Energy & Environment

House votes to strike down two Obama-era rules

Moriah Ratner

Lawmakers took the first step Wednesday toward repealing environmental regulations issued late in the Obama administration. 

The House passed two Congressional Review Act challenges against former President Obama-era rules that Republicans have called a burden for fossil fuel companies. 

One of the regulations — the Stream Protection Rule that was finalized by the Interior Department in December — has been a longtime target of Republicans. The party tried multiple times to block the Office of Surface Mining from issuing the rule under Obama but never succeeded; with majorities in the House and Senate and President Trump in the White House, they’re now likely to strip the rule from the books. 

{mosads}“This is poor procedure that has produced a poor rule, which will result in poor policy,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said during floor debate on Wednesday. 

“At best, this rule is redundant. It is clearly unnecessary, and it does have the potential of hurting people nefariously, which it does not need to do.”

Regulators reviewed the Stream Protection Rule for nearly the entire Obama presidency before finalizing it in December. Regulators and environmentalists said it would help protect waterways from the effects of mountaintop mining pollution and prevent negative health impacts for people living in those areas.

“Communities in the Appalachian Mountains, vital salmon streams in Alaska and much-needed water supplies across this country will be left dealing with the aftermath, while our Republican colleagues boast about providing so-called regulatory relief,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) charged.

“For all the talk about coal jobs from Republicans and our new president, you would think they care a little about protecting the health of these coal miners and their families and these communities.”

But the coal industry — already suffering due to market conditions in the energy sector — says the rule will hurt companies and their employees, with one industry-funded analysis saying the measure would kill hundreds of thousands of jobs. 

“The Stream Protection Rule is not about protecting streams,” Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) said. “It was designed for one purpose: to regulate the coal industry out of business. It was the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s war on coal.”

The measure passed the House 228-194 Wednesday. Two senators introduced a version of the Stream Protection resolution earlier this week and could move quickly on the House-passed bill.

Republicans say President Trump supports the legislation. 

The House also approved a CRA resolution undoing a Securities and Exchange Commission rule issued under the Dodd-Frank Act that requires oil, natural gas and mineral developers to file more detailed financial information. Fossil fuel companies have said the rule would put them at disadvantage against foreign competitors that don’t have to make such filings.

“This is just one regulation out of thousands and thousands that are burdening our companies, our job creators,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said. That bill passed 235-187.

The resolutions are the first of several the House will consider under the Congressional Review Act this week. 

On Thursday, House Republicans are expected to strike down two more Obama-era regulations: a Labor Department rule requiring federal contractors to report labor violations they’ve committed, and a Social Security Administration gun regulation focused on disability recipients who suffer from mental disorders.

The Friday schedule includes a resolution undoing an Interior Department methane rule for natural gas developers.

The breadth of Republicans’ regulatory assault this week is unprecedented. Only one CRA measure has been signed into law since the Congressional Review Act took effect in the 1990s — and that was in 2001. Congress passed several CRA resolutions against rules during Obama’s presidency, but he vetoed all of them.

The Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers the power to undo administrative rules shortly after they are issued.

Republicans see the law as a tool for undoing rules issued by the Obama administration late in his term and without congressional buy-in.

“The CRA actually has three purposes in mind: They said if a rule has excessive costs, if the rule goes beyond the particular agency’s statutory authority, or if the rule is duplicative or unnecessary, it should be reviewed by Congress and rescinded,” Bishop said. The Stream Protection Rule, he said, meet “all three of those criteria.”

Democrats have pushed back on the effort, not only because they generally support the rules the GOP is targeting, but also because the CRA process is so politically fraught. 

In an interview, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) noted that CRA resolutions stop regulators from writing rules that are similar to the rules that are being blocked. By undoing a rule and preventing a similar one in the future, Grijalva said, “it’s a double-kill.”

“You turn back the clock to what was, and usually there was nothing,” he said. “You effectively then prevent, in the future, any means to address that problem. I think it’s cowardly to do it this way and not have a full debate on the merits.”

—Tim Devaney contributed

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