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Congress plays the game of environmental legislation

Graphic Illustration by Joe DeVoogd

By Kelly Bessem

President Donald Trump stated he would cut 70 percent of agency regulations according to an article by Forbes. A new strategy being employed by Congress, makes this plausible and has environmental regulations in its crosshairs.

With congress having a Republican majority, the  Congressional Review Act has allowed Congress to rush large-scale rule elimination. According to the House Committee on Natural Resources, the Congressional Review Act is a law that allows Congress to expedite purging agency rules. It was originally made to improve Congress’s oversight of federal agencies and states that no rules substantially similar to those purged can be issued in the future.

The White House website cites using the Congressional Review Act to overturn “burdensome compliance requirements that force jobs out of our communities and discourage doing business in the United States.”

In contradiction to this is the 2016 Office of Management and Budget report on federal regulations. It shows the benefits versus costs of the Environmental Protection Agency regulations to be a 4-to-1 ratio.

According to the Congress website, environmental regulation affected by the Congressional Review Act includes the following:

  • Signed by the president: Reversal of the Stream Protection Rule and a rule calling for the disclosure of payments made by resource extraction issuers (H.J.Res.38 and H.J.Res.41).
  • In line to be signed by Trump: Disapproval of rules that allow the Bureau of Land Management to make regional land management plans (H.J.Res.44).
  • Moving through the Senate and House: Disapproval of the rule that reverses policy protecting predators on Alaska’s national wildlife refuges (H.J. Res. 69) as well as a rule that requires oil and gas producers to reduce natural gas waste and emissions (H.J. Res. 36).

This only includes legislation related to the Congressional Review Act. It does not include the long list of pending environmental bills. These include everything from a bill to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (H.R.861) to a bill that will eliminate the current renewable fuel standards (H.R.1314).

There is an information section on the House Committee on Natural Resources’ website related to the policy protecting predators on Alaska’s national wildlife refuges (H.J. Res. 69). Within this exists an entire section entitled “‘Bull Poop’ Talking Points.” Terminology such as this suggests that the Congressional Review Act is not being used in a serious way to further the interests of the general public.

Over 60 days have passed since Trump became president. The Congressional Review Act can only be used for rules submitted to Congress or the Government Accountability Office within the past 60 days. In theory, the time to use the Congressional Review Act would be over for “midnight” regulations passed at the end of Obama’s presidency.

In 2014, a report on agency regulation was released by Curtis W. Copeland, a former government specialist for the Congressional Research Service. It showed that, in 2014, up to 50 percent of agency rules had not been submitted properly. All of these improperly submitted rules are still subject to the Congressional Review Act, meaning that there are still plenty of plays to be made.

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