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Bush May Try to Revive Some Industry Controls : S&Ls, Airlines, Workplace Could Face Tighter Regulation; Rules Might Be Eased in Other Areas

February 05, 1989|DAVID LAUTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — After eight years of confrontational Reagan Administration efforts to eliminate federal regulations, the Bush Administration is discussing a series of moves that could go even further to reshape the government's oversight of major American industries.

But the new Administration, less ideological than the old, will probably seek to reinstate federal controls in some areas even as it relaxes regulations elsewhere.

For example, Bush's new transportation secretary, Samuel K. Skinner, indicated during his Senate confirmation hearings that he will consider increased federal regulation of the nation's crowded airways. New Labor Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole has given positive signs to advocates of increased workplace safety regulation.

And Bush advisers have made clear that they will aggressively supervise savings and loan institutions to prevent a repeat of mismanagement and possible fraud that appear to have saddled taxpayers with a multibillion-dollar bailout bill.

"There is no alternative to re-regulation of the American thrift industry," said Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), one of Bush's longest-standing supporters in Congress.

In other areas, however, including the environment, Bush would like to reduce the federal government's direct regulatory role.

Although the issue seldom came up during the fall presidential campaign, Bush has referred to deregulation in speeches as one of the policies that led to the economic expansion of the last six years of Ronald Reagan's Administration. And he has pledged to continue deregulatory policies to "help start and expand new businesses."

"All his biases are on the deregulation side," Leach said of Bush. Aides describe the President, who once worked as an independent oil driller in Texas, as particularly receptive to complaints from small-business owners and entrepreneurs. The petroleum industry is likely to be the beneficiary of at least one new deregulatory initiative--further decontrol of natural gas sales, which Bush advocated during the campaign.

As Reagan's vice president, Bush headed the White House Task Force on Regulatory Relief. C. Boyden Gray, Bush's counsel and longtime aide, said Bush was the "architect of the Reagan approach" toward regulation and will probably pursue many of Reagan's goals of the last eight years.

But Bush aides hope to pursue those goals by different means--means that may avoid the intense disputes of the Reagan years. In the area of the environment, for example, Bush aides have been considering a series of proposals that would move away from traditional "command and control" regulations and toward greater use of market incentives and other less intrusive mechanisms to achieve cleanup goals.

For example, factory emissions traditionally have been regulated by an extensive series of rules designed to limit the pollution left behind by each production process. But under a more flexible "bubble" plan, the entire factory is treated as if a huge bubble covered it.

The government regulates how much pollution comes out the top of the bubble, regardless of the sources, and lets the factory owner decide how to meet the goal. The resulting flexibility, at least in theory, allows companies to meet emissions goals more cheaply and also sharply reduces the cost to the government of monitoring emissions levels.

Democratic Support

There is at least some indication that in pursuing these new policies, Bush may be able to attract some support from Democrats and from some of the same liberal interest groups that fought the Reagan Administration's efforts at every turn.

Reagan's policies toward environmental regulation were driven by "a James Watt kind of school of exploiting resources," said Sen. Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.), referring to Reagan's first Interior secretary. The Reagan policies, he charged, "applied marketplace analysis to every part of the budget" except those that benefited industry.

Now, Wirth said, "we may have a chance to change things."

Although federal regulation is a dry and technical area that normally attracts little public attention, changes in federal rules can have profound impact on daily lives.

For example, the Jimmy Carter Administration in 1979 changed federal rules to allow private companies to compete with the Postal Service for delivery of "urgent" mail. The result was to create an entirely new express mail industry that has changed the way most American offices work.

Similarly, decisions by Reagan appointees at the Federal Communications Commission profoundly changed the sorts of programming that Americans receive on their televisions and radios. Supporters say the changes have allowed broadcasters more freedom to respond to marketplace demands. Opponents blame deregulation for reduced public affairs programming and an increase in "trash TV."

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