By Robert Reich, https://robertreich.org/
Your life could get a lot more dangerous. Republican appointees on the Supreme Court seem poised to strip away basic safety standards for our workplaces, our food, our air and water.
Congress gives federal agencies the authority to enact regulations that protect us in our daily lives. Congress defines the goals, but leaves it up to the health and safety experts in those agencies to craft and enforce regulations.
I know regulations don’t sound very exciting, but they’re how our government keeps us safe.
Remember when lots of romaine lettuce was recalled because it was causing E.coli outbreaks? That was the Food and Drug Administration protecting us from getting sick.
Working in a warehouse? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets standards to ensure you don’t breathe in dangerous chemicals like asbestos.
Enjoying the fresh air on a clear, sunny day? Thank the Environmental Protection Agency for limiting the amount of pollution that can go into our air.
These agencies save lives. Since OSHA was established a half-century ago, its workplace safety regulations have saved more than 618,000 workers’ lives.
Republicans have been trying to gut these agencies for decades. Now, with the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority solidly in place, they have their best chance yet.
The Court claimed that Covid isn’t an “occupational hazard” because people can become infected outside of work, and that allowing OSHA to regulate in this manner “would significantly expand” its authority without clear Congressional authorization.
This is absurd on its face. Section 2 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 clearly spells out OSHA’s authority to enact and enforce regulations that protect workers from illness, injury, and death in the workplace. Congress doesn’t need to list every specific workplace hazard before OSHA can protect workers.
What this ruling tells us is that the Republican appointees on the Supreme Court are intent on gutting the power of agencies to issue regulations.
This term, the Court will also hear a case regarding the EPA’s authority to enforce the Clean Water Act. If the Court undermines the EPA’s authority, it will put our environment – and our health – at risk. Remember when the Cuyahoga River caught on fire because it was brimming with oil, acid, and factory chemicals? That’s what we may be returning to.
And what’s next? Will they gut the Federal Trade Commission and put us all at risk of being defrauded? Target the Securities and Exchange Commission and deregulate the financial sector, sparking another financial crisis?
Beware. If Republican appointees on the Supreme Court succeed in gutting regulatory agencies, we all lose. This agenda is anti-worker, anti-consumer, and anti-environment. The only thing it’s good for is corporate profits.
Robert Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration.