During its first week in session, the 115th Congress passed two bills aimed at reining in the executive branch’s powers. If signed into law, these bills could significantly impact the oil and gas industry, which has been caught in the crosshairs of the Obama administration’s energy and environmental agenda.
On January 4, the House of Representatives approved the Midnight Rules Relief Act, largely along party lines. The Midnight Rules Relief Act amends the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) and gives Congress authority to revoke regulations issued in the last 60 days of a president’s term. The CRA already allows Congress to overturn regulations individually, but the new legislation empowers Congress to rescind multiple regulations with a single vote.
The CRA was passed in 1996 as part of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.” The CRA created a period of 60 “session days” during which Congress could use expedited procedures to overturn a regulation. During this 60-day period, Congress could pass a resolution of disapproval that would not be subject to Senate filibusters; however, the president could still veto the resolution. This rendered the CRA toothless: to overturn a regulation, the same president who approved the regulation would need to sign the resolution seeking to repeal it (or, Congress would need to override his veto).
The rare conditions where the CRA could be used played out in 2001. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) had promulgated an extremely controversial regulation requiring employers to take measures to curb ergonomic injuries in the workplace. The OSHA rule was issued in November 2000, in the waning days of the Clinton Administration. The Republican-controlled Congress voted to revoke the ergonomics regulation in March 2001, and newly-elected President George W. Bush signed the resolution of disapproval.
Some of President Obama’s “midnight” regulations restrict methane production on public lands, impose renewable fuel standards, and prohibit new offshore oil and gas leasing. According to one estimate, all of President Obama’s “midnight” regulations could cost up to $44 billion.