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Sept. 10, 2021 by Daniel Farber

Vacancy

This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The Biden administration is looking to make big regulatory changes, not least regarding climate change. Yet the White House office overseeing regulations is vacant. The obscurely named Office of Regulatory Affairs and Information (OIRA) has to sign off on all significant regulations. Even the dilatory Donald Trump had nominated a permanent administrator by July of his first year. Biden's delay in filling this important office is hard to defend.

The main reason for the delay is probably that Biden doesn't have the OIRA administrator's boss in place, either. Biden's nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had to be withdrawn when her Senate support evaporated. That was on March 2, however, and there's still no new OMB nomination six months later. Maybe the reason is an inability to find a candidate who can win approval across the Democratic Party's spectrum, given wildly divergent attitudes toward government spending. Whatever the reason, that vacancy is regrettable, but it's no reason to leave OIRA vacant, as well.

OIRA does have an acting administrator, but there are limits to how much a temporary office holder can accomplish, particularly when OIRA …

Aug. 17, 2021 by Sidney Shapiro, Melissa Lutrell
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The surging COVID-19 delta variant is sending thousands of people to the hospital, killing others, and straining several states' hospital systems to their breaking point. The climate crisis is hurting people, communities and countries as we write this piece, with apocalyptic wildfires, crippling droughts and raging floodwaters. Systemic racism continues unabated, leading to vast economic and environmental injustices. It's beyond time for urgent action, but to get there, the federal government must reform the opaque, biased method it uses to evaluate our nation's public health, economic and environmental protections.

The day President Joe Biden took office, he ordered executive branch agencies to evaluate and reform the regulatory review process to “ensure swift and effective Federal action” to address the urgent problems we currently face. The administration is unlikely to live up to this goal unless the White House addresses …

July 21, 2021 by James Goodwin
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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 …

July 20, 2021 by David Driesen
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Environmentalists have complained for years about presidential control of the administrative agencies charged with protecting the environment, seeing it as a way of thwarting proper administration of environmentally protective laws. But the U.S. Supreme Court in two recent decisions — Seila Law v. CFPB and Collins v. Yellen — made presidential control over administrative agencies a constitutional requirement (with limited and unstable exceptions) by embracing the unitary executive theory, which views administrative agencies as presidential lackeys. My new book, The Specter of Dictatorship: Judicial Enabling of Presidential Power, shows that the unitary executive theory is not only bad for environmental policy, but a threat to democracy’s survival, upon which environmental policy and all other sensible policy depends.

In The Specter of Dictatorship, I trace the modern movement toