Climate 411

Congressional Review Act: A Law of Unintended and Long-Lasting Consequences

3802348922_e99184a252_bWith legislation flying fast and furious through the Capitol – much of it using new or unusual legal mechanisms – lawmakers today must be doubly mindful of unintended consequences. Case in point: Actions rushed through the House and Senate under an obscure law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), the details of which can cause deeper, more lasting impact than the simple name implies.

The CRA dates to the 1990s. It says that any rule finalized by a federal agency can be subject to an expedited congressional repeal for 60 legislative days after the agency sends up a copy of the final rule and a report detailing the reasons for its promulgation. Within that window, either chamber can introduce a joint resolution of disapproval – which, if passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president, effectively voids the rule.

The law sounds simple enough. But it leaves a lot of room for error or mischief.

The CRA enjoys fast-track privileges, allowing a CRA bill to go straight to the floor without committee hearings. A so-called resolution of disapproval can be brought up at any time, with little or no notice. In the Senate, passage requires only a simple majority (51 votes). The measures are not subject to filibuster.

Until January, only one such resolution had ever been passed and signed into law, and the CRA has never been tested in court. But now there are at least 10 different CRA actions moving through the House and Senate. It’s worth a close look at what those measures would really do.

Hands Tied

If the President signs the joint resolution, the agency rule is voided. What’s more, that agency is forever barred from issuing any rule that is “substantially the same” as the as the one voted down. And therein lies the most serious problem.

Because this vague provision has never been clarified by the courts, agencies will almost certainly hesitate to undertake a new rule on the same topic, no matter how serious and well founded the action might be or regardless of new information (this is exactly what happened to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the only agency so far to have a rule disapproved through the CRA).

In short, CRA disapproval is a drastic and extreme legislative move that shouldn’t be undertaken lightly by either political party.

CRA Attack on BLM Waste Rule Defies Logic

Take for example the CRA resolution passed last week by the House of Representatives, which would roll back a Bureau of Land Management rule requiring oil and gas companies operating on millions of acres of federal and tribal land to take cost-effective, common-sense steps to reduce nearly 110 billion cubic feet of taxpayer-owned natural gas they currently waste each year through leaks, venting, or simply burning it off (called flaring).

That gas is worth an estimated $330 million dollars annually — more than $1.5 billion since 2013 — and is enough to supply every home in a city the size of Chicago for a year. Besides squandering a valuable energy resource, the waste generates air pollution affecting the health of millions of Americans.

BLM’s much-needed and long-overdue standards to address this problem took years to craft, and reflect input received in over 300,000 public comments.  Industry lobbyists have glibly suggested that a resolution of disapproval means that rule could somehow be sent back to the agency for a redo. But this is not how the CRA works. Lawmakers in that chamber need to understand this critical difference before they vote.

Waking Up to the Problem

The good news is lawmakers in both houses appear to be increasingly aware of the issues involved with the CRA. A resolution roll back the BLM rule passed the House on a vote of 221-191, with a record 11 Republicans voting no (and three Democrats voting yes).

The bill is could hit the Senate floor at any time. Before they vote, Senators should step back and understand that the CRA resolution offers up an axe in place of the scalpel that many are seeking, and weigh their decision accordingly. We need our lawmakers to stand up for their constituents – American taxpayers – to promote their interests over the needs of the oil and gas lobby.

Image source: Flickr/k3nna

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Climate Bills Introduced in the House

Carol AndressThis post is by Carol Andress, who manages outreach to the U.S. House of Representatives at Environmental Defense Fund.

 

Two new cap-and-trade bills were introduced in the House in June:

  • Investing in Climate Action & Protection Act (Markey, D-MA, H.R. 6186)
  • Climate MATTERS Act (Doggett/Blumenauer/Van Hollen, H.R. 6316)

They aren't the first cap-and-trade bills to be introduced in this Congress, but they bring the discussion to a new level.

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Time for Climate Action in the House

Carol AndressThis post is by Carol Andress, Economic Development Specialist at Environmental Defense.

Operation Climate Vote

This post is part of a series on the work of the Environmental Defense Action Fund to enact an effective climate law. You can help by writing to Congress.

The U.S. House of Representatives is back in session this week, and they have some important work to do.

Last month, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (CSA) was passed out of committee in the Senate. This means that the bill now can be considered by the full Senate – an important step. But for a bill to become law in this country it has to be passed by both the House and Senate, and the House has not yet moved on climate legislation. (See our previous post for more on the legislative process.)

Before the break, the House was preoccupied with the energy bill, but that's now been passed. Next up should be climate legislation, and support is building for it. Here's what House members have been saying:

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Climate Legislation in the House?

This post is by Carol Andress, Economic Development Specialist at Environmental Defense.

Climate Vote 2007

This post is part of a series on the work of the Environmental Defense Action Fund to enact an effective climate law. You can help by writing to Congress.

Last night's committee passage of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (CSA) means that the bill now can be considered by the full Senate – an important step towards enacting national climate legislation. But for a bill to become law in this country it has to be passed by both the House and Senate, and the House is lagging behind. (See our previous post for more on the legislative process.)

So while we celebrate last night's Senate victory, we still have our work cut out for us in the House. The House Energy Commerce Committee has been tied up with the energy bill, and has not yet circulated a proposal on climate legislation. Now that a vote on the energy bill is imminent, it's time for House leaders to turn their attention.

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Will the House Follow the Senate on a Climate Bill?

This post is by Carol Andress, Economic Development Specialist at Environmental Defense.

Climate Vote 2007

Part of a series on the work of the Environmental Defense Action Fund to enact an effective climate law. You can help by writing to Congress.

Passage of the Lieberman-Warner America's Climate Security Act in a key Senate subcommittee is a major political break-through. But the big question now is: When will the House begin work on a comprehensive global warming bill of its own?

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders have pledged to make global warming a priority. And key House committee leaders John Dingell (D-MI) and Rick Boucher (D-VA) have drafted the first of a planned series of white papers analyzing policy options. These are all positive signs. But, what's missing is a legislative vehicle that can be marked up in committee and scheduled for floor action.

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House Leaders Make Global Warming Action a Priority

This post is by Carol Andress, Economic Development Specialist at Environmental Defense.

Climate Vote 2007

Part of a series on the work of the Environmental Defense Action Fund to enact an effective climate law. You can help by writing to Congress.

Unlike the Senate, which has voted twice on legislation to cap and reduce America's global warming pollution, the House has never brought a global warming bill to the floor.

So, when the incoming Speaker of the new Congress, Representative Nancy Pelosi, pledged to make global warming a top legislative priority in January, the House, as a legislative body, was starting from scratch.

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