What the Trump Impeachment Inquiry Teaches Us about the Federal Bureaucracy

by James Goodwin | October 10, 2019

Just when it seemed that President Donald Trump was completely immune to accountability for his various abuses of power, impeachment proceedings against him have quickly picked up steam over the last couple weeks.

Laying aside what happens with Trump, it's significant that it was a whistleblower complaint from a current CIA officer that helped expose the president's misconduct. (Reports that a second whistleblower, another intelligence official, is preparing to step forward have emerged in recent days.)

Therein lies one of the many important civics lessons to be drawn from the bit of history we're witnessing: The process to this point has confirmed the value of a high-quality, independent, and professional federal bureaucracy to the effective functioning of our democracy. For starters, while Trump administration political appointees and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are likely to dominate the headlines as this drama plays out, it was ultimately the courageous act of one career public servant that set it in motion. (Depending on the second whistleblower's identity and actions, it might be another public servant who is responsible for ensuring that the proceedings reach a legitimate conclusion.)

Perhaps more significantly, that the impeachment proceedings have taken on so much momentum is in no small part due to the first whistleblower's status as a career civil servant and the unique connotations that flow from that status. Over the course of more than a century, the ...

Trump's Decision to Hamstring California's Climate Authority Is Illogical and Uninformed

by Alejandro Camacho | October 07, 2019
Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. For five decades California and the federal government have worked together in an innovative exercise in federalism aimed at achieving cleaner air. California has played an important role in controlling greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, particularly from motor vehicles. But now, contrary to law and in a massive departure from past practice, President Donald Trump has announced that his administration is pulling the rug ...

Striking for Environmental and Social Justice in Roanoke

by David Flores | September 26, 2019
On September 23, I attended the Climate Emergency: Tri-State Pipeline Strike in downtown Roanoke, Virginia. While affiliated with the Global Climate Strike week of action, the event in Roanoke was another milestone in the years-long and continuing struggle to prevent construction of natural gas pipelines through parts of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.                       The day prior, my family and I attended a “Circle of Protection” event atop verdant Bent ...

New Report: How to Build a Regulatory System for a More Just and Equitable America

by James Goodwin | September 25, 2019
Last week's televised climate town hall saw several Democratic presidential candidates outline an impressive array of policies that, if implemented effectively, offer some measure of hope for averting the worst consequences of the climate crisis for us and future generations. The operative concept there – lurking in the background and too often taken for granted – is effective implementation. The fact of the matter is that meeting our country's greatest challenges – climate change, economic inequality, systemic racism, access to ...

On Strike for Climate Justice and Workers' Rights

by Katie Tracy | September 19, 2019
Tomorrow (September 20), I'm standing up for workers' rights by marching to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., as part of the Global Climate Strike. I'll be walking in solidarity with the students and youth organizing the strike to spread the message that climate action is imperative.                       Addressing the growing climate crisis and creating jobs are two necessary actions often pitted against each other, as if only one were possible ...

The World Bank Considers Stepping Back from Accountability

by David Hunter | September 19, 2019
For nearly two years, the World Bank Board of Directors has fumbled what should be an easy decision to modernize its Inspection Panel, the primary institution that addresses the damage the Bank's lending can do to local communities. At issue is whether the Panel should be able to monitor the Bank's implementation of Management Action Plans developed and approved in light of Panel investigations. What to all outside observers would seem like an inherent part of closing any complaint – ...

Abolition of Supplemental Environmental Projects: A Damaging Retreat for Environmental Enforcement

by Joel Mintz | September 18, 2019
Late last month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) quietly took a major step to undercut the enforcement of our federal pollution control laws. In a publicly released but little publicized memorandum, DOJ’s Associate Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, announced that the agency will no longer approve enforcement case settlements with local governments that include Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) – a long-standing feature of negotiated resolutions of environmental enforcement cases. SEPs allow a non-complying company, ...

A Welcome Victory in the D.C. Circuit

by Daniel Farber | September 17, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Last Friday, the D.C. Circuit decided Wisconsin v. EPA. The federal appeals court rejected industry attacks on a regulation dealing with interstate air pollution but accepted an argument by environmental groups that the regulation was too weak. Last week also featured depressing examples of the drumbeat of Trump administration rollbacks, so it was especially nice to have some good news. I hesitated about whether to write something about the case because the opinion makes for ...

