The Republican takeover of Congress could quickly change the nation’s environmental laws if the GOP passes its “Contract With America,” which party leaders have promised to vote on within the first 100 days of the 104th Congress.
The contract is a package of 10 bills which more than 300 GOP House candidates signed in late September. The members did not guarantee passing the measures; only bringing them to a vote. Members of the Senate did not sign the contract.
Parts of the contract call for such things as a balanced budget amendment and term limits for members of Congress. But one of the measures, the Job Creation and Wage Enforcement Act, would limit the amount of regulations — including environmental initiatives — that the government could impose on businesses and landowners.
“Government-imposed mandates and regulations suppress wages, and excessive taxation of capital and investment stifles economic growth and job creation,” said a Republican analysis distributed with the contract. “Current federal policies threaten the competitiveness of American business, stifle entrepreneurial activity and suppress economic growth and job creation.
“Regulations can also have a direct impact on the lives of all Americans — raising the prices they pay for goods and services, restricting the use of their private property and limiting the availability of credit. The bill lowers taxes on investment and reigns in regulation to create additional jobs, enhance wages and recognize private property rights.”
The proposed legislation includes provisions that would require the government to reimburse landowners when regulations, such as wetlands protection, impact their land; would cap expenditures for environmental compliance programs; and would curtail the government’s ability to “mandate” programs — such as the Clean Water Act — on state and local governments.
The proposed bill seeks to free business from costly federal regulatory burden by requiring agencies to perform cost-benefit and other analyses on new regulations to determine their economic impact.
Some of the specific items contained in the act include:
Risk Assessment/Cost Benefit Analysis: The act requires federal agencies to assess the risks to human health and safety and the environment for each new regulation. Agencies must also determine the “economic and compliance” cost to the public for each regulation. Agencies must form an independent peer review panel to certify the assessment and incorporate the best available scientific data. The review panel members must either possess professional experience conducting risk assessment or in the given field of study.
Regulatory Budget: The bill requires federal agencies to issue an annual report projecting the cost of complying with all federal regulations to the private sector. The cost of the regulations will then be capped below its current level forcing agencies to find more cost-effective ways to reach goals, and identify regulatory policies whose benefits exceed their costs to the private sector.
Unfunded Mandate Reform: The Congressional Budget Office is required to issue an analysis of each piece of legislation containing a federal mandate, which is defined as a program that costs state and local governments more than $5 million annually. The analysis must include a description of the mandate, the expected cost to state and local governments, and whether the mandates are to be partly or entirely unfunded by the federal government. The CBO budgetary impact reports are to be printed in the committee reports accompanying legislation. The bill caps the mandate’s cost below its level for the proceeding year.
Protection against Federal Regulatory Abuse: The bill provides individuals with a “Citizens’ Bill of Rights” when being inspected or investigated by a federal agency. The bill affirms individuals’ rights to remain silent; refuse a warrantless search; be warned that statements can be used against them; have an attorney or accountant present; be present at an inspection or investigation; and be reimbursed for unreasonable damages. Also, the bill allows individuals who are threatened by a prohibited regulatory practice to take legal action against the responsible agency. A prohibited regulatory practice is defined as an inconsistent application of any law, rule or regulation causing mismanagement of agency resources by any agency or employee of the agency.
Private Property: The bill allows private property owners to receive compensation (up to 10 percent of fair market value) from the federal government for any reduction in the value of their property. If a question arises over the value of the property, the private property owner may use an arbitrator to decide the outcome.
Regulatory Impact Analysis: The bill requires federal agencies to complete a regulatory impact analysis when drafting a major rule (affecting more than 100 people and costing more than $1 million). The bill lists 23 specific criteria the agencies must follow, including: explaining the necessity and appropriateness of the rule; a statement of whether the rule is in accord with or in conflict with any legal precedent; a demonstration that the rule is cost-effective; an estimate of the number of persons affected by the rule; and an estimate of the costs to the agency for implementing the rule.