As Trump takes power, the House targets regulations

At stake is the power agencies have long used to protect people and nature.

 

In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Interior Department’s argument that the Endangered Species Act protects rare species’ habitat, not just the animals themselves. The court’s decision in Sweet Home vs. Babbitt was key to preserving broad stretches of old-growth forest for the northern spotted owl, an action that contributed to the collapse of the Northwest timber industry. The justices relied in large part on the principle that courts defer to federal agencies as long as their regulations reasonably interpret laws. They cited Chevron, a 1984 Clean Air Act case that for three decades has made it easier for agencies to win when regulations are challenged. 

So it’s not surprising that House Republicans are determined to undo Chevron — part of their ambitious legislative blitz to change the way government works. In the first weeks of the new legislative session, they easily passed three bills that would make it easier to repeal President Barack Obama’s recent regulations, including one aimed at curbing greenhouse gases, and give the courts and Congress more authority to block new ones.

This is far from tinkering around the edges: The bills already passed by the House envision huge changes to the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act, the basic rulebook for how federal agencies implement laws. Agencies have broad authority to propose and establish regulations without congressional approval, but under one of the current bills, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, new regulations could not go into effect without that approval. Under the Regulatory Accountability Act, which also would undo Chevron, all court challenges would have to be exhausted before new regulations went into effect. The Midnight Rules Relief Act would make it easier for Congress to overturn Obama’s regulations. Currently, under the rarely used Congressional Review Act, Congress has 60 legislative days to reject a rule but must debate each one for up to 10 hours, limiting the number that lawmakers have time to invalidate. The Midnight Rules Relief Act would let Congress lump multiple rules together and eliminate them en masse. “These proposals would in major ways upend that long-standing consensus and make it very hard for agencies to solve problems and protect Americans,” says William Buzbee, professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. along with House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., introduce new members of the House Republican leadership team. House Republicans already passed three bills that would make it easier to repeal President Barack Obama’s recent regulations and give the courts and Congress more authority to block new ones.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Revamping government is exactly what House Republicans hope to do, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Washington’s conservative Hoover Institution in mid-January. “I’m a firm believer that structure dictates behavior,” he says. “You have to get the structure right. Otherwise, you’ll get the same behavior and outcome as it goes forward.”

Going after Chevron, he says, is “key” to re-establishing three co-equal branches of government and lifting the burden rules put on the economy. And requiring Congress to approve any major regulation, as the REINS Act does, would give the people a “voice,” he adds, because their elected representatives, not “bureaucrats,” would get the final say.

Starting at the end of January, the House plans to begin undoing Obama administration regulations, including Bureau of Land Management rules to better protect streams from surface coal mining and reduce methane leaks from oil and gas fields on public land, McCarthy says. Under the Congressional Review Act, only 51 votes in the Senate are needed to do so.

It’s not the first time Republicans have tried to limit agencies’ ability to regulate. In the mid-1990s, the House passed a less ambitious deregulation package that stalled in the Senate. Public concern over a fatal E. coli outbreak from tainted hamburger helped then-President Bill Clinton and environmental and other interest groups dissuade most pro-industry Democrats from embracing regulatory reform. 

Many analysts predict that most of today’s bills also will die in the Senate, since 60 votes are required to overcome a filibuster, and there are only 52 Republican senators. “The math just doesn’t work,” says Kevin Book, director of ClearView Energy Partners, a D.C.-based research firm. 

But Patrick McLaughlin, who directs research on regulations at the conservative Mercatus Center at George Mason University, says the unexpected victory of President-elect Donald Trump reflects voters’ frustration with their local economies. That may pressure some Democrats to reconsider regulatory reform, McLaughlin says: “We shouldn’t expect the same results this time.” 

If regulatory reform measures make it through Congress, some analysts predict that President Trump would veto them, because they could hamper his efforts to replace Obama’s regulations with his own. 

Either way, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., top Democrat in the House Resources Committee, says Democrats can resist the larger GOP assault on regulations that protect people and the environment if they stand together. “I’m all set for this fight. I went through my seven steps of grieving. I blamed everybody. Then came to the decision … you can’t just wallow. You have to fight back,” Grijalva told High Country News.

Correspondent Elizabeth Shogren writes HCN’s DC Dispatches from Washington. 

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job Title: Executive Director Reports To: Board of Directors Compensation: $75,000 to $80,000, plus generous benefits and paid leave. Funding for relocation expenses available. Classification:...
  • WATER DIRECTOR
    Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Application review will begin on April 2, 2021 and will continue until the position has been filled....
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • VIRGINIA SPENCER DAVIS FELLOWSHIP
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, is offering a fellowship for early-career journalists interested in...
  • COLORADO WILD PUBLIC LANDS VIDEO CONTEST
    Please submit your video of 30 seconds or less, taken on public lands, to [email protected] by May 15th for a chance to win in one...
  • WMAN NETWORK COORDINATOR
    WESTERN MINING ACTION NETWORK (WMAN) CONTRACT OPPORTUNITY CLOSING DATE: Feb. 19, 2021 WMAN is seeking a team member to coordinate the various network activities to...
  • FRIENDS OF THE INYO IS HIRING TRAIL AMBASSADORS FOR THE SUMMER OF 2021
    Friends of the Inyo's Trail Ambassadors (TAs) support the Inyo, Sierra, & Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests and other partners by providing positive public service, outreach, interpretation,...
  • LAND & CABIN ON CO/ UT LINE
    18 ac w/small solar ready cabin. Off grid, no well. Great RV location. Surrounded by state wildlife area and nat'l parks.
  • MANAGER PERMACULTURE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR
    Permaculture / Landscape Company Manager / Site Lead Red Ant Works, Inc. - 20+ year landscape construction and horticultural care company seeks manager and site...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is looking for a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help grow our membership and presence in the Four...
  • ENERGY AND CLIMATE PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    San Juan Citizens Alliance seeks an Energy and Climate Program Associate to focus on public outreach, education and organizing to advance campaigns to mitigate climate...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    This position provides professional real estate services and is responsible for managing and completing real estate projects utilizing a project management database that is designed...
  • WILDFIRE MITIGATION SPECIALIST
    The Wildfire Mitigation Specialist is responsible for delivering wildfire risk mitigation information, recommendations and programmatic resources to wildland urban interface homeowners, community members and partners....
  • DEVELOPMENT POSITIONS
    Thorne Nature Experience is hiring for a Development Director and Senior Individual Giving Manager. Individuals will work collaboratively with Thorne's Executive Director to develop and...
  • SENIOR PROGRAM MANAGER, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION & ENERGY
    The National Parks Conservation Association, a 100-year-old nonprofit advocacy organization and the nation's leading voice for national parks seeks a Senior Program Manager, Landscape Conservation...
  • BACKCOUNTRY AND FRONTCOUNTRY STEWARDSHIP CREW MEMBERS
    The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) is hiring a crew of ambassadors to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to educate visitors on...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATURAL HISTORY INSTITUTE
    The Executive Director is the chief executive officer of the Natural History Institute (NHI). The Executive Director has broad authority to lead and manage the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    - The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region - The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful,...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Native plant seeds for the Western US. Trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and regional mixes. Call or email for free price list. 719-942-3935. [email protected] or visit...