THE PUSH FOR REGULATION
Commentary by Harold Hough
If you thought a “shellacking” in the mid term elections was going to stop Obama and his anti mining agenda, you were wrong. As it became obvious that even the Democratic Congress wasn’t about to regulate the American economy out of existence, Obama’s administration unveiled a set of regulations that will do for the mining industry and the economy what Congress refused to do.
Barack Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson have decided to pursue an end-run strategy to impose regulation on energy producers regarding greenhouse-gas emissions. The move sets up a confrontation between the White House and Congress, which has already signaled a willingness to play hardball with Obama on regulatory innovation.
Under the schedule agreed to by EPA, states and environmental groups, the agency will issue a draft greenhouse gas performance standard for coal powered plants by July 2011 and a final rule by May 2012. The agreement – which comes after states and environmentalists challenged the George W. Bush administration’s failure to set the standards – requires EPA to issue a draft limit for refineries by Dec. 2011 and a final rule by Nov. 2012.
The incoming Congress has many tools to block or slow the regulatory growth, one of which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid handed to Republicans in the final week of the 111th Congress. The GOP will have the power to set funding for the EPA for the final six months of this fiscal year. Congress can either mandate that no funds be spent from EPA’s budget for the purpose of creating or enforcing greenhouse-gas emissions, or they can defund the agency entirely after March 4th. The latter will almost certainly set up a government-shutdown confrontation, but the former probably wouldn’t, especially since a few red-state Senators would likely join the Republicans in reining in Jackson. Jay Rockefeller already proposed a two-year moratorium on EPA regulatory expansion to prevent just this scenario. Rockefeller, as a senator from the coal mining state of West Virginia knows his political future rides on the outcome of these regulations.
There are other tactics that the Republicans and pro-growth Democrats can use. Congress could undo the regulatory changes by using the Congressional Review Act. That law gives Congress the power to undo regulations by executive branch agencies, and more importantly, bypasses the filibuster in the Senate. However, that would require Barack Obama’s signature, which means that the GOP would have to garner two-thirds of each chamber to override a veto — not terribly likely. That would still be a worthwhile exercise, especially with a presidential election approaching, as a way to frame Obama as an out-of-control regulator.
If nothing else, the Congress can highlight Obama’s regulatory ways. The House can summon EPA director Jackson to the Hill as often as they want to demand explanations under oath, and to make the process as uncomfortable as possible for the White House.
What we will see this year is a battle of the wills – the House of Representatives versus Obama. Obama has shown that he is willing to bypass congress and use executive fiat to pursue his radical agenda. And, at this point, it appears unlikely that he will compromise like Clinton did when Congress went Republican in 1994.
The Republicans and pro-growth Democrats have the tools to stop (or at least hinder) Obama and the EPA. The question is if they have the backbone. Standing up to Obama will require standing up to the blizzard of attacks from the media and environmental groups. It also means being willing to close down the government to make their point.
The future of the American coal industry and our economy as a whole sits in the balance. It will take courage to save them. We can only hope that Congress shows that courage in the next few weeks and months.