The countdown has begun on Capitol Hill to dig out from under the Obama administration’s environmental regulations, now that President Trump, who has vowed to repeal a number of regulations in his first 100 days, has moved into the Oval Office.
The Republican-controlled Congress needs to move quickly to head off two regulations that the GOP leadership has targeted for repeal: a rule imposing big restrictions on coal mining and another for regulating oil drillers’ methane emissions.
The Republican leadership plans to employ special powers under the Congressional Review Act in its first major effort to quash the rules before the 60-day deadline for doing so is up.
Analysts say the Trump administration likely will make the Congressional Review Act a household word because of how key it is to fulfilling the goals of the new president’s deregulation agenda, which targets a number of Obama-era energy rules for repeal.
“One unique feature of this transition is that President-elect Trump will have an opportunity to reverse a number of the Obama administration’s regulatory rules through a rarely used law, the Congressional Review Act,” said Douglas Dziak, environmental and energy principal with consulting firm Nixon Peabody, in a post published last year after Trump won the election.
“The CRA may prove to be a surprisingly rapid change agent for rules the Obama administration promulgated since spring 2016,” Dziak said. “How many rules does this include? Estimates range from dozens to hundreds of regulations.”
But time is of the essence to introduce and pass the resolutions and get them to Trump’s desk within the next 60 days — not normal days, but legislative calendar days that correspond with Congress being in session.
Under the Congressional Review Act, many of the rules that were enacted from the early summer until the end of last year can be repealed by passing the resolution of disapproval, aides said.
The resolutions can be passed using a simple majority, which could help in the Senate, where most bills require 60 votes to even be considered on the floor.
Democrats are likely to put up high hurdles in the run-up to votes in both chambers. The House’s top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is trying to form a bloc of opposition to undermine the effort, according to a letter he sent ahead of the inauguration to his fellow party members.
“These two regulations contain critical health, environmental and fiscal protections for the American people, and repealing them … would be a colossal waste of taxpayer money for the sole benefit of the oil, gas and coal industries,” Grijalva wrote in the letter. “This is an especially egregious gift to the mining industry, and the committee majority knows full well that any public debate will only embarrass them,” he said. “Democrats need to stand together to make sure they don’t get away with it.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in a floor speech in the first week of the 115th Congress vowed “swift action” on both the rules, which he said impose “limits to our energy production.”
McCarthy warned former President Obama soon after Trump was elected not to push out eleventh-hour regulations. “Should you ignore this counsel, please be aware that we will work with our colleagues to ensure that Congress scrutinizes your actions and, if appropriate, overturns them pursuant to the Congressional Review Act,” McCarthy wrote just weeks after Trump won.
In Obama’s final year in office, Republicans had tried to use CRA resolutions to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate regulations for existing power plants, known as the Clean Power plan, but the effort was doomed to failure with Obama, and his veto power, still in the White House.
Now with Trump, whose stated goal is to dismantle job-killing regulations, the resolution almost certainly will move ahead.
Movement on the resolutions will begin quickly, likely beginning with the Stream Protection Rule, which was rushed out by the Interior Department at the end of last year.
The regulation would make it more difficult for coal mining companies to operate, with strict new protections for runoff into waterways.
The mining industry’s lead trade group, the National Mining Association, said in a brief that the rule provides “no discernible environmental benefits while duplicating extensive existing environmental protections — something that is expressly prohibited under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.”
The industry group said the rule would place 78,000 jobs at risk. “When coal-supported jobs in manufacturing, power plants and freight rail are included, the toll on employment rises to between 113,000 and 280,000.”
McCarthy said the regulation will be one of two of Obama’s midnight rules to be targeted using the CRA resolutions. The second will be the Interior Department’s venting and flaring regulations for controlling methane emissions from oil and gas fracking wells. The methane regulations are part of President Obama‘s broad Climate Action Plan, with the goal of cutting methane by 40 to 45 percent by 2025.
But the clock is winding down to beat back the Obama methane regulations, with lawmakers missing an opportunity to strike down one layer of methane rules from the EPA. The Interior Department rules and EPA regulations cover different types of methane emissions. The EPA rules are focused more on leaks from the well head and distribution infrastructure. The Interior Department’s regulations cover intentional practices like flaring that burn off excess gas during production.
House lawmakers working on a resolution in recent weeks only just realized that the 60-day window had passed on the EPA methane rules, but they are still within the limits of repealing Interior’s Bureau of Land Management regulations.
They missed the EPA deadline, said Christopher Guith, vice president of federal affairs for the Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, who is tracking the effort. “But not too late for BLM’s methane venting and flaring rule, which will likely get CRA’d,” he said in an email.
The Stream Protection Rule may rank higher on the Republican repeal agenda, especially given that Trump responded to the rule being finalized as one of his first statements on energy after he was elected.
The regulation was published in the Federal Register Dec. 20, which started the 60-day clock. The coal regulation went into effect one day before Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
The Senate leadership plans to introduce its resolution opposing the regulations at the end of a 15-day reset period between congressional sessions, aides say. A spokeswoman for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said the senator plans to join with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, in introducing the resolution of disapproval. A spokesman would not give a specific date on when the resolution would be issued.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., vowed to do the same. Ryan said the rule was implemented without “any real input from the states,” with the power to “wipe out literally thousands upon thousands of jobs in coal country.”
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, plans to introduce the resolution of disapproval to abolish Interior’s venting and flaring rules, he told Trump’s pick to lead the agency, Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., at a confirmation hearing last week.
House Natural Resource Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is confident the methane rule will be stricken down by Congress even after a federal judge refused to grant the energy industry an injunction last week, according to a spokeswoman.
“This is one of the Obama administration’s most egregious abuses of power,” said spokeswoman Molly Block. “Although the Wyoming judge didn’t grant a preliminary injunction, it will be overturned with a CRA.”
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