By Marty Hayden, Earthjustice
Republicans in the House of Representatives have launched into 2017 with an attempt to dismantle vital government safeguards that keep American communities safe, healthy and protected. In the past 10 days, House Republicans passed three bills that together could gridlock government agencies and eviscerate vital rules that safeguard our health, unique public lands, workplace protections, fair pay rules and civil rights.
The potential impact of this bundle of bills on our health and environment can’t be overstated. If this toxic trio is written into law, Republicans could unravel protections for clean air and water for our families while making major concessions to polluting industries.
Officially, these bills are called the Regulatory Accountability Act, the Midnight Rules Relief Act and the REINS Act. Here at Earthjustice, we call them the “dirty bundle.” Here’s why:
- The Regulatory Accountability Act seeks to significantly complicate and slow down the process by which federal agencies make new rules. It would require more than 70 burdensome new steps in the regulatory process and establish a default requirement that agencies adopt rules that are the least costly for industry, regardless of the public benefit. The bill seeks to override the Clean Air Act, the Mine Safety and Health Act, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and dozens of other laws that prioritize public health and worker safety. You can read more about this bill from our coalition partners.
We’ve seen this kind of terrible government process at work before. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 contained a similar requirement, which had the effect of blocking the EPA from regulating even a single toxic chemical for decades until the law was updated last year. The Regulatory Accountability Act is a blatant attempt to shift the focus of government agencies away from public safeguards for the environment, civil rights and workers and toward cynical calculations of financial interest for corporations.
- The Midnight Rules Relief Act is an attempt to give Congress the power to repeal, in one fell swoop, dozens, if not hundreds, of hard-won public safeguards put in place over the past 12 months. If signed into law, the act could render 50 major agency rules, 200 significant rules and more than 1,000 additional rules vulnerable to repeal. Despite its misleading name, the Midnight Rules Relief Act would apply to rules that agencies have invested years of scientific research and public engagement in making—and many of the rules are already required by bedrock laws, such as the Clean Air Act.The bill takes advantage of a piece of legislation rarely used and little known before 2017. Known as CRA, or the Congressional Review Act, this law allows Congress to roll back individual new rules created by federal agencies if a resolution of disapproval is passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the President. Passed in 1996, CRA is such a strong example of Congressional overreach that it has only ever been used once to repeal an agency rule. Because CRA prohibits agencies from issuing another regulation that is “substantially the same” without prior Congressional approval, it can have a scorched-earth effect on future safeguards. We’ve seen a spate of recent threats by Republicans to use CRA in a backdoor attempt to unravel environmental protections and public safeguards. With the Midnight Rules Relief Act, they hope to take out the entire last year of the Obama administration’s safeguards with a single Presidential signature.
With the Midnight Rules Relief Act, they hope to take out the entire last year of the Obama administration’s safeguards with a single Presidential signature.
- The REINS Act would make it virtually impossible to put in place new public safeguards by requiring any major rule from a government agency to be approved by Congress in a narrow window of time before it can take effect. In short, it’s at attempt at Congressional overreach that could prevent agencies from using scientific research, public input and good government process to protect Americans. [Read about why scientific voices like the Union of Concerned Scientists are speaking out about this bill]. Under the REINS Act, if Congress were to fail to approve a new rule, in 70 days the rule would automatically be repealed and could not be revisited until a new Congress is sworn in. This is a drastic reversal of the way our government currently works.
We all have a right to clean air, clean water and a healthy environment. Here at Earthjustice, we’re committed to fighting this dirty bundle of bills that seeks to strip away public safeguards for Americans.
In the coming weeks, look for action alerts you can take part in as we urge legislators in the Senate to stop this toxic trio of bills. We’re part of a rising tide of voices speaking up for the bedrock safeguards that protect our communities. I invite you to join us as we dig in for this very important fight.