The plastics industry has been an able trooper in the Regulatory Reform Debate of 1995, lobbying to put a brake on the growth of regulations it believes havebeen foisted on it without regard to cost. This is not a simple goal. The efforts of industry association leaders Larry Thomas and Red Caveney to make an extremely complex government more accountable are laudatory, not simply because they seek clarity in rulemaking, but because they actually try to take on the monster of government in the first place.
One might argue that the greatest sin committed by those seeking regulatory reform is their inability to make their argument compelling.
Conventional wisdom in Washington says that because Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., secured only 58 cloture votes of the required 60 in the Senate on July 20, debate on his reform measure could not be stopped - which opened the measure to amendment.
Dole pulled the bill from Senate consideration, leading lobbyists to pronounce the regulatory reform initiative dead.
Reform may or may not be dead. Yet, there will be a backlash to Dole and his regulatory reform supporters. It will consist of mean-spirited, gratuitous, 20-second political campaign soundbites that will vilify reform supporters. The spinmeisters will crow that reform supporters wanted to subject America's children to dirtier air, fouled water and cancer-causing chemicals in food.
That regulatory reform hasn't happened yet is no reason to think someone won't try to make hay of the attempt. Many times candidates and their supporters are trashed because of the way they are seen to have voted, regardless of the outcome. And the months-old GOP Congress has only a tiny foothold in the hearts of voters, who may well reverse their 1994 feelings in 1996.
Will risk-reform supporters now have to answer questions about why they wanted to de-list hundreds of chemicals from the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory - even if some of those chemicals that were initially put on the list were not first subjected to a formal scientific review? Will they be made to look like renegade polluters because they opposed a regulation requiring the notification of the Coast Guard if a company inadvertently spills a pint of antifreeze? (Incredibly, such a regulation exists).
Backers of risk assessment in the plastics industry have provided examples of the wisdom of applying risk assessment to regulations. What they have been unable to do is provide them quickly and succinctly to the satisfaction of a fickle public, press and White House.