The head of president-elect Ronald Reagan's regulation task force has recommended a one-year moratorium on all new federal regulations once the new administration takes office in January.
Murray Weidenbaum said the moratorium, which is endorsed in the Republican platform, would assure a needed " breather" from federal regulation while the new administration considers fundamental changes in the federal rules governing environmental protection, energy, consumer safeguards, competition, worker safety and other regulatory areas.
The Reagan regulatory task force headed by Weidenbaum, a Nixon administration assistant treasury secretary, has submitted a series of regulatory reform proposals to the president-elect. In interviews last week, some of the task force members and other Reagan advisers described key changes that they are urging the new administration to make in addition to the moratorium:
The regulatory approach of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should be turned around to give much greater weight to the economic consequences of new regulations on companies and the economy in general, task force members said.
"Nobody seems to take the larger perspective and suggest that a pollution standard might effect energy supply or unemployment," said task force member Charles Fried, a Harvard law professor. "Bureaus and agencies seem myopic. cThe only way to solve the problem is to bring in strong minded people with political courage."
Automobile safety and tailpipe emissions standards are prime examples of regulations that don't make sense on scientific or economic grounds, said Robert Crandall, a Brookings Institution economist and task force member.
There appears to be considerable sentiment from individual task force members to eliminate or at least modify the Delaney Clause, which prohibits the addition to food or food products any substance that has been proven to cause cancer in animals or humans.
In addition, there is virtually no support for the regulatgory acitivities of the Department of Energy. "I think we should just get out of the business as quickly and as mercifully as possible," said economist James Miller, a task force member. Citing entitlements and virtually all detailed regulation, Miller quite simply said the Reagan administration should "get rid of it all."
Other task force members cite the plant safety standards of OSHA as targets for regulatory change. In Weidenbaum's view, the moratorium should have a provision for the issuance of "emergency" regulations, particularly in the health and safety area. Such new regulations could be issued, however, only if they are "offset by the elimination of regulations of at least equal cost."
The Clear Air Act, a symbol of the environmental movement of the 1970s, must be completely overhauled, according to several task force members and Rep. David Stockman (R-Mich.), a cochairman of Reagan's energy task force in the campaign.
"This is a tremendous opportunity. We'll be in a position to write the ticket to rationalize the act and put some solid science and economics into it," Stockman said.
Stockman, Crandall and other task force members agree that the EPA is the No. 1 target for regulatory change.
"They've got rules that would practically shut down the economy if they were put into effect," said Stockman. "This is the critical agency. You need a whole new mindset down at EPA or you're not going to do anything about regulation."
Task force members singled out provisions of the Clean Air Act that bar, in effect, construction of new industrial facilities in areas with relatively clean air unless the plants have extensive pollution controls. This leads to a double standard -- dirtier air for existing industrial areas, cleaner air for less developed regions, they said. The effect is to limit industrial growth in both areas, they said, calling on Congress to take this regulatory authority away from the EPA.
The major antimonopoly cases -- such as the independent Federal Trade Commission's cases to split up the nation's giant oil companies and the big breakfast cereal companies, and the Justics Department's suits against the Bell System and International Business Machines Corp. -- should be carefully scrutinized. There is little support among the task force members for these cases. One member said Congress, not the Federal Communications Commission, should decide AT&T's future role in the information age.
Reagan himself came out in opposition to the FTC suit against Kellogg Co. and other major cereal manufacturers while campaigning on Kellogg's home turf in Michigan late in the campaign. Thrusting himself into a major action by the FTC, which historically has been independent of presidential intervention, Reagan said the agency's power to order firms broken up should be reigned in. The eight-year-old case against Kellogg and the two other largest cereal manufacturers "has very little basis in fact," he said.
With the possibility that Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), the incoming Judiciary Comittee chairman, might move from ranking minority member to the chairmanship of the antitrust subcommittee, a withdrawal from a decade of federal antitrust activism is possible. Thurmond told a press conference last week that he "would probably take antitrust, although that's such a broad subject we might consider maintaining that at the full committee level."
Task force members see the election of a Reagan administration and a Republician Senate as an unprecedented opportunity to appoint -- and win Senate confirmation for -- new faces to dramatically shape the regulatory roadmap and pass landmark regulatory reforms.
Miller says that in his view the new administration could do a lot to reshape regulatory policy by appointing top and middle-level bureaucrats at regulatory agencies "with a new sense of objectivity, not people who are just business oriented or ideological fanatics."
Too often, according to Miller, workers at an agency such as the EPA are "mission oriented" -- advocates of agressive regulation, as he puts it, rather than analysts of what fits into important national policy considerations.
"There are very few people who appreciate how tough politically all this stuff is that is before the EPA," said Stockman. "If you have the wrong people there and they decide to tinker, you won't do much about regulation on basic industries. At EPA, incrementalism won't work. You have to have a complete change," he added.
Weidenbaum, leader of the regulatory task force, is a persistent critic of federal regulation who heads the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University in St. Louis. Other members of the task force include former Ford administration economist Miller, now of the American Enterprise Institute; Crandall; Antonin Scalia, former assistant attorney general and now a visiting law professor at Stanford University; Robert Bork, former solicitor general, and Fried.
Reagan spent considerable time blasting the federal apparatus and Carter regulatory policy during the presidential campaign and in his controversial speech in Youngstown, Ohio, in which he said "air pollution has been substantially controlled."
Included among Reagan's ideas were proposals to require detailed cost-benefit studies of all regulations, institute flexible regulatory standards, and establish an annual regulatory budget that "itemizes the costs of regulations." Under the budget scheme, all federal agencies would be limited in the "overall yearly cost to the nation of complying with federal regulation."
In addition, Reagan called for implementing sunset legislation, which would end regulations "automatically" unless "Congress specifically extends them," and reviewing all regulations where technical knowledge has advanced since they were first issued.
Some members of the regulatory task force say that government will have to compel consideration of cost benefit analysis before new federal rules are issued. Miller, for one, believes that these studies should be subject to court reiview -- a point the Carter administration, in its regulatory reform program, would not support.
"Agencies would come to realize what kinds of standards they would have to meet," Miller said. "This would enable the private sector to police the excesses."
Further, there appears to be considerable support for a proposal advanced by Sen. Dale Bumper (D-Ark.) that would permit the courts to review regulations from the ground floor.
Senate sourcs say a regulatory reform bill including both the Bumpers approach and Miller's proposal may come either from Congress of the White House soon after Inauguration Day. If so, litigation will be the name of the regulatory game in the coming years.
tThat is an assessment also put forward by at least one significant player on the other side of most of these issues. The observation comes from Howard Symons, a lobbyist with Ralph Nader's Congress Watch, who watched many an ideological compatriot go down to defeat in Congress.
The future of the public interest movement is in the courts," Symons said. "There is no chance of passing any kind of progressive legislation in the 97th Congress."