House Passes Bills to Require Congressional Approval Before Final Agency Rules Take Effect

The U.S. House last week passed two bills that seek to reform the nation’s regulatory process by limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) rule-making authority and requiring congressional approval before any “major” rules issued by a federal agency can take effect.

The House on Friday voted 232-183 to pass the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act (H.R.367), which was introduced in January by Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and has 164 cosponsors. The House also passed by a 232-181 vote the Energy Consumers Relief Act (H.R. 1582), introduced by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.).

The REINS Act essentially alters the treatment of major regulations under the Congressional Review Act while keeping existing congressional disapproval processes under the Act for rules not considered “major.” “Major” regulations are defined as rules that produce $100 million or more in impacts on the national economy or spur major increases in costs or prices for consumers. The bill requires Congress to pass, within specified time constraints, and the president to sign a joint resolution of approval before a new major regulation can take effect.

The bill also requires agencies promulgating any new rule to submit to Congress and the Comptroller General a report containing the rule, its classification as “major” or “non-major,” and the action’s aggregate economic impact. The Comptroller General will then have 15 days to provide congressional committees of jurisdiction with a report assessing the agency’s compliance with procedural steps outlined the bill, as well as an assessment of whether the rule imposes any limits or mandates on private-sector activity.

On Thursday, the House voted 237-176 to adopt an amendment to the REINS Act offered by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) that would require the Obama administration to get congressional approval before implementing a carbon tax.

The Energy Consumers Relief Act seeks to protect consumers by prohibiting the EPA administrator from promulgating as final certain energy-related rules that are estimated to cost more than $1 billion that will cause significant adverse effects to the economy.

About 85 major rules have been issued per year, on average, over the past five years. Congressional Republicans and some Democrats have fervently opposed six rules proposed and finalized by the EPA—the Utility MACT, CSAPR, Boiler MACT, Coal Combustion Residuals, Cooling Water Intake Structures, and Ozone NAAQS rules—citing estimates that the rules could cost as much as $111 billion each year, “with upfront costs of more than half a trillion dollars.”

Meanwhile, an assessment of the REINS Act by the Congressional Budget Office (Congress’ nonpartisan economic analysis arm) earlier this year showed that found H.R. 367 could have a “significant impact” on spending subject to appropriation, but it said it could not determine the “magnitude” of that effect.

Both bills head to the Senate, where they have a slim chance of passage.

Sources: POWERnews, U.S. House

Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

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