Special Topics in Environmental Management

Democrats Want to Repeal Congressional Review Act

Some Democrats have seen enough of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) and have introduced legislation to repeal it. In the Senate, Sens. Cory Booker (NJ) and Tom Udall (NM) are cosponsoring the Sunset the CRA and Restore American Protections (SCRAP) Act, which would put an end to a law they claim Republicans have “exploited this year to overturn public health, environmental, and consumer protections while advancing special interests.” Rep David Cicilline (D-RI) has introduced a companion bill in the House.

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A tool to block midnight rules

Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the CRA gives Congress the authority to disapprove an agency rule (i.e., ensuring that the rule will have no force or effect) for 60 days of congressional session after the agency transmits that rule to Congress. Once a rule is reversed by the CRA, an agency can never reissue a substantially similar rule unless specifically authorized to do so under a new law. The CRA was designed to go after midnight rules issued in the final days of an administration, but Democrats complain that it authorizes rule reversals going as far back as 6 months or more into the previous administration.

Until January 2017, the CRA had been used to block a rule only once. But after Donald Trump took office, Republicans have used it 14 times to turn back regulations issued by the Obama administration. House Republicans also voted to nullify the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) final rule to prevent waste of natural gas from venting, flaring, and leaks during oil and natural gas production activities on onshore federal and Indian leases (November 18, 2016, FR). But in a surprising development, three Republican senators sided with Democrats to keep the rule in place. The BLM will now have to navigate a complex and lengthy rulemaking process to withdraw or amend the rule.

Serving corporate interests

The Senate vote has not dissuaded Democrats from viewing the CRA as a tool “to benefit special interests.”

“Abuse of the CRA has allowed Congressional Republicans to fast track the repeal of a host of protections that benefit everyday Americans with little notice or public debate,” said Booker. “President Trump and Republicans are misusing this legislative mechanism to reward special interests and big corporations at the expense of consumers, working families, and the environment.”

In addition to repealing the CRA, the SCRAP Act would remove the prohibition on agencies reissuing a previously overturned rule and would give those agencies greater flexibility in reinstating such rules.