Editorial cartoon (8/23/2017)

Earlier this summer I commented about the numerous federal regulations the Donald Trump administration has struck down, many of them aimed at protecting the safety of consumers and workers on the job.

There are hundreds of examples of how government regulations have ensured the safety of our food supply, attacked the pollution and outright poisoning of lakes and rivers, cleansed the market of bogus drugs, and established standards so that American workers wouldn't wind up being killed on the job.

The fire that killed 80 people in a high-rise, low-income apartment building in London in June was able to spread out of control because of paneling used in the construction that, thanks to U.S. safety regulations, is illegal here.

Yet corporate business interests spend millions lobbying Congress and urging the president to relax or even repeal regulations that have long been shown to save American lives. The common mantra is that regulation is too restrictive on the freedom of American companies to expand and, as a result, create more jobs.

And, not surprisingly, they're having their way with the Trump administration.

Unfortunately, thanks to all the controversies swirling around Trump — from North Korea to Russian election meddling, from the chaos around his staff to his reluctance to condemn white supremacists — much of it is going unnoticed. Yet the impact on ordinary Americans can be profound.

Take for instance, the decision by the administration to suspend a plan to test all American truck drivers and train engineers for sleep apnea, a malady that afflicts a healthy percentage of the population by interrupting their sleep.

The Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced that they are no longer pursuing the regulation that would require testing for the fatigue-inducing disorder that's been blamed for deadly rail crashes in New York City and New Jersey as well as several highway crashes.

According to an Associated Press story, the decision to kill the sleep apnea regulation is the latest step in Trump's campaign to drastically slash U.S. regulations. The story went on to report that Trump has withdrawn or delayed hundreds of proposed regulations since he took office in January, claiming that his actions will help bolster economic growth.

As one who personally has sleep apnea, I can attest to how dangerous the condition, if not addressed, can be. I remember years ago having to pull over to the side of the road while driving out to Dane at 10 o'clock in the morning to talk to a classroom of students. Although I had had at least seven hours of "sleep" the night before, I felt like I had been up all night.

And, truth be told, I was up that night but just didn't know it. Sleep apnea subconsciously awakens a person because their airway closes and their breathing stops, which leads to dangerous daytime drowsiness. Treatments include wearing a pressurized breathing mask, oral appliances or nasal strips to force the airway open while sleeping.

"It's very hard to argue that people aren't being put at risk" by the decision to jettison the regulation, said Sarah Feinberg, the former administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. "We cannot have someone who is in that condition operating either a train going 70 mph or operating a multi-ton truck traveling down the interstate. It's just not an appropriate level of risk to be exposing passengers and the traveling public to."

But alas, under this administration making money wins out. If truck drivers and train engineers are going to be tested, the trucking companies and the railroad corporations will need to take on the task themselves.

Fat chance that will happen. Meanwhile, keep a sharp outlook for that weaving semi heading your way.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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