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Walter Rodgers

Grizzly encounters and other reasons for federal regulations

My Alaska encounters with fly fishing and grizzly bears reveal how much America benefits from federal regulations. Without them, this pristine wilderness would likely not exist, and neither would many protections for consumers and workers.

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Small wonder American business remains wild about the hands-off philosophy of Ronald Reagan. During the eight years of his presidency, his administration eviscerated the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, gutting federal oversight. Even trade-industry publishers like Crain Communications acknowledged that leaving private industry to police itself led to the Ford Explorer and Firestone tire-rollover fatal accidents of the late 1990s.

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Government oversight is not some wild-eyed liberal dream. Rather it’s an inevitable response to what is often corporate negligence sometimes approaching criminality.

Try to persuade the victims of BP’s Gulf oil spill that they can trust any oil company’s CEO. Corporate responsibility is a fiction to the families of 29 West Virginia coal miners who died underground working for Massey Energy last year. The state report, done by an independent team of investigators, concluded that Massey made little effort to ensure the safety of its miners, saying it “operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner.”

On the other hand, regulators with a job to do, have to make sure they do it.

Further back, I remember covering Senate hearings in which I heard the presidents of the Big Three Detroit automakers testify that seat belts and air pollution controls on cars would be bad for Americans.

Think of your last commercial airline flight. Then, recall what flying was like before deregulation of the airlines in the Carter administration. Which flight did you enjoy more? We may have cheaper fares – but it’s a cattle call now.

An FDA inspector who sounded the alarm

America was spared Europe’s thalidomide-birth defects disaster because of a Food and Drug Administration inspector named Frances Oldham Kelsey. The pharmacologist blocked the drug from the US market in the early 1960s because of concerns about its safety. She was later decorated by President Kennedy.

As Capitol Hill ideologues bellow about cutting spending and regulation, I can’t but wonder how much they might actually be acting on behalf of their corporate backers who still believe government is bad and unregulated industry is good.

Not even my grizzly bear could swallow that.

Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.

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