February 3, 2017 at 3:43 pm ET
Senate Blocks Energy Transparency Rule; GOP Eyes More Resolutions
The Senate voted Friday to block a Securities and Exchange Commission requirement that energy companies disclose payments to foreign governments, as conservatives expand their efforts to rescind last-minute Obama administration regulations.
The measure passed 52-47, along party lines, in a 6:30 a.m. vote, with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) not voting. It blocks an SEC rule that required companies that extract natural resources to file public reports detailing payments to foreign governments.
The Senate resolution does not, however, change the section of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that calls on the SEC to create such a rule, meaning the SEC could still draft another rule imposing similar requirements. President Donald Trump signed an executive order that starts to roll back Dodd-Frank on Friday, though the text of the executive order was still not available as of 3 p.m.
The resolution’s sponsors, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), argued the SEC rule put American companies at a disadvantage by forcing them to release information that their foreign competitors did not have to disclose.
The resolution’s passage comes amid a push for more energy-related resolutions to block Obama-era regulations under the Congressional Review Act, a rarely-utilized law that allows Congress to block executive actions within 60 working days after they’re passed. Because the resolutions must be signed into law, Trump’s victory in the November election gives Republicans a narrow window in which they can block late regulations by the Obama administration.
Republican lawmakers seem to have grown more comfortable using the Congressional Review Act since they first realized they could use it after the election, said Christopher Guith, senior vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.
Lawmakers have quickly become more familiar with which regulations can be rolled back using the law, Guith said in an interview. They have also been less reluctant to block Obama’s regulations after Democrats slowed the Senate’s progress in approving Trump administration Cabinet picks, and some of the usual “niceties” have been thrown out, he said.
“The comfort level has matured within Congress,” Guith said. “It grows more by the day, especially looking at the Senate and how things have gone off the rails on nominations.”
Republicans initially pointed to two energy-related rules as prime targets: a rule aiming to protect streams from pollution related to coal mining, and a rule limiting venting and flaring of methane from natural gas systems. The House and Senate have already moved to block the stream-protection rule, and the House has passed the resolution to rescind the venting and flaring rule.
Republicans have also introduced resolutions to block an Environmental Protection Agency rule that requires companies handling potentially dangerous chemicals to update a risk-management plan every five years. And a second such resolution would repeal the Bureau of Land Management’s update to how it integrates environmental protections into land-management decisions.
The American Chemistry Council urged Congress to repeal the EPA’s chemical rule, saying in a statement the requirement to publicly post information “would allow sensitive information to fall into the wrong hands and endanger chemical facilities and communities across America.”
Some conservative groups have pushed for even more aggressive use of the Congressional Review Act to roll back the Obama administration’s rulemaking. Fifty-five conservative organizations, led by Americans for Prosperity, signed a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday calling the law “a powerful way for Congress to reassert its lawmaking authority” after “the regulatory avalanche of the last eight years.”