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June 23, 2022 by James Goodwin

Member Scholar Buzbee Leads Congressional Amicus in Crucial Supreme Court Clean Water Act Case

Any high school student can tell you that water follows the path of least resistance. A similar rule might be said to apply to corporate polluters and small government ideologues who now see the federal judiciary — especially a U.S. Supreme Court stocked with Trump-era judicial activists — as the path of least resistance in pursuing their agenda of the "deconstruction of the administrative state." The first case they have teed up for the October session of oral arguments is Sackett v. EPA, which the Court could use to gut the Clean Water Act.

Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar William Buzbee is helping lead the defense of this bedrock environmental law. Working with the Georgetown Law Center's Environmental Law and Justice Clinic, Buzbee authored an amicus brief for members of Congress who support a strong Clean Water Act. In all, 167 members of Congress signed on to the brief that Buzbee led and wrote with his co-authors, Sara Colangelo and Jack Whiteley.

The basic question at issue in the case is how far the Clean Water Act's protections should reach. This is a question that has been the subject of considerable controversy for decades. The difference now is that …

June 17, 2022 by Thomas McGarity
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The U.S. Supreme Court's upcoming ruling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants offers an unwelcome opportunity for its conservative majority to advance the former Trump administration's goal of "deconstructing the administrative state."

The vehicle for advancing the Trump agenda is the obscure "major questions" doctrine, under which the Court insists that congressional delegations of power to regulatory agencies must be made with pinpoint precision on questions of "vast economic and political significance."

The Court invented the major questions doctrine about 20 years ago in a case involving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's authority to regulate cigarettes, but it had used it only very rarely to overturn agency actions until Democratic presidents began to write regulations that aggressively protected public health, worker safety, and the environment.

The doctrine is at the heart of …

June 9, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Should regulators take into account harm to people in other countries? What about harm to future generations? Should we give special attention when the disadvantaged are harmed? These questions are central to climate policy and some other important environmental issues. I’ll use cost-benefit analysis as a framework for discussing these issues. You probably don’t need my help in thinking about the ethical issues, so instead I’ll focus on legal and economic considerations.

Other countries. When the Trump administration estimated the harmfulness of climate change, its answer was about a tenth of the Obama administration’s estimate. The main difference is that Trump counted only impacts within the borders of the United States. There’s been considerable discussion of this issue among academics. Generally, cost-benefit analysis of government regulations has focused on harm within …

May 25, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published by Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

In West Virginia v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) itself no longer has any practical relevance, but there’s every reason to predict the Court will strike it down. The big question is what the Biden administration should do next. That depends on the breadth of the Court’s opinion.

The Clean Power Plan was the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate policy. It had three pillars: (1) reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants; (2) shifts by the owners of coal plants to gas and renewables, and of gas-fired plants to renewables; (3) shifts by states toward the same kinds of shifts for their overall power mixes.

The Clean Power Plan has no practical significance today: the deadlines in …

May 24, 2022 by Bill Funk
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The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Jarkesy v. Securities and Exchange Comm'n is a potential blockbuster. In 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) held that George Jarkesy had engaged in misrepresentation in certain public statements, thereby committing securities fraud. The SEC ordered Jarkesy to cease and desist and to pay a civil penalty. In addition, the agency barred him from certain securities industry activities.

Jarkesy petitioned for review of the SEC's decision. In that petition, he did not challenge the agency's substantive decisions. Instead, he argued that the decision was unconstitutional for three reasons: Jarkesy had a right to a trial by jury, rather than an administrative decision; the decision flowed from an improper delegation of legislative authority to the SEC; and because the administrative law judge (ALJ) who rendered the initial decision was unconstitutionally protected from removal except for cause.

The Fifth Circuit …

May 23, 2022 by Alex Kupyna
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While the Center for Progressive Reform staff advocate for stronger protections from toxic chemical spills, none of our experts assumed that one of our own would gain firsthand experience on the matter.

That all changed last January, when Board Member and Scholar Sid Shapiro received a surprise midnight phone call warning him that a nearby fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, N.C., had just caught fire. Inside the plant and stored in a tank outside were 500 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, threatening to incinerate nearby communities.

In the In Our Backyard Podcast, hosted by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Shapiro, David Flores, a former senior policy analyst at the Center, and Senior Policy Analyst Darya Minovi shared their perspectives on the Winston-Salem incident and what it means for communities at risk of chemical spills, which are disproportionately low-wealth communities of color. They explored the health …

May 4, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Soon after Trump took office, Republicans used the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn sixteen Obama-era regulations. If they win control of the government in 2024, they'll undoubtedly do the same thing to Biden regulations. It behooves us, then, to understand the effect of these legislative interventions. A Ninth Circuit ruling last week in a case involving bear baiting, Safari Club v. Haaland sheds new light on this murky subject.

The CRA provides a fast-track process for Congress to repeal administrative regulations. Such a repeal also impacts the agency's power to issue new regulations. In the absence of further legislation, an agency may not reissue the rule in "substantially the same form" or issue a "new rule that is substantially the same" as the overturned rule. As a thorough report by the Congressional Research Service explains …

May 2, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Court watchers and environmentalists are waiting with bated breath for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on West Virginia v. EPA, the Court's most important climate change case in a generation. The issue in that case is what, if anything, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can do to regulate carbon emissions from power plants and factories. Last week, conservative states asked the Court to intervene in another climate change case. How the Court responds could give us hints into just how far the activist conservative majority is likely to go in the West Virginia case.

The new case is a challenge to the government's use of the social cost of carbon in making decisions about regulation. The social cost of carbon is an estimate of the harm done by the emission of a …

April 27, 2022 by James Goodwin
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Few policy questions have a more profound impact on our day-to-lives than how we produce, transport, and use energy. Whether it’s a fight against the siting of a polluting natural gas facility in a historically Black community, the catastrophic failure of an electric grid following a winter storm, foreign wars causing price shocks that further hollow out the fixed incomes of America’s older adults, or an abiding concern over leaving our grandchildren a habitable climate — all these issues and more make energy policy a central concern for the public.

Despite this broad-based and deep concern, the public remains largely excluded from participating in the development of energy policy — much less shaping it. Instead, corporate insiders still retain outsized influence over the energy policymaking process, leaving policymakers with a skewed perspective on issues they address through regulation, which ultimately undermines the quality and legitimacy of those …

April 14, 2022 by Caitlin Kelly
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In 1971, Iowa highway construction workers uncovered 28 human remains. Of these, 26 were white, and two, a mother and her baby, were Native American. The white remains were buried in a local graveyard, while the Native American remains were sent to a local university for study.

This decision was typical in the context of the past centuries' patrimonial laws, scientific racism, and outright genocide. In this case, however, a tribal member named Maria Pearson successfully pushed for both the return and proper burial of the Native American remains and the passage of a state law guaranteeing equal treatment of the remains of Native Americans and other peoples.

Pearson and other advocates continued lobbying for federal protection of their cultural items. In 1990, because of their efforts, Congress passed the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act ("NAGPRA"), which provides a framework for federally recognized Native American tribes …

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