NWF Legislative Update
Weeks of January 3-6 and 9-13, 2017
Table of Contents
I. The Week in Review
II. The Week Ahead
And want to know when Congress will be in session? Check out this 2017 Congressional calendar
The Week(s) in Review
Overview: Welcome back, everyone! The 115th Congress started on January 3rd, and was kicked off by swearing in new members of the House and Senate. Since then, the House has been voting on some regulatory reform bills while the Senate gears up for cabinet nomination hearings which began this last week.
EPA Must be #GuidedByScience: On Thursday (January 12), Democrats of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, now led by Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE), hosted a press event to highlight the importance of having an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guided by sound science in order to protect the environment and the health of the American people. Senator Carper was joined by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), as well as NWF’s Collin O’Mara; Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine; David McCabe, Senior Scientist with the Clean Air Task Force; and Trisha Sheehan and Kay Mills with the Moms Clean Air Force. With standing room only, the space was packed with people (thanks to the NWF-ers who helped us fill it!) and some really terrific energy that outdid any other run-of-the-mill press conference. [For more, check out the Twitter feed of #GuidedByScience, the Senate EPW press statement, along with the full video of the press conference.]
Budget Update: If you recall, we didn’t pass a budget for the current fiscal year for the last Congress, which gives us the opportunity to do it now – and we’ll have to do two budgets this year, which means two chances for budget reconciliation. You may remember that budget reconciliation allows you to expedite a bill if it deals with the federal budget, so it is being used as a tool for repealing the Affordable Care Act and changing taxes.
· Senate Budget Vote-A-Rama: The Senate passed a fiscal year 2017 budget (S.Con.Res.3) early Thursday (January 12), the first step in the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act through a majority-vote mechanism known as reconciliation. The 51-48 vote came after seven hours of debate on more than a dozen Democratic amendments intended to squeeze Republicans for targeting the health law. Senators had agreed to keep this budget and debate focused only on the Affordable Care Act; although some amendments were filed in the environmental space, such as a handful by Senators Lee and Flake, the NWF lobby team was monitoring throughout debate – and luckily the informal agreement held and no environmental amendments saw any floor time. We expect many of these things to resurface in March when Congress has to start work on the fiscal year 2018 budget.
· House Passes Budget: On the following day (January 13), the House took up S.Con.Res and passed it by a 227-198 vote. Nine Republicans voted down the plan — the budget doesn’t balance, and the party has not coalesced around a health bill of its own. But their defections weren’t nearly enough to tilt the vote, which imposes a January 27 deadline for crafting legislation that guts the Affordable Care Act. [Read more from Politico, National Law Review, and the New York Times]
More New Monument Designations:
· Establishment of Bears Ears and Gold Butte National Monuments: In case you missed it over the holiday break, on December 28, President Obama created new national monuments in a sacred tribal site in southeastern Utah and in a swath of Nevada desert, after years of political fights over the fate of the areas. Bears Ears encompasses 1.35 million acres of land in Utah where, for the first time in national monument history, Native American tribes will offer national monument management input through an inter-tribal commission. Gold Butte includes 300,000 acres of sagebrush steppe habitat and Mojave Desert in southern Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas. Both of these sites add to America’s public lands heritage, and will benefit wildlife and the habitats on which they rely for years to come. [Read more from Washington Post and read the Bears Ears White House statement and Gold Butte White House statement]
· California Coastal and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monuments: On January 12, President Obama designated three new cultural heritage sites as national monuments and expanded both the California Coastal National Monument and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Southwest Oregon. These monument expansions will preserve some of America’s most important civil rights sites in Alabama and South Carolina, while also conserving important habitat for wildlife along our western coast. Originally established in 2000, Cascade-Siskiyou was created to protect the wildlife and biodiversity of southern Oregon, making it the only national monument designated specifically to protect biodiversity. Cascade-Siskiyou will be expanded by more than 50,000 acres. The California Coastal National Monument was also expanded by nearly 6,000 acres of coastline and islands. Originally designated in 2000, the monument was initially expanded in 2014 to include ecologically critical onshore areas. These expansions will ensure that the region’s history and unique marine habitat will remain protected for future generations. [Read more in the NWF press statement]
Regulatory Reform Rules Passing in House: Since taking control of the House of Representatives in 2011, House Republicans have passed various bills every Congress to limit the Executive Branch’s ability to promulgate rules and regulations and broaden Congress’s authority to veto or reject those rules. Like each Congress before, the House began the year by passing 3 bills designed to do just that. With a Republican Senate and White House, we will watch to see if the Senate will take up these bills. NWF’s position is that many of these reg reforms are needless extra measures that may ultimately prevent important environmental safeguards; By taking the rulemaking process out of the hands of agencies with the scientific and technical knowledge needed to develop and implement complex regulations, these reforms threatens the implementation and enforcement of critical legislation for America’s lands, air, water, and wildlife.
· Midnight Rules Act Passes House: On January 4, the House passed the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017 (H.R. 21) on a 238-184 vote, sending the legislation that would enable Congress to strike down President Barack Obama’s last rules en masse. The Congressional Review Act, upon which the Midnight Rules Act is based, allows Congress to reject rules within 60 legislative days of finalization, and to package multiple rules within a single resolution to do so.
· REINS Act Passes House: On January 5, the House passed the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2017 (H.R. 26) by a 237-187 vote. This bill would require Congress to approve any administrative rule forecast to cost the economy more than $100 million annually, and could block new major regulations by requiring Congressional approval for all major rules within 70 days; in other words, critical regulations would be vetted on politics rather than public interest or sound science, and Congressional inaction could kill any safeguard.
· Regulatory Accountability Act Passes House: On January 11, the House passed Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017 (H.R. 5) by a 238-183 vote. The bill rolls together a series of previously passed bills to repeal the Chevron deference standard and require mandatory litigation stays for new rules, among other reforms.