September 29, 2008 The Pump Handle 0Comment

The Labor Department has rejected calls from numerous public interest groups and even the chairman of its legislative oversight committee to conduct public hearings and extend the time period to provide feedback on its worker health risk assessment proposal.  That means that today, Monday, September 29 is the final day to submit comments on the Assistant Secretary for Policy Leon Sequeira’s proposed changes to OSHA’s and MSHA’s risk assessment practices.  He sent identical letters dated September 25 to Congressman George Miller (D-CA) (here), Prof. Rena Steinzor (here), and probably to others, stating:

“The Department has carefully considered your request…  We do not believe a public hearing is necessary or likely to result in public input that cannot be provided just as effectively in written form.”

I wonder if Mr. Sequeira has ever attended an OSHA rulemaking hearing?  I suspect not. 

The hearing provides a forum for a robust exchange of information and views between the staff who developed the rule and interested parties.  The whole process is overseen by an administrative law judge to ensure fairness and decorum, but its purpose is two-way communication.  If Mr. Sequeira feels so strongly that this regulation is necessary to improve OSHA and MSHA performance of risk assessment, why won’t he spend a couple of days participating in a public hearing? 

  • Does he not have the evidence to support his proposal?
  • Is he concerned that he might have to face some harsh words from coal miners, construction workers and nurses who suffer serious health effects from workplace chemicals that are not yet regulated and would be further delayed by his regulation?
  • Does he think a hearing would just be a waste of time because he’s going to push ahead with a final rule no matter what workers and scientists convey at a public hearing?

Mr. Sequeira also rejected requests to extend the comment period beyond the short 30 days provided.  So much for his claim that they wanted

“…to gain valuable public input and in the interests of full transparency and accountability.” (73 Fed Reg  50910)

Yeah, right. 

Mr. Sequeira’s letter rejecting the request for an extension of the comment period claims that this proposed regulation is so inconsequential that additional time is unnecessary.

“The proposal would not change existing health standards, nor impose any new requirements or compliance burdens on any regulated entity.  In fact, the proposal, which consists of only a few pages of regulatory text, seeks public comment on the addition of just two items related to the Department’s current practice: 1) the inclusion of an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking; and 2) the electronic posting of all documents underlying the rulemaking involving a risk assessment.”

If its so inconsequential, why did you waste six pages in the Federal Register explaining why the mandate is so important?  

Why?  Because there is something more to this proposal and the process developing it than meets the eye.  I don’t know who’s pushing it, or why they feel so strongly that it must be completed by the end of the Bush term.   But this lack of transparency alone makes me extremely suspicious.  Some   individuals or interest groups are trying to screw workers from having a fair and timely regulatory system that is supposed to help protect them from serious work-related health hazards.

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