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The 10 worst regulations of 2013

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By James Gattuso and Diane Katz
Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

This year will be remembered for many things, not least the miles of red tape that were imposed on Americans.

Which are the worst? There are no objective standards to measure such things, but here is our take:

10. Forced flacking for Christmas trees. In its latest version of the $1 trillion farm bill, the House approved a provision to require the Department of Agriculture to impose a tax of 15 cents on every fresh Christmas tree to fund a promotion campaign for the industry.

9. Genetic testing gag order. In early December, the FDA ordered a company called “23andMe” to stop marketing its home genetic testing kits. There was nothing unsafe about the product; the FDA simply says that the tests might not be accurate and could prompt other, unnecessary, medical testing. But surely that is a decision Americans can make for themselves.

8. Mail mandates. The U.S. Postal Service is hardly known for its efficiency. Part of the reason is that this government-owned enterprise operates under strict limits imposed by Congress. Thus, plans last spring to move to five-day-per-week delivery were blocked by congressional rules.

7. Billions for boilers. The Obama administration in January finalized a punishing set of regulations controlling emissions from 17,000 boilers nationwide used to generate electricity and provide heat for factories. The EPA estimated upfront costs of the rule at nearly $5 billion, although this is disputed as absurdly low by those affected.

6. Pay cap populism. The Securities and Exchange Commission in September proposed to require that companies disclose the ratio of CEO compensation to the median earnings of all employees. This was among several dictates in the Dodd-Frank act with no purpose other than to stoke populist anger about wage “inequality.”

5. Carbon inflation. In June, government regulators increased by a whopping 50 percent their estimates of the value of decreased carbon emissions. This bloated estimate, while not in itself a regulation, will allow regulators to “justify” a host of new carbon restrictions, even if their benefits do not really outweigh the costs to the economy and consumers.

4. Diet dictates. The diet dictators at the FDA want to ban trans fats in food under the notion that any ingestion of any amount of this food additive is inherently unsafe. The cost of the ban is estimated at about $8 billion.

3. Mortgage micromanagement. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau went into high gear this year, issuing hundreds of pages of new rules restricting mortgage writing.

2. Finance for lawyers. The 900-plus page “Volcker Rule,” adopted by five separate financial regulatory agencies in early December, limits bank “proprietary” trading, meaning trades on their own accounts rather than on behalf of clients. It will create a boon for lawyers in the inevitable litigation to follow.

1. Failed health mandates. Finalized early in 2013, these rules — a key part of ObamaCare — impose coverage requirements for individual health insurance policies. This mandate famously caused millions of Americans to lose their insurance policies.

In 2014, the only safe bet is that consumers will lose choices and all Americans will emerge with less freedom.

James Gattuso is the senior research fellow for regulatory policy at The Heritage Foundation, where Diane Katz is a research fellow in regulatory policy.



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