Congressional Review Act – the most dangerous law you’ve never heard of

March 2, 2017

Categories: Agriculture, Clean Water, Coal, Northern Plains Resource Council, Oil & Gas, Oil and gas, Plains Speaking

By: Steve Charter


Working on my ranch means I spend every day enjoying what we’re blessed with as Montanans- our clean air and water, our working rural landscapes, and our unique quality of life. Montanans enjoy an unrivaled connection to the land; a connection that our rural communities depend on. I’m grateful to live in a place where often the only sounds I hear are songbirds and where being a neighbor still means something. I know that we have it lucky. But ranching in the path of an underground coal mine reminds me how fragile these things are too. Agriculture and pollution don’t mix, and it doesn’t always take much to put a farm or ranch community under these days.

The nuclear option

That’s why it concerns me to see the federal government moving aggressively to remove protections for our land, air, and water. Some of their tools are well-known— like presidential Executive Orders. But one of the most aggressive tools is one of the least well-known—the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA was passed by Congress in the 1996, and allows a simple majority of the House and Senate to repeal federal rules that were finalized within the past handful of months.

Any rule that is repealed using the CRA not only disappears; using the CRA also makes it so no “substantially similar” rule or protection can ever be created again. It’s a blunt instrument that ties our country’s hands not only on conservation issues, but also with consumer protections, nutrition labels, automotive safety, and more. We shouldn’t be putting knee-jerk politics before science and data.

The CRA was only used a single time in the first decade since it was passed, but now proposals for its use are running rampant. Here’s a look at some protections coming under fire from the CRA.

Protecting streams

At the beginning of the month, Congress used the CRA to repeal the Stream Protection Rule, which placed reasonable safeguards to stop pollution from coal mines getting into our waters, restore mine-impacted streams, and monitor water quality downstream from mines.

These protections took seven years of work and thousands of stakeholders to craft and fine-tune.They were repealed by the House after only one hour of floor debate. They were repealed by the Senate the next day.

It’s amazing how quickly some members of Congress move to accommodate polluting industries that bankrolled their campaigns.

Safeguarding taxpayers and human health

The likely next target of the CRA is the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule. 84% of Montanans support this commonsense rule that limits methane waste and flaring from oil and gas development according to a recent State of the Rockies poll. By using modern technology and developing infrastructure, the Methane Rule protects taxpayers by making sure resources belonging to the American public are not unnecessarily burnt off or lost directly into the air. Doing so protects the health of Montanans living near oil development from unnecessary air pollution caused by the byproducts of flaring and leaks.

Despite widespread support of the Methane rule from Montanans, Senator Daines is co-sponsoring this rule’s repeal. There’s still time for him to change his mind.

In another blow to taxpayers, Congress is even considering repealing a rule (the ONRR rule) that stops energy corporations from hiding profits and dodging royalty payments when they develop publicly owned minerals. These are funds our state depends on for roads and schools.

A new president may mean exciting opportunities for many, but Congress should look before they leap and watch where they’re walking. Otherwise, they might step in something nasty. Rash decisions are often bad ones.

Take action to tell our Senators to stand up for the BLM methane and ONRR rules. You can contact Tester online here and Daines here.

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