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Sept. 17, 2020 by Joel Mintz, Victor Flatt

Pandemic Spawns Dangerous Relaxation of Environmental Regulations

This op-ed was originally published by The Revelator. Reprinted under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a wave of worrisome and needless regulatory relaxations that have increased pollution across the United States. Recent reporting by the Associated Press and other outlets has documented more than 3,000 pandemic-based requests from polluters to state agencies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for waivers of environmental requirements. Numerous state governments, with the tacit encouragement of the EPA, went along with many of those requests. All too often, those waivers — requested, ostensibly, to protect American workers from exposure to the coronavirus — were granted with little or no review, notwithstanding the risks the resulting emissions posed to public health and the environment.

EPA invited this wave of waivers back in March, announcing it would relax its enforcement upon request, under cover of COVID-19. The policy allowed polluters that asserted COVID-19 prevented them from monitoring and reporting their own pollution to refrain from doing so without penalty.

Many of the largest regulated polluters, such as refineries and chemical plants, were designated as essential businesses that were to keep operating during the pandemic. But EPA’s waiver …

Sept. 16, 2020 by Rena Steinzor
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This op-ed was originally published in The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

"I'm not convinced it's real. I think it's nothing more than the flu. If I die from the virus, it was just meant to be," Thomas Seale, an attendee at the Sturgis Motorcycle rally, reportedly said of COVID-19.

An estimated 460,000 people who love motorcycle culture and the company of like-minded people attended the huge rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, population 7,000, for 10 days in August 2020. They rode around, had races, attended bike shows and concerts, and drank beer. Face masks were rare.

People told New York Times reporter Mark Walker about the core importance of the event: they met their spouses at earlier rallies, referred to their fellow participants as family, or had attended the rally for decades. When asked about the pandemic, the attendees explained they were not …

Sept. 15, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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This is the second post of a two-part set. Click to read Part I.

As I noted in a previous post, the pending case of United States v. DTE Energy, Inc. tacitly raises issues concerning the constitutionality of both Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) and the citizen suit provisions of environmental laws. This second post considers another constitutional issue that may emerge in the DTE Energy litigation: whether SEP agreements – and citizen suits more generally – interfere with a “core executive function” of the president and executive branch and longstanding constitutional notions of separation of powers. To resolve that question soundly, one must look to the text of the Constitution itself, the Federalist Papers, and the relevant body of law that the lower federal courts have already developed.

Notably, neither the Constitution nor the Federalist Papers provide a clear indication of what constitutes a “core executive function” or the …

Sept. 14, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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This is the first post of a two-part set. Click to read Part II.

Over the past few years, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has shown increasing hostility to the use of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) in settlements of federal environmental enforcement cases. Aside from a series of ever-tightening SEP policies, however, DOJ has never asserted in court that these projects are unconstitutional. At least not yet.

In a case pending before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, United States v. DTE Energy, Inc., the constitutionality of both SEPs and citizen suits in general may soon be at issue. The case began as a typical New Source Review matter in the Obama administration. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the Justice Department to sue DTE on the grounds that equipment updates to some of the company's electric generating …

Sept. 9, 2020 by Matthew Freeman
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CPR Board President Rob Verchick is out with a new episode of the Connect the Dots podcast, the first in a new season focused on climate justice. As he puts it, "We’re looking at people living in the crosshairs of climate change, those disproportionately carrying the burden of the world and suffering on a daily basis."

As part of Rob's exploration of the issue in this episode, we hear from three experts on the topic, each with a different vantage point. CPR Member Scholar Maxine Burkett is a Professor of Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Leslie Fields is the Sierra Club's Senior Director of Environmental Justice and Healthy Communities. Mychal Johnson is co-founder of South Bronx Unite, a coalition of residents, organizations, and allies confronting policies that perpetuate harm and building support for viable community-driven solutions …

Sept. 8, 2020 by Rena Steinzor
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This commentary is included in the September/October 2020 edition of "The Debate," a section of The Environmental Forum. It was originally published by the Environmental Law Institute and is reprinted here with permission.

As the country prays for relief from the global pandemic, what have we learned that could help us protect the environment better? Most alarming, I would argue, are COVID-19's revelations about the power of conspiracy theories and the antipathy they generate toward scientific experts.

Take "America's Doctor" and the dark rumors percolating on right-wing websites. Anthony Fauci is a "Deep-State Hillary Clinton-loving stooge." He was paid off to the tune of $100 million by Bill Gates, who has invested heavily in the develop­ment of vaccines for COVID-19 and corruptly opposes chloroquine, a life-saving cure. The genesis of the pandemic was a Chinese virology lab, where scientists deliberately cre­ated …

Sept. 3, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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In the absence of meaningful action by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), more than a dozen states, including Virginia, have issued emergency safety measures to protect essential workers from the risks of COVID-19. But Maryland – home to one of the largest poultry industries in the nation – is glaringly absent from that list.

We’ve seen dramatic changes in response to the coronavirus in the transportation, retail, and restaurant industries, but behind the closed doors at poultry plants, workers face dire health risks while continuing to labor in fear of contracting COVID-19.

Prior to the pandemic, workers in the poultry industry faced some fairly egregious working conditions. Inside plants, workers labor side-by-side while as many as 175 birds whizz by every minute for "processing." Painful repetitive stress injuries and cuts due to increased line speeds are all too common at these processing facilities. Reports …

Sept. 1, 2020 by Matthew Freeman
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Writing in The Hill this week, CPR's Bill Buzbee and Mažeika Patricio Sullivan expand on a point they and their co-authors on an important article in Science magazine last month made ably: The Trump administration is running roughshod over science and law in its efforts to deregulate.

Their Science article focused on the administration's gutting of Obama era protections for the nation's waterways, and in particular, the ways EPA had ignored compelling scientific evidence of the harm their rule rewriting would do. In their new op-ed in The Hill, Buzbee and Sullivan lay out their case on waterways, and go on to observe that the administration took a similar science-blind, law-ignored approach in other recent rulemakings. They write:

This month’s methane rollback for the oil and gas sector similarly used questionable data and science, also raising new legal hurdles for future regulation. The Trump administration recently …

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CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 17, 2020

Pandemic Spawns Dangerous Relaxation of Environmental Regulations

Sept. 16, 2020

The Pandemic's Toll on Science

Sept. 15, 2020

Citizen Suits, Environmental Settlements, and the Constitution: Part II

Sept. 14, 2020

Citizen Suits, Environmental Settlements, and the Constitution: Part I

Sept. 9, 2020

They Can't Breathe!

Sept. 8, 2020

Pandemic's Other Casualty: Expertise

Sept. 3, 2020

It's Time for Maryland to Protect Its Poultry Workers