Worst of the Worst in 2012 Regulations

There’s room for one last "Bottom 10" list of 2012. With thousands of new government regulations each year, it’s difficult to select the worst new rules put into place. Two Heritage Foundation experts give it a try, starting with 1,099 pages of new mortgage disclosure rules that have the stated goal of simplifying home loans.

(10) Mortgaging the Future: New mortgage disclosure rules were released in July by the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with a stated goal of simplifying home loans. The rules run an astonishing 1,099 pages. The net result of this and similar rules? Fewer consumer mortgage lending options and increased costs.

(9) Tracking Your Travels: In December, the Department of Transportation proposed that electronic data recorders, popularly known as "black boxes," be required in most cars starting in 2014. The stated goal is to collect more information about car accidents. But this spooks privacy advocates, who warn that federal bureaucrats could misuse this information.

(8) Essential Choice Cutbacks: Under the Obamacare "essential benefits" rule, health insurers will be forced to cover health care services that the government deems essential, whether you want to buy them or not. The net result will be to increase health care costs, increasing the burden on consumers, employers and taxpayers.

(7) Instant Union: In April, the National Labor Relations Board issued new rules that shortened the time allowed for union-organizing elections to between 10 and 21 days. This leaves little time for employees to make a fully informed choice on unionizing, threatening to leave workers and management alike under unwanted union regimes.

(6) Don’t Let Them Eat Cake: The Department of Agriculture in January published detailed new nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs. More than 98,000 elementary and secondary schools are affected – at a cost exceeding $3.4 billion over the next four years. The new rules sparked protests, and even a few hunger strikes, from students nationwide.

(5) Cleaned Out: Regulators admit that the new Energy Department rules governing dishwashers will do little to improve the environment. Rather, proponents claim they will save consumers money. But they will also increase the price of dishwashers, and only about one in six consumers will keep their dishwasher long enough to recoup the cost.

(4) Soda Socialism: On Sept. 13, at the behest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York Board of Health banned the sale of soda and other sweetened drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. New Yorkers apparently are still allowed refills, at least for now. No word on how many NYC cops will be moved from crime prevention to monitor the city’s soda fountains.

(3) Sticker Shock: Adopted in August, these new automobile mileage rules require a whopping average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Sticker prices will jump by hundreds of dollars. Regulators argue that the fuel savings will make up these costs. Whether consumers want to make such a tradeoff doesn’t matter. The government has decided for them.

(2) Increasing Energy Costs: The Environmental Protection Agency in February finalized strict new emissions standards for coal- and oil-fired electric utilities. The benefits are highly questionable, with the vast majority being unrelated to the emissions targeted by the regulation. The costs, unfortunately, are certain: estimated to be $9.6 billion annually. The regulations are likely to undermine energy reliability and raise energy costs across the entire economy.

(1) Conscience Denial: The Department of Health and Human Services on Feb. 15 finalized its mandate that all health insurance plans include coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives. The mandate allows no exception for church-affiliated schools, hospitals and charities whose religious principles conflict with the mandate. To date, 42 lawsuits representing more than 110 plaintiffs have been filed challenging this restriction on religious liberty as a violation of First Amendment.

Plain and Simple: Communications Missing the Mark

The 2010 Plain Writing Act, an attempt to make government communicate more clearly with the public, was a great idea. Saying it has to happen, however, is proving a lot easier than making it happen.

An update from The Washington Post:

Advocates estimate that federal officials have translated just 10 percent of their forms, letters, directives and other documents into “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use,” as the law requires.

Official communications must now employ the active voice, avoid double negatives and use personal pronouns. “Addressees” must now become, simply, “you.” Clunky coinages like “incentivizing” (first known usage 1970) are a no-no. The Code of Federal Regulations no longer goes by the abbreviation CFR.

But with no penalty for inaction on the agencies’ part, advocates worry that plain writing has fallen to the bottom of the to-do list, like many another unfunded mandate imposed by Congress. They say many agencies have heeded the 2010 law merely by appointing officials, creating working groups and setting up Web sites.

There are examples of plain language working.

In Washington state, a revamped letter tripled the number of businesses paying a commonly ignored use tax, bringing $2 million in new revenue in a year, according to law professor Joseph Kimble, author of a forthcoming book on the benefits of plain language.

And after the Department of Veterans Affairs revised one of its letters, calls to a regional call center dropped from about 1,100 a year to about 200, Kimble said.

“People complain about government red tape and getting government out of your hair,” said Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), House sponsor of the Plain Writing Act. “If every one of these forms was written in plain language, the number of contacts to federal agencies would plummet.”