Since Trump announced his candidacy, he has made no secret of both his dislike for President Obama and his determination to change many of Obama’s policies and plans. Unfortunately, Trump and his party are finally in the position to do so. Not only can they enact new legislation, draw up new policies, and put new plans in place, but they can also overturn some of Obama’s previous regulations thanks to the 1996 Congressional Review Act. Things in Washington just got a whole lot scarier, which is hard to believe given the current political climate.
What’s the 1996 Congressional Review Act?
The 1996 Congressional Review Act allows the House and Senate to overturn any recently finalized federal regulation. All they have to do to get an act nullified is receive a majority vote in both the House and the Senate and get the President’s approval. This would be much simpler than the President’s administration attempting to repeal acts by the previous administration.
The Congressional Review Act has only been used once before by President Bush in 2001. Bush used the CRA to rescind an ergonomics regulation set down by President Clinton. Since congress was majority Republican, the vote passed easily. The CRA is generally only applicable in the early days of a new presidency as the current President is likely to want to overturn something the last president did, and not something they do, since the act only applies to recent regulations.
Why Is It So Dangerous?
The CRA is an extremely dangerous act that has the power to wipe out a lot of the Obama administration’s work. The act specifies that only regulations that were recently finalized can be overturned. Unfortunately, “recently finalized” is not a specific timeline. It appears that Congress has the power to stretch back as far as mid-June 2016. That means they have the power to nullify any regulations set forth from the Obama administration in the last 7 months. They could essentially erase any progress made by Obama and the White House as over 50 major regulations are included on the list.
And it gets worse. Not only does the CRA allow Congress to overturn recently finalized laws; it also decrees that once a regulation has been nullified, a regulation that is “substantially the same form” cannot be reissued. As this has never been tested, it’s unclear at the time what this could actually mean. But in theory, Trump’s camp may be able to overturn a regulation and ensure that it never comes back into force, even after his time in the White House.
Which Environmental Regulations Do They Want to Overturn?
The two main CRA targets are environmental regulations on stream protection for coal mining and methane waste. The stream protection rule restricts coal-mining companies from dumping debris into waterways. It also requires the companies to set aside money to restore impacted waterways before developing a new mine site. This rule is central in protecting fragile aqua ecosystems and keeping dangerous materials out of the drinking water supply. Of course, the coal industry feels the rule unjustly stops them from developing mines.
The second regulation concerns methane waste and was a crucial component in Obama’s climate plan. The rule states that oil and gas companies would have to contain methane leaks on federal and tribal lands by capturing the methane instead of allowing it to waft into the air or flare. This rule was part of a greater plan to reduce greenhouse gases, of which methane is one, by 40% by 2025.
What Other Regulations Are They Targeting?
In addition to the environmental regulations above, the administration is also targeting three other regulations with the CRA. The first is the resource extraction rule that requires publicly traded oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments they make to foreign governments. The goal behind this regulation was to increase transparency and deter corruption. Unfortunately, one of the biggest opponents of this act is now Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.
The second act targeted is the blacklisting rule. This rule requires federal contractors to disclose any labor law violations from the last three years before they can receive a contract. However, a federal judge halted this law in October saying it went beyond Congress's authority.
The last regulation targeted is the Social Security gun rule. This regulation was finalized just in December as an effort to increase gun control and keep guns out of the hands of people with mental impairments. The rule states that the Social Security Administration would submit information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System if recipients of disability insurance met certain mental impairment criteria.
Republicans have both the House and the Senate, along with support from the President. In addition, CRA votes are immune to a Senate filibuster so all the Republicans need to do is keep their majority and they will be able to overturn these five regulations and much more from six months worth of progress.