The House of Representatives voted yesterday (February 1) to kill two of former President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations through the 1996 Congressional Review Act (CRA).
The CRA allows Congress to reject any recent law—those submitted to Congress on or since June 13, 2016—through majority vote and a presidential signing. It has has been used successfully only once, in 2001, under former President George W. Bush. The law also prevents lawmakers from creating similar future regulations, though it’s unclear what that means yet given the CRA’s rare usage.
The first regulation to get repealed by the House was a resource extraction disclosure rule the Securities and Exchange Commission rolled out in June 2016. This would force publicly traded oil, gas and mineral extraction companies to disclose any payments made to foreign governments that equal at least $100,000 in a fiscal year. The vote was primarily along party lines, with Republicans moving the repeal forward with 230 votes.
Next was Obama’s update to the stream protection rule made in December 2016. The Department of Interior created more stringent regulations to the mining industry to protect surface water and anything that relies on it (i.e. wildlife and humans), which include requiring mining companies to test and monitor stream conditions before, during and after bringing their business nearby. Again, House Republicans garnered 224 votes in support of their move.
Both resolutions are now sitting in the Senate for its approval.
Another regulation remains on the chopping block today (February 2): The House is set to debate a methane emission reduction rule passed in November 2016. This rule specifically targeted public and tribal lands “to create a cleaner and more sustainable energy future,” according to the Department of Interior. The law hopes to limit the release of natural gas from oil and gas operations on these lands.
“By removing these regulations, you’re removing protections for clean air, clean water,” said Ethan Elkind, the director of U.C. Berkeley’s Climate Program at the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment. “It’s safe to say that every time you remove environmental protection, very often communities of color and disadvantaged communities are most at risk because they’re closer to those industrial facilities that these regulations are designed to limit pollution and other harmful health effects from.”
Now, the future of these regulations is in the hands of Congress. “It’s a clear signal that they’re very focused on removing protections that affect businesses,” Elkind says. As he pointed out, however, pulling out the CRA is the easiest anti-environment move given their partisan majority. Further environmental rollbacks will require a greater majority and, hence, bipartisan support.