Americans consistently support environmental safeguards by wide margins. A survey of likely 2016 voters, for instance, found that 91 percent of Americans endorse strengthening drinking water and air pollution protections, 87 percent want expanded renewable energy development, and 82 percent would like the government to place limits on power plant carbon pollution.
Despite those numbers, industry-backed legislators in both houses of Congress have been introducing—and reintroducing—benign-sounding bills over the last few years that would do the exact opposite of what a solid majority of Americans want. The sponsors of these Trojan Horse bills claim they would increase accountability and transparency, but in fact they would obstruct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies from enacting science-based rules, setting back public health and environmental protections for decades to come.
Three of the four bills have already passed in the House, and three have been introduced in the Senate, where they died in previous sessions. If a Senate sponsor attaches any or all of them to an omnibus or must-pass budget bill this session, however, they just might elude President Obama’s promised veto pen. The result? They would tie up federal agencies with bureaucratic red tape, limit the data they could use, deter independent scientists from participating and give corporations even more influence over the rulemaking process.
“These bills are based on a set of false premises concerning the science advisory process for federal agencies,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and lead author of a May 29 Science article on congressional attacks on science. “Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: Special interests find the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and other laws that protect public health and safety inconvenient, so they’re attacking the science to roll back those protections.”
Undermining Federal Agency Rulemaking
Perhaps the broadest assault on federal agencies is the proposed Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would give Congress the final say over major regulations. The bill would require Congress to approve any new or updated regulation with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more, giving both houses of Congress 70 business days to approve the rule. If either failed to act, the agency would have to wait until the next legislative session.
The House passed the REINS Act in 2011 and 2013, but it languished in the Senate. In January, Rep. Todd Young (R-IN) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) reintroduced the bill in their respective chambers.
Paul claims the bill would hold agencies accountable by “cutting red tape and opening the regulatory process to scrutiny.”
In fact, the bill would only serve to create more red tape for agency scientists and analysts—who are relatively insulated from outside pressure—and undermine their ability to make regulatory decisions. The fate of a wide range of rules would instead rest with politicians, who are too often beholden to special interests.
How would Paul vote on a proposed power plant air pollution standard, for example, when he gets generous financial support from oil and coal behemoth Koch Industries and coal giants Alliance Resource Partners and Murray Energy? Or how would Young, who gets significant funding from building and construction companies, vote on a rule to strengthen the Clean Water Act?
Given the extent of corporate influence and current gridlock on Capitol Hill, science-based public health and environmental protections would likely die a quick death if this bill becomes law.
Slowing the Rulemaking Process to a Crawl
Earlier this year, the House passed a bill that, according to its sponsor Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), would increase government accountability by requiring “agencies to choose the lowest cost alternatives that meet statutory objectives and improve agency transparency and fact finding.”
Wonky language aside, at first blush, that sounds pretty good.