2014 Midterm Elections Bring Uncertainty to EPA, OSHA Regulation

The 2014 midterm elections saw sweeping gains by the Republican Party, which may have implications for federal regulatory bodies.

The GOP assumed a majority in the U.S. Senate, taking at least 22 out of 36 contested seats  (a race in Alaska is still too close to call, and a race in Louisiana will be decided in a run-off).  In the House of Representatives, Republicans won 246 seats, for a net gain of 13, strengthening their majority. Of the 36 governorships up for grabs, Republicans won at least 24 (with Alaska still too close to call), for a net gain of at least three.

There is already some evidence that these results may have an impact on U.S. environmental and safety regulation.

Two days after the election, MSNBC reported that reelected U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said his top priority is “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”  A few days later, Shelley Moore Capito — a newly-elected Senator from West Virginia — told Fox News that in regard to serving the interests of her home state, “Rolling back the EPA regulations is the way to do it.”

In addition to the EPA, a strengthened Republican congress may also impact OSHA’s regulatory agenda. For example, many anticipate that the proposed tightening of rules around crystalline silica dust may now be in jeopardy. In late 2013, OSHA made public that they were considering an increase to silica dust regulation — a hazard traditionally faced by workers in the construction industry, but now being seen in the growing fracking industry in the form of “frac sand.” According to OSHA, the current PELs for silica dust are 40-years-old, “outdated, inconsistent between industries, and do not adequately protect worker health.”

In response, a group of 16 Republican Senators sent a letter to OSHA head David Michaels criticizing the move. The letter suggested that OSHA should “ensure that the concerns of small business are properly accounted for” and also claimed that “[w]ith the U.S. economy still recovering from a major economic downturn, stakeholders have been forced to reexamine their operations and deal with increased regulatory burdens.”

Many believe OSHA’s push for increased silica dust regulation is likely to be resisted even more powerfully based on these election results.

However, not everyone is convinced that the new political climate will necessarily translate to a future of diminished regulation. As some industry observers are pointing out, history shows that OSHA’s budget actually grows when there is a Democrat in the White House and the Republican Party controls both houses of Congress.

Whatever happens in the days ahead, stay tuned to MSDSonline’s EH&S Blog for up-to-date information and news on any changes to EPA, OSHA, and other agencies that may impact HazCom and workplace safety.