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Environmental Reauthorizations and Regulatory Reform: from the 104th Congress to the 105th

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Publication Date: February 1998

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: 96-949

Topic: Environment (Environmental policy)


The 104th Congress pursued efforts to reform environmental regulations on several fronts: (1) revising regulatory decisionmaking processes; (2) attaching specific reforms to funding bills; (3) establishing a House corrections day calendar of bills addressing specific regulatory problems; and (4) incorporating regulatory reforms into individual program reauthorization bills. Bills were enacted requiring regulators to assess regulatory impacts and unfunded mandates, but after extended legislative battles the most comprehensive reform proposals and many appropriations riders failed passage of both Chambers or else fell to vetoes. However, compromise bills reforming the Safe Drinking Water Act and pesticides regulation were overwhelmingly approved.

The 105th Congress has pursued regulatory reform in four primary directions: (1) proposals to establish a comprehensive cost-benefit/risk analysis framework for regulatory programs, (2) private property ''takings'' initiatives, (3) amendments and reforms directed at individual environmental statutes, and (4) oversight of environmental programs. While no substantive regulatory reform measure was enacted during the 1st session, legislative activities have included numerous hearings involving comprehensive regulatory reform, ''takings,'' Superfund, and oversight of new clean air regulations. A ''takings'' bill, H.R. 1534, passed the House. While outcomes are uncertain, further legislative actions along the direction of these initiatives are likely.

From the beginning of federal environmental programs, costs imposed on industry and business, state and local governments, and consumers and taxpayers have generated concern. As a result, the evolution of environmental statutes has been paralleled by developments in cost-benefit analysis and in risk assessment to help set priorities and to determine appropriate levels of regulation. But these developments have not been without controversy. Proponents of requiring risk assessment and cost-benefit analyses believe that the resulting data, even if flawed, could usefully inform regulatory decisions; opponents fear that statutorily requiring such analyses could result in EPA being compelled to conform its decisions to those data, regardless of flaws. Attention has also focused on costs imposed on state and local governments (''unfunded mandates'') and on regulatory impacts on private property rights (''takings'').

In general, business interests have led support for regulatory reform measures, while environmental stakeholders have opposed such measures for fear they would diminish environmental protections. Through the 103rd Congress, most legislative initiatives to address these issues were unsuccessful, but the White House imposed administrative requirements for cost-benefit and risk analyses (Executive Order 12866, which supersedes earlier E.O.s on the subject) and for analysis by agencies of takings resulting from regulatory actions (E.O. 12630). Regulatory Reform in the 104th Congress.