This post was originally published on LPE Blog and is part of a symposium on the future of cost-benefit analysis. Reprinted with permission.
Over the last 40 years, the U.S. regulatory system has played an increasingly influential role in redefining our political and economic relationships in fundamentally neoliberal terms. A key but often overlooked institutional force behind this development is the peculiar form of cost-benefit analysis that now predominates in regulatory practice. Building a new regulatory system befitting our vision of a post-neoliberal America requires a formal rejection of prevailing cost-benefit analysis in favor of a radically different approach—one that invites public participation, permits open and fair contestation of competing values at the heart of policy debates, and recognizes and honors our social interdependencies.
The predominant form of cost-benefit analysis—one embraced by neoliberals—finds its theoretical underpinning in the controversial ideology of welfare economics. This theory holds maximized economic growth as its prime directive, to the exclusion of other important social values, such as justice and fairness. Cost-benefit analysis purports to increase welfare by promoting "socially optimal" regulations—that is, regulations that are designed to achieve maximum net benefits.
How do we determine which regulations meet this …
A few weeks ago, the Army Corps of Engineers made a startling announcement: It would give Sharon Lavigne and her neighbors in St. James Parish, La., a chance to tell their stories. The fact one of the world’s largest chemical companies has fought for years to keep Lavigne quiet tells you how commanding her stories are. Those stories may stop this particular company from building a multi-billion dollar chemical plant surrounding her neighborhood.
For this, we can thank a simple law, signed by President Nixon in 1970, called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Unlike other environmental laws, NEPA doesn’t tell agencies what choices they must make — like where to erect a levee or whether to permit a plastics plant. But it does insist their choices be informed. So, before the Army Corps can approve a company …
The Biden administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently seeking public input on its efforts to revamp an important Clean Air Act program called the Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule for facilities that produce, store, or use large amounts of dangerous chemicals. It is meant to prevent catastrophes — like the 2017 Arkema explosion in Crosby, Texas — which not only put human lives and health in danger (especially for the communities of color that are disproportionately overrepresented in the shadows of these facilities), but also cause costly disruption for local economies.
My CPR colleagues contributed to a timely new policy brief explaining how the EPA must be particularly attentive to the new and unique threats posed by climate change as it goes about revamping its RMP rule to prevent "double disasters" that will become increasingly common unless chemical facilities are forced to take preventative action. They presented the …
The White House is asking for input on how the federal government can advance equity and better support underserved groups. As a policy analyst who has studied the federal regulatory system for more than a dozen years, I have some answers — and I submitted them today. My recommendations focus on the White House rulemaking process and offer the Biden administration a comprehensive blueprint for promoting racial justice and equity through agencies’ regulatory decision-making.
To put it bluntly, the U.S. regulatory system is racist.
Key institutions and procedures throughout the rulemaking process contribute to structural racism in our society, resulting in policies that exacerbate racial injustice and inequity. We can’t have truly equitable regulatory policy unless and until these features of the regulatory system are reformed or eliminated.
To make good on its promise to advance equity, the Biden administration must overhaul two interrelated components of …
Political Interference from White House Regulatory Office May Have Played a Role
The Labor Department’s emergency COVID standard, released today, is too limited and weak to effectively protect all workers from the ongoing pandemic. The workers left at greatest risk are people of color and the working poor.
Workers justifiably expected an enforceable general industry standard to protect them from COVID-19, and the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) has been calling for such a standard since June 2020. But what emerged after more than six weeks of closed-door White House review was a largely unenforceable voluntary guidance document, with only health care workers receiving the benefit of an enforceable standard.
The interference with the COVID standard by the White House regulatory office, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), sends the wrong signal about the Biden administration's commitment to improving the regulatory review process, which …
In addition to cleaning up our environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must also clean up the mess the Trump administration left behind.
The Biden EPA recently took an important step in this direction by finalizing its plan to rescind a Trump-era rule that would drastically overhaul how it analyzes the rules it develops to implement the Clean Air Act. If implemented, Trump's "benefits-busting" rule would have sabotaged the effective and timely implementation of this popular and essential law, which protects the public from dangerous pollution that worsens asthma and causes other diseases. The rescission is slated to take effect next week.
On June 9, the EPA held a public hearing to gather feedback on rescinding the rule, which CPR has been tracking for several years. CPR Member Scholars Rebecca Bratspies and Amy Sinden joined me in testifying in support.
A New and Better Approach …
Originally published by the Environmental Law Institute’s “The Environmental Forum” May-June 2021 issue. This is an excerpt.
By the time the environmental justice movement began taking shape in the 1980s, communities of color had already been suffering from the disproportionate burdens of pollution for decades. Since then, evidence of racially discriminatory patterns in the distribution of environmental harms has only continued to mount.
Researchers from the universities of Michigan and Montana empirically documented in a pair of 2015 studies the phenomenon of “sacrifice zones,” finding that industrial facilities associated with high levels of pollution are disproportionately sited in low-income communities and communities of color.
A 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science found that while White people in the United States are disproportionately responsible for particulate matter pollution — which is linked to heart disease, permanent lung damage, and premature death — Black …
President Joe Biden's April 28 speech to a joint session of Congress — his first major address since his inauguration — offers him a chance to outline and defend his policy priorities. He should use this opportunity to articulate a positive vision of regulation as an institution within our democracy and to champion the crucial role it plays in promoting the public interest.
Biden will likely focus much of his speech on his ambitious infrastructure plan, from which he can easily pivot to regulation. After all, robust regulations are essential to the success of the U.S. economy, no different from traditional "gray" infrastructure like roads, bridges, pipelines, and power lines.
Strong regulatory protections provide a foundation of trust, which is critical for keeping our economy humming. Imagine, for example, if the Biden administration's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its long overdue emergency temporary standard to protect …
Making Congress functional again is having a moment. The debates over ending the filibuster and legislation to prevent hyper-partisan congressional districts have received the most attention in this space so far. But lawmakers did quietly take an important step forward on mending congressional dysfunction when they reinstated the practice of earmarking the federal budget, reversing a decade-old ban.
Lawmakers should build on this fix to the budget process by cracking down on “poison pill” appropriations riders, a gimmick that proliferated in the vacuum left by the earmark ban.
These riders are the inverse of earmarks, which direct federal agencies to spend a certain portion of funds on a specific activity (like building a bridge or community center, for example). Poison pill riders, on the other hand, bar agencies from using funds for certain activities. They don’t repeal agencies …
In a little-noticed move on Day One, President Joe Biden issued a memo designed to institute a more progressive process for developing new regulations. Such an effort is essential, given that timely, effective regulations will play a key role in achieving Biden-Harris administration's policy agenda. To succeed, however, it must also tackle the conservative philosophy that guides our government's rulemaking process.
Biden's memo focuses on the mechanics of the rulemaking process, and especially two institutions that heavily influence regulatory decisions: centralized, White House review of proposed rules and economics-focused assessments of them. President Reagan and his successors have issued a string of executive orders to govern these institutions. Biden's memo addresses flaws in the current iteration, Executive Order 12866 (along with some other, related orders). Fixing these flaws is necessary to create a more progressive regulatory system that better protects people and the planet.