Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter.
Governor Kim Reynolds issued Executive Order 10 on January 10, requiring all state agencies, boards and commissions to repeal all existing administrative rules. These administrative rules are supposed to fill in the details of legislative intent when the legislature passes a law giving an agency, board, or commission authority to carry out its obligations under the statute.
A review of the order reveals what the governor is really up to.
The first “Whereas” clause in Executive Order 10 alleges that Iowa’s current rules have imposed high costs on employers, inhibited job growth, impeded private sector investment, and increased the complexity and expense of economic life. Where is the governor’s proof for any of those allegations? She also ignores the benefits of the rules. Unchecked capitalism results in damage to people and the environment. That is why we have rules, which are supposed to protect us.
The second “Whereas” clause alleges there is a regulatory burden on Iowans. The regulatory burden is not on Iowans. If there is a regulatory burden, it is on business and industry, which of course, is the only thing that matters to the governor. And what about the burden on people and the environment if the rules offer no protection?
That clause goes on to talk about citizens’ freedom to engage in individual, family, and business pursuits. What about the freedom from harm, the freedom to enjoy clean water and clean air, the freedom to enjoy nature, the freedom to have our persons and property protected, among other freedoms that administrative rules can provide?
The third “Whereas” clause alleges that the current administrative code contains 190,000 restrictive terms. But not all terms in the code are restrictive. Some are very expansive in letting businesses get away with harming people and the environment. Anyway, some rules are meant to be restrictive to prevent injurious conduct.
The fourth “Whereas” clause alleges that there are national economic headwinds facing Iowans. What economic headwinds does the governor have in mind? Inflation is moderating or perhaps decreasing, unemployment is at a historic low, wages are rising slightly, efforts are being made to bring manufacturing back to this country. And how would changing Iowa’s administrative rules address any of that?
The fifth “Whereas” clause again claims state regulations are “excessively burdensome,” without any proof to substantiate that assertion.
The seventh “Whereas” clause requires a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. How will the benefits be measured? Many, if not most, of the benefits of the rules cannot be reduced to dollars and cents. Trying to do so, which I expect is what we will see, is a rigged effort.
Throughout Executive Order 10, the governor places a lot of authority in the hands of the Administrative Rules Coordinator. Reynolds recently appointed Nate Ristow to that position. He has been on her staff for a few years in various roles. Before that he was an aide to former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. That does not bode well.
Section II of the order requires each agency to repeal existing rules. In other words, the review of the rules by each agency must result in repeal, a preordained conclusion.
Under Section III, even if an agency wants to renew any rules, the rules must pass a “comprehensive evaluation and rigorous cost-benefit analysis.” Again, this will be a rigged effort, apparently under the control of the governor’s hand-picked Administrative Rules Coordinator. And any new rule must reduce the regulatory burden (on the regulated entities) or remain neutral. In other words, a new rule can never be more protective of people and the environment than the current rule.
A moratorium on new rules is imposed to “create a more stable regulatory environment and provide businesses with certainty.” There is no mention of the impact on the lives of Iowans. It is all about protecting business.
Having said all of that, Sierra Club’s position, at least for the rules we regularly deal with, is that many of the existing rules are too favorable to business and should be strengthened. The governor’s order appears designed to do just the opposite.
Top photo of Governor Kim Reynolds cropped from an image first published on her official Facebook page on January 13.