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The Expanding Regulation of the American People

Monday September 8th, 2014   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:52am PDT   •  

The Mercatus Center has been busy developing a new online database that quantifies just how the number of regulations governing every activity of the American people has grown since 1997. RegData 2.0 doesn’t just give a high-level summary, it allows readers to drill down into the U.S. federal government’s regulatory morass to quantify where most of the regulations are being generated.

Taking it for a test drive, we started with a simple count of the number of restrictions on activities that are have come to be recorded in the Code of Federal Regulations from 1997 through 2012.


Working from that database, the Mercatus Center’s Patrick McLaughlin identified the 10 biggest issuers of new regulations over the ten years from 2002 through 2012.


Having identifed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the biggest generator of new regulations and restrictions, we returned to the database and sorted through each of the industries that have seen the biggest increase in attention from the EPA. We found two sectors that have seen a remarkable increase in scrutiny over the last several years.

The first won’t be any surprise: the mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction industries have seen the largest increase in regulations.


The second sector is very surprising. The EPA significantly boosted its regulation of the Finance and Insurance industry.


Now, we can understand why government agencies like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or even the Departments of Commerce or the Treasury might seek to increase regulations over the Finance and Insurance industries, particularly following the 2008 financial crisis. But why on earth would the EPA even think it has a valid role in regulating these industries?

A check of the top industrial polluters in the United States turns up only Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway as a major contributor to pollution in the U.S. among an otherwise exclusive list of energy-related producers, and then, only because of the conglomerate’s MidAmerican Energy utility division.

As best as we can tell, the Obama administration’s EPA issued a large number of regulations in 2009 related to the creation of a cap-and-trade scheme for controlling greenhouse-gas emissions in advance of the U.S. Congress’s anticipated passage of laws that would enable the EPA to compel the industries it directly regulates to participate. But the legislative effort to establish the scheme failed to pass into law in 2010, despite the Obama administration having a supermajority in the U.S. Congress at the time, leaving behind a bunch of what are now seemingly useless regulations on the books.

But rather than remove the regulations, which have not been approved by the U.S. Congress, the EPA has instead chosen to keep them on the books, where they might lie dormant until some arbitrary time in the future, when they might suddenly erupt like a volcano and blanket the entire nation with a fresh layer of regulatory ash.

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September 2014