GOP plots legislative assault as Dems dig in

ee-newsE&E News | December 13, 2016 | Arianna Skibell

As the 114th Congress wrapped up last week, the House Natural Resources Committee's top Democrat looked ahead to the 115th, saying he expects Republicans to use every tool at their disposal to roll back environmental regulations, including a rarely deployed legislative measure created to help balance the federal budget.

"We know it's coming. Almost every other day ... there's going to be something," Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva told E&E News. "We're preparing for it."

The tool in question: budget reconciliation. Created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 to fast-track legislation that helps balance the federal budget, the law lets Congress include reconciliation instructions in budget resolutions directing specific committees to write legislation that implements spending and revenue saving.

The scope of what can be included in a reconciliation bill is limited, but it's likely to be an attractive vehicle for Republicans as they plan strategies to erase President Obama's environmental regulations.

Reconciliation limits Senate debate to 20 hours and includes a non-debatable motion to proceed to the bill, meaning the measure cannot be filibustered and requires only 51, not 60, votes to pass. And any amendments must be relevant.

Only provisions related to mandatory spending, revenue or debt limit changes are allowed. And proposed saving mechanisms must pass the "Byrd Rule." Named for the longest-serving senator in history, the late Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the rule limits "extraneous matters" in reconciliation language that are unrelated to deficit reduction goals.

Most regulations are funded through discretionary spending, not mandatory spending, taking them out of the running for inclusion.

But there are notable exceptions, said Marcus Peacock, who was U.S. EPA deputy administrator during the George W. Bush administration and was the associate director for natural resources, energy and science at the Office of Management and Budget.

Peacock said it might be possible to include subsidies to renewable energy projects in a reconciliation bill.

"Most of the renewable programs are grant programs," he said. "If you lowered or removed grant authorization, that could count. It's also the tax credits for renewables. That could absolutely be something you could put in a reconciliation bill."

Ed Lorenzen, senior adviser for the nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said regulations that produce mandatory collections and fees might also be eligible for a reconciliation bill.

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