- - Thursday, January 8, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Americans hear a welcome jingle of coins in their pockets when they pull away from the gasoline pumps, and that music might get a little louder in coming weeks. With the price at the pump now little more than $2 a gallon in most places, drivers can look forward to saving $75 billion in annual fuel costs. The open road never looked more inviting.

But taxpayers should keep in mind that federal rules will cost them considerably more than the rules did last year. Republicans control Capitol Hill now, and the 114th Congress could earn its generous pay and perks by stanching the torrent of diktats from Washington. This is an opportunity for both the old guard and the tea party irregulars to make common cause.

The American Action Forum, a Washington think tank, crunched the numbers and found the cost of all the rules of the bureaucrats on the Potomac added up to $181.5 billion in 2014. That may not sound like much in a $17 trillion economy, until the numbers get up close and personal. It works out to $567, about the price of a 50-inch flat screen TV, for each man, woman and child in the United States. Though they may not have had enough to afford such a luxury for themselves, each family of mom, dad and two kids were thus deprived of enough cash to buy four of them for the tax collector.

Last year saw the addition of $16.9 billion in new regulations, according to the Forum’s calculations. The booby prize for the most expensive rule goes to, surprise, the Environmental Protection Agency, whose new restrictions on ozone emissions could cost Americans $15 billion by the time they are fully implemented. Five other regulations impose costs of more than $1 billion each.

Federal regulations are intended to make everyone safer and healthier. But rules imposed without regard to cost can and often do inflict more pain than pleasure. The environmentalists on the left teamed up with the Obama administration to require coal-burning electric utility companies to install expensive scrubbers on their smokestacks to remove particulate matter and carbon dioxide. The result is that electricity rates climbed 5 percent last year and could jump as much as 80 percent when the full impact of the rule takes effect, according to U.S. Energy Department estimates.

Moreover, there is little regard for the cumulative effect of such costly rules. It’s like the dilemma of the shopper who happily loads up his cart at the supermarket, to discover at the checkout counter that he doesn’t have the money to pay for it. In this case, it’s the federal bureaucrats filling the cart and sticking the taxpayers with the bill.

The price tag for new regulations imposed so by President Obama’s administration is $95 billion, more than double the bill for the entire previous regulatory scheme. It’s only wishful to think that after six years Mr. Obama will to awaken discover the mischief caused by his lieutenants and set out to do something about the explosion of rules to cover 80,000 pages.

Congress, however, can employ the power of the purse to begin reclaiming the authority it foolishly delegated to federal agencies. Regulations require funding for implementation, and Congress could refuse to appropriate money to put new restrictions in motion. Congress could further withhold the $3 billion the president has pledged to the United Nations Green Climate Fund for mitigating the purported effects of global warming in the Third World.

Inability to see the forest for the trees is a sign of poor leadership. Americans have demanded relief from runaway regulation, and fortunately the emasculation of Congress is not yet complete. The Republicans in Congress should lead the way to unwind the red tape strangling the economy. It’s the beginning of the repaying the debt to the taxpayers who sent them to Washington last November.

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