Bill to curb agency power advances in House

Bill to curb agency power advances in House
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GOP-backed legislation to limit agencies’ federal rulemaking authority advanced in the House on Wednesday.

The Separation of Powers Restoration Act, introduced by Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), passed the House Judiciary Committee by a 12-8 vote.

The bill, for which there is a companion measure in the Senate, would overturn the Supreme Court’s 1984 decision in Chevron USA v. the Natural Resources Defense Council, in which the justices held that courts should defer to agencies’ interpretations of “ambiguous” statutes written by Congress.


It also amends the Administrative Procedure Act to require courts to conduct a “de novo” — or new — review of all relevant questions of law instead of relying on agency interpretations.

GOP committee members hailed the legislation as necessary to stop federal bureaucrats that they said have run amok with regulatory power.

“This bill clarifies that the Judicial Branch, not unelected bureaucrats, should settle any disputes on Congressional intent,” Ratcliffe said. “It restores the proper separation of powers that has been eroded by the unintended consequences of the Chevron decision.”

Democrats, meanwhile, argued that the legislation would slow an already cumbersome rulemaking process and increase costs.

“We are talking about regulations that protect the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we consume,” Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said. 

“Slowing down the rulemaking process means that rules intended to protect the health and safety of American citizens will take longer to promulgate and become effective, thereby putting us all at risk.”


During Wednesday’s markup, the committee voted down five Democratic amendments, including one from Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) that would exempt Food and Drug Administration regulations related to consumer safety from the law; one from Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeTexas House Dems ask governor to issue stay-at-home order Lobbying world House approves bill banning flavored tobacco products MORE (D-Texas) that would exempt rules from the Department of Homeland Security that pertain to matters of national security; and one from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) that would exempt agency actions to protect people from discrimination.

Conyer’s amendment to exempt any rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency that pertains to limiting lead or copper concentrations in drinking water failed as well.

“Clearly it is critical that Americans have access to safe drinking water and that we do not hinder the ability of federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, to prevent future lead contamination like the Flint water crisis,” he said. “Federal judges, who are constitutionally insulated from accountability, should not have the power to second guess the agency experts concerning the appropriateness of highly technical regulations crucial to protecting the health and safety of millions of Americans."

Goodlatte argued that Conyers's amendment would only continue to weaken the separation of powers. 

“Drinking water regulations are important, but no area of regulation is so important that it should allow unelected bureaucrats to avoid the vigorous system of checks and balances the framers intended and this bill would restore,” he said.