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By Rachel Leven
At least 68 fossil fuel companies, trade associations, environmental groups and others lobbied Congress on at least one of four Congressional Review Act resolutions in the first three months of 2017.
Federal records offer a glimpse at how much interest there has been in action under the Review Act. Republicans have touted their use of the 1996 law this year as a way they have helped the economy. The resolutions repeal rules and block substantially similar regulations from ever being put in place.
“The Congressional Review Act, which had been utilized only one time until this year, now has been utilized 13 separate times by the Republicans here in the Senate, and that has resulted ... in over $60 billion in savings and 56 million man hours saved to our economy,” Senate Republican Conference Chair Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said at an April 25 press conference. “Those are the types of things that we think will help create conditions that are favorable to economic growth and job creation.”
Environmentalists and others said these actions would weaken current and future public health protections and leave certain jobs off the table for the future.
“The CRA is an extreme tool, a backdoor tactic used to eviscerate public safeguards with minimal debate and zero public input,” Jessica Ennis, a senior legislative representative in Washington for Earthjustice, told Bloomberg BNA in an emailed statement. “We will continue to work to protect critical public health and environmental safeguards, regardless of how the attack comes.”
The Senate has until May 9 to use the Congressional Review Act. It is expected to vote to repeal an Interior Department methane law before then. Only certain “midnight rules” finalized during the last 60 working days of the House or the Senate during the previous administration could be targeted. No new resolutions under the law can be introduced at this point.
Bloomberg BNA examined records filed with the Senate Office of Public Records on lobbying activities and spending from January through the end of March.
Many groups lobbied on more than one resolution.
For example, at least 30 lobbyists worked on influencing Congress on whether the stream protection rule (RIN:1029-AC63) should be repealed. The rule would have limited mining through streams and placing waste in them, and would have limited the generation of total mining waste. The National Mining Association and the Sierra Club, both of whom were involved in litigation over a 2008 version of the rule, were among those who lobbied on it. A resolution to nullify the rule (H.J. Res. 38) was passed and signed into law (Pub. L. No. 115-5).
Others who were registered to lobby on the resolution of disapproval included coal companies such as Peabody Energy, rail companies such as Norfolk Southern Corp., and groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.
Meanwhile, at least 26 entities including Marathon Oil Corp. and the Wilderness Society lobbied on resolutions aiming to dismantle the Interior Department’s land use planning rule. President Donald Trump signed a resolution to repeal this rule (H.J. Res. 44) on March 27 (Pub. L. No. 115-12).
Groups such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the American Exploration & Mining Association commented during regulatory rule development and later lobbied on the efforts to repeal the final rule (RIN:1004-AE39).
One resolution of disapproval repealing an Interior Department rule (RIN:1018-BA31) delineating certain public participation and other procedures on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska (H.J. Res. 69) had at least four entities that lobbied on it, including Defenders of Wildlife and Doyon Limited, one of 13 Alaska Native Corporations. Trump signed it into law April 3 (Pub. L. No. 115-20).
Of the issues these resolutions addressed, the one that appears to have gotten the most lobbying interest in the first quarter is one that isn’t a law yet—a resolution to repeal the Interior Department’s methane flaring rule. That rule (RIN:1004-AE14) would limit the venting and flaring of natural gas from oil and gas operations on federal and Indian lands.
At least 46 groups from Exxon Mobil Corp. to the environmental group the Sierra Club disclosed lobbying in the first quarter on the resolution or repeal of the rule generally. The House passed it Feb. 3 (H.J. Res. 36), and a vote on the Senate version (S.J. Res. 11) is expected.
Several of those entities, including the American Petroleum Institute and the National Wildlife Federation, also commented on the rule during its development through the formal notice-and-comment rulemaking process.
As the Congressional Review Act deadline for the Senate nears, political observers will be watching for a Senate vote on repealing the methane rule—a voting timeline that is still to be determined. Republican senators have said they have the votes to pass it.
Sandra Purohit, government relations legislative counsel for Defenders of Wildlife, told Bloomberg BNA in an email that her group will remain concerned until the deadline lapses about two additional resolutions of disapproval. One would repeal certain oil and gas regulations on national wildlife refuges (H.J. Res. 45), and the other would revoke certain exploratory drilling safeguards on the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf (H.J. Res. 70).
Defenders of Wildlife lobbied in opposition to all three of the energy and environment resolutions of disapproval that are now law.
Observers also may want to watch the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska, where the Center for Biological Diversity has challenged the resolution of disapproval that rolls back wildlife protections Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Zinke, D. Alaska, No. 3:17-cv-91, 4/20/17 .
The center is challenging the constitutionality of the review act saying it violates the “separation of powers” provision.
Peabody Energy and Marathon Oil Corp. didn’t respond to multiple messages from Bloomberg BNA requesting comment.
To contact the reporter on this story: Rachel Leven in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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