It's Official: Trump's Policies Deter EPA Staff from Enforcing the Law
by Joel Mintz | February 19, 2019
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an annual report Feb. 8 on its enforcement activities in fiscal 2018. After wading through a bushel full of cherry-picked case studies and a basket of bureaucratic happy talk, the report paints a dismal picture of decline in a crucially important EPA program.
EPA's data indicate that it initiated and concluded approximately 1,800 civil judicial enforcement cases in 2018 — fewer than half the number it handled in fiscal 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration. The agency required violators to invest $3.95 billion to control their excessive pollution last year, a far cry from the $21.3 billion in pollution control expenditures that resulted from EPA enforcement in 2011. Similarly, the total amount of administrative and civil penalties that EPA extracted from environmental violators was at its lowest level in the past decade, thus reducing the disincentive for companies to break the law. The same was true with regard to the number of criminal cases opened by the agency in 2018 and the number of defendants charged with federal pollution crimes — all were down to the lowest levels in ten years.
Contributing to those dismal numbers was a dramatic decline in EPA's facility inspections and plant evaluations. Those activities fell to 10,600 in 2018 — less than 50 percent of the number of plant visits conducted
Rao's Record as Regulatory Czar Raises Red Flags
Tomorrow morning, Neomi Rao, the current administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), is set to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing on her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. If confirmed, she would fill the open seat once occupied by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Administrator Rao's nomination has prompted intense media and public scrutiny of her background, and appropriately so, given the high stakes involved.
Flipping the Conservative Agenda
Originally published on Legal Planet. Conservatives, with full support from Donald Trump, have come up with a menu of ways to weaken the regulatory state. In honor of National Backward Day – that's an actual thing, in case you're wondering, and it's today – let's think about reversing those ideas. In other words, let's try to come up with similar mechanisms to strengthen protections for public health and the environment instead of weakening protections. It's an interesting experiment, if nothing
The Worst of a Bad Lot
Originally published on Legal Planet. The Trump administration has many energy and environmental initiatives, none of them good. But in terms of shoddy analysis and tenuous evidence, the worst is the administration's attempt to freeze fuel efficiency standards. For sheer lack of professionalism, the administration's cost-benefit analysis is hard to match. And you can't even say that the administration is captive to industry, because this isn't something industry asked for. It's a case of untethered ideology trumping evidence and economics.
Regulatory Review in Anti-Regulatory Times: Congress
Originally published on Legal Planet. In theory, cost-benefit analysis should be just as relevant when the government is deregulating as when it is imposing new regulations. But things don't seem to work that way. This is the second of two blog posts analyzing how costs and benefits figured in decisions during the past two years of unified GOP control of the federal government (read the first post here). Today, I focus on Congress. For the first time in history, Congress
Wheeler Hearing Provides Opportunity to Learn More about 'Benefits-Busting' Rule
During his tenure, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt launched multiple assaults on environmental and public health safeguards. His attacks on clean air standards and water quality regulations made so little sense in our reality that he went to the absurd and extreme lengths of creating an alternative reality to make them look legitimate. That alternative reality is rendered in the "benefits-busting" rule, which would systematically distort the analyses EPA economists conduct to assess the economic impacts of
How Trump Officials Abuse Cost-Benefit Analysis to Attack Regulations
This op-ed was orignally published in the Washington Monthly. In December of 2017, Donald Trump gathered the press for a variation on a familiar activity from his real estate mogul days. Stretched between a tower of paper taller than himself, representing all current federal regulations, and a small stack labeled "1960," was a thick piece of red ribbon – red tape, if you will. The president promised that "we're going to get back below that 1960s level." With his daughter
The Year Ahead
A version of this post was originally published on Legal Planet. What are the key things to watch for in 2019 in the environmental area? Regulations. According to the Trump administration’s schedule, three big rules should be issued in March: repeal of the Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS), repeal and replacement of the Clean Power Plan, and the freeze on fuel efficiency standards. This seems very ambitious to me, especially for the last two where there are major technical
The New WOTUS Proposed Rule and the Myths of Clean Water Act Federalism
by Dave Owen | December 11, 2018
