This op-ed was originally published at The Hill on December 29, 2016.
The early days of the 115th Congress will see a focus on a regulatory reform, as the House of Representatives seeks to reestablish Article I of the Constitution, which delegates lawmaking authority solely to the legislative branch. Passage of legislation to rein in the regulatory state, however, is only one part of this important effort.
Bills like the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, the Separation of Powers Restoration Act, and the Midnight Rules Relief Act are likely to see quick passage out of the House. Each of these worthy measures passed the House in the 114th Congress only to languish in the Senate.
While procedural hurdles could continue to stall these bills in the upper chamber, a proxy battle in the war against the regulatory state will come by way of the confirmation process for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
Regulatory overreach is not a new threat to the constitutional separation of powers and the prosperity of the American people. President George W. Bush, as explained by Veronique de Rugy in January 2009, “was the biggest regulator since Nixon.” According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Wayne Crews, the Bush administration issued 390 “economically significant” regulations — those with an annual cost of $100 million or more — over eight years.
But the Bush administration’s regulatory agenda pales in comparison to that of President Obama. In less than two terms, Sam Batkins of the American Action Forum explained in August, the Obama administration had issued 600 economically significant regulations, with a cost of $743 billion.
“President Obama could easily top 650 major rules by the time the next president takes the oath of office (31 percent more than his predecessor),” Batkins wrote. “What will the final tally be for major regulations? To date, the administration’s major rules have cost, on average, $1.4 billion. With the possibility of 50 more rules, the lame duck tally could push this regulatory cost figure to $813 billion ($743 billion base plus $70 billion in future rules).”
Promulgating nearly 4,000 rules since 2009, the EPA is one of the worst offenders of this regulatory avalanche. Among the most controversial rules the EPA has issued is the Clean Power Plan, which, through purported authority claimed under the Clean Air Act, requires states to develop plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent of 2005 levels. The rule, which is aimed at the coal industry, is estimated to avert a fraction of a degree of temperature increases by 2100.
The annual cost to the energy sector to comply with the Clean Power Plan is estimated to be between $41 billion to $73 billion. These costs, of course, will be passed off to consumers in the form of higher energy prices. For states like West Virginia and North Dakota, this could mean average price increases of 43 percent and 33 percent. Missouri and Montana could see an increase of 24 percent, while Pennsylvania and Ohio may see increases of 17 percent and 15 percent. Interestingly, these states are represented by vulnerable Senate Democrats who are up for re-election in 2018.
States dependent on the coal industry have already been ravaged by the Obama administration’s policies. But the Clean Power Plan, could cost the industry nearly 126,000 jobs. This is an alarming reality for labor unions dependent on coal, which is why the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and United Mine Workers of America have joined the 27-state lawsuit against the EPA to halt the rule.
Pruitt, who also sued the EPA over the Clean Power Plan, will have the opportunity to reverse the trend of over-regulation. Unlike most bureaucrats, the Oklahoma attorney general believes that states should have the power to regulate industries based on their own needs, not have bureaucrats in Washington dictate rules to them. He also believes in a balance between regulation and prosperity, one that has been absent during the Obama administration.
Those in the Senate — Democrat or Republican — who vote against Pruitt’s confirmation will be siding with radical environmentalists who are actively seeking to undermine prosperity and opportunity for all Americans.
Jason Pye (@Pye) is the director of public policy and legislative affairs for FreedomWorks.