By Frank Dermody
Imagine a world where you could commit any crime – even killing another person – but as long as you were the one who called the police and reported yourself, you’d walk away scot-free.
That’s the world some corporate special interests are asking extremist Republicans to build for them – a regulatory Wild West where profits come before public safety and state regulators are told to stand down.
We’ve seen too often what happens when corporations police themselves. The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. The Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal. The willful misrepresentation by drug makers about opioid drug safety. The Boeing 737 Max.
Although most corporations prioritize public safety and long-term success, it only takes one bad actor to cut the wrong corner in the name of quick profits to cause a tragedy.
Despite the danger, some Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg are pushing their very own “Dirty Dozen” – five bills containing 12 proposals to let corporate special interests have almost anything they want even when public safety is put at risk (You can read the bills here, and here, and here, here, and here.)
These bills would do things like:
- Let corporations escape penalties when their negligence leads to permanent harm or even death if the corporation is the one reporting the accident to the state.
- Put the burden of accidents and pollution cleanup solely on the taxpayers and let the corporation off the hook.
- Allow politicians in the legislature to eliminate any regulation at any time regardless of the impact on public safety.
- Let a corporation use third-party inspectors to approve a permit application if a state agency cannot approve it by an arbitrary deadline – and the same corporation could try to delay things in order to run out the clock.
- Offer corporations a defense for broken rules by simply saying they didn’t understand the rules. Try that the next time you get pulled over for speeding.
- Require a repetitive second vote in the Republican-controlled legislature to adopt a new regulation when combined annual compliance costs exceed very low thresholds.
- Create a “Repealer General” appointed by the Republican majority to decide what state rules and regulations should be eliminated when corporations ask.
Despite what the Republican sponsors of these bills want you to believe, this isn’t about cutting red tape or taking away obsolete regulations. It’s about preventing state agencies from doing their job to guard the health and safety of all people.
This isn’t just about clean air and water. It’s about everything from safe workspaces to farm and food safety, consumer protection and even ending child labor.
House Democrats are fighting to adequately fund oversight agencies like the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Labor & Industry. But since 2010 Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania have consistently voted to starve our crucial safety agencies of basic resources.
These new proposals – the Dirty Dozen – take this tactic to a chilling new low – handing the fox the keys to the henhouse and inevitably putting Pennsylvania taxpayers on the hook to clean up the mess.
What can you do? Contact your state lawmakers and let them know that putting people at risk to go easy on corporate special interests is never acceptable. There’s still time for people like you to be heard and to stop these dangerous games.
State Rep. Frank Dermody, of Allegheny County, is the Democratic floor leader in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He writes from Harrisburg.