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December 1, 2017

Both Parties Find Common Ground on Reg Reform During Hill Hearings

It was a busy day on the Hill Wednesday, with two separate hearings being held that examined the merits of federal regulations and ways to increase efficiency and transparency.  Both hearings had moments of bipartisan agreement—a rare event these days—as Republicans and Democrats found some common ground about the need to reform certain regulations.

Oversight’s Regulatory Reform Task Force Hearing

First, there was an important bipartisan breakthrough Wednesday at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The Panel convened its third hearing to chart the progress of two executive orders to limit onerous regulations. The first requires federal agencies to eliminate two existing rules for every new one they create. The second directs agencies to examine their existing regulations and scrap those that are outdated, unnecessary or inhibit job creation.

In the hearing, members of both parties agreed on the need for more transparency and accountability in the federal rule-making process. Del. Stacey Plaskett, the Democratic representative of the U.S. Virgin Islands, said during her remarks, “I am one of the few democrats who sees we have more regulations than are necessary. Deregulation needs to be done and it needs to be done legally and with transparency.” And Rep. Gary Palmer, an Alabama Republican, discussed the struggles start-ups and other small businesses face when they confront “a logjam of regulations.”

Witnesses from the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy all testified that their agencies have embarked on this ambitious review process. This includes forming tasks forces to review outdated regulations as well as addressing the bureaucratic culture of some departments. Daniel Simmons testified that the Department of Energy was, “committed to reducing unnecessary, unreasonable, duplicative & outdated regulatory burdens on American families and businesses.”

Modernizing NEPA for the 21st Century

While OGR was busy reviewing executive orders, the House Natural Resources Committee also held a hearing to discuss ways to reform the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The full committee received testimony from a panel about whether NEPA is currently fulfilling its intended purpose and examined ways to reform the 1970 law.

The goal of NEPA is to “encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment” and to “promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment.” But during the hearing, witnesses gave testimony encouraging improvements to be made to NEPA, claiming it slows down the development of infrastructure while doing little to benefit the environment.

Recently the Trump Administration has taken to issuing executive orders to ease the regulatory burden presented by laws like NEPA—a move that has received bipartisan approval.  In fact, Chairman Bishop submitted an op-ed for the record during the hearing penned by former Obama Administration OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein, which applauded the White House’s efforts to speed up the permitting process.

During the testimony, President of Longview Building and Construction Trades Council Mike Bridges said he’s witness firsthand the regulatory burden NEPA has placed upon builders in the state of Washington. To improve the process, Bridges suggested placing a limit on the amount of time government agencies can spend on the NEPA process. During his testimony he said, “The seemingly endless and arbitrary regulatory process in Washington State will discourage future projects that would employ members of the Building Trades and my community.”

Speaking more broadly, Dinah Bear, who is the Former General Counsel for the White House Council on Environmental Quality and has worked for both Republican and Democratic Administrations, spoke to the need for improved agency personnel training. She insisted that “agency capacity to implement NEPA has diminished” over time. Ranking member Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, agreed saying the “status quo” is no longer working. He said there must be “more dramatic” reform efforts made to make the law more efficient.

There was an overall acknowledgement that the NEPA process, and environmental impact statements specifically, can sometimes take years to complete, leading to unnecessary taxpayer expense. Both Democrats and Republicans seemed to agree that reforms must be made to update the law for modern times.  Meanwhile, the Oversight hearing marked an important step to ensure new regulations are written out in the open, based on sound science and crafted with input from the elected officials who will be held accountable by voters.

Wednesday’s hearings, and others like them, are critical to building the case for the regulatory reforms that will unlock our economic potential and encourage entrepreneurship, technological advancement and new jobs.