Republicans plan to revive legislation in the next Congress to block or limit creation of new federal regulations, including for the energy sector, but the Natural Resources Defense Council is confident the bills will not become law.
The U.S. House of Representatives will probably pass a "whole raft" of anti-regulation bills in the 115th Congress, said David Goldston, director of NRDC's government affairs program, at a Dec. 20 roundtable with reporters. The new session of Congress kicks off Jan. 3, 2017, and Republicans will be emboldened in their fight against federal regulations by having GOP President-elect Donald Trump enter the White House later that month.
Bills that would restrict future rules include the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny Act, or REINS Act. The measure would require Congress to sign off on any new federal regulation that imposes significant costs on the economy before the rule could take effect. The House passed prior versions of the REINS Act in 2011 and 2013, but Democratic President Barack Obama threatened to veto the legislation.
Goldston also expects the House to re-introduce the Regulatory Accountability Act, which he called a "more subtle" attack on the federal rulemaking apparatus. The bill would require the executive branch to find the "least costly" way to implement laws, a proposal green groups worry will restrict protections for air and water quality.
But the NRDC hopes the legislation will spur a backlash from the public and Democrats. Goldston said the bills generally require 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, but GOP lawmakers will only hold a narrow 52-vote majority in the next Congress. Assuming the Senate filibuster remains in place, "we're pretty confident we can stop most of these [bills]," he said.
The REINS ACT and Regulatory Accountability Act are part of a broad Republican push-back against regulation, including Obama administration air and water rules for energy producers. With Trump as president, the GOP has fresh hope for undoing existing regulations and blocking future rules they view as too costly or unnecessary. Trump vowed during his campaign to repeal two existing regulations for every new federal rule and to toss the U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule and other regulations and policies affecting energy producers.
And despite Goldston's optimism, Democrats and other lawmakers supporting more aggressive environmental regulations are at a disadvantage in the upcoming Congress. Republicans hold the majority of the House and Senate and could use legislative vehicles such as the budget reconciliation process to move proposals through Congress without encountering a filibuster.