A Republican attempt to repeal former President Obama’s rule clamping down on the release of methane from oil and gas wells failed in the Senate by the slimmest of margins this month, and now Sen. Tom Udall wants to do away with the obscure law that almost allowed it to happen.
Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, and Sen. Corey Booker, D-N.J., introduced legislation last week to scrap the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn agency rules in the early days of a presidential administration with a simple majority in each chamber. Udall’s proposal has pretty much zero chance of making it to President Trump’s desk in the Republican-controlled Congress, but it shines a spotlight on one way the legislative branch can check the executive without actually passing laws.
Since Trump took office, Republicans have used the Congressional Review Act to reverse more than a dozen Obama-era rules including those meant to protect broadband privacy, expand background checks for mentally ill gun buyers and reduce coal waste runoff into streams. The so-called CRA was enacted two decades ago but has been used only once to roll back a presidential directive before this year. The law allows 60 legislative days to repeal a president’s executive regulations after they leave office. The deadline has now passed for using the policy tool to kill Obama-era rules.
Udall likened the law to “using a sledgehammer when a chisel is needed.”
“The CRA never should have been passed into law, and it’s past time to repeal it,” Udall said last week.
Obama’s methane rule, which has a major impact in oil- and gas-rich New Mexico, was headed for what looked like likely repeal by Republicans before three Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, opted to side with Democrats and block the move at the last minute. The measure passed the House but failed in the Senate 51-49 on May 10. Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich, also a Democrat, both voted against repealing the rule limiting the greenhouse gas emissions. ICF International, an independent consulting firm, estimates New Mexico loses about $100 million worth of methane from venting and flaring annually on federal and tribal lands in the state. The New Mexico senators’ votes raised some eyebrows among the state’s influential oil and gas producers who say adhering to the rule is expensive and wanted to see the regulation abolished.
Republicans, who were champing at the bit to repeal even more Obama-era rules, have said the reversals they did pass under the CRA helped correct a dramatic and unnecessary expansion of government.
“After years of talk about cutting red tape, it is now actually happening,” House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said in April after the first round of CRA repeals cleared Congress. “We are reversing the Obama administration’s most recent and last regulatory onslaught.”
It’s no secret that rural America is hurting.
Our nation’s least populated and most geographically remote areas are lagging far behind urban areas in job creation, availability of quality health care, income, internet access and the list goes on. New Mexico, with its vast and remote rural areas and weak economy, is particularly susceptible to these discouraging trends.
As the ranking Democrat on the Joint (House-Senate) Economic Committee, Sen. Martin Heinrich is trying to spread some awareness of the problem. Last week, he released a report titled “Economic Challenges in Rural America.” The report is short on detailed policy suggestions but it highlights some eye-popping problems. For example, it points out that 39 percent of Americans in rural areas lack access to broadband internet, compared to just 4 percent of urban Americans, according to the Federal Communications Commission. How can kids or job seekers or telecommuters – or practically anyone – function effectively in the 21st Century economy without reliable internet access?
Heinrich does generally advise congressional action that would cost significant money: rural infrastructure improvements, investment in broadband technology, and tax credits, training programs and grants that encourage private investment in rural areas. It remains to be seen if the Democratic lawmaker and some of his Republican colleagues who represent rural areas can agree on any of this.
Heinrich, who is up for re-election next year, has been quite active in his new role on the Joint Economic Committee. You can read his report on rural America, and others, here: www.jec.senate.gov
Congratulations to Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., for receiving the Circumnavigator Diploma from the National Aeronautics Association in recognition of his solo expedition around the world in a small single engine aircraft last year.
Pearce, an avid and longtime aviator and Vietnam veteran, received the recognition in his office last week. Pearce said he undertook the mission in honor of veterans who served and sacrificed their lives for the United States.
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