Republicans in Congress are moving this week to help President Donald Trump roll back business regulations imposed by the Obama administration, with a focus on the oil, gas and mining industries.
The Republicans want to use the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law that has until now been used to strike down a regulation only once, to achieve a speedy rollback of regulations introduced in the Obama administration’s final year.
Rules covering the wastage of gas from oil production, payments to governments around the world by natural resources companies, and pollution of streams by the coal mining industry are among the first targets.
Mr Trump has put a vow to slash government regulation at the heart of his pledge to create jobs and spur economic growth by energising US business.
Since the election the president has repeatedly promised to cut regulation by “75 per cent”, and on Monday he signed an executive order demanding that any proposed new regulation should be matched by two identified for repeal.
Republicans in the House of Representatives have already passed legislation intended to remove existing regulations and limit the introduction of new ones, but they are unlikely to pass the Senate in the face of Democratic opposition.
The CRA, however, gives lawmakers the power to strike down regulations finalised in the last seven months of the Obama administration, one by one. The law sets a deadline of 60 legislative days after a regulation has been submitted to Congress for it to be reviewed, but the clock resets in a new session. That means any regulation submitted after June 13, 2016, will be open to review until late March or early April this year.
Kevin McCarthy, the Republican majority leader in the House, wrote in a column for the Wall Street Journal last week that Congress would “repeal as many job-killing and ill-conceived regulations as possible”.
Once the House votes on a resolution to scrap a regulation, it must pass the Senate — where Democrats will not be able to use the filibuster techniques they can use to block other legislation — and is then sent to the president for his approval. The law is particularly powerful because any future administration is not allowed to bring the regulation back in “substantially the same form”, unless fresh legislation authorises it.
Votes on the first resolutions on the House floor are expected on Wednesday and Thursday, according to a House leadership aide.
One of the first targets is the Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring oil, gas and mining companies to report details of payments to countries where they operate, to comply with Section 1504 of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation act. On Monday, Jim Inhofe, a senator from Oklahoma, and Bill Huizenga, a congressman from Michigan, filed a “resolution of disapproval” of the regulation under the CRA in the Senate.
Campaigners for financial transparency in developing countries urged Congress to defend the rule, which is similar to requirements imposed by Britain and France. Isabel Munilla, a policy adviser at Oxfam, said: “A vote for this resolution is a vote for corruption.”
The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry group, argues that by imposing tougher requirements than most other jurisdictions, the rule will put US-listed groups at a competitive disadvantage when trying to win contracts around the world.
Congress is also moving to scrap the Bureau of Land Management’s curbs on venting and flaring gas from oil and gas production on public and tribal lands. The API says the rules could prove counter-productive to efforts to reduce wastage by stifling innovation, while raising costs and impeding oil and gas production.
Mark Brownstein of the Environmental Defense Fund, a group that has championed efforts to stop gas being wasted, said the move showed “how aggressively the US oil and gas industry is pursuing its anti-regulation agenda”.
He added: “The industry is talking about a rollback of regulations that require private companies to take proper care of these public resources.”
The other energy-related regulation to face the axe is known as the stream protection rule. It imposes requirements on coal mining companies to prevent water pollution and damage to wildlife, and to restore mined areas after operations end. Thirteen states led by Ohio and West Virginia earlier this month sued to block the rule, saying it violates the states’ rights to control coal mining regulations, and “effectively makes mining impossible in vast areas of the country”.
There are two other regulations that the House is this week moving towards striking down: one monitoring compliance with labour laws by subcontractors on government projects, and another that makes it more difficult for social security recipients with “a disabling mental impairment” to buy guns.
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