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Change this, change that

Feb. 17, 2011
Robert Brooks, Editor Politicians come and eventually go, but the power of government is nowhere so impressive as it is in its anonymous and essentially permanent regulatory authority. Candidates and officeholders may portray themselves as ...
Robert Brooks, Editor

Politicians come and eventually go, but the power of government is nowhere so impressive as it is in its anonymous and essentially permanent regulatory authority. Candidates and officeholders may portray themselves as crusaders for causes and defenders of principles, but when they have an unpopular or embarrassing agenda to implement they are just as pleased to let regulatory agencies carry out their wishes. And so onerous or unpopular, or unreasonable, or expensive rules are imposed on citizens — and no one has to take responsibility for them.

In any given year, federal regulatory agencies will institute over 3,500 new regulations. A new one is issued every two hours, around the clock, every day. The U.S. Congress, in contrast, passes less than 200 legislative motions in the average year. Regulations just mount up, coercing a public that has essentially no opportunity to comment or reverse them.

Analysts at the Competitive Enterprise Institute estimate that federal regulations cost businesses and consumers at least $22.4 billion annually — without any consent or even input from citizens or their representatives.

So, it was remarkable when the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration withdrew a proposed interpretation of its standard on occupational noise. Last October, OSHA issued the clarification of the term “feasible administrative or engineering controls” as used in its noise standard. Industry groups, including the Non-Ferrous Founders’ Society, argued that the rule would force foundries and other manufacturers to reengineer their workplaces, even if programs are in place already to protect employees from loud noises. OSHA would have required an employer to adopt the new standard regardless of cost, unless the business proved that the change would force it to close. It would have been the epitome of overreach, but withdrawing the rule in no way means that federal agencies’ aggressive power accumulation is ending. That’s because in spite of Congress’s rejection during its last session of proposals to tax carbon emissions, in spite of numerous studies arguing against the effectiveness of such measures, and in spite of grim forecasts about their economic impact on domestic industries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency still plans to use the authority of the 1990 Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions.

In fact, while there are some bipartisan legislative countermeasures underway to stop EPA’s use of the CAA in this way, the regulatory process is already underway. On January 1, EPA started to regulate so-called greenhouse gases emitted by coal-fired power plants and oil refineries, among other operations, by requiring them to acquire carbon permits — as they do for emissions that cause smog and acid rain. Its next step will be to implement limits (“performance standards”) on the amount of carbon dioxide that large plants produce.

The reversal on OSHA’s noise rule should encourage manufacturers to work against the even greater threat represented by EPA’s carbon counting measures, and by the vast power that federal agencies hold over their businesses.

I avoid describing the metalcasting as a “traditional” or “old-fashioned” industry, even though in many good ways, it is that. Metalcasting traditions are a source of pride and assurance for many people, but that doesn’t keep them from trying new techniques and products that suit their particular purposes. Changes take place, but in increments, not wholesale. Because metalcasting has so many different focuses, it’s individual efforts that move the industry forward.

I also try to minimize self-references here, but we want readers to know that FM&T is always planned and presented with an eye toward the satisfaction and edification of individual readers — even though as individuals their interests range over a vast swath of subjects. Are we presenting enough details of this or that subject to interest readers across the spectrum of metalcasting activities? Or, are we slighting the readers whose focus is X or Y, in order to address Z? We want each issue to offer enough variety and insight to interest the wide range of readers’ concerns and attention. We want them to know us as the magazine for “management” and for “technology.” We need all of their attention to make FM&T successful, just as metalcasting needs all individuals’ contributions to shape its progress.

So, it’s hoped that all readers will find the graphic revisions introduced in this issue to be interesting and pleasing, always clear, never distracting. We want to be mindful of what’s gone before us, reliable about what’s happening now, and illuminating about what’s coming next — as FM&T has been for 118 years.