115th Congress Takes a Hatchet to Obama’s Rules

“Draining the swamp” in Washington, D.C., the newly sworn Congressional majority has wasted no time targeting critical Obama Administration rules designed to protect public health, the environment, foster transparency, and combat corruption.

Using an obscure law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), Congress can pass and the President can sign resolutions of disapproval that effectively undo the rules finalized during the latter days of the Obama era. Obscure, because, Congress has only once before successfully used this procedure- to undo a Department of Labor rule requiring ergonomic chairs in workplaces.

Spiteting Your Face

The CRA is a uniquely blunt instrument. Not only does it remove the protections of the targeted rule, the law also forbids the agency from ever writing a substantially similar one in the future. Ever. Eager to take a hatchet to the good work accomplished during the last eight years, Congress introduced a buffet of CRA resolutions of disapproval related to oil, gas, and mining rules. Some examples:

Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Stream Protection Rule– This rule attempts to protect our waters from the barbaric practice of mountain top removal coal mining. For hundreds of millions of years, the Appalachian Mountains have formed a geologic spine spanning the Eastern United States. Not satisfied with the mountains as they are, coal companies blow off the mountain tops, scoop out the coal, and cause toxic heavy metals to runoff to nearby waterways.

Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Venting and Flaring Rule– This rule seeks to save taxpayer money and natural resources. The oil and gas underneath public lands belongs to all of us, and industry has a duty to preserve our resources and pay us a fair royalty return. As a side benefit, limiting the amount of flared gas also prevents more climate warming methane from escaping in to the atmosphere.

Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Extractive Industries Transparency Rule– This rule is designed to combat the resource curse, a phenomenon where nations endowed with substantial mineral wealth also suffer from enormously high levels of corruption. That is, the mineral wealth enriches only some, while the vast majority of the nation’s citizens live in squalor. This rule allows us to follow the money, preventing corrupt regimes from hiding their cronyism and shining sunlight on the flow of money in countries whose leaders may help fund terrorists.

Common Defense

The new Administration and Congress have made clear where their priorities lie: Crony capitalism, fleecing the American taxpayer, condoning corruption, and denying climate change. Chinks in their armor have now begun to appear. After an ill-conceived plan to sell of our public lands generated outrage among ranchers, hunters, hikers, and business owners, the House sponsor abruptly pulled its consideration. And it’s down to the wire on the SEC rule. The CRA vote in the Senate could go either way. The EPA rule and BLM rules also will receive votes this week.

We're all in this together. #Resist.