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Wyoming Lawmakers Worry About Last Minute Obama Regulations

Pete Souza - Official White House Photo



With President Obama heading out of office soon, Wyoming lawmakers fear he’s preparing a slew of executive orders that could hurt the western economy.

The president has already done executive actions on everything from the energy policy to immigration. Some have been upheld by the courts, while others have been struck down. But court cases take years, and that has Republicans like Wyoming Senator John Barrasso worried that Obama is going to use his pen on the way out of office.

“The White House chief of staff said this year that, on the way out the door, that they are going to be using “audacious executive actions,” that’s the White House’ spokesman, chief of staff saying “audacious executive actions.” So there are great concerns about what this White House, this president may do before leaving office.”

The president has already riled western lawmakers by using the Antiquities Act to declare more swaths of land out west as national monuments. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis is bracing for more declarations.

“Nevada’s been impacted, New Mexico’s been impacted, Utah, Colorado. There will be other designations that will affect these areas and others in the last two months of the Obama presidency. We will be watching that closely.”

Lummis recognizes it’s hard to unwind rules and regulations if a Democrat is in the White House.  

“We’re trying to fight off and then hopefully roll back rules that the Obama administration is implementing at the 11th hour. That will be way more difficult if Hillary Clinton is the president elect.”

For example, President Bill Clinton’s roadless rule.  The executive order protects 58 million acres of national forests from road building and logging. Wyoming used the courts to get the rule overturned, but after eleven years of legal battles the executive order was declared the law of the land. Even with the revelation of Donald Trump’s degrading comments to women, Lummis said the west needs Trump in the White House.

“Well Congress can bring about change in a Trump administration – hopefully our colleagues on the Democrat side of the aisle will help us on Waters of the U.S. and some rules that effect both Democrats and Republicans in ways that are completely unsatisfactory.”

But most Democrats aren’t clamoring to unwind keys parts of Obama’s environmental legacy. Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly says the GOP has made much ado about nothing when it comes to Obama’s push for tighter rules and regulations.

“So with all the so-called regulations of the Obama years have we created 14 million new jobs net or not? The biggest, longest, net positive job growth in American history – I thought it was job killing?”

That said, Connolly says the president shouldn’t use his executive pen as if it’s a scepter.

“I would hope that all new rules and regulations are based on years of study and justification. The timing is less important to me than the preparation. If it’s just being sprung on us with no known preparation or justification, I think that is a problem.”

Wyoming’s senior senator, Mike Enzi, said the best tool the GOP currently has to fight the White House is the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress a say on new regulations.  

“It’s the ability for Congress to pass a claw back…on any regulation that’s passed within 45 days after the time that it’s published provided there are enough signatures from the House and the Senate and then there’s guaranteed eight hours of debate and it only takes a majority vote to pass in either house.”

Enzi added that there’s a catch though.

“The president has to sign it. If it’s the president’s regulation the president’s not going to sign it.”  

Enzi tried the rule in 2001 to stop a President Clinton regulation that would have allowed people who weren’t injured at work to claim they were injured at work.

“It was very poorly written so we went after it, I got to lead the charge on it and it passed both houses. And then we changed presidents and the new president was more than willing to sign it – was able to see that a regulation pushed through at the last minute often has a lot of flaws in it, and that one did,” said Enzi.

Enzi is also sponsoring a bill that would allow both chambers of Congress to overturn a rule or regulation without needing a presidential signature, which he said would allow Congress to claim back some of its power.

“We’re the ones who write these laws, supposedly they think that we ask them to do these regulations. There’s usually no indication that we intended that kind of a regulation, and consequently we ought to be able to say whether to do it or not.”

But for Congress to pass Enzi’s proposal, it would take sixty votes, and that could prove an uphill battle in a hyper partisan Washington.

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.
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