Groups Oppose the Midnight Rules Relief Act (H.R. 5982)

Nov. 15, 2016 | Download PDF

We, the undersigned consumer, small business, labor, good government, financial protection, community, health, environmental, civil rights and public interest groups, strongly urge you to oppose H.R. 5982, the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2016.

H.R. 5982 would amend the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to allow en bloc disapproval of all regulations finalized near the end of presidential terms. This bill would jeopardize public protections affecting public health, safety, and the environment that often are years, if not decades, in the making.

The proposed legislation is based on a flawed premise—namely, that regulations which are being finalized during the so-called “midnight” rulemaking period are rushed and inadequately vetted.

In fact, the opposite is generally the case. There are currently dozens of public health and safety regulations that have been in the regulatory process for years or decades, including many that date from the Obama Administration’s first term or that implement laws passed in the first term. Some even predate this Administration entirely.

In addition, many of these regulations are mandated by Congress and have missed rulemaking deadlines prescribed by Congress. Referring to regulations that have been under consideration by federal agencies for years, and in some instances decades, as “rushed” is misleading and inaccurate.

Opponents of midnight regulations have not presented any persuasive empirical evidence supporting claims that regulations finalized near the end of previous presidential terms were rushed or did not involve diligent compliance with mandated rulemaking procedures. Instead, those opponents make unsubstantiated claims based solely on when a regulation was finalized, ignoring the marathon rulemaking process that those rules likely underwent.

In reality, compliance with the current lengthy regulatory process prevents agencies from finalizing new regulations efficiently, earlier in presidential terms. This is because many of the regulations that Congress intended to provide the greatest benefits to the public’s health, safety, financial security, and the environment currently take several years, decades in some instances, for agencies to implement due to the extensive and, in many cases, redundant procedural and analytical requirements that comprise the rulemaking process.

It is difficult to overlook the tragic irony at the heart of H.R. 5982. The bill would empower Congress to use the CRA—a process that is rushed, nontransparent, and discourages informed decision-making—to block, at the 11th hour, rules that have completed the journey through the onerous rulemaking process.

Unlike the CRA’s expedited procedures, agency rules are subjected to a myriad of accountability mechanisms, and, for each rule, the agency must articulate a policy rationale that is supported by the rulemaking record and consistent with the requirements of the authorizing statute. In contrast, members of Congress do not have to articulate a valid policy rationale—or any rationale at all—in support of CRA resolutions of disapproval.

A small sampling of long-delayed but now finalized public protections that could be blocked by H.R. 5982 illustrates what kind of important public protections are at stake:

  • Department of Labor’s overtime standard enables workers to be compensated fairly for all of the hours they actually work
  • Department of Labor’s fiduciary protection saves consumers from a myriad of investment advisers’ tricks to line their own pockets
  • Department of Interior’s oil well blowout preventer safeguard to defend against the primary safety failure leading to the massive British Petroleum oil spill and tragedy in the Gulf six years ago
  • Food and Drug Administration’s Nutrition Facts label rule on added sugar will help protect Americans’ health
  • Food and Drug Administration’s e-cigarettes standard to safeguard the public, and particularly young people, from new and potentially dangerous tobacco products
  • Environmental Protection Agency’s truck greenhouse gas emissions rule will make tomorrow’s trucks run cleaner and go farther on a gallon of fuel
  • Department of Labor’s fair pay and safe workplaces protection rule helps to eradicate all forms of discrimination in the workplace and promote good jobs for women

H.R. 5982 would throw all these protections into jeopardy. It would, in effect, presume that all members of Congress have adequate expertise on the complexities of all of the rules that would be targeted by a single en bloc disapproval resolution on which they would be voting. Such a scenario would be highly unlikely.

The bill would also risk encouraging members of Congress to engage in “horse trading” to add still more rules to the en bloc disapproval resolution until enough votes have been gathered to ensure the resolution’s passage. Surely, this approach to policymaking cannot be defended as superior to the careful process undertaken by regulatory agencies for each separate rule.

It is also crucial to underscore the far-reaching and negative consequences that such en bloc disapproval resolutions would have. According to the CRA, resolutions of disapproval not only nullify the regulation in question, but also prohibit a federal agency from issuing any other regulation that is “substantially the same” in the future, unless specifically authorized to do so by a future act of Congress. Accordingly, broad en bloc disapproval resolutions would wipe out huge swathes of agencies’ authority to address pressing public threats, indefinitely, potentially forever. That would be a drastic consequence from an act of Congress that is sure to be highly politicized and unlikely to receive appropriately careful consideration.

This Administration ends on January 20, 2017. It is incumbent on Administration officials to do their constitutional duty to exercise their authority to execute the laws as entrusted by Congress until that date.

We strongly urge you to oppose the Midnight Rules Relief Act (H.R. 5982), and to reject the false and misleading rhetoric behind it, which bears no relation to the real problems of excessive and systemic delay in the regulatory process.

We strongly urge opposition to H.R. 5982.

AFL-CIO

AFSCME

Alaska Public Interest Research Group

Alliance for Justice

American Association for Justice

Americans for Financial Reform

Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO)

Center for Food Safety

Center for Justice & Democracy

Center for Progressive Reform

Clean Water Action

Connecticut Council on Occupational Safety and Health (ConnectiCOSH)

Consumer Federation of America

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Consumers Union

Daily Kos

Earthjustice

Economic Policy Institute

Greenpeace

Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)

League of Conservation Voters

Massachusetts Consumers Council

MassCOSH

National Association of Consumer Advocates

National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low income clients)

National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH)

National Council of Jewish Women

National Council of La Raza

National Employment Law Project

National Employment Lawyers Association

National Women’s Law Center

Natural Resources Defense Council

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

Project On Government Oversight (POGO)

Public Citizen

Public Justice Center

Public Knowledge

SafeWork Washington

U.S. PIRG

Union of Concerned Scientists

Virginia Citizens Consumer Council

Women’s Voices for the Earth

Worksafe