Committee rosters are set, oversight plans are signed, and witnesses are being called up to the Hill. For congressional Republicans, it's regulation-hunting season.
Republicans have made no secret of their plans to swipe at what they've deemed an overly burdensome environmental agenda from the Obama administration, and the change in power in the Senate provides both some new turf and leverage to do it. That effort kicked off in earnest Wednesday when the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Senate Environment and Public Works committees teamed up for a joint hearing to grill Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on the agency's proposed expansion of its Clean Water Act authority.
Here are 10 administration rules that will be in the GOP's sights this year:
1. The Clean Power Plan
The tent pole of the Obama administration's climate action plan, EPA's plans to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from new and existing power plants will face challenges on all fronts. EPA will finalize the rules in one package this summer, but the congressional challenges will come early and often. Environment and Public Works and the House Energy and Commerce Committee have both said they'll hold hearings on it and legislators are already looking to the appropriations process to kill the rules. No less than Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell put himself on the Appropriations subpanel that oversees EPA, with a promise to "continue to fight back against this administration's anti-coal jobs regulations on behalf of the Kentuckians I represent." A Congressional Review Act attack is also a possibility, but that can't come until the rules are finalized this summer.
2. Endangered Species Act
Individual listings for species like the sage grouse or the lesser prairie chicken are sure to attract tons of attention, as they have in the past (the sage grouse listing was the subject of a controversial rider in the appropriations bill that passed in December). But Environment and Public Works may be ready to take on the whole bill. Chairman Jim Inhofe told reporters that the decades-old Act has "gotten out of hand" and that his committee will be gearing up for a wholesale look at some of its flaws. Among them, the Oklahoma Republican said, is an alleged "sue and settle" strategy by environmentalists to get species protection and the trouble in removing a species from its designation. "Logically, it's hard to go home and explain why there are things that have been listed "¦ and all of a sudden changed," he said.
3. Ground-Level Ozone Standards
EPA's proposal in November to lower the air-quality standard for smog, or ground-level ozone, has set up one of the toughest lobbying fights. Environmentalists are fighting tooth and nail to keep the standard—which would lower the existing standard of 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 ppb—on track, since a previous attempt fell flat. Opponents, meanwhile, say it's the most costly environmental regulation in history and will plunge most of the country into nonattainment status, forcing nearly every industry to pay for pollution controls. Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota called the proposal an "undeniable gut punch to the middle class" and has plans to move a bill barring EPA from lowering the standard until 85 percent of areas out of compliance meet the current standard.
4. Methane Regulations on Oil and Gas Production
The Obama administration's complicated relationship with oil and gas drilling took a new turn last month when the White House unveiled plans to cut leaks of methane from production and transport, adding a wrinkle to the climate plan. The limits on methane—a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide—marked one of the only attempts to stem emissions from the booming natural gas sector, attracting the ire of industry and congressional allies who say the industry is doing enough about methane on its own. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan and Energy Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield of Kentucky slammed the proposal for "creating new layers of bureaucracy that could smother such promising innovation."
5. Renewable-Fuel Standard
A pair of bipartisan House bills that would reform the RFS program made a reappearance Wednesday, with four sponsors reviving their effort to scrap EPA requirements that corn-based ethanol be blended into gasoline. Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said requirements were unworkable and that overall the "majorly flawed RFS just isn't working." EPA has missed several deadlines for setting volume standards and has yet to release its rule for 2014, frustrating supporters and opponents alike.
6. Rules for Fracking on Public Lands
The Interior Department's planned regulations for hydraulic fracturing on public lands, slated for finalization in coming weeks, would require disclosure of fracking chemicals injected underground and would set standards on well integrity and wastewater disposal, among other possible rules. Republicans have fought the proposal, saying they'd be another leash on the natural gas industry, and last year the House passed a bill blocking Interior from working on the rules.
7. Waters of the United States
EPA last spring proposed a rule that would define exactly which bodies of water it can regulate under the Clean Water Act, bringing the majority of U.S. streams and wetlands under EPA's jurisdiction. Under the proposal, any nonexempt activity that could pollute such a waterway must first earn the agency's stamp of approval. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers insist the terms that the rule is a clarification, not an expansion, but Republicans aren't buying it. A House bill from Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona that would block the rule already has more than 100 cosponsors. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming plans to have a bill out soon on the rule as well.
8. Coal Ash Disposal
Just over a month elapsed between when EPA unveiled its long-awaited plan to regulate the hazardous ash from coal-fired power plants and when Congress took its first whack. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Economy held a hearing last month in which Chairman John Shimkus said the rule would "unavoidably lead to an unpredictable array of regulatory interpretations." By not designating coal ash as hazardous, EPA did win some favor with Republicans (while angering the green community), but critics are still eyeing legislation that would give states more power to craft disposal plans under minimum federal standards.
9. Stream Buffer Zone Rule
The House last year passed a bill from Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio that would block the administration from rewriting a 2008 rule protecting streams from waste from mountaintop-removal coal mining projects. Riders blocking the rule have also been attached to recent appropriations bills and Appalachian Republicans are likely to keep up pressure, arguing that the rule would curtail mining projects in their states. The Obama administration in December tossed the 2008 guidelines—passed under President George W. Bush—after a 2014 court decision struck them down, but the Interior Department is said to be working on a new rule.
10. The Social Cost of Carbon
The White House in 2013 boosted its estimate of the cost each metric ton of greenhouse-gas pollution imposes on society, a calculation crucial to justifying the costs of its climate rules. Republicans were quick to pounce on the change, alleging that they made it without advance notice to make it easier to advance the greenhouse-gas regulations. A House bill last year that would have stopped the rule from being finalized ultimately did not move, but sponsor Rep. Duncan Hunter of California plans to revive it this year, an aide said.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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