In recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cracked down on sewer overflows under the federal Clean Water Act.

The agency has ordered communities across the country to upgrade their sewer infrastructure in order to eliminate the overflows, which some say amounts to an unfunded mandate.

Sanitation District No. 1 of Northern Kentucky plans to spend more than $1 billion over the next 20 years to fix the overflows, which will be passed on to customers in the form of higher sewer rates.

The EPA’s crackdown was never approved by Congress, however. It happened through regulatory changes.

The EPA isn’t the only federal agency to engage in the practice, which the Small Business Administration says costs taxpayers more than $1.1 trillion each year.

A bill introduced by Congressman Geoff Davis, R-Hebron, would change that.

The Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act would require Congressional approval for major regulatory changes, defined as those that would have an annual economic impact of $100 million or more.

“It’s not anti-regulation, but it’s about creating more targeted regulation,” Davis said. “It’s about bringing more oversight by Congress.”

He said between 80 and 85 major rules are approved each year. And while they are subject to a 60-day comment period before they take effect, Davis said objections are rarely given serious consideration.

The REINS Act would subject major rules to closer scrutiny by the House and Senate.

“The object is to give people control of their government back,” Davis said. “This is one thing we can do to restore accountability … It gives people, essentially, a yes-or-no button on these decisions that will affect their daily lives.”

The measure is the brainchild of Alexandria City Councilman Lloyd Rogers.

Rogers, 77, has long been a critic of EPA regulations. He fought against vehicle emissions testing as judge-executive during the early 1980s.

He also opposes the storm water surcharge (which critics call a “rain tax”) the sanitation district began levying in 2003 to help pay for storm water upgrades required by the EPA’s crackdown under the Clean Water Act.

“I just could not understand how a federal agency could do that,” Rogers said.

He thought Congress should have a say in such regulations, an idea he took to Davis last year.

“I thought it was a stunningly clear idea, just elegant in its simplicity,” Davis said.

His office drafted the REINS Act, and he filed the bill last October.

The measure has gotten an increasing amount of attention this summer, as House Republicans seek new ideas for a national policy agenda.

The REINS Act was endorsed last month by House Minority Leader John Boehner of West Chester, who’s poised to become Speaker if Republicans take control of the House in November.

It is endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and the Northern Kentucky cities of Alexandria, Newport and Fort Wright.

And 70 members of Congress – all Republicans – have signed on as co-sponsors, including Boehner.

Davis said he’s confident the REINS Act will pass during the next Congress.

“This is not a partisan bill,” he said. “It’s a tool to restore oversight of the executive branch to the people. It’s giving a voice back to the people.”