greater citizen awareness of the regulatory world that shapes all of our lives. Agencies provide an array of efforts to engage citizens in rulemaking, including use of social media, but an additional way is for Arizona news media to provide regular reporting on regulatory matters similar to its efforts to inform the public on important pending legislation.
The tools and policy framework for effective regulation within Arizona are in place and have been for years. Let’s fine-tune our approach to sensible regulation, continue to craft fair and appropriate requirements that balance the private sector’s innovative abilities with the public’s need to be protected from environmental impacts.
— Karen L. Smith, Ph.D., is a fellow at the Grand Canyon Institute, a former water quality director at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and former deputy director at the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Download the report at www.GrandCanyonInstitute.org