Congress must stop undermining agencies that protect Americans
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Only days after being sworn into office, the new 115th Congress is rushing forward an unprecedented wave of bills aimed at enfeebling the federal agencies that protect the food on our tables, the air we breathe and the roads we travel.

Holding the narrowest of majorities in Congress, Republicans are unable to rewrite the bipartisan laws that created these agencies. Instead, under the guise of “regulatory reform,” Republican congressional leaders are pushing a series of bills that would weaken federal agencies by impairing their ability to carry out their basic responsibilities under the law to ensure our families are protected against unsafe or unfair products, pollution and practices.

Rather than challenge popular agencies openly, some in Congress hope to hobble them with one fell swoop of bills that prevent their ability to update rules and regulations—in essence, a slow-rolling shutdown of government safety.

These reforms will not just affect environmental protections like clean air and water, but also critical safeguards for children and families across all spheres of life, including food safety, workplace protections, financial protections, consumer product safety and more.

From the Environmental Protection Agency to the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Products Safety Commission to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, these agencies have the expertise and diligence to provide the protections we expect and depend on.

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The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which passed in the House of Representatives on Jan. 5, is a bill that aims to obstruct even basic protections by requiring all new covered regulations to be approved by both chambers of Congress.

Under REINS Act, If either branch of Congress does not approve any covered rule within 70 legislative days, the rule becomes null and void and cannot be re-issued. This effectively gives one chamber of Congress veto power over any new significant public health and safety protection, no matter how non-controversial or sensible it may be.

With the power to block crucial standards resting in the hands of just one chamber of Congress, the REINS Act would give enormous power to deep-pocketed, powerful lobbyists in Washington who favor the status quo. If there is one thing corporate lobbyists are good at, it’s stopping Congress from getting things done.

With the REINS Act in place, Congressional gridlock would create a permanent system of regulatory stagnation and obsolescence that is unable to protect our safety, health and wellbeing in a rapidly changing world.

Not surprisingly, the bill is being backed by some of America’s deepest-pocketed lobbyists, including the American Petroleum Institute, which hopes to head off—and even rollback—clean air, clean water and climate change regulations that are needed to ensure oil and gas operations are conducted responsibly.

The Midnight Rules Review Act, which also passed in the House last week, would allow Congress to disapprove multiple rules finalized near the end of a president’s term in one single vote. However, under current law, Congress already has the authority to review and reject these rules. But this bill is only about one thing—hiding the ball. By bundling many rules together, the sponsors hope to undermine accountability and avoid public scrutiny about what rules are being rolled back.

Sunshine is the most important tool the public has to counter the influence of special interests in Washington, but the “midnight” rule would truly bring the dark of night to Congress.

These are just two bills that have passed in the House with additional bills in the pipeline. Proponents of these regulatory rollback laws claim they are needed to rein in runaway agencies, hence the cleverly named “REINS” Act.

This argument neatly overlooks the reality that every agency has three checks already in place to ensure they implement the law faithfully—the White House, whose Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reviews all rules before finalized; the courts, who rule on any challenges to regulations to ensure agencies follow the law; and Congress, which can vote to block any major rule under the Congressional Review Act.

Members of Congress should stand up against these laws and let safety agencies do their job to ensure sensible safeguards that protect the American people. With these bills passing easily in the House, it falls to the Senate to stand up for our health and safety.

Jeremy Symons is associate vice president of climate change policy at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, DC. He served as an advisor on climate change and energy policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.


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