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Republicans Are Using An Obscure Law To Repeal Some Obama-Era Regulations

Under a rarely used law, lawmakers have voted to repeal more than a dozen regulations enacted in the last six months of the Obama administration.
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Under a rarely used law, lawmakers have voted to repeal more than a dozen regulations enacted in the last six months of the Obama administration.

President Trump and congressional Republicans are having some success with one of their oft-stated goals — rolling back federal regulations approved during the Obama administration. But the clock is ticking.

The House and Senate have voted to repeal more than a dozen regulations approved in the final six months of Obama's presidency, among them:

  • The Interior Department's stream-protection rule, which prevented mountaintop removal coal operations from dumping the rubble into stream valleys.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission's oil anti-corruption rule, which requires energy companies to report payments made to foreign governments.
  • The broadband-privacy rule, put in place by the FCC which required Internet service providers to get their subscribers' permission before selling their data to third parties.
  • A rule regarding the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, which, among other things, barred the hunting of bears in Alaska using aircraft.
  • In all, 11 regulations have been overturned using The Congressional Review Act, a heretofore obscure law passed by Congress in 1996. It allows lawmakers to overturn any regulation imposed during the final six months of the previous administration, with a simple majority vote in each chamber of Congress. It had only been used once previously, to overturn an ergonomics regulation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that had been approved during the Clinton administration.

    The 2016 election brought with it a perfect recipe for use of the law in the early months of the Trump administration: single-party control of both Congress and the White House, and a pro-deregulation stance following an administration that put many regulations in place.

    But there are some time limits. The deadline has already passed for Congress to introduce any new rollback proposals, and lawmakers have only a few weeks left to act on the ones now in the pipeline.

    Two regulations, relating to women's health and state retirement savings plans, have been repealed by both the House and the Senate and are awaiting the president's signature.

    And two more have been approved by the House but have not yet been acted on by the Senate.

    The Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers 60 legislative days to repeal regulations approved in the last six months of the previous administration. So that comes out to May 9, according to one estimate. The problem for Congress is that lawmakers are now on a two-week recess, and when they return, major work lies ahead on agreeing to a spending bill for the remainder of the current fiscal year. So it's unclear how many more regulatory repeals they will be able to squeeze in.

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    NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.