His bill will not pass, and the reasons it will not pass are instructive. This is not a “Donald Trump can never become president” situation: There are legal, political, and institutional obstacles that keep H. R. 861 from moving forward.
The first is simple: It is not nearly long enough. A slew of federal laws, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, assume that the EPA exists and charge it with tasks. Just last year, Congress passed a new chemical-safety law that handed new powers to the EPA. Any law seeking to “terminate the EPA” would have to amend all those older laws that delegate authority to the agency. You cannot easily do that in a 10-word sentence.
Second, while the election of Trump—a fierce EPA critic—might indicate otherwise, a large majority of Americans like the agency. Three in five Americans say strict environmental regulations are worth their cost. Even most Republican voters want the EPA to basically stay the same.
“Terminating the EPA,” meanwhile, sounds drastic and bad. (That’s because it would be drastic and bad.) Many House Republicans in swing districts have told voters that they will reduce the agency’s “anti-business” red tape. They have not told voters they would destroy it completely, and it is likely that they will encounter high public resistance if they move to eliminate it.
Third, any major piece of legislation will have to pass a filibuster in the Senate, and it is extremely unlikely that eight Democratic senators could be found who would send the agency to its death. For that matter, it is extremely unlikely that enough Republicans could be found. Senator Susan Collins, a Republican of Maine, rejected Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA on Wednesday because she determined he was too hostile to the agency’s purpose.
All this being said: It’s not wrong for Americans who care about the EPA to be concerned right now. Many Republicans want to see its powers diminished or removed altogether. But Congress will not attempt to curb the EPA’s influence by closing it outright. Instead, it will wage war on the agency through a thousand little cuts—through bills, through joint resolutions, and through budget riders.
These will not be as self-evidently bad as H.R. 861. They will be more boring to read and harder to understand. But they could impose some harms just as consequential and long-lasting as the EPA’s outright termination.
Many of the tools for cutting down the EPA are already in place. For instance, Senator Rand Paul and 33 of his Republican colleagues have introduced the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, also known as the REINS Act. If passed, REINS would require that both the House and the Senate vote to approve any new agency regulation whose estimated cost exceeds $100 million. If Congress doesn’t approve a new rule within 70 days of its publication, the regulation dies.