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Wyoming Delegation Endorses Efforts To Remove Regulations

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The Trump administration has aggressively moved to unwind an array of federal regulations since the coronavirus pandemic hit America, and that's in line with what Wyoming's federal lawmakers have wanted all along. But Matt Laslo reports from Washington that one of them is contradicting President Trump and says more testing is the key to recovery.

As the economy went from breaking records to a recession in mere months officials at all levels have scrambled to try and square this circle brought to us by coronavirus. For President Trump that meant signing an executive order back in May commanding federal agencies to rescind, modify, wave or provide exemptions to any federal regulation they think - or even claim - will impede economic recovery. Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney is the number three GOP leader in the House, and she's fully on board.

"We recognize we've got to do everything we can to help people get through this economic crisis and this challenge," Cheney said.

Since the pandemic took root on American soil, the administration has targeted mine safety regulations, clean air, water and Endangered Species Act ones, along with bank regulations and ones intended to protect student borrowers. There are also worker protections that have been wound back along with wetland protections and an effort is underway to loosen overtime pay requirements.

While she's not endorsing every change - there are almost too may to count at this point - Cheney wants as many of these regulatory rollbacks made permanent as possible.

"It's important. I think that to the extent that we can maintain sort of this much lower level of government intervention, in some areas, and some of the regulations that have been loosened up, certainly I think it would be beneficial if we're able to keep those from coming back again," Cheney said.

Senator John Barrasso chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee. He's on board with administration moves to unwind portions of the Clean Water Act. Barrasso's proud it's in line with his legislation that forces states to issue permits within a year or risk losing local authority over local projects.

"Part of what has passed the committee that I chair in the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee, actually helps us get projects done faster, better, cheaper, smarter. That's what people in Wyoming are looking for," Barrasso said.

Democrats accuse the GOP of using this pandemic to remake America in their party's image. Barrasso's counterpart on the committee is soft-spoken Delaware Democratic Senator Tom Carper who even issued a report entitled Pollution Pandemic. It highlights efforts by the GOP to relax fuel efficiency, Ozone, Mercury and air and toxic standards. Carper says the anti-regulatory push is alarming.

"We have a lot of folks who work in the EPA who are, frankly, beyond disappointed with the leadership that they've gotten on a bunch of these issues, but they're despondent. They have been very ready to share with us, from the inside, all kinds of information that enables us to blow the whistle, and we'll keep blowing the whistle and eventually, in a couple months, we'll have an election, and then it'll be a new day," Carper said.

Democrats are also upset about the regulations that aren't coming out, especially in the midst of a pandemic. OSHA - or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration - was established to protect workers. But OSHA's yet to release regulations that are federally enforceable. Democrat Bobby Scott of Virginia chairs the Education and Labor Committee in the House. He says this is deadly serious dereliction of duty from the White House.

"They won't issue regulations when needed. We've been asking for an OSHA regulation to protect workers from airborne infectious diseases, and it hasn't been issued. So the nursing homes and prisons and grocery stores and meatpacking plants, where there have been outbreaks and no enforceable regulation to do something about it," Scott said.

So how can the two parties broach this ideological divide and get the economy back on track? Wyoming senior Senator Mike Enzi has a simple solution.

"Testing," Enzi said. "When people can be sure that they're okay. And they're not working with people who aren't okay, that's one of the keys."

Unlike President Trump who has called for slashing testing - Enzi says the economy is being held back because of the lack of testing, because that's keeping schools closed which then means parents can't go to work.

"Testing the key to a lot of this to give people confidence. And being able to come back. And when they do, the economy will come back because people have a lot of pent up spending," Enzi said.

The problem for Democrats and Republicans alike is that President Trump continues to berate and belittle the testing his own health experts are calling for. That has public health and safety advocates fearing he's going to triple down on his call to unwind most every regulation he can find.

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.
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