More Fun Than Escaped Llamas: House GOP to Hold Yet Another Antiregulatory Hearing

by James Goodwin

In keeping with an apparent effort to hold an antiregulatory hearing on any and all days ending in “y,” Congressional Republicans have teed up yet another humdinger for Monday, March 2. That’s when the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Administrative law will take a closer look at three more antiregulatory bills that have been recycled from previous congresses, including the Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act of 2015 (RAPID Act), the Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2015 (SRDSA), and the Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome Act of 2015 (SCRUB Act).  And by “take a closer look,” I mean “recite tired free market platitudes en route to their predetermined conclusion that the passage of these three bills is the only way to prevent regulation-induced economic disaster.”

Others and I have written about all three of the bills in the past, so there’s no need to rehash all of the gory details here.  But, in approaching the hearing, a few thoughts are worth keeping in mind on each of these absurd bills:

The SRDSA.  Last week, I blogged about the SRDSA—a bill that its supporters claim is necessary to prevent so-called “sue and settle” agreements that lead to environmental regulations—to highlight how a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report had thoroughly demolished the “sue and settle” myth.  In fact, every claim made by the lead House and Senate sponsors of the SRDSA in their joint press release announcing the bill was directly refuted by the GAO.  Hopefully, this GAO report will be discussed at great length on Monday.   There is, however, a real “sue and settle” problem that is quite distinct from the fallacious one that congressional Republicans are constantly complaining about.  This one involves industrial polluters urging conservative state governments to sue them for their environmental violations, as a means of forestalling citizen suits that seek to hold companies liable for the same environmental violations.  The state dutifully steps in, blocks the citizen suit, and then settles with the company with a slap on the wrist.  The most infamous example of this maneuver took place just before the Duke coal ash spill in North Carolina last year. Any guesses on whether the Republicans will bring that up on Monday?

The SCRUB Act.  This bill would set up a convoluted and highly bureaucratic regulatory “lookback” process for finding existing regulations that corporate interests want repealed.  Its supporters claim we need yet another lookback process to address their fanciful claim that industries are being burdened by too many cumulative regulatory mandates, and that these mandates need to be stricken from the books.  The irony of a bill creating complicated bureaucracy—about a dozen pages of the bill is dedicated to spelling out the creation of a new ad hoc bureau with staffing, pay scale requirements, acquisition authority, etc., etc.—to address the alleged problem of “too much bureaucracy” should be lost on no one.  In a blog post last year, CPR President Rena Steinzor examined the SCRUB Act and other similar proposals, and concluded that the last thing the regulatory system needs is another lookback process.  In the post, Professor Steinzor discussed testimony by a GAO official at a March 2014 Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing.  The GAO official’s testimony confirms that agencies already conduct a wide variety of regulatory lookbacks in response to a broad range of legal requirements.  The official went on to note that agencies went beyond these requirements and conducted discretionary lookbacks.  The official testified that the GAO had found that these discretionary lookbacks were actually more effective in that they “generated additional action more often than mandatory reviews, which most often resulted in no changes.”  Again, I hope members of the Judiciary committee explore these GAO findings as part of Monday’s hearing.

The RAPID Act.  In recent years, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has written a lot of great stuff about the RAPID Act and its insidious effects on environmental protection (see here and here), and I won’t attempt to improve on it.  It is worth emphasizing a point that the NRDC makes, though, that the RAPID Act is all about speeding up the regulatory process when it happens to benefit regulated industries, which standards in stark contrast to other antiregulatory bills that Republicans have pushed in Congress lately—including the SRDSA, the Regulatory Accountability Act, the Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act, and the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Improvement Act—which are all aimed at slowing down the regulatory process when such delays happen to benefit regulated industries.  Reading all these bills together, it becomes clear that congressional Republicans are not interested in improving the regulatory system; rather, their goal is to help their corporate benefactors no matter the cost to public health, safety, and the environment.

After the November midterm elections, Republicans were fond of declaring “elections have consequences.”  So far, all they have to show for their control of both chambers of congress is a Cal Ripken-length streak of pointless hearings that waste scarce legislative time and resources.  The American public deserves better.

(Don't get the llamas in the headline? Watch this now before it comes up at dinner tonight.)



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