What Do Farmers Actually Get from the New WOTUS Rule?

by Dave Owen | January 23, 2020

Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. Reprinted with permission.

This morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA released a final rule determining which aquatic features are covered by the Clean Water Act. Already, the press coverage is following a familiar pattern: farming lobbyists praise the rule as a major victory, and environmentalists condemn it as an abdication of clean water protection and water quality science. The former part of that pattern has always been interesting to me. It's true that the farm lobby has been a prominent and effective participant in debates about this rule and its predecessors. But I think much of its participation, and the resulting press coverage, has been misleading. This new rule does offer benefits to farmers (at a likely cost to water quality), but the benefits aren't likely to be nearly as great as the rhetoric would lead you to believe. The goal of this post is to explain the changes the new rule actually makes for farmers and the reason those changes are more modest than you might expect.

To start, it's helpful to understand the relationship between farming and the Clean Water Act prior to this rule. Several key exemptions limited the act's effects on farmers. First, the act's most important regulatory programs affect only point sources of water pollutants, and the act specifically excludes agricultural stormwater runoff and irrigation return flows from the ...

With Trump's NEPA Rollback, It's Conservatives Against Conservatives

by James Goodwin | January 23, 2020
When the Trump administration released its recent proposal to gut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it trumpeted the action as a long-overdue step to "modernize" the law's implementation by "simplifying" and "clarifying" its procedural and analytical requirements for federal agencies. If these words sound familiar, that's because they're the disingenuous claptrap that opponents of regulatory safeguards repeatedly trot out to camouflage their efforts to rig legislative and rulemaking processes in favor of corporate polluters. Put differently, those terms might ...

EPA Staff Clap Back at Trump with Workers' Bill of Rights

by Robert Verchick | January 22, 2020
It's no secret that President Trump has harassed staff at federal agencies since his first moment in office. Days after his inauguration, he blocked scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from talking to the press and the public. He famously cracked down on federal labor unions and chiseled early retirees of their expected pension benefits. Now he's requiring hundreds of staff from USDA's Economic Research Service and the Bureau of Land Management ...

Trump Is Trying to Cripple the Environment and Democracy

by Alejandro Camacho | January 21, 2020
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill. The Trump administration has fired the latest salvo in its never-ending assault on environmental safeguards: a proposal from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to overhaul its regulations governing federal agency compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The proposal would narrow the scope of NEPA’s protections, weaken federal agency duties when the law applies, and attempt to shield violations of NEPA from judicial oversight. More significantly, the proposal is wildly inconsistent with ...

CPR Member Scholar Flatt Launches Important Discussion on Legal Ethics and Climate

by James Goodwin | January 15, 2020
It's not just wildfires in Australia or our rapidly warming oceans (to the tune of five Hiroshima bombs every second). Climate change affects every aspect of our world, and it's forcing us reevaluate all of the human institutions we've built up over years, decades, and centuries. One such institution that CPR Member Scholar Victor Flatt has begun investigating is the legal profession itself. Members of the legal profession are bound by a code of professional ethics that applies in the ...

Misunderstanding the Law of Causation

by Daniel Farber | January 13, 2020
Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission. Last week's NEPA proposal bars agencies from considering many of the harms their actions will produce, such as climate change. These restrictions profoundly misunderstand the nature of environmental problems and are based on the flimsiest of legal foundations. Specifically, the proposal tells agencies they do not need to consider environmental "effects if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain." The proposal also excludes "cumulative effects." ...

Pride Goeth Before a Fall

by Daniel Farber | January 10, 2020
Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission. The White House just released its proposed revisions to the rules about environmental impact statements. The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) simply does not have the kind of power that it is trying to arrogate to itself. Its proposal is marked by hubris about the government's ability to control how the courts apply the law. That hubris is evident in the proposal's effort to tell courts when lawsuits can be brought ...

A Continent on Fire Ignores Climate Change

by Daniel Farber | January 06, 2020
Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission. Australia is remarkably exposed to climate change and remarkably unwilling to do much about it. Conditions keep getting worse. Yet climate policy in Australia has been treading water or backpedaling for years, as I discussed in an earlier post. Let's start with the temperature. The Guardian reports that in the year up to July 2019, Alice Springs (in the interior) had 55 days above 104°F. On New Year's Eve of 2018, it set ...

Top Ten Regulatory Policy Stories to Look Out for in 2020 (IMHO)

by James Goodwin | December 30, 2019
As I noted in my last post, 2019 brought a number of worrisome developments in regulatory policy. There were a few bright spots – most notably the positive attention public servants received for holding the Trump administration accountable. But, by and large, the most significant regulatory policy stories reflected the conservative movement’s successes in weakening the regulatory system. As a result, the threat to the future vitality of our system of safeguards – which we depend upon for our health ...

