Autos, TV, oil: fewer US rules

Every weekday another volume arrives --printed the latest federal regulations. Regulations on everything from growing lemons in Arizona to waste treatment in Virginia.

Last year this publication, the Federal Register, amassed a record of more than 85,000 pages of Uncle Sam's rules and notices.

But the new mood to deregulate America is making its mark, even on the Register. Not that it is shrinking. Instead, the message is changing. Next to announcements of rulemaking, we now see notices from agencies that have decided not to make new rules. Words like "burden on manufacturers" and "relaxation" are popping up.

A recent issue headlines the official notice that the Federal Trade Commission is dropping its effort to ban advertisements on children's TV. For three years the FTC had considered ways to control commercials for sugared cereals, candy, and toys, which are sandwiched between cartoon shows on Saturday mornings.

So incensed were advertisers, broadcasters, and Congress that the FTS is throwing in the towel on this fight. As the Register reports, the FTC staff submitted a report late last month saying that a ban on ads aimed at young children "cannot be implemented."

Send us no more evidence on the ill effects of ads on children, says the FTC notice, in effect. The books are closed.

In that same issue of the Federal Register, April 8, the FTC also announced that it is partially suspending labeling requirements for recycled oil. And the Federal Communications Commission says it is relaxing rules on codes for certain radio equipment because they have become too "burdensome" for manufacturers and the commission.

On the next day the Register carried the Department of Transportation official notice that it will not force Detroit automakers to install automatic safety belts beginning September 1981, as required under the Carter administration. In fact, the DOT says it will spend the next year rethinking the whole concept of automatic restraints.

So self-conscious is the effort to stop making rules that the Register declares in another item, April 9, "This notice is not a notice of proposed rulemaking." Those words, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, preface plans to relax standards on everything from bumpers to speedometers.

President Reagan promised to cut red tape and he is fulfilling that promise. By executive order, he has said no new rules will be made "unless the potential benefits society" outweigh the costs. And any agency that plans to make a major new rule must first prepare a study of its impact.

Departments that run the giant federal machinery are taking inventory of their rules. And a special task force, which includes Vice-President George Bush, is studying ways to cut back on regulations.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, several bills are pending that would streamline procedures or even give Congress the right to veto regulations made by the bureaucracy.

The task ahead will be both complex and politically difficult. The government has 58 regulatory agencies. They issue 7,000 rules and policy statements a year.

Those regulatory agencies, established by Congress, grew out of expressed needs. Business monopolies choked competition, so Congress passed antitrust laws and set up the FTC in 1914 to be its official "trustbuster." When Americans saw lakes and air being spoiled, Congress responded with antipollution laws and the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, the laws that set up the regulatory agencies often gave only vague instructions on how they should operate. Critics charge that overzealous control agencies now are themselves out of control. Estimates say that it costs the nation as much as $150 billion a year to conform to federal regulation.

So, as recent issues of the Federal Register show, Reagan's team is beginning to turn the tide. It is moving with approval from the business community. But hard battles are ahead.

A coalition of labor and environmental groups already has formed to fight for regulations on worker safety and pollution. As regulations are dropped, Washington can expect to hear from others who see those rules as vital protection.

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