The Clean Water Act in the Crosshairs

by Dave Owen | May 31, 2016

Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog by CPR Member Scholar Dave Owen

Today, the United States Supreme Court released its opinion in US Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes, Co. The key question in Hawkes was whether a Clean Water Act jurisdictional determination – that is, a determination about whether an area does or does not contain waters subject to federal regulatory jurisdiction – is a final agency action within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act. According to a unanimous court, a jurisdictional determination is indeed final agency action.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Roberts, presents the kind of short, businesslike analysis one typically associates with an uncontroversial case. But then comes Justice Kennedy's concurrence, and it's a doozy. In three paragraphs, Justice Kennedy (joined, perhaps not so surprisingly, by Justices Alito and Thomas) asserts that "the reach and systemic consequences of the Clean Water Act remain a cause for concern"; that "the act's reach is 'notoriously unclear'" (quoting Justice Alito's concurrence in Sackett v. EPA); that the Clean Water Act holds "ominous reach"; and that the act "continues to raise troubling questions regarding the Government's power to cast doubt on the full use and enjoyment of private property throughout the United States."

This matters, of course, because if Merrick Garland is not confirmed to the United States Supreme Court, if Donald Trump is elected, and if President Trump appoints the kind Heritage-Foundation-Approved judge ...

NEPA and Climate Change: Another Basis for Defending the Clean Power Plan

by Joel Mintz | May 26, 2016
The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan – the agency's bold attempt to use the Clean Air Act to protect our health and the environment by regulating greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants – has been challenged in court by some 28 states, 205 members of Congress, electric utilities, coal companies and other industries, some labor unions, and a few conservative, nonprofit law firms. In response, EPA's rule has been defended by the agency itself, 18 ...

GAO Confirms Dangerous Working Conditions across Poultry Industry

by Katie Tracy | May 25, 2016
This morning, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding that hazardous working conditions across the meat and poultry industry put workers at risk of on-the-job injuries and illnesses. While injury and illness rates reportedly declined in the decade from 2004 to 2013, GAO emphasizes that the decrease might not be because of improved working conditions in the industry. Rather, the drop is likely due to data-gathering challenges at the Department of Labor and underreporting across the industry.  ...

Join CPR as Our Climate Adaptation Policy Analyst

by Matt Shudtz | May 25, 2016
Are you interested in ensuring that communities impacted by climate change can effectively adapt to changing conditions and that vulnerable populations will be protected and treated fairly in the process? Do you have a background in the legal and policy issues related to both clean water and climate change adaptation? If so, you should consider applying for the new climate change adaptation policy analyst position at the Center for Progressive Reform!  The focus of this position is climate change adaptation, ...

One Step Forward and Two Steps Back on Toxic Chemicals

by Rena Steinzor | May 24, 2016
This post has also been published on The Huffington Post. Within the next few days, Congress is likely to enact the first update of a major environmental statute in many years. Widely hailed as a bipartisan compromise, legislation to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA, pronounced like the opera Tosca) was made possible by the steely and relentless determination of the U.S. chemical industry. The deal places burdens on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will undermine public health ...

CPR's Buzbee to Set the Record Straight on WOTUS at Senate Hearing

by James Goodwin | May 24, 2016
This afternoon, the Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will convene a hearing on a topic that is fast becoming the congressional conservative equivalent of talking about the weather: the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Water Rule.  With the provocative title of "Erosion of Exemptions and Expansion of Federal Control – Implementation of the Definition of Waters of the United States," the hearing is unlikely to provide a sober or thoughtful forum for ...

Steinzor in The Environmental Forum: Vital to Prosecute Corporate Bad Actors

by Brian Gumm | May 20, 2016
With the congressional majority continuing to gut enforcement budgets, forcing federal environmental and workplace safety agencies to cut staff, criminal prosecution of corporate bad actors is more important than ever. That's the thrust of Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar Rena Steinzor's commentary in the May/June issue of The Environmental Forum, the policy journal of the Environmental Law Institute.  As Steinzor notes in the piece:  The BP [oil spill] and Volkswagen [emissions cheating] scan­dals, by their size and audacity, should ...

The Silica Standard: A Case Study of Inequality in Worker Health and Safety Standards

by Katie Tracy | May 19, 2016
Back in March, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized its long-awaited silica standard, requiring employers to reduce workers' exposure to the toxic, cancer-causing dust so common to construction and fracking sites, among other workplaces. OSHA estimates that the new standard will prevent more than 600 deaths and 900 new cases of silicosis annually. That is certainly commendable, but the kudos would be more heartfelt if the new standard had been adopted decades earlier and if it fully addressed ...

Renewed Public Investment in Water Infrastructure Promotes Equality

by Evan Isaacson | May 18, 2016
Clean water: We can't take it for granted, as the people of Flint, Michigan, can attest. And they're not alone. In too many communities across the nation, drinking water fails to meet minimum safety standards, forcing consumers to buy bottled water and avoid the stuff coming out of their taps. We cannot say that we didn't see this coming. Part of the problem is that, as a society, we have always undervalued clean water. Municipal water rates only pass along ...

