Federal regulators need to abandon their ‘us versus them’ mentality

Ronnie Shows Former Democratic Congressman
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Republicans often attack President Obama for his administration’s job-killing regulations. I am not in the White House very often, but I think the president and his team know that destroying jobs and hurting American businesses isn’t a very good way to get re-elected — and I can promise you that getting re-elected is President Obama’s top priority, as it should be. So, in my view, these Republican attacks are unfair.

That being said, there have been a few regulations that have been proposed or enforced that have been very harsh on important American industries, such as some of the new regulations affecting oil and gas companies.

It seems to me that many of the large federal agencies are taking an “us versus them” approach to regulating business. Rather than looking for ways to help American companies succeed in the global marketplace, many regulators are looking for ways to curb the power and influence of the business community.

One example is the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban Primatene Mist, an over-the-counter inhaler that is used to treat asthma symptoms. Primatene Mist was banned because it contains chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The EPA says it imposed this ban in accordance with a treaty signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan that determined CFCs were damaging the ozone layer and should therefore be discontinued.

A few years ago, when the EPA decided to make it illegal for stores to sell Primatene Mist after December 31, 2011, the agency thought that there would be a replacement inhaler not containing CFCs available by 2012. When 2011 ended, however, there was no replacement inhaler. What is shocking is that instead of granting Primatene Mist a waiver to keep the inhaler on store shelves until a replacement inhaler became available, the EPA went ahead and instituted the ban anyhow.

This was bad news for the millions of Americans who used to rely on Primatene Mist. Most Primatene Mist users are lower-income men, women and children who lack health insurance and cannot afford a prescription inhaler or a trip to the doctor’s office. Because there is no longer an over-the-counter treatment for asthma symptoms, if these folks need an inhaler, they are forced to go to the emergency room, which can cost thousands of dollars. If they cannot pay their hospital bills, the American taxpayer is left holding the bag.

Amphastar, the manufacturer of Primatene Mist, has over one million Primatene Mist units just sitting around. The company actually offered to give them away for free to health clinics. Amphastar thought it made more sense for those inhalers to be put to good use than for them to just collect dust. But the EPA rejected the offer. Now, the company is trying to sell the inhalers and donate all the profits to charity. There’s no telling how the EPA will react.

Why is the EPA acting this way? Why would the EPA prefer these inhalers be stored in some warehouse rather than helping people cope with their asthma symptoms?

Because there is no logical answer to these questions, one can only assume this is about the EPA asserting its authority over a drug company and not about doing the right thing. In other words, continuing this “us versus them” mentality that helps no one.

Today on Capitol Hill, a committee in the House of Representatives is holding a hearing to discuss legislation that would allow Primatene Mist back on store shelves. This is a good first step.

For almost 50 years, Primatene Mist has been viewed as a safe and effective treatment for people suffering from asthma symptoms. The EPA should do the right thing and allow Primatene Mist users to have access to the drug until another over-the-counter inhaler that does not contain CFCs hits the market. The EPA, like other government regulatory agencies, should focus on helping Americans, not exerting its authority just because it can.

Ronnie Shows is a former Democratic member of Congress and member of the Blue Dog Coalition. He represented Mississippi’s Fourth Congressional District between 1999 and 2003.