The first few weeks of the new administration have been very eventful. I blogged about the REINS Act a few weeks ago, and we are encouraging you to oppose Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator. However, many other things have happened at the executive and legislative level since then. To help you keep up, here is a roundup of executive and legislative actions in the first three weeks of the new administration:
January 24: Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017 (H.R. 637)
Alabama’s very own Gary Palmer (R-Birmingham) sponsored a proposed bill that blocks the EPA’s ability to address climate change. The bill repeals the ability of the Clean Air Act, Federal Water Pollution Control Act, National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, Endangered Species Act of 1973, and Solid Waste Disposal Act to regulate climate change and excludes carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride from being defined as “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. This essentially means that EPA will not have authority to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant and would require EPA to seek approval from Congress to enact a regulation that would have any negative effect on employment.
January 27: Congressional Review Act put into play by U.S. Congress
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) was spearheaded by Newt Gingrich in 1996 as part of his Contract with America. The CRA allows senators and representatives who disapprove of a regulation to enter a resolution eliminating it. Resolutions, unlike bills, cannot be filibustered and need only a simple majority to pass. The resolutions require the signature of the president. For the CRA to be effective, one party needs to control both houses of Congress and the White House, with a president eager to undo the policies of his immediate predecessor, which is our current situation. The Congressional Research Services estimates that about 50 major rules could be vulnerable to the CRA. So far this year, the following rules protecting the environment and human health have been targeted under the CRA:
- The Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule: this rule was finalized in December and requires coal companies that finished mining in an area to restore the land to conditions that existed before the mining began, with an emphasis on streams and waterways. Both the House and the Senate voted to roll back the stream protection rule on January 30,2017 and it awaits signature from President Trump.
- Department of the Interior Methane Flaring Rule: this rule was announced in November and targets flaring, which is the practice of burning methane emissions at oil wells, as well as venting and leaks from fossil fuel extraction. The rule requires oil and gas companies to capture errant methane instead of burning or venting it. It also standardizes procedures for inspecting operations for methane leaks and for paying royalties on captured natural gas back to the US government. The House voted on February 3, 2017 with no action so far from the Senate as of the date of this post.
- Drilling and Mining on Public Lands: On January 31, 2017, the House introduced a joint resolution that would repeal the rules that allow the National Park Service to manage private drilling and mining in 40 parks across the country. Basically, if Congress repeals these rules, drilling could occur in national parks with little more than bare-minimum state regulations. As of the date of this post, there has not been a vote on this resolution.
January 30: President Trump Signs 2-for-1 Executive Order
Trump signed an executive order that boils down to a command to all federal agencies: if you want to issue a new regulation, you have to repeal two existing ones. How does this impact clean air? Well, say the EPA wants to issue a new rule to protect children from harmful mercury emissions from power plants. If the EPA wants to create this new rule, they would need to cut two existing rules, such as reducing lead in drinking water or requiring school buses to cut smog-causing emissions. While President Trump touts this as a win for businesses succumbing to over-regulation, the above example shows this creates a Hobson’s choice for protecting our children, our health, our environment and our communities. The necessity and legality of this executive order are also called into question when considering agencies are required to take into account costs when creating a regulation and the procedural requirements for agency rulemaking in the Administrative Procedures Act. On February 8, 2017 Public Citizen, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Communications Workers of America sued the Trump administration to block this executive order. The plaintiffs are asking the court to issue a declaration that the order cannot be lawfully implemented and bar the agencies from implementing the order.
February 3: To Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (H.R. 861)
Matt Gaetz (R-FL, 1st District) introduced a bill that would abolish the EPA effective December 31, 2018. Gaetz states that the functions of the EPA are best left to state and local communities to determine their local needs and create regulations accordingly. In his own words, Gaetz said “I would take the resources that we use to fund the bureaucracy at the EPA, and I would downstream those resources to states and local communities so that we are able to have people closest to environmental assets ascertain the importance of those assets, and then protect them appropriately and responsibly.” When we localize this impact to Alabama, where the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is woefully underfunded by the state (the Alabama legislature slashed ADEM’s state funding consistently since 2008, when its appropriation was around $6 million, culminating in a 2016 budget that required ADEM to pay $1.2 million into the general fund), the consequences for the protection of health and the environment in Alabama could be dire.
We are keeping our ear to the ground on any and all developments that could affect clean air and health in Alabama. Be on the look out for regular updates from us about legislative and executive actions that could threaten your health and environment. We will also always provide ways for you to act on any development, whether it’s positive or negative. Bookmark our campaigns page and ask your friends and family to take action. As you may know, one of the most effective tactics for having your voice heard is a personal phone call. We encourage you to call after you’ve taken action to make certain your elected officials take notice.
Haley joined GASP in 2014 as our programs manager and was named staff attorney in 2016. She has a B.A. from George Washington University, J.D. from Cumberland School of Law and a master’s in public administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.