Congress Must Rein in the Regulatory State

Published April 26, 2017

Because President Barack Obama was so prolific in using “a stroke of a pen” to create law through executive orders, thereby going around Congress to enact his policy preferences, President Donald Trump can undo many of those costly, harmful policies with his own signature, and he is doing so.

Simultaneously, Congress has discovered its power to block ill-considered regulations enacted by Presidents shortly before their administrations leave office through the use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Using CRA, Congress has repealed 13 regulations passed in the waning days of the Obama Administration, and about two dozen more are pending. The Trump administration estimates the CRA rollbacks he has already signed will save the public $10 billion over 20 years.

However, it is not enough to roll back existing regulations that unnecessarily restrict individual liberty for no appreciable public benefits. To truly rein in the actions of unaccountable federal bureaucrats, Congress must pass laws reclaiming its constitutionally defined role as the sole creator of law.

The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed two laws that would go a long way toward ensuring agencies are accountable to Congress, and ultimately the public, for the rules they enact and that such rules are based on sound, transparent science. Both have yet to be approved by the Senate.

On January 5, the House passed the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017 (REINS Act). The bill requires Congress to affirmatively approve any regulation imposing $100 million or more in costs on the economy before it becomes law.

In a statement issued along with the introduction the bill, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) said the REINS Act is meant to limit unnecessary, costly regulations and hold the executive branch and Congress accountable to the people.

“The REINS Act is one of the first bills of this Congress to target the regulatory abuses of the executive branch,” Collins said in the statement. “It’s time Congress reasserts its Constitutional authority to legislate, rather than letting un-elected bureaucrats institute rules that impact the economy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

A recent study by the American Action Forum found from 2009 to 2015, the Obama administration issued 600 major regulations, about one major rule every four or five days. The costs of only the major regulations approved by Obama impose the equivalent of $2,294 in regulatory costs on every person in the United States annually. In a household of four, this equates to nearly $10,000 being unavailable to pay for health insurance or medicine, college bills, groceries, a new car, vacations, and many other expenses.

A second law Congress needs to put on Trump’s desk is the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017 (HONEST Act), introduced by House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) on March 8. The bill would “prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.”

This law is necessary because all too often EPA has denied the wider scientific community, the public, and members Congress access to the data and research used to justify its regulations. Some research has been hidden even from congressional committees with oversight over EPA.

The HONEST Act says EPA can’t rely on studies unless their methods, data, software, and code are “publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.” As Smith stated in his keynote address at The Heartland Institute’s 12th International Conference on Climate Change, “The days of ‘trust me’ science are over.”

For Congress to know whether or not to give REINS Act approval to new regulations, it must first know the science behind the regulations is sound and not just an excuse for EPA to expand its power and request increased funding.

While the bill has many positive elements, I wish it were broader, applying to regulations proposed or finalized by every federal agency. After all, EPA isn’t the only regulatory agency that uses secret science to justify regulations that kill jobs and sometimes take lives. Still, EPA is arguably the most egregious user of suspect science. Studies show—by a large margin—EPA regulations cost more per year of life saved than regulations from any other federal agency.

The House passed the HONEST Act by a vote of 228 to 194 on March 29, but the vote should have been unanimous. How can any legislator be in favor of keeping the science used to justify regulations secret?

With the election of political outsider Trump, the American people delivered a strong message to Washington, DC: They are tired of the status quo. Unless the Senate wants to wind up as another part of the so-called “swamp” drained by Trump, senators should pass both accountability laws as quickly as possible.

[Originally Published at Breaking Energy]