Want to Address Economic Inequality? Strengthen the Regulatory System

by James Goodwin | May 17, 2016
The growing problem of economic inequality in the United States continues to draw significant attention – and for good reason. By 2011, America's top 1 percent owned more than 40 percent of the nation's wealth, and ours ranks as one of the most unequal economies among developed countries. Meanwhile, the median wage rate for workers has remained largely unchanged in real terms over the last 40 years – even as worker productivity has grown at a steady clip – contributing ...

We Need to Get Back to Work

by Rena Steinzor | May 13, 2016
Originally published on RegBlog by CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor. Rulemaking has slowed to a crawl throughout the executive branch. If an agency does not have a statutory mandate to undertake such a brutal and resource-intensive process, the choice to accomplish its mission through any other means will be tempting. Of course, if the policy issues are controversial, no pathway to their redress—rule, adjudication, guidance, or bully pulpit—will be problem-free. The opposition party made clear, almost as soon as President Barack Obama ...

Feds Open Criminal Investigation of Dole Listeria Outbreak

by Mollie Rosenzweig | May 12, 2016
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently launched a criminal investigation of Dole Food Company, continuing a trend of criminal enforcement against those responsible for deadly food safety lapses. The investigation stems from a Listeria outbreak in bagged salad that sickened 33 people, four of whom died.  Between September 2015 and January 2016, 33 people in the U.S. and Canada became infected with Listeria from bagged lettuce processed at Dole's Springfield, Ohio plant. At first, investigators struggled to trace the ...

New Oxfam Report: Poultry Industry Denies Worker Requests for Bathroom Breaks

by Katie Tracy | May 11, 2016
Can you imagine working for a boss who refuses you the dignity of taking a bathroom break? According to a revealing new report published today by Oxfam America, denial of bathroom breaks is a very real practice at poultry plants across the country, and line workers at these plants often "wait inordinately long times (an hour or more), then race to accomplish the task within a certain timeframe (e.g., ten minutes) or risk discipline."  If you've never worked on an ...

Trading Away the Benefits of Green Infrastructure

by Evan Isaacson | May 10, 2016
In the world of watershed restoration, there are multiple tools and tactics that government agencies, private landowners, and industry can use to reduce pollution and clean up our waterways. In Maryland, two of those approaches seem destined to collide. On the first track is nutrient trading, a least-cost pollution control concept predicated on the idea that if some distant entity can reduce the same amount of pollution at a lower cost than a facility with a water pollution control permit, ...

New Study Brings 'Trickle Down' Illogic to Regulatory 'Costs' Estimates

by James Goodwin | May 09, 2016
These days, it seems a week doesn't go by without some conservative advocacy group releasing a new study that purports to measure the total annual costs of federal regulation. In this case, it's literally true. Last week, the reliably anti-regulatory Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) put out its annual tally, provocatively titled "Ten Thousand Commandments," which this year finds a total cost of $1.885 trillion for 2015. And the week before that, the just-as-reliably anti-regulatory Mercatus Center published a report that ...

The Surprising Evolution of Federal Stream Protections

by Dave Owen | May 05, 2016
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog by CPR Member Scholar Dave Owen. Right now, the United States' second-most-heated environmental controversy—behind only the Clean Power Plan—involves the Clean Water Rule, which seeks to clarify the scope of federal regulatory jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. According to its many opponents, the rule is one big power grab. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, according to the standard rhetoric, are unfurling their regulatory tentacles across the landscape like some monstrous kraken, with ...

New Paper: Americans Hurt By Forced Arbitration Agreements with Big Banks, Credit Card Companies

by Brian Gumm | May 04, 2016
NEWS RELEASE: New Paper Shows Americans Hurt By Forced Arbitration Agreements with Big Banks, Credit Card Companies Forthcoming Rule from Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Offers Some Solutions, but More Can Be Done to Protect Consumers Opening a checking account or using a credit card is an essential, everyday activity for many Americans, but most financial services are governed by pages of fine print, much of which is difficult to navigate and understand. As a new paper from the Center for ...

The Misleading Argument Against Delegation

by Daniel Farber | May 03, 2016
It's commonplace to say that agencies engage in lawmaking when they issue rules. Conservatives denounce this as a violation of the constitutional scheme; liberals celebrate it as an instrument of modern government. Both sides agree that in reality, though not in legal form, Congress has delegated its lawmaking power to agencies. But this is mistaking an analogy for an identity. It's true, of course, that Congress has given agencies the authority to make rules, which is one aspect of legislative ...

The Clean Water Act in the Crosshairs

Owen | May 31, 2016 | Environmental Policy

Join CPR as Our Climate Adaptation Policy Analyst

Shudtz | May 25, 2016 | Climate Change

One Step Forward and Two Steps Back on Toxic Chemicals

Steinzor | May 24, 2016 | Environmental Policy

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