In a Wall Street op-ed piece yesterday, House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy announced that the House intends to pass resolutions next week under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to kill two prominent Obama Administration environmental initiatives, the Interior Department’s Stream Protection Rule (which applies to coal mining) and EPA’s methane performance standards for oil and gas facilities. Under the CRA, Congress can void agency regulations upon a bare majority vote of each chamber. Sixty votes are therefore not needed in the Senate to kill a regulation. Once a CRA resolution is signed by the President, the agency is prevented from adopting a substantially similar regulation.
Given that Republicans now have a majority in both houses, there is little the Democrats can do to prevent use of the CRA to eliminate Obama Administration initiatives. There are three important caveats, however. One is that complicated provisions of the CRA restrict its application to regulations that were adopted not too long before the end of the Obama Administration. This immunizes older Obama Administration regulations like the Clean Power Plan. Second, the CRA can only be used to nullify one regulation at a time; a single CRA resolution cannot nullify a group of regulations. Third, the Senate must allow 10 hours of legislative debate on any CRA resolution. With a crowded legislative agenda, these last two factors may prevent the CRA from being used against more than a handful of regulations.
Clearly, however, both the Stream Protection Rule and the methane rule are among the Administration’s priority targets. It is not certain when the Senate will act on each rule.
For more information on the CRA and its potential impacts on environmental regulations, please contact Peter Glaser.