© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Congressional Delegation Weighs In: Should Deregulation Efforts Remain Post-Pandemic?

Rog Cogswell / Creative Commons

The Trump administration has aggressively moved to unwind an array of federal regulations since the coronavirus pandemic hit America, and to Virginia lawmakers it’s not as cut and dry – even across party lines.

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 will impede economic recovery.

Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner says cutting environmental and consumer protections is troubling.

“Sometimes the administration has been using the pandemic as an excuse to make changes that they couldn't make legislatively," he says.

Even though Warner used to be a business executive, he sees many of these regulatory changes differently than Central Virginia Republican Congressman Denver Riggleman who’s hoping the pandemic permanently erases years of regulations from the nation’s books.

“If they reinstitute these regulations after all this, it is going to be horrific on business,” Riggleman explains.

Riggleman’s family owns a whiskey distillery outside of Charlottesville that was flipped into a hand sanitizer factory back in the spring. For him and his family, the hoops and hurdles they were forced to jump through just to bring people a potentially lifesaving product has been eye opening.

“I think right now, if we have regulations that didn't work, pre-pandemic, they shouldn't be here post-pandemic,” he says.

While many Democrats are worried that the Trump administration is using the pandemic to unwind protections provided by the likes of the Clean Air and Water Acts, among many others, Riggleman says that’s not necessarily the case.

“Just because you're looking at overregulation doesn't mean you're trying to take away clean water or clean air, or anything like that,” Riggleman says.

Unlike many members of his party, Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine agrees with Riggleman – to a degree.

“It's case by case though," says Kaine, who serves on the Senate health and education committee. He says he’s fully behind the Trump administration unwinding some regulations in the midst of the pandemic. Kaine says he’s especially supportive of efforts to make telemedicine easier to access for rural residents across the Commonwealth.

“Important adjustments to make during the pandemic and actually some of them might be smart long term,” says Kaine. He even praises the Trump administration for other tweaks.

“Kids get school lunches at school, then their schools close," he explains. "So do they have to go to the school themselves to pick up a lunch or can their parent go? Well, we've asked for adjustments. Let the parent go let an adult pick up lunch with a kid. And the administration has been good at working with us on some of those.”

But other Virginia Democrats are 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 even release regulations that are federally enforceable.

Hampton Roads Democrat Bobby Scott chairs the Education and Labor Committee in the House and says this is a deadly serious dereliction of duty from the White House.

“And it hasn't been issued," he explains. "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.”  

The decades long debate between regulation and deregulation continues, and many Virginia lawmakers say they see the nuance. Now both sides of the political divide are quietly working behind the scenes to maintain or undo their most-favored - or even their most-loathed - regulations.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Related Content