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regulatory deception

Throughout the 20th century, the U.S. government has responded to financial scandals, air and water pollution, unsafe pharmaceutical drugs, unsanitary meat, dangerous automobiles, hazardous work places and other threats by building a regulatory framework to protect citizens and our natural heritage. This intricate process of balancing economic interests with the public interest depends on citizen input, democratic accountability and, most of all, openness.

But the Bush administration has worked assiduously to monkeywrench the regulatory process through a variety of means - including the appointment of industry lobbyists and executives to key government positions and the implementation of new barriers to rulemaking, such as specious cost-benefit analyses.

One of the biggest obstacles to effective regulation and mitigation of hazards, however, is the White House’s obsession with secrecy. This takes the form of distortion of information needed to effectively deal with threats to health and safety; the outright censorship of scientific data generated by regulatory agencies; and the suppression of facts that don’t fit the administration’s political and ideological agenda.

For example, the White House deleted a lengthy section of a June 2003 Environmental Protection Agency report on the state of the environment because it described the risks of global warming and cited industries that are emitting greenhouse gases. Adding insult to injury, the White House played down its agency scientists’ assessment of global warming and added a reference from an oil industry think tank that questioned the EPA’s conclusions on climate change. Read more.

Other examples:

  • Days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the White House deleted cautionary information and added reassuring language to an EPA statement that declared the air and water outside the ground zero area in New York to be safe. An inspector general’s report showed that the White House sought to reassure rather than to protect New Yorkers and that the EPA did not have sufficient information to claim the air in Lower Manhattan was safe to breathe. Read more.
  • The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) stopped the EPA for several months from warning homeowners about zonolite insulation products, which contain a form of asbestos that poses extremely elevated cancer risks. The OMB suppressed information about a serious cancer problem that posed a risk to millions of American families. Read more.
  • A key provision in a landmark auto safety law passed in the wake of the 2000 Ford/Firestone tire tragedies is supposed to give auto safety regulators and consumers an "early warning" about a dangerous defect and save lives. But the new rule announced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will keep important information, such as consumer complaints to manufacturers and warranty claims, secret. That is not what Congress intended. Read more.
  • The Department of Agriculture has refused to give Public Citizen information about how the agency decides if another country’s food inspection system is "equivalent" to U.S. standards. A review of documents that are publicly available shows a sloppy process for determining "equivalency," so full of holes and omissions that U.S. consumers are exposed to increased risk of eating contaminated food imported from other countries. Read more.

Public Citizen is committed to preserving and strengthening the protective safeguards under attack by the Bush administration and its corporate allies. Public Citizen acts as a watchdog, overseeing congressional and executive branch actions affecting the regulatory process, alerting the public and Congress when safeguards are threatened, and encouraging Congress to enact legislation that puts public health, safety and the environment first. For more on Public Citizen’s regulatory work, click here.

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