Several manufacturing trade groups, including the American Composites Manufacturers Association, pushed Congress on April 12 to ease what they said are undue regulatory burdens that hurt the global competitiveness of U.S. companies.
The companies made broad arguments at a congressional hearing, saying U.S. companies face higher costs from things like complying with new securities laws and dealing with soaring natural gas costs. They also charged that government agencies don't consult companies adequately in the rulemaking process.
The hearing was called by the new head of the House Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee, Michigan Republican Candace Miller, who said she wants to step up reviews of existing regulations.
ACMA, based in Arlington, Va., did not present a specific list of regulations to target, but rather argued that too often, government agencies don't give businesses a ``seat at the table'' early in the development of regulations.
In recent years, the group mounted a large lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill - and gave volumes of data to regulators - that persuaded the Environmental Protection Agency to revamp proposed air-quality standards in a way that provided the industry with more ``cost-effective'' options that still protected the environment, ACMA said.
ACMA told the committee it is concerned about possible lack of involvement in another ongoing regulatory review, a review of the degree to which styrene, used in making composites, is linked to cancer.
The trade group's executive director, Melissa Henriksen, said in an interview after the hearing that EPA is being open to industry input in the early stages of the review, but said ACMA is concerned that as the process moves forward, it will be less open. That's because traditionally such reviews have been fairly closed, she said.
She said it's too soon to say if ACMA will mount another large-scale lobbying campaign on the cancer review, noting that companies will be looking to see if the agency follows ``good science.''
``If we feel members could be hurt ... absolutely we will mobilize,'' she said.
On the larger topic of regulatory reform, the committee and witnesses testifying were not of one mind. The subcommittee's lead Democrat, Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, said he favors getting rid of unneeded rules, but said strong government regulation is needed. He said lax regulation led both to abuses by Enron and others that worsened California's energy crisis, and to dishonest mutual fund trading practices that hurt consumers.
The Bush administration is pursuing its own regulatory reform agenda. John Graham, head of a White House office that reviews regulations, told the subcommittee that the administration earlier this year released a list of 76 government rules affecting manufacturers that it wants to revamp.
Graham also said most federal rules never have been examined to see if they work as intended, or how their costs and benefits balance.
But others, like Wake Forest University professor Sidney Shapiro, said Graham's office presented no evidence that regulations hurt international competitiveness, and said they amount to less than 1 percent of the total cost of manufactured goods. He said government studies have put the cost of regulation at $3 billion, with benefits between $12 billion and $108 billion.
Thomas Duesterberg, president of the Arlington-based Manufacturers Alliance, told the committee that regulations are part of a basket of bills that add about 22 percent to the cost of U.S. goods on the international market.
He told the committee it should work on four areas: energy costs such as natural gas, telecommunications regulation, the cost of complying with corporate governance and the use of class-action lawsuits to make policy.