West, Texas Disaster Highlights Our Regulatory Problems.

Those on the political right are fond of saying that business is over-regulated by the federal government…even after the economic meltdown resulting from the lax regulation of financial institutions; even after skyrocketing oil prices caused by deregulation of commodities; even after the ecological disaster involving BP Oil and the Deepwater Horizon caused, in part, by a shortage of inspectors experienced in deep water drilling .

Not surprisingly, the facts show that we have far too few regulators to make sure that greedy corporations and individuals live up to their responsibilities.

There is an estimated $70 billion in Medicare fraud because Medicare lacks enough investigators to check the more than $525 billion claims annually.  There are only a handful of ATFE agents to inspect our more than 58,000 gun dealers.  And their were apparently too few EPA and OSHA inspectors to discover that the West, Texas fertilizer plant stored 270 tons of explosive ammonium nitrate…more than 1,350 times the 400 pounds that requires the facility to be monitored by the Department of Homeland Security.  The facility hadn’t been inspected in 28 years and had apparently filed false reports indicating no fire or explosive hazard.

Why the lack of inspections and regulators?  In some cases, there is confusion over which federal agency is responsible.  More often, it’s the result of Teapublicans cutting budgets and convincing the public that we are all over-taxed and over-regulated.  So greedy corporations continue to break the law in search of greater and greater profits.  Even when caught, they’re able to pay a relatively small fine and continue to skirt the law.

Yet most studies conclude that the money spent to hire inspectors is money well-spent. In many cases, we recover five to ten times the investment.

Of course, the impact on the environment and public safety is far more difficult to measure…unless you like to breathe clean air, drink clean water or avoid being incinerated by an unnecessary explosion.