House panel advances bills to rein in regulations

The Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act and the Regulatory Accountability Act were among a slate of four bills Judiciary set out to consider Wednesday. But lengthy debate, which led to a heated exchange over racial and civil rights issues, along with several votes on the House floor, left only enough time for votes on the two measures.

The former bill is designed to limit the government’s ability to set policy via “sue and settle” consent decrees.

The practice has been the source of criticism, particularly from Republicans, who say the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to settle lawsuits with green groups behind closed doors. 

The suits, in many cases citing the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, often lead to more stringent restrictions. Critics say the practice effectively allows environmentalists and the EPA to regulate outside the formal rulemaking process. 

If it becomes law, the bill would put new limitations on consent decrees and allow outside parties to intervene in the cases.

“It assures that those to be regulated have a fair opportunity to participate in the resolution of litigation that affects them, and in turn that courts have all the information they need before they approve proposed decrees and settlements,” Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said.

Under the Regulatory Accountability Act, agencies would face greater requirements to measure the costs and benefits of proposed regulations and would be forced to disclose additional information about their decision under the bill. So-called “mega rules,” regulations that cost more than $1 billion annually, would be subjected to congressional hearings.

The panel’s top Democrats, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) criticized both bills and predicted neither would move forward in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“I am deeply disappointed that my Republican colleagues are squandering our limited legislative time to attack regulations that protect workers, and preserve the health, safety, and civil rights of all Americans,” said Conyers.