Washington at Work
BY AARON TRIPPLER, DIRECTOR, AIHA GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS
In recent weeks, we’ve seen more activity in Washington than in the previous couple of years combined. A number of issues that affect occupational safety and health have received attention from Congress. Protecting America’s Workers Act. This legislation would expand OSHA coverage to workers not currently covered, increase penalties (both civil and criminal) for those who break the law and do not follow OSHA regulations, provide additional protection to whistleblowers, clarify an employer’s duty to provide a safe work site for all workers on site, and provide additional rights to victims of workplace hazards. But since they were introduced by Democrats, it’s doubtful that either the House or Senate versions will be passed. Grace period to abate violations. HR 1932 would allow employers a grace period to abate certain occupational health and safety violations before being subject to a penalty. The bill has a decent chance of passage. MSHA issues. Bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate addressing several compliance issues with mine safety and health laws, and empowering miners to raise safety concerns. Again, though, the bills stand little chance of passage. Federal budget In mid-June, the House Appropriations Committee released its draft fiscal year (FY) 2016 funding bill. The proposal would cut OSHA’s budget by 3.2 percent, down to $535 million, whereas the president had proposed an increase from the current $553 million to $592 million.
No fewer than a dozen separate bills have been
introduced to supposedly “reform” the regulatory
process in some way.
The proposed budgets for other workplace safety and health agencies are a mixed bag. MSHA would receive $371 million under the draft bill’s allocation, down 1.3 percent from $375.9 million in 2015. The White House is asking for $394.9 million for MSHA in 2016. One bit of good news is that the bill calls for NIOSH to receive $341 million, up 1.8 percent from $334.9 million in 2015. The House proposal is $58 million more than the White House is seeking. While the subcommittee proposal doesn’t detail how the NIOSH money would be spent, the allocation should be enough to fund the agency’s Education and Research Centers and Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Program, two projects that the White House has sought to cut for several years. Toxic Substances Control Act. On June 23, the House passed the TSCA Modernization Act. The bill would force EPA to complete risk assessments for dangerous chemicals within three years, issue risk management rules within 90 days of completing an assessment, and preserve states’ rights to issue their own protections. An alternative bill has been introduced in the Senate. Regulation through guidance. It seems the recent Supreme Court decision affirming that agencies do not have to undergo notice-and-comment rulemaking when they issue guidance is not going to be accepted by all. Several Republican senators have announced plans to investigate the approach used by many federal agencies, including OSHA. Opponents of the use of “guidance” say the process does not allow the public to have input on potentially significant regulations. Supporters of the process say use of guidance is necessary because regulatory action takes too long and that employers want to know how agencies plan to address and enforce regulations. Regulatory reform. To date, no fewer than a dozen separate bills have been introduced to supposedly “reform” the regulatory process in some way. One bill would require federal agencies to submit rules with an annual impact of $100 million or more to Congress for approval; another would require federal agencies to issue the “least costly” regulation; still another would require agencies to cut or modify existing regulations before they can issue new ones. In years past, none of these bills would stand a chance of passage. But times have changed, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two of these bills passed and actually signed by the president.