Sadly, though, there’s still at least one place where it’s difficult to get the information we need: From a federal government that’s steadily more involved in our lives, but doesn’t tell us everything we need to know.
Consider energy policy. Americans don’t need (or want) a federal energy policy. We all need energy, we all use energy, and Washington has nothing to do with that. What the feds do is artificially limit our access to energy by making it more expensive through regulations. And it’s difficult to figure out what the feds will decide to regulate.
Some activists, for example, want the federal government to regulate hydraulic fracturing, the wildly successful extraction process that’s already generated stunning amounts of American oil and natural gas. The Interior Department, not surprisingly, wants to do just that.
What agency wouldn’t want to increase its power and influence? The EPA may also get into the regulatory picture. “In 2005 Congress reaffirmed that it did not want the EPA to do so under the Safe Drinking Water Act,” The Wall Street Journal reported last year. “But the EPA wants to muscle in.”
What will all this mean for fracking? Well, when the EPA gets involved, issues tend to be both confusing and expensive. In an article about the agency’s Boiler MACT standards, the law firm McGuireWoods warns that, “All of this activity leaves companies and public entities with hardly any guidance as what the rules are and when these issues will be resolved. Moving forward with plans or projects will require careful assessment of their current obligations and future requirements.”
And that’s exactly the point: By making it risky to move forward, the federal government is making it less likely that companies will expand. And EPA’s not the sole culprit.
There’s also Dodd-Frank, the massive bill that was supposed to fix the banking industry after the 2008 meltdown. “As of July 2, 2012, a total of 221 Dodd-Frank rulemaking requirement deadlines have passed. Of these 221 passed deadlines, 140 (63 percent) have been missed and 81 (37 percent) have been met with finalized rules,” reports the Davis Polk law firm.
Notice that these laws and regulations are of great interest to law firms. Maybe that’s because lawsuits are one of the few American growth industries these days. It’s also interesting that the regulators have missed two-thirds of their deadlines. They’d never allow a company to miss a deadline; in fact, the EPA is currently fining oil refiners because it wants them to use cellulosic ethanol, which doesn’t even exist!
American businesses are remarkably adaptable. If they have information from markets, they tend to move quickly to implement money-making policies. But they cannot adjust to what they don’t know. The federal government’s regulatory policy resembles CNN’s outdated approach, rather than SCOTUSblog’s effective approach.
The government needs to get out of our lives. And until it does, it should start providing more information about what it’s up to.