Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



regulatory delay, environmental regulation


This report is a collaborative effort of Member Scholars and staff of the Center for Progressive Reform.


Each year dozens of workers are killed, thousands of children harmed, and millions of dollars wasted because of unjustifiable delays in federal regulatory action. Such delays in regulatory action have become commonplace, part of the wallpaper of Washington’s regulatory process for the protector agencies—the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), EPA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and OSHA. Despite its significance, the problem of regulatory delay and the costs it generates has been virtually ignored in the debate over the general wisdom of the U.S. regulatory system over the last 30-plus years. Opponents of the regulatory system have deliberately framed this debate in terms of the “costs and benefits” of regulatory action, implying that regulatory inaction caused by regulatory delay is somehow cost-free. The one-sided nature of this debate is perhaps best exemplified by the White House Office of Management and Budget’s annual Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations, as required by the 2001 Regulatory Right-to-Know Act. These annual reports document in painstaking detail the quantified and monetized costs and benefits of regulatory action, providing aggregate estimates of these costs and benefits for many of the regulations that federal agencies have issued over the previous year as well as over the previous ten years. Not once, however, have these reports ever sought to document the costs of regulatory delay. The problem with ignoring the costs of regulatory delay is that it provides an incomplete picture of the value of the U.S. regulatory system—one that is inevitably skewed against stronger regulatory protection. Broadly speaking, the purpose of this white paper is to begin the process of filling in the rest of this picture, so that in the future the debate over the general wisdom of the U.S. regulatory system can continue on more robust and balanced terms. To this end, this white paper presents three case studies. Each tells the story of a recent or ongoing example of regulatory delay that has caused real harm to Americans and their environment.


Environmental Law