The Decade in Review

by Daniel Farber | December 23, 2019
Like many humans, the Twenty-First Century’s teenage years were stormy. Reposted by permission from LegalPlanet. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” That pretty much sums up the ten years from January 2010 to January 2020. As the decade began, Barrack Obama was in the White House and the Democrats controlled Congress but were one vote short of a filibuster-proof majority in the House. Under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership, the Waxman-Markey bill had passed the House, ...

Top Ten Regulatory Policy Stories of 2019 (IMHO)

by James Goodwin | December 20, 2019
For many of us, the best way to characterize the past year in three words would be “too much news.” That sentiment certainly applies to the wonky backwater of the regulatory policy world. Today, that world looks much different than it did even just a year ago, and with still more rapid changes afoot, the cloud of uncertainty that now looms ominously over it doesn’t appear to be dissipating anytime soon. None of this is good for the health of ...

Exxon's $75 Million Methane Leak

by Dave Owen | December 18, 2019
Reposted by permission from the Environmental Law Prof Blog. This morning E&E News reported that researchers from the Netherlands and the Environmental Defense Fund had quantified a massive natural gas leak at an Exxon-subsidiary-owned well in Ohio.  According to the study, the well leaked around 60,000 tons of methane. That made me wonder: what might the carbon tax bill for a leak like that be?  The answer, of course, is $0, because neither the United States as a whole nor the state of Ohio ...

Webinar Recap: Achieving Social Justice through Better Regulations

by James Goodwin | December 17, 2019
Last week, my CPR colleagues and I were honored to be joined by dozens of fellow advocates and member of the press for a webinar that explored the recent CPR report, Regulation as Social Justice: A Crowdsourced Blueprint for Building a Progressive Regulatory System. Drawing on the ideas of more than 60 progressive advocates, this report provides a comprehensive, action-oriented agenda for building a progressive regulatory system. The webinar provided us with an opportunity to continue exploring these ideas, including ...

2019 in Renewable Energy

by Daniel Farber | December 09, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission. Despite the efforts of the Trump administration, renewable energy has continued to thrive. Key states are imposing rigorous deadlines for reducing power generation from fossil fuels. Economic trends are also supporting renewables. In the first half of 2019, Texas produced more power from renewables than coal. Texas may be content to rely on market forces, but other states are taking a more active hand in shaping their energy futures. Here are the new ...

Low-Hanging Fruit

by Daniel Farber | November 25, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission. The idea of low-hanging fruit is ubiquitous in environmental policy – sometimes in the form of a simple metaphor, other times expressed in more sophisticated terms as an assumption of rising marginal costs of pollution reduction. It's an arresting metaphor, and one that can often be illuminating. But like many powerful metaphors, it can also mislead us badly. The idea behind the metaphor can be expressed in various ways, which can be equally ...

The EPA's 'Censored Science' Rule Isn't Just Bad Policy, It's Also Illegal

by James Goodwin | November 25, 2019
This post was originally published on the Union of Concerned Scientists' blog. Reprinted with permission. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears poised to take the next step in advancing its dangerous "censored science" rulemaking with the pending release of a supplemental proposal. The EPA presumably intends for this action to respond to criticism of the many glaring errors and shortcomings in its original proposal, hastily released in 2018. Unfortunately, if the leaked version of the supplemental proposal is any indication, ...

EPA's Draft Update to Its 'Science Transparency Rule' Shows It Can't Justify the Rule

by Sean Hecht | November 22, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission. Over a year ago, EPA issued a proposed rule, ostensibly to promote transparency in the use of science to inform regulation. The proposal, which mirrors failed legislation introduced multiple times in the House, has the potential to dramatically restrict EPA's ability to rely on key scientific studies that underpin public health regulations. The rule, on its face, would require EPA to take actions inconsistent with statutory mandates, including requirements to use the ...

The Essential Role of State Courts in Addressing Climate Harms

by Karen Sokol | November 21, 2019
This post was originally published by Expert Forum, a blog of the American Constitution Society. Reprinted with permission. In her opening statement on the second day of the House public impeachment hearings, former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch recounted how President Trump and his personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani undermined the State Department's ability to "promote stated U.S. policy against corruption." "If our chief [diplomatic] representative is kneecapped," she said, "it limits our effectiveness to safeguard the vital national security interests of ...

What Do Farmers Actually Get from the New WOTUS Rule?

Owen | Jan 23, 2020 | Environmental Policy

EPA Staff Clap Back at Trump with Workers' Bill of Rights

Verchick | Jan 22, 2020 | Workers' Rights

Trump Is Trying to Cripple the Environment and Democracy

Camacho | Jan 21, 2020 | Regulatory Policy

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