Don’t buy the hype: deregulation helps the rich, hurts the rest

President Trump patted himself on the back for “ending the war on American energy” and “ending the war on beautiful clean coal” in West Virginia and Pennsylvania during his first State of the Union address this week.

“In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history,” he told us.

Of course, news agencies rushed to fact-check the second part of that statement, which was, like most of the president’s SOTU address, mostly false: he signed more Congressional Review Act measures during his first year, but other presidents, including Bill Clinton Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, signed more deregulation laws during their first years in office.

But it’s the first part of that statement that really made this editor (who, by the way, grew up in heavily polluted, not-so-beautiful coal country) roll her eyes.

Making Washington accountable? That’s a good one.

As investigative journalists at ProPublica and the New York Times pointed out last year, Trump’s deregulation binge likely has more to do with appeasing his cronies than with cutting red tape and freeing businesses from the big bad government.

The investigation found that Trump’s push to destroy government regulations “is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts. … The New York Times and ProPublica identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts.”

So much for draining that swamp. He’s letting the alligators deregulate for him. But why should we care about deregulation here in Camas-Washougal?

Well, if you were affected by the 2008 Great Recession, you should care. If you live within breathing distance of the paper mill, you should care. And, if you live anywhere near the train tracks that run through Camas-Washougal, you should care.

All of these things are affected by government regulations. In the case of the 2008 economic nosedive that hurt so many American families, experts point to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley law and Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which eroded government regulations on commercial and investment banks and allowed risky mortgages to gain traction in every corner of the country, as the main cause of the worst U.S. downturn since the Great Depression.

Regulations aren’t perfect, but they are usually put in place to protect consumers and families from falling victim to corporate greed.

Often, deregulation can lead to tragedy and environmental ruin. The catastrophic 2013 oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, is a prime example: years of deregulation, mostly by conservative Canadian government leaders, had eroded that country’s railroad safety controls. By the time the Lac-Megantic accident occurred — killing 50 people and wiping out the downtown business community — Canada’s railway companies were inspecting their own equipment and infrastructure with little to no government oversight.

Regulating industry is often the only thing the public can do to ensure the air they breathe and water they drink is free from dangerous toxins. The Clean Air Act — which Trump is messing with, by the way, in an attempt to deregulate some of the biggest air polluters in the nation — helps regulate industries like pulp and paper mills, which release toxic air pollutants like dioxin that are known to cause cancer and birth defects.

Even the news you get — or, rather, don’t get — is the product of massive deregulation in this country. Deregulation in the mid-1990s and early 2000s led to the fact that five companies, controlled by 15 billionaires, now own 90 percent of the news you read and hear.

Deregulation is great for the heads of these companies … which could explain why we rarely hear about major economic studies debunking the deregulation myths. That brings us back to Trump’s “beautiful coal” scenario. Turns out, a 2017 Columbia University study has completely disproved the president’s promises, finding that federal regulations had little to do with the coal industry’s demise and that it is “highly unlikely U.S. coal mining employment will return to pre-2015 levels, let alone the industry’s historical highs.”

The next time you hear the president or a local legislator or even a major media company touting the wonders of deregulation, think about who benefits from killing regulations on dangerous industry, media mergers and environmental polluters and remember that, unless you’re a billionaire, the answer is likely, “not me.”