House Puts Regulators on Notice

Viewpoints / Focus on Agriculture January 20, 2015

With the launch of a new oversight subcommittee focusing on the administration’s energy and environmental policies and House passage of the Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 185), House lawmakers are putting the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies on notice: Business as usual is over.

In both the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, Congress set out policies that regulators are supposed to follow. Yes, EPA and other regulatory bodies do have some leeway in writing and implementing the regulations for these laws and many others. Over the years, however, where Congress gave EPA an inch, the agency has taken a mile. Both the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule and the proposed regulations related to new and existing coal-fired power plants overstep the regulatory authority Congress granted the agency in the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, respectively.

With House action to tighten the reins on the regulators less than a month into the new Congress, lawmakers are setting a clear agenda, and close to the top of that agenda is holding regulators’ feet to the fire.

In late December, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), newly appointed chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced he would form a new panel, the Interior Subcommittee, to watch over the EPA, as well as the Agriculture, Energy and Interior departments. Responsibility for those agencies previously fell to two subcommittees, one that focused on energy and the other on regulatory affairs.

Chaffetz’s concerns aren’t exclusively with regulatory policy. General mismanagement and personnel problems are also very much on his radar. In addition, he has been vocal about what he sees as unlawful limits on the ability of Utahans to access federal lands, which comprise two-thirds of his state. Chaffetz has appointed Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) to lead the subcommittee.

The Regulatory Accountability Act, which passed with bipartisan support in the House last week, would give all stakeholders a greater voice in a federal regulatory process that is too often one-sided.

The legislation provides a much-needed update to the nearly seven-decades-old Administrative Procedures Act, which needs to be amended to ensure that the public and the regulated community, in particular, are afforded a transparent, fair and open regulatory process.

The bill would require agencies to be more open and transparent on data justifying a rule. The most costly rules would be subject to on-the-record hearings. Agencies would be required to consider such rules’ impact on jobs and the economy. Moreover, agencies’ ability to use guidance and interim final rules would be constrained.

Farmers and ranchers are optimistic lawmakers’ efforts will bring EPA and other regulatory agencies’ real mission back into focus: to execute the laws passed by Congress in the least costly way and, with strong public input, to find the most efficient regulatory solutions that benefit all Americans.

Erin Anthony is editor of FBNews, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s official e-newsletter.

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