Ben Hethcoat and Jessica Sun/Marketplace
The Uncertain Hour

Here’s what you don’t know about regulations

Tony Wagner Oct 25, 2017
Ben Hethcoat and Jessica Sun/Marketplace

Can you name a federal regulation off the top of your head?

You come into contact with dozens before you leave the house in the morning (and plenty while you’re asleep), but regulations are often invisible to us.

“I know laws really get all the attention — they are sexy,” Sean Moulton with the Project on Government Oversight told us earlier this year. “Everyone wants to cheer about a law getting signed by the president, but the reality is regulations are where the rubber meets the road.”

They’re also a popular punching bag for business-friendly politicians; President Donald Trump is just the latest. He started his administration by drawing a line in the sand: two regs scrapped for each new one introduced, and federal agencies have followed through. This season on The Uncertain Hour podcast, we’re unpacking these rules that influence our lives every day.

Let’s take it back to your morning. It’s chock-full of regulations. Take a look:

Regulations are all around us, even if we can’t see them, and they affect our lives in large and small ways every day. Take the soap example in the video: The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act has a very clear and separate definition of “soap.” Any similar product — moisturizers, mud masks, cleansers, even deodorant and shampoo — is considered a cosmetic.  The FDA takes a light touch with those.

Broadly, as long as a cosmetic isn’t toxic and the packaging isn’t misleading, manufacturers can label products how they want. There’s no approval process before market. Consumers can complain if there’s an issue, but companies aren’t obligated to share any safety information with the government. Compared to what we put in our bodies, what we put on them is like the Wild West. 

There are a bunch we couldn’t get to in the video either: Take 28 CFR 35.151. It’s all about access for the disabled in public places, including rental properties, like the one in our video. Or 30 CFR 823.14, about soil content. We haven’t even gotten onto the street yet. Find more regulations below.

We also mentioned regulations doing their work while you sleep. Sometimes you’re literally wrapped in them, like with 21 CFR 177.2800, which regulates the kinds of chemicals that can be in textiles. Or check out 49 CFR 173.173, which says paint must be sold in “strong” containers.

We’re taking a deep dive into even more regulations this season on The Uncertain Hour. We’ll look at how the U.S. became a regulatory state, who writes the rules in the first place and how they affect your life. Check out a teaser below. The first episode drops Wednesday, Oct. 25.

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