Don't let ideology trump reason on federal animal welfare rules

Even with so much other political activity in Washington, it's hard not to notice the anti-regulatory rhetoric streaming out of the White House and Congress in the new political setup, and wonder where the balance is. President Trump has frozen many new regulations, including one to crack down on horse soring (which the Obama administration failed to publish). Given his allegiance to the NRA, Trump may also nix a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service order to phase out lead ammunition on national wildlife refuges and allow the resumption of ruthless predator control activities on millions of acres of federal lands in Alaska. Alaska Rep. Don Young and Sen. Dan Sullivan have already introduced resolutions urging a repeal of the Alaska rules that forbid aerial gunning of wolves and trapping of grizzly bears.

Trump announced this week that for every new regulation taken up, he wants to repeal two. On top of that, the Republican-controlled House is eagerly invoking the Congressional Review Act, which would allow some late-term Obama administration regulations to be reversed with simple majorities in the House and Senate. And the House passed the REINS Act a couple of weeks ago, which would require congressional approval of all "major" regulations, with the intent of keeping new rules to a trickle. It also passed the "Midnight Rules" Act, which would allow the House and Senate to bundle together regulations and repeal the entire roster all at once.

Sure, there are times in which government overreaches. But many rules and regulations that once seemed jarring to some businesses and private citizens are now viewed as essential safeguards in our society. It's a regulation to have car manufacturers build automobiles with greater fuel efficiency so we are not so dependent on foreign oil. It's a regulation to do random testing for salmonella bacteria or E. coli before food gets to the supermarket or the table. And it is a set of federal regulations that help assure safety in the airline industry.

Regulations to crack down on animal cruelty, for example, aren't a cost to business, but a reflection of our deepest values. The only people who should despise that kind of rulemaking are the perpetrators of animal abuse. Good businesses embrace these rules, and understand it will help the bottom line when their customers know that they are adhering to standards.

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that horse show trainers shouldn't torment horses by intentionally injuring their feet just to produce an artificial, prize-winning show gait known as the "big lick" - a practice known as "soring" -- that's a regulation, and a good and overdue one. When the USDA says that the term "organic" should mean that animals are not confined in small cages or mutilated as a routine husbandry practice, that's a common-sense regulation, benefiting family farmers who can sell their products at a higher rate in return for their sustainable husbandry practices. What decent person wouldn't agree with these rules, or begrudge the horsemen or farmers doing things the right way and not cutting corners?

We live in a society that observes standards of regulated capitalism. A purely free market is an illusion in a representative democracy. It's an American value for business to operate with tremendous freedom and latitude, but businesses must also be subject to reasonable guidelines, which are a blend of self-restraint and the application of law.

So, by all means, stop government waste and overreach - particularly where it favors special interests at the expense of the public. But don't accept the notion that eliminating regulations is good for its own sake, without examining the merits. We need the government to shield us from bad actors. That's why the Senate should reject the REINS Act and the Midnight Rules Act. And both chambers should take a look at the merits of the regulations that they are considering for repeal. Cut the ones that don't work and run against the grain of our values. But defend the ones that protect the public and that require businesses to play by a fair set of rules.

In the workings of government, and through the pressure applied to government, we seek to find that sweet spot where private industry can flourish and private citizens and animals and the environment are protected. That's the essence of a regulated capitalism and a civil society. And that's where we'll always take our stand.

This article first appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.