Congress Has Already Introduced Bills to Reform #NeverNeeded Regulations

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Policy makers have already waived more than 350 regulations and counting that were slowing the pandemic response and harming economic recovery. But with a 185,000-page Code of Federal Regulations and plenty more rules at the state and local levels, there is more to do. Fortunately, a number of bills have already been introduced in Congress that could help get rid of more #NeverNeeded regulations.

CEI’s Agenda for Congress has more reform ideas, though not all of them are applicable to the #NeverNeeded effort. For a guide on identifying #NeverNeeded regulations, see our handy infographic. We also a have a short paper full of reform ideas and the website. And of course, the #NeverNeeded social media hashtag is a continuing source of new ideas.

Fixing the Regulatory Process

Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act (S. 92)  

This bill would require Congress to vote on new regulations costing more than $100 million per year. The Senate version is sponsored by Rand Paul (R-KY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Todd Young (R-IN), and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) sponsors the House version. The REINS Act is a separation of powers bill intended to make sure agencies don’t go rogue and pass major rules Congress never authorized through legislation.

While the REINS Act would affect fewer than 50 rules in an average year out of more than 3,000, it would add stability to an uncertain regulatory climate. Agencies would have to stay within the bounds Congress has legislated for them, and would not be able to pass hasty “flash policy” that could hurt the virus response and economic recovery. For more, see my paper on the REINS Act.

Guidance Out Of Darkness (GOOD) Act (S.380)

Agencies are required to put new regulations through a notice-and-comment rulemaking process. This allows the public to see and contribute to draft versions of regulations before they become final. But agencies routinely avoid this transparency and accountability by enacting regulation through other means such as guidance documents, memoranda, or even press releases and blog posts. CEI’s Wayne Crews calls these extralegal rules “regulatory dark matter.” Courts routinely defer to dark matter in cases, meaning it has de facto force of law.

President Trump issued an Executive Order last year requiring agencies to make all of their guidance documents public. This is an excellent start, but the problem with Executive Orders is that the next president can undo them on a whim. Dark matter reform needs the permanence that comes with congressional legislation. The GOOD Act, sponsored by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), would increase agency transparency and accountability. It would also add stability to the regulatory environment that recovering businesses can plan around during a chaotic time. Wayne Crews has more on regulatory dark matter here.

Jones Act Repeal

Open America’s Waters Act of 2019 (S. 694) 

The Jones Act costs the economy somewhere between $656 million to $9.8 billion per year. The Open America’s Waters Act, sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), would repeal it entirely. The Jones Act is a shipping law from 1920 that is essentially a Buy American law for moving goods between U.S. ports. Incumbent shipping companies love the Jones Act for obvious reasons—it keeps competition out. But because of the Jones Act, shipping between U.S. ports is slow and expensive.

There is little incentive to innovate or save costs, and the ships are aged and small, since there is little need to invest in fleet improvements in a government-protected cartel. This contrasts sharply with international shipping, where the Jones Act does not apply. When competition is allowed, shipping is cheaper, faster, more reliable, and more competitive.

An effective coronavirus response needs medical supply networks to be fast, flexible, and affordable. Improved shipping will also aid in the coming economic recovery. The Jones Act has long been obsolete. Now is the ideal time to finally get rid of it, and the Open America’s Waters Act would do just that. CEI’s Mario Loyola’s forthcoming Jones Act paper has more.

Protecting Access to American Products Act (S. `1873) 

If outright repeal of the Jones Act proves not possible politically, then this bill, also sponsored by Sen. Lee, is a second-best backup plan. It would streamline the Jones Act waiver process

National Environmental Policy Act Reform

Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act (S. 1976)

This bill would ease environmental permitting and other obstructions that delay infrastructure projects. It builds on previous reforms in the Fix America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015. The Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and the House version’s bipartisan sponsors include Reps. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), Rob Bishop (R-UT), and Collin Peterson (D-MN). Congress is clearly committed to trillions of dollars of “flash policy” such as stimulus and bailouts. Much of it will be wasteful, but reforms such as this bill will help at least a little more of that money spent on projects instead of on red tape.

This list is only a beginning. Adding to it would help public health during the COVID-19 response and with economic recovery when it is safe again. Policy makers can find plenty of ideas in CEI’s new #NeverNeeded paper, as well as our Agenda for Congress.