Overshoot: Trump's Deregulatory Zeal Goes Beyond Even Where Industry Asks Him to Go

by Amy Sinden | September 16, 2019
Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. The Trump EPA last month proposed a new plan to remove oil and gas developers’ responsibility for detecting and fixing methane leaks in their wells, pipelines and storage operations. This proposal to axe the Obama-era methane rule is notable for two reasons. First, it is a huge step backward in the race to stabilize the climate, just at the moment scientists warn we need to move forward ...

Trump's Legal Challenges to the California Car Deal

by Daniel Farber | September 09, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Prompting rage by President Trump, California and several carmakers entered into a voluntary agreement on carbon emissions from new cars that blew past the administration's efforts to repeal existing federal requirements. Last week, the Trump administration slapped back at California. Although there's been a lot of editorializing about that response, I've seen very little about the legal dimensions of the administration's actions. I'd like to shed a little bit of light on those. The administration ...

Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Next President

by Daniel Farber | September 06, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Under executive orders dating back to President Ronald Reagan, regulatory agencies like EPA are supposed to follow cost-benefit analysis when making decisions. Under the Trump administration, however, cost-benefit analysis has barely even served as window-dressing for its deregulatory actions. It has launched a series of efforts to prevent full counting of regulatory benefits, as well as committing any number of sins against economic principles, as I detailed in a post in January. Essentially, the administration ...

Hurricane Dorian May Brush Virginia, Bringing Danger of Toxic Floodwaters

by David Flores | September 05, 2019
In August, Virginians remembered the devastation wrought by Hurricane Camille 50 years earlier. After making landfall on the Gulf Coast, that storm dumped dozens of inches of rain in western portions of the Commonwealth and killed more than 150 people in flash floods and landslides. Today, Virginians along the Atlantic coast and in the Hampton Roads region have Hurricane Dorian on their minds, with potentially life-threatening flooding, property destruction, and toxic floodwaters being serious hazards. The National Weather Service is ...

The Ball Is Back in EPA's Court Following Release of Final Bay Restoration Plans

by Evan Isaacson | September 04, 2019
Last week, the six Chesapeake Bay states and the District of Columbia posted their final plans to meet the 2025 pollution reduction targets under the Bay cleanup effort known as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load ("Bay TMDL" for short). These final Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) were, by and large, little different from the draft ones released this spring, at least for the big three Bay jurisdictions (Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) that are responsible for roughly 90 percent of ...

Clearing the Air

by Daniel Farber | August 26, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. On Friday, the D.C. Circuit decided Murray Energy v. EPA. The court upheld EPA's health-based 2015 air quality standards for ozone against challenges from industry (rules too strong) and environmental groups (rules too weak). However, it rejected a grandfather clause that prevented the new standards from applying to plants whose permit applications were in-process when the standards were issued. It also required EPA to tighten up the "secondary standards" for ozone, which are intended to ...

The Hill Op-ed: Congress Should Support Clean Energy Research and Development

by Joseph Tomain | August 22, 2019
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill. For the past couple of years, President Trump's federal budget proposal has called for the elimination of a crucial Department of Energy program — the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The agency’s mission is to fund high-risk/high-reward energy research — that is, research that has transformative potential for the nation’s economic and energy needs but that is deemed too expensive or too risky for energy companies to fund on their own. Congress, though, has wisely resisted the president’s proposal, and continued to fund ARPA-E. But the White ...

President Trump's Call for 'Red Flag' Laws Is a Hypocritical Distraction

by Thomas McGarity | August 19, 2019
In response to this month's mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, President Donald Trump urged legislators to enact "red flag" laws to prevent future tragedies. Red flag laws allow police or family members to seek court orders (sometimes called "extreme risk protection orders") that temporarily remove firearms from individuals who present a danger to themselves or others. But do these laws and regulations distract from the larger point about gun violence and mass shootings in the United ...

The Hill Op-ed: We Need a Climate Plan for Agriculture

by Laurie Ristino | August 16, 2019
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill. A special report released on Aug. 8 by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shines a stark light on how agriculture is both uniquely impacted by and a key driver of climate change, contributing up to 37 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. The report highlights the pressing need to reverse land degradation and forest conversion caused by food, feed and fiber production, as well as the significant climate mitigation opportunities of shifting to plant-based diets, especially in ...

A Letter to My Fellow Boomers about Climate Change

by Daniel Farber | August 15, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Polls show that a great many members of our generation oppose taking action against climate change. I want to try to explain to that group why you should rethink your views. Let me start by explaining why climate action would benefit you yourself and then widen the focus to include your grandchildren and their kids. Efforts to cut climate change right now aren't likely to have a big effect on climate in the next decade ...

2019 in Renewable Energy

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