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Policy: Environment & Energy

Watchdogging Obama's regulatory state

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Opinion,Ron Arnold,Columnists,Barack Obama,Energy and Environment,Free Market,Government Regulation,Magazine

If you've ever tried to start your own business, this will stir old hopes and frustrations: Shortly before President Obama's State of the Union speech last week, a new Washington watchdog group launched its first campaign with a report on “The Regulated State of the Union.”

The Center for Regulatory Solutions — a project of a 20-year veteran of entrepreneurial advocacy, the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council — had the temerity to call on Obama to “not just listen to concerns from small business owners, but to take concrete steps to alleviate the burden of overregulation, which is stifling innovation and raising unnecessary costs that destroy jobs.”

Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the council, deserves some applause for her straight talk -- and congratulations on the center's report, which shows that “an overwhelming majority of Americans think regulations are hurting the competitive advantage of America's small businesses, and they want policymakers to put regulatory reform at the top of their agenda.”

Predictably, though, no tinge of regulatory relief ruffled Obama’s threats-and-bluster State of the Union performance, but instead reinforced suspicions that our president was deliberately dismantling the nation with administration-wide sabotage of industry after industry.

Americans from fishermen to insurance agents are getting tired of being victimized by their own government, said the report's poll section: "68 percent believe regulations are created by 'out-of-touch people trying to push a political agenda' rather than by 'well-intentioned people trying to address real challenges' (26 percent)."

Translation into street talk: Federal bigwigs purposefully crush our nation’s strength and spirit because they hate people in industry and delight in crushing them.

The poll found that "72 percent believe that regulations are created 'in a closed, secretive process' while just 21 percent say they are created in an 'open, transparent process.' Three-in-five (59 percent) disagree that they could easily find out about what regulations the federal government is considering."

Street talk: Obamacrats know they’re destructive and fear what the public would do to them if they only knew.

The most interesting poll question asked respondents to grade whether 10 sectors were "hurt more" or "helped more" by government regulations. Here are the top five that respondents said were hurt more: America’s economic competitiveness with the world (67 percent), "Americans 'like you' " (66 percent), entrepreneurs and small businesses (66 percent), American workers (66 percent) and employers (64 percent).

Astonishingly, 52 percent said the environment was “hurt more” by regulations. Good intuition: This Tuesday's report by the House Endangered Species Working Group found the species protection law was hurting most species because of green group lawsuits that listed hundreds of creatures at a time, which spread the workforce so thin that nothing got done. In 40 years, the Endangered Species Act has saved only 2 percent of listed species -- creatures that recovered to the point they didn't need protection anymore. Two percent is one of the worst records for a failed law in history. Blame the lawyers of the Center for Biological Diversity and Wild Earth Guardians.

Kerrigan’s report offers some cogent “specific actions President Obama can support to improve transparency and accountability, as well as strengthen economic growth and investment and create jobs.”

For example, Obama can support “[h]alting the Environmental Protection Agency's destructive greenhouse regulatory regime under the Clean Air Act to avoid raising electricity costs for all consumers, including small businesses.”

The problem is, Obama won’t do that. That means we’re faced with the age-old question about great recommendations: Where’s the teeth?

America still needs a toothy way to disempower bureaucrats before they disempower America.

Perhaps such a plan is forming in the 11-year-old mind of Chloe Stirling, of Troy, Ill., who ran her cupcake-making business out of her parents' kitchen for two years before the Madison County Health Department found out and shut her down. They told her to buy a bakery or a separate kitchen.

Cupcakes aren’t the only dish best served cold. Give it a decade or three and this kid might reappear as a powerful neo-enlightenment judge who orders the local government to shut down all regulatory agencies in favor of citizen self-determination.

Don't laugh. People abused by enough despotism have been known to do all kinds of extraordinary things.

RON ARNOLD, a Washington Examiner columnist, is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.
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