EPA climate regs debated as Republicans tout ‘REINS Act’

Gabriel Nelson, E&E reporter

It’s official: The new era of Republican oversight has begun.

The new leadership of the House Judiciary Committee kicked off the new Congress yesterday by making the case for a bill that seeks to stem the flow of new federal rules. And if the first hearing is any indication, no discussion of regulatory policy this session will be complete without a debate over U.S. EPA’s use of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases.

The bill being discussed was the “REINS Act” (H.R. 10) from Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.), which would require all rules costing more than $100 million to be approved by Congress before taking effect.

Congress has delegated too much of its authority to executive branch agencies and needs to take that power back, the Republicans on the judiciary panel’s Subcommittee on Courts, Commercial and Administrative Law said yesterday. The Congressional Review Act, which was passed by Congress during the tenure of President Clinton, has failed to give lawmakers control over the regulatory process, they said.

Several lawmakers cited EPA’s climate rules as a prime target of Davis’ proposed bill. Among them was House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who said Congress needs to stop the agency’s effort to “exercise authority it was never granted.”

“When businesses have to spend these vast sums to comply with this mass of regulations, they have less money to invest to stay competitive in the global economy and to hire new employees,” Smith said. “These costs get passed on to American consumers. In effect, these regulations amount to stiff but unseen taxes on every American.”

The Democrats on the panel also raised questions about the constitutionality of Davis’ proposed fix, saying that Congress could not block rules without changing the laws that prompted them. The bill ignores the benefits of rules from EPA and other agencies, reflecting the belief “that almost all regulations are bad,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), the subcommittee’s ranking member.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) focused his questions on EPA’s greenhouse gas rules, reading aloud the portion of the Clean Air Act that says when an agency must begin regulating a pollutant. He suggested it was reasonable for EPA to conclude that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health and welfare, considering that Congress had given them that responsibility and the Supreme Court had said that carbon dioxide fit into the law’s definition of “pollutant.”

But witnesses such as Jonathan Adler, director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western Reserve University, countered by arguing that the regulation of greenhouse gases is still a “decision that needs to be made by Congress.”

No one from the administration testified yesterday, and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who held the gavel until last month, questioned their absence. Republicans want to move the bill to the floor by next week, but they should not do so without allowing the administration the chance to explain itself, Conyers said.

The bill will get another hearing in the Judiciary Committee before lawmakers decide whether to report it out of committee, said Howard Coble (R-N.C.), chairman of the subcommittee.

Introduced in the Senate last year by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), the REINS Act has not garnered any Democratic sponsors. But with support from top-ranking Republicans such as Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), it could quickly face a vote in the House.

Republicans have challenged the characterization of the REINS Act as a partisan effort to stop President Obama’s agenda, but they agree that the procedural step likely would have caused rules such as EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations to stall on Capitol Hill.

“I can tell you, that would not pass,” Davis said yesterday during an interview with Fox Business Network, referring to EPA’s effort to limit greenhouse gases. “It didn’t pass a liberal-dominated Congress and would not pass now. This is really an end-run around the will of the American people.”

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