By Maverick Ryan, American Forests

Credit: Christie Wrazen.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) has been in the news lately as Congress is turning back rulings made in the last six months of the Obama Administration. The Stream Protection Rule, which protected waterways from coal mine waste, has already been overturned — seven years in the making, two days to undo and possibly years until the issue is addressed again. Up next to be challenged are the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Planning Rule 2.0 and the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge Rule. The BLM Planning Rule 2.0 seeks to simplify the process to receive input from the public, and the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge Rule protects bears and wolves from extreme hunting measures in the 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. So, what is the CRA and how can we stop it?

The CRA was passed into law in 1996, as a portion of the Contract with America Advancement Act. The CRA establishes the power of Congress to disapprove of any regulation made by a federal agency, in a shortened legislative process, so long as it’s considered by Congress within 60 legislative days of its implementation. That means, any Obama Administration regulations dating back to June 13, 2016 can possibly be repealed by members of Congress.

This year’s use of the act is unprecedented. Historically, the CRA hasn’t been used much, with only one successful challenge since the act’s inception. However, its extreme use during this transition period most likely signals an increased use of the act moving forward; because the act effectively enables the majority party in Congress the ability to erase some of the regulatory legacy of the previous administration, especially when the parties in power switch.

Republicans in Congress have begun to use the act to attack Obama-Era environmental regulations that they deem to be harming economic growth. So far, the Stream Protection Rule has already been overturned, which aimed to prevent mining and drilling companies from engaging in practices that would contaminate streams. This regulation was protecting several hundred miles of streams and waterways, and the ecosystems they run through from toxic byproducts, like lead and arsenic, produced by mining and drilling operations. While the thought of toxic minerals in bodies of water is upsetting in and of itself, what’s even more upsetting is that the consequences of using the CRA won’t only be felt immediately, they’ll be felt for years to come.

Not only does the CRA undo previous regulations, it prevents them from being reissued in the future.  Once a rule is challenged under the CRA and passed through Congress, the affected agency cannot go back and re-regulate the same issue. The issue has to be changed or handled only through an act of Congress. Considering how slowly items move through Congress in today’s day and age, certain environmental regulations once challenged and repealed may not be reworked and made law again for an indefinite amount of time. For instance, the repeal of the Stream Protection Rule will leave the previous regulations from the mid-‘80s in place, only to be changed by an act of Congress.

Estimates have the number of rules and regulations subject to possible repeal ranging in the thousands, with many affecting our public lands, endangered wildlife and our forests. The way things are going currently, we could end up being moved decades back in time when it comes to environmental protections. American Forests is working hard to stop the CRA from being used on more environmental rules, and you can help. Visit our Action Center in the coming days to send letters to your Senators about the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge — and sign up for our Action Alerts, which will let you know when new letters are available.

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