When Republicans took control of the House in the midterms, they gained a powerful tool in combating regulatory excess with the power of the purse. Senate Republicans may use a different tool in their minority efforts to contain the EPA’s efforts to impose climate-change regulation by fiat, a rarely-used law called the Congressional Review Act. Created in 1996, the law essentially allows Congress to veto regulatory changes created by executive branch agencies, and may become a sledgehammer in battling the Obama administration’s regulatory innovations:
GOP lawmakers say they want to upend a host of Environmental Protection Agency rules by whatever means possible, including the Congressional Review Act, a rarely used legislative tool that allows Congress to essentially veto recently completed agency regulations.
The law lets sponsors skip Senate filibusters, meaning Republicans don’t have to negotiate with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for a floor vote or secure the tricky 60 votes typically needed to do anything in the Senate.
The House doesn’t have the same expedited procedures, but it’s assumed the GOP majority would have little trouble mustering the votes needed to pass disapproval resolutions.
A spate of contentious EPA rules that are soon to be finalized could be prime targets, including the national air quality standard for ozone, toxic emission limits for industrial boilers and a pending decision about whether to regulate coal ash as hazardous waste.
“We’re not going to let EPA regulate what they’ve been unable to legislate. And if I’m chairman, we’re going to have a very aggressive, proactive schedule,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the likely incoming chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, told POLITICO.
The effort may even find Democratic support. The upper chamber has 23 Democrats who have to face voters in 2012, some in red states that will feel the impact of these EPA regulations disproportionately. If they attempt to defend the EPA’s extralegislative rulemaking and the costs it will impose on business and agriculture, they may find those voters even more angry than they were in this cycle.
Using the CRA may have a pre-emptive effect as well. EPA’s Lisa Jackson has insisted that she will continue with her efforts to expand regulation, but the White House may have to think twice before provoking a Republican-controlled budget process and exposing moderate Democrats to another disastrous electoral cycle. The EPA may simply bide its time for two more years and hope that the political climate improves instead of attempting to salvage the literal climate.
In any event, it has become clear that Republicans on Capitol Hill seem prepared to use whatever tools are at their disposal to put the EPA back on a leash. One Democratic source for Politico says that such efforts to “politicize” the EPA may backfire on the GOP, but what has happened instead is that the Obama administration’s politicization of the EPA to get a backdoor carbon cap has already backfired on the Democrats. We’ll have to see how many of them realize it in the next session of Congress.