The Clean Water Blog

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The REINS Act: A threat to good government and clean water.

Republicans in Congress and the Trump Administration are saying “regulatory reform” a lot. It sounds boring - but it's code for a dangerous corporate giveaway that could unravel the basic safeguards we take for granted by destroying our basic regulatory system. Congress is using this innocuous label to hide that their agenda poses a direct threat to clean water, clean air, labor, occupational safety, civil rights and consumer protections.

One of these destructive bills is the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would give Congress the power to override experts and scientists when it comes to protecting our drinking water and quality of life. There are two versions. The Senate version of REINS handcuffs agencies' ability to enact new rules. The House version cranks that up to 11 and would also let Congress gut many protections that are already on the books. REINS would destroy the concept of co-equal branches of government and let Congress and the special interests who fund their campaigns call the shots, instead of people who know what they are doing.  


What would the REINS Act mean for the fight to protect clean water? Let’s do a thought experiment to help answer that question: Take a look at a recently adopted rule that helps keep fracking wastewater out of rivers and streams to find out if REINS would have impacted this important protection.

In the early stages of the Marcellus Shale fracking boom, gas companies often sent their dirty wastewater to municipal sewage plants, which processed the waste, then discharged it into waterways. The big problem: the plants weren’t equipped to effectively treat this kind of wastewater. In one example in Pennsylvania the discharge was sent straight into the Monongahela River, the drinking water source for the city of Pittsburgh and millions of people.

In response to this major threat to drinking water EPA used its mandate under the Clean Water Act to respond.  The Agency undertook a multi-year effort, following the science and soliciting extensive public comment. EPA studied what was in fracking wastewater (they found lots of nasty chemicals) and whether or not these facilities could adequately treat it before discharging it to nearby waterways. Through the rigorous investigation and the rulemaking process required by law, EPA found that public sewage treatment plants cannot reliably treat this type of wastewater. The result? A prohibition of waste from unconventional gas wells being sent to these facilities.

That’s how our government is supposed to work.  When there is a real problem, agencies use their authority, conduct research, follow the public process, and develop good policy.

But here is how it could have played out. Under REINS, a rule is either "major" (an economic impact of more than $100,000,000) or "nonmajor " (less than $100,000,000 economic impact). If it is "major", Congress would have to approve it within 70 days, or it would not go into effect. If it is "nonmajor", Congress gets to decide if it wants to kill the regulation with a resolution of disapproval. If Congress does nothing, the rule is adopted.

The fracking wastewater rule was considered a nonmajor rule. Under REINS, if Congress didn’t act, the rule goes into effect. BUT, if Congress decided to vote it down, the entire rule would be scrapped with minimal debate, bypassing all the research and public comment - all of the work. With a polluter friendly Congress, you can pretty much guarantee the fossil fuel industry would call in a favor to their friends in Congress and would likely kill the rule.

The Republicans in Congress want to give the fossil fuel industry whatever it wants. The REINS Act and other “regulatory reform” bills are just another attempt to put polluters and campaign donors before public health and common sense.  

This would be bad news for our democracy, and terrible news for our water.

Take action: Stop the corporate power grab in Congress