In government, there are ways to make a splash and ways to quietly get things done.
President Donald Trump made a splash on Monday with an executive order requiring that for every new regulation in the Federal Register, two get rolled back. The idea has a certain rhythm to it, but its exact impact is still unclear.
It’s not easy for a president to simply roll back a regulation once it’s made its way through a public “notice and comment” period and onto the Federal Register.
Congress, however, has powers the president does not. And the Republican majority there is taking full advantage of them.
Using a 1996 law known as the Congressional Review Act, Republicans are in the middle of rolling back major Obama-era regulations with little in the way of public attention.
The act gives Congress the power to undo “recently finalized” regulations with a simple majority vote in the House and Senate and then the president’s signature. Right now, that means the GOP can unravel any Obama-era regulation finalized since June 2016.
As Brad Plumer notes at Vox, that could put more than 50 regulations on the chopping block. But it’s rare for Congress and the president to use the law at all. In fact, it’s been used only once before, under President George W. Bush, to repeal a Clinton-era ergonomics rule.
Right now, Congress is targeting five. And there’s good reason to think more might come later. But here are the rules set to disappear soon:
The stream protection rule
This environmental regulation for coal companies has been a GOP target since before the election, and Trump singled it out on his website after he became president-elect.
After a series of incidents where coal mines poisoned local water supplies, the rule was written to force mining companies not to begin new projects without first developing a plan to restore affected streams after the coal is hauled out of the earth.
The idea was that if the companies were responsible for monitoring and later restoring the health of these streams, they’d be less likely to poison them in the first place. Coal advocates argued it would put an unreasonable cost on the industry.
The House voted 228-194 on Wednesday to roll back the rule — which, like the other four on this list, had not yet gone into effect. The Senate agreed, voting 54-45 on Thursday. Trump is expected to sign the rule, and once he does, it will go up in smoke.
The Social Security gun rule
As part of the Obama administration’s effort to tighten background check procedures for people who want to buy guns, this rule enlisted the Social Security Administration in identifying people with mental impairments that would disqualify them from owning a firearm.
The rule requires the SSA to add people from its database who have mental impairments preventing them from handling their own affairs to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Critics argued that it unfairly targeted and violated the Second Amendment rights of people with mental disabilities who might not be dangerous.
The House voted 235-180 on Thursday to roll it back.
The “resource extraction rule”
This rule had an enemy no less powerful than the current US secretary of state and recent CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson.
Created through the Securities and Exchange Commission under Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Protection Act, the rule required oil companies and other resource extractors to disclose payments to foreign governments.
Tillerson, who flew to DC in 2010 to lobby against the section of the law driving the rule, argued that it placed an unfair burden on US companies that their foreign counterparts don’t have to deal with — requiring them to disclose trade secrets.
After the vote on the rollback cleared the House on Wednesday and the Senate early Friday, it appears this is a burden Exxon Mobil won’t have to deal with after all.
The methane flaring rule
Even though the bulk of the added greenhouse gas effect in our atmosphere comes from carbon dioxide, methane — which is rarer — is much more potent. There are more natural-gas extractors in the US than anywhere else in the world, and they release, or “flare,” methane gas into the atmosphere in vast amounts. And when methane gas is vented, poisonous chemicals escape as well.
The methane flaring rule, from the Interior Department, would force companies to limit methane and other chemicals released during extraction. Critics say that’s too expensive. The House is expected to vote as soon as Friday on rolling it back.
Obama’s executive order targeting contractors who violate labor laws
In 2014, Obama signed an executive order mandating the federal government not do business with companies that violate laws governing how bosses can treat workers. Employers whose workers faced discrimination, danger, or harassment on the job wouldn’t be able to get federal contracts.
A Department of Labor rule putting the order into action entered the Federal Register in August 2016, but it was halted by a judge in October before it went into effect, who ruled it went beyond the authority Congress had given the president.
The House voted Thursday to roll it back.
Business Insider: February 3, 2017