After convening in January, one of the first acts the new House adopted was the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2017. The act would require any regulation that has a “significant economic impact” — defined as regulatory compliance costs of $100 million or more — to gain approval by the House and Senate before entering into effect.
Rep. Erik Paulsen was a strong advocate of this earlier version of the REINS Act. He suggested that the bill was aimed at supporting small businesses. “Duplicative, expensive and overreaching regulations have stifled economic growth and job creation, costing our economy $1.75 trillion each year,” Paulsen said in a press release. “This common-sense bill allows Congress to act like a Board of Directors that has the ability to approve or reject regulations to ensure that future federal regulations are both cost-effective and necessary.”
Paulsen’s Republican colleagues touted a similar job-creation line. But as Elizabeth Kolbert explained in a recent piece for The New Yorker, the REINS Act has little to do with supporting main street. “No agency,” she wrote, “imposes a regulation with ‘an annual effect on the economy of $100,000,000 or more’ lightly. Such regulations take years to draft and finalize. They’re subject to multiple levels of review, not to mention months of public comment. These regulations also tend to be the sort that have an impact on big corporations, in areas such as energy production, workers’ safety, and lending practices, and, not surprisingly, big corporations often don’t like them.”
Steve Horn of the DeSmogBlog found that one of the earliest and most vocal supporters of the REINS Act was Koch Industries, the energy and manufacturing multinational. Koch Industries is one of the largest privately held companies in the U.S. and one of the country’s biggest polluters. The company’s co-owners, David and Charles Koch, have poured millions into political candidates, think tanks, and nonprofits to promote their radical right-wing agenda.
The Kochs and their allies in the fossil fuel industry lobbied on behalf of the REINS Act in 2010, 2012, and 2015. Other fossil fuel industry organizations like the Western Energy Alliance and the American Petroleum Institute have also come out in strong support of the act.
Rep. Paulsen — who took campaign donations of $12,000 from Koch Industries in 2012, $20,000 from them in 2014, and another $20,000 from them in 2016 — was equally supportive of the 2015 iteration of the REINS Act. In fact, in a video (ostensibly in reply to a letter from a resident of Wayzata, MN), he bragged that he was a coauthor of the act and reiterated his belief that federal regulations negatively impact small businesses.
But this time, the bill met with stronger pushback. President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget condemned the 2015 edition of the bill, arguing that robust restrictions on the regulatory system – including public commenting periods and the federal courts – were already in place. An OMB statement read, “This radical departure from the longstanding separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative branches would delay and, in many cases, thwart implementation of statutory mandates and execution of duly-enacted laws, create business uncertainty, undermine much-needed protections of the American public, and cause unnecessary confusion.”
The latest version of the REINS Act, H.R. 26, passed the House in January. Rep. Paulsen, as he had before, voted in favor of it.
Environmental groups were quick to condemn Paulsen and the GOP. Clean Water Action, an environmental advocacy group, slammed Paulsen’s decision in two pithy sentences. “The pro-environment vote [was] NO,” they wrote. “Rep. Erik Paulsen voted YES.”
The Sierra Club released a statement condemning Congress for attempting to usurp executive authority. “This Republican Congress,” the statement read, “seems to have forgotten that there are three co-equal branches in our government; and two of them are elected by the people.” The group also pointed out that the REINS Act would only exacerbate gridlock in Washington. “Sending every agency rule to Congress would simply serve to slow the legislative process, and would undermine the ability of agencies to use their field-specific expertise to set forth effective regulations. Highly technical rules that have been belabored over for years by the relevant agency specialists would all be open for debate and scrutiny from Congressmen who lack the necessary knowledge to review them, and who would be attempting to do so in overlapping 70-day periods.”
Environmental regulations aren’t the only ones threatened by the REINS Act. The watchdog organization Public Citizen pointed out in January that “The bill will delay or shut down the implementation of critical new public health and safety protections, thereby making big business and industry even less accountable to the public.” Plus, they argued, the bill is totally redundant, since “Congress already has the first and last word when it comes to agency rulemaking … Under the current decades-old framework, agencies can only exercise their authority if first delegated by Congress in authorizing legislation. Any agency attempt to overstep these bounds will result in judicial scrutiny and risk reversal of the agency action.”
The REINS Act is yet another attempt by Erik Paulsen and his Republican colleagues to devolve power from the federal government to the states. And why? Because they do the bidding of Koch Industries and other major corporations that want to see our country return to the days before public health, safety, and the environment were protected.
It’s sad that Paulsen has chosen to serve moneyed interests rather than the people of Minnesota. But we have a choice, too. And next year, we’ll choose someone else to represent Edina.
Featured image via YouTube.