This week the House of Representatives will once again vote on a bill to strip federal agencies of their ability to enforce landmark environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Cleverly named, the “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act” or REINS Act, it is the latest in an onslaught of Republican legislation designed to hinder the ability of the federal government to do its job of keeping our air and water clean.
Specifically, the REINS Act would prohibit federal agencies from enacting regulations that would cost more than $100 million, instead shifting regulatory approval to Congress. This would in effect make safety regulations virtually impossible to enact, given the Congress’ current inability to agree on much of anything.
Oversight and regulation are critically important to a highly functioning economy and society. They prevent factories from dumping toxic chemicals that into our air and our water. They ensure that our food is safe to eat and that our cars are safe to drive, giving consumers the peace of mind that the products they buy are safe.
The REINS Act rounds out a year of anti-government, anti-regulation legislative proposals. Appropriations bills passed only by the House to fund the Interior and Environmental agencies were riddled with language known as “policy riders” to roll back commonsense agency rulings.
Republicans in Congress argue that regulations are preventing our economy from fully recovering. But even conservative columnist David Brooks has come out against these statements, saying that “Obama’s regulations may be more intrusive than some of us would like. They are not tanking the economy.”
The anti-regulators forget that federal agencies are part of a government of, by, and for the people. Agencies carry out Congress’ direction to implement our laws like the Clean Air Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
Congress passed these laws to keep Americans safe and to protect and grow our economy over the long run. The agencies responsible with their implementation have gone through public input and carefully considered their actions. The REINS Act would end that system completely, irresponsibly altering the checks and balances our government was founded on. This bill would give conservatives in the House, and particularly the Senate, effective veto authority over almost every meaningful agency action. It’s not a serious legislative proposal and I will be strongly advocating its defeat.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.