US House passes legislation that could halt stream protection rule and other regulations

January 5, 2017

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Jan. 4 giving Congress the power to kill dozens of recently enacted rules, called “midnight rules” in one fell swoop.

Among the rules that could be killed is a the Stream Protection Rule that was issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) on Dec. 19. That rule was to go into effect one day before President-elect Donald Trump is to take office. It is an update to a 33-year old regulation that the DOI says will prevent or minimize impacts to surface water and ground water from coal mining operations.

Opponents of the rule argue that it will make it even more costly to mine coal in the United States by adding significant costs to coal mining companies that are already struggling, but that rule, and others could become moot as Republicans charged ahead on their campaign to strip down federal regulations.

It was the second time the Republican-dominated chamber took up legislation blocking "midnight rules," those rolled out at the close of a president's term. But the previous bill, introduced in November, had faced a certain veto from President Obama, Reuters reported.

On its second day back in session, the House passed the bill on a vote of 238 to 184. The Senate is expected to soon consider companion legislation, which could face a harder time because it would need eight votes from Democrats.

Under a law known as the Congressional Review Act, Congress has the right to review regulations for a certain period of time after they are issued. That means any federal regulation approved since May could be voided by the Republican-led Congress once President-elect Donald Trump moves into the White House and can sign off on their disapproval.

It takes only a simple majority of both chambers to reverse a rule, giving Senate Democrats little power to block a vote with a filibuster.
As disapproving each regulation separately could span days, Republicans would like to simply vote once to end a variety of new rules on energy, the environment, transportation, banking, finance, education and media ownership.

Many Wall Street regulations inspired by the 2007-09 financial crisis have only recently taken final form or are on the cusp of completion, putting them in the disapproval line of fire. That includes two pending rules on payday lending and mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts - both of which have raised Republican ire.

Cutting down regulation was a near-constant theme in Republican political campaigns last year, and is part of House Speaker Paul Ryan's "Better Way" agenda. The House is also expected to consider soon legislation that would require a congressional vote of approval for any new regulation.


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