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Dec. 2, 2021 by Minor Sinclair, James Goodwin

Strengthening the 4th Branch of Government

This blog post is the second in a series outlining the Center for Progressive Reform’s new strategic direction. We published "A Turning Point on Climate" in October.

Watch a 2-minute video from James Goodwin as he explains the regulatory system in an approachable and lighthearted way.

Over the last four decades, small government ideologues have waged a coordinated attack against government. The strategy has paid off: Public approval ratings of all three branches of government are at all-time lows.

Nevertheless, the federal government still manages to get things done on a day-to-day basis, and that is primarily due to the so-called 4th branch of government — the administrative and regulatory state that employs 2 million workers, invests trillions of dollars each year on things like air pollution monitoring and cutting-edge clean energy research, and makes rules that protect us all.

This is not to say that the administrative state hasn’t been the target of conservative attacks, too. These attacks have left federal regulatory system battered, bruised, and starved for resources. Nevertheless, the genius of its design — including such factors as a professional bureaucracy, science-based policymaking, strict transparency measures, and a commitment to public participation — has enabled it …

Nov. 4, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Unless you're deeply immersed in administrative law, you may not have heard of the major questions doctrine. It's a legal theory that conservative judges have used with increasing rigor to block important regulatory initiatives. The doctrine places special obstacles on agency regulation of issues of "major economic and political significance."

In its initial outing, the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority said that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) couldn't regulate tobacco without a clear congressional mandate. Most recently, it has applied the doctrine in striking down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moratorium on evictions during the pandemic. It now seems poised to do so in a case involving EPA's power to regulate carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Unfortunately, there are a host of major questions about the doctrine's legal scope …

Oct. 28, 2021 by Minor Sinclair
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Our society has finally reached a turning point on climate.

I’m not referring to the “point of irreversibility” about which the United Nations warns us: In nine short years, the cascading impacts of climate change will trigger more and greater impacts to the point of no return.

Rather, we have reached the turning point of political will for climate action. There is no going back to climate passivity or denialism. Choosing to electrify and greenify is a progressive agenda, a mainstream agenda, and an industry agenda though all of these agendas differ.

Reconciling these interests, Congress will pass one, if not two, major spending bills this fall, which would invest as much as $750 billion in climate investments to decarbonize, electrify, and build resilient infrastructure. This achievement is not the Green New Deal, nor the full vision of the Sunrise Movement, but it borrows parts from …

Oct. 25, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Cost-benefit analysis is required for all major regulations. It's also highly controversial, as well as being a mysterious procedure unless you're an economist. These FAQs will tell you what you need to know about how cost-benefit analysis (CBA) fits into the regulatory process, how it works, and why it's controversial.

Q: Let's start with a basic question. Exactly what is cost-benefit analysis?

A: The term cost-benefit analysis is sometimes used to mean any comparison of pros and cons, which is something we all do every day in ordinary life. For present purposes, though, it means a very rigorous way of balancing pros and cons, using economic analysis to quantify the costs and benefits of an action. Basically, everything gets converted into dollar equivalents in this process.

Q: Why do agencies conduct cost-benefit analyses?

A: A few …

Oct. 19, 2021 by Amy Sinden
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This post was originally published on LPE Blog and is part of a symposium on the future of cost-benefit analysis. Reprinted with permission.

In the actual work of crafting the regulatory safeguards that protect our environment and health, cost-benefit analysis has been largely ineffectual and irrelevant. Indeed, its ineffectiveness has been so profound as to prompt even its most ardent practitioners and proponents to question whether it has any impact on agency decisions at all. Meanwhile, it plays at best a minor role in the legal standards that actually govern agency decision-making. Despite all this, a certain cost-benefit orthodoxy has become remarkably entrenched in environmental policy circles. Especially in an era when so many progressive ideas are in ascendance, why does the idea of regulatory review based on CBA, first brought to us half a century ago by the two Ronalds—Ronald Coase and Ronald Reagan—have …

Oct. 14, 2021 by James Goodwin
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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 …

Oct. 11, 2021 by Melissa Lutrell, Jorge Roman-Romero
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This post was originally published on LPE Blog and is part of a symposium on the future of cost-benefit analysis. Reprinted with permission.

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is inherently classist, racist, and ableist. Since these are foundational problems with CBA, and are not simply issues with its implementation, they can never be fixed by mere methodological improvements. Instead, the ongoing modernization of centralized regulatory analyses must focus on "moving beyond" CBA, and not on fixing it or improving it. Thus, in implementing President Biden's memorandum on Modernizing Regulatory Review (the Biden Memorandum), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should make explicit that regulatory review no longer requires CBA, even—as will be true in the typical case—when regulatory review does demand economic analysis as part of a holistic, multi-factor regulatory impact analysis.

The Biden memorandum endorses a series of goals that are not premised in the …

Sept. 30, 2021 by Lisa Heinzerling
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This post was originally published on LPE Blog and is part of a symposium on the future of cost-benefit analysis. Reprinted with permission.

President Biden has made climate change and racial justice central themes of his presidency. No doubt with these problems in mind, he has signaled a desire to rethink the process and substance of White House review of agencies' regulatory actions. On his very first day in office, Biden ordered administrative agencies to ensure that this review does not squelch regulatory initiatives nor brush aside "racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations." At the same time, however, Biden reaffirmed the "basic principles" of a Clinton-era executive order on White House regulatory review, subjecting agencies' major rules to a cost-benefit test.

These twin inclinations – toward acting boldly on climate change and racial justice, and toward judging regulation using cost-benefit …

Sept. 22, 2021 by Clarissa Libertelli
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Amid the latest wave of voter suppression laws across the nation, Senate Democrats last week unveiled new voting rights legislation.

This legislation aims to safeguard the voting rights of millions of Americans. Ensuring access to the ballot for all eligible citizens is, of course, crucial to the health and integrity of American democracy. More than that, though, it is an essential precondition for the effective functioning of our regulatory system. Put simply: When voters’ voices are suppressed, lawmakers and agency officials may be less responsive to their needs — and more likely to favor those of corporations and other special interests. 

Public support for regulations

Corporations often fight any regulations that threaten to restrict their profits; the general public, however, strongly supports protective regulations across the political spectrum. 

This is true even of issues that provoke sharp disagreements among elected officials. When it comes to addressing pollution and …

Sept. 14, 2021 by Martha McCluskey
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This post was originally published on LPE Blog as part of a symposium on vulnerability theory and law and political economy (LPE). Reprinted with permission.

Assumptions about the human condition shape the legal rules and institutions that structure the economy and state. By re-centering law on a clearer understanding of the human subject, vulnerability theory can strengthen law and political economy (LPE) efforts to address accelerating threats to democracy, equality, and the environment. In particular, vulnerability theory responds to neoliberalism’s use of the liberal ideal of individual autonomy to undermine liberal goals of democracy, human rights, and equality. Those goals can be better advanced and defended by affirming the universal human fact and societal value of embodied, embedded beings.

Law plays a leading role in disseminating and legitimating neoliberal ideas. Yet, legal theory has lagged in addressing neoliberalism as a paradigm shift. As Corinne Blalock astutely …

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