In the Twilight of his Presidency, Clinton Launches Regulatory Charge

President Clinton recently declared that, far from being a lame duck, he still has “ten weeks left to quack.” With Americans distracted by vote counts and court battles, the administration has begun quacking, launching a three-pronged regulatory assault that could burden the country for years to come.

Ergonomics Rule. On November 13, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued sweeping new ergonomic rules. These regulations are intended to reduce the risk of ergonomic injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Under the rules, employees who complain of such an injury would receive 90 days of employer-paid sick leave.

The Clinton administration estimates that the new ergonomic rules will cost businesses $4.9 billion per year. This estimate, however, is based on unrealistic assumptions. More sober analysis puts the cost at more than twice this figure — nearly $12 billion a year — and some estimates reach as high as $126 billion annually.

Neither scientific knowledge nor market experience support OSHA’s “command and control” approach. In fact, private sector programs have already begun to address ergonomic injuries with solutions that are tailored to the needs of individual businesses and workers. Information from the Department of Labor suggests that this approach works, since ergonomic injuries are declining.

Atlantic Salmon Listing. Over the past several years, the Clinton administration has placed almost two dozen subspecies of Pacific Northwest salmon on the endangered species list, with economic effects and restrictions on individual freedom that are just starting to hit home.

Of course, salmon in the Pacific Northwest are in absolutely no danger of extinction. Millions of them are born in hatcheries and returned to the wild each year. These fish are indistinguishable from the so-called “wild” salmon that the listings are intended to protect. In fact, if hatchery fish were counted, there would be no need for endangered species listings at all. Yet biological purists and government bureaucrats insist that only salmon born under specific natural conditions are actually salmon.

The Atlantic coast will now feel the straightjacket of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as well. On November 13, the Clinton administration added Atlantic salmon in Maine to the endangered species list.

There is even less scientific justification for this move than there was for the Pacific salmon listings. There have been no “genetically pure” wild salmon in Maine’s rivers for decades. Instead, these fish are the descendants of hatchery fish from both inside and outside of the state. Moreover, Atlantic salmon, like their Pacific counterparts, are in no danger of extinction.

Since the ESA not only prohibits harming fish, but also the habitat in which they live, there is almost no limit to the activities that could classify as violating the act. The people of Maine will soon discover what citizens in the Pacific Northwest already understand: ESA listings give sweeping power to federal bureaucracies, and come at a heavy price for average citizens.

Expanded Roadless Areas Initiative. Last year, the Clinton administration proposed a “Roadless Areas Initiative” that would ban almost all human activity in approximately 50 million acres of National Forest Service land. Not only would these areas be placed off limits to most Americans, valuable natural resources would be sealed off as well.

The plan would lead to increased imports of timber, which are likely to come from countries with poor environmental records. Selective, responsible, and sustainable timber harvesting in the United States would be replaced by rampant, unsupervised clear cutting overseas.

On November 13, Clinton announced that a 8.5 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest will be included, bringing the total acreage covered under the roadless plan to 58.5 million acres — an area larger than the entire state of Idaho.

Moreover, by stopping just short of giving these lands an official “wilderness” designation, Clinton has cut Congress out of the process. Perhaps this is because Congress, the people’s representatives, never would have approved this farewell gift to extreme environmental special interests.

The Opening Salvo. This trifecta of regulations is just the beginning. There are an additional 67 rules and regulations being considered by the Environmental Protection Agency alone. The next ten weeks of “quacking” by President Clinton could prove very loud indeed.