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. This morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA released a proposed new rule that would change the agencies' shared definition of "waters of the United States." That phrase defines the geographic scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule would narrow the scope of federal jurisdiction, primarily in two ways. First, it would eliminate jurisdiction for "ephemeral" streams – that is, streams where water flows only during
Two Years and Counting: Looking Forward
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. In terms of regulatory policy, the second half of Trump's term is shaping up to look a lot like Obama's final two years in office. Congress won't be doing much to advance Trump's environment and energy agenda, as was the case with Obama. So, like Obama, Trump's focus will be on administrative action, particularly regulatory initiatives (or deregulatory ones, in Trump's case). The big question is how these efforts will fare in court. I want to
Two Years and Counting: A Historical Perspective
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. This is the second of three posts assessing the first two years of the Trump administration. You can read the first post here. We all seem to be subscribed to the "All Trump News, All the Time" newsfeed. It may be helpful to step back a bit and compare Trump with his last Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. How do the two stack up? Bush and Trump were very different in character and style, but their
Two Years and Counting: Trump at Mid-Term
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. In September 2017 – that seems so long ago! – Eric Biber and I released a report assessing the state of play in environmental issues 200 days into the Trump administration, based on an earlier series of blog posts. As we end Trump's second year, it's time to bring that assessment up to date. This is the first of three posts examining what Trump has done (and hasn't done) in terms of environment and energy. For
Act Two: Answering the Clear Mandate for Vigorous Oversight
by Matt Shudtz | November 08, 2018
For two years, President Trump has attempted to steer federal policy in ways that undercut core American values. His vision of government – to the extent one can divine a coherent vision – lacks compassion, fairness, a commitment to equal voice and opportunity, and concern for the long-term threats that families and communities cannot address on their own. Instead, the president has embarked on a campaign to remake the core institutions of our democracy in a new, authoritarian mold. And
Gutting Fuel Efficiency and States' Rights: The Trump EPA's Unsafe SAFE Vehicles Rule
This post was originally published on ACSblog, the blog of the American Constitution Society. Reprinted with permission. On October 26, 2018, the comment period ended for a new rule that guts U.S. fuel efficiency standards for vehicles. If the final rule resembles the proposed rule, the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks (SAFE Vehicles Rule) will lock in old fuel efficiency standards, reversing Obama administration regulations mandating increased efficiency. Specifically, the
Fresno Bee Op-Ed: Trump Rolls Back Clean Car Standards as Air Quality Worsens
This op-ed originally ran in the Fresno Bee. Cities in the San Joaquin Valley continue to land among the American Lung Association's top 10 most polluted communities in the country. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the comment period closed on the Trump administration's plans to ratchet back federal emissions standards and eliminate California's authority to run its crucial car emissions programs. Although the administration has its eyes on greenhouse gas controls, what's at stake is California's ability to transition to low- and
OSHA's Fall Regulatory Agenda: Worker Protections Not a Priority
The Trump administration has few plans to protect workers from emerging workplace health and safety hazards, according to the regulatory agenda released by the White House on October 16. This is nothing new for this administration, which has consistently neglected to take up worker protections, instead focusing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) resources on delaying and rolling back existing safeguards. Among the rules in OSHA's crosshairs, the agency plans to revoke a requirement for employers with 250 or
Trump's Fall Anti-Safeguards Agenda: No Country for Young Children
The Trump administration's Fall 2018 regulatory agenda dropped late last night, and as with previous iterations of this preview of what's to come on the regulatory front, it is chock full of numbers – at least the kinds of numbers partisan ideologues and regulated industries care about. But what these numbers don't reveal are the kinds of things a decent society cares about. Basic things like how well we are protecting the health and welfare of children, for example. Already,
The EPA's Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule: Putting Money on ACE Is a Bad Bet -- Part II
This post is the second of a pair on the Trump administration's so-called "Affordable Clean Energy" (ACE) rule. You can read the first post here on CPRBlog. Industry Trends In short, energy projections demonstrate a clear trend for clean energy and away from fossil fuels. These trends, directly and negatively, affect traditional electric utilities. About the time that rooftop solar financing was being consolidated by third parties such as SolarCity and Sunrun, utilities began to worry about a "death spiral."