Running an auto repair shop, I know it’s important to have clear rules of the road for how and when to repair and maintain vehicles, and clear, justifiable emissions standards. These standards and rules help keep drivers safe, keep vehicles running clean to protect our environment and public health, and provide businesses like mine with the necessary guidance on how to best serve our customers and protect the quality of life in our local communities.
Unfortunately, leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have declared an all-out war on rules and standards, advancing proposal after proposal that would roll back things like environmental protections, new rules of the road for the financial sector and other basic safeguards.
The latest examples? Two proposals in the House of Representatives that would undermine agencies’ ability to establish and enforce basic standards and safeguards: the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2011 (H.R. 3010) and the cleverly acronymed REINS Act (“Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2011,” H.R. 10).
Both of these proposals are being promoted under the pretext of helping small businesses. This is despite the fact that in survey after survey and interview after interview, real small business owners are saying that what we need is more customers — more demand — not deregulation.
These attacks on basic standards are either misguided or disingenuous. They completely miss — or ignore — the basic fact that standards and regulations play an important role in creating jobs and supporting innovation in the U.S. economy.
Just look at my industry, auto repair. In our sector, smart and focused automobile emission standards protect the air we breathe, provide needed employment for the nation’s repair technicians who keep our vehicles running clean, and promote innovations that help U.S. companies be on the cutting edge of new automotive technologies.
In the 1990s, when the vehicle manufacturers (OEMs) declared that the diagnostic codes and emissions service bulletins (TSBs) they provided their dealerships to diagnose and repair emission failures were proprietary information they did not have to share, the Environmental Protection Agency disagreed. The EPA came to the aid of clean air and the independent auto repair community, asserting that environmental protection rights trump intellectual property rights. The EPA required the OEMs to release (and eventually standardize) their codes and TSBs, leveling the playing field for the thousands of small, independent businesses across America who keep the country’s vehicle fleet running cleanly and smoothly.
If the EPA is “REINed” in, will all the auto repair shops across this country suddenly be relegated to oil changes and tire rotations? Is that how this U.S. House of Representatives plans to help America’s small businesses create jobs?
We need demand, not deregulation. But to say that all the rhetoric about regulations is just a waste of time would be putting it charitably.
It’s true, the misguided focus is wasting precious time at a point when small businesses need real action from Congress — to create jobs, to get people back to work earning a paycheck they can spend in their local economies, to deal with the mortgage crisis so those paychecks aren’t getting sent straight to Wall Street banks.
But bills like the Regulatory Accountability Act and the REINS Act aren’t just a waste of time. In fact, they’re the latest move to shift risk and shift costs from narrow corporate interests (like big polluters and big banks) to small businesses.
When politicians push this anti-regulatory agenda in the name of “helping small business,” we need to call that what it is: small business identity theft. It’s stealing the good name of small business to drive an agenda that benefits narrow special interests at our expense.
Oh, and about that cute REINS acronym … I think a more apt name would be the REIGNS Act, because what these bills would really do is give big corporations free reign to cut corners, use and abuse their market power, and leave the 99 percent — small businesses and our customers included — to pay the price for their misdeeds. Can someone remind me how that’s supposed to be good for us? — Jim Houser, Portland, Oregon (Editor’s note: Houser is the owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, Ore. He serves on the executive committee of the Main Street Alliance, a network of 10,000 small business owners across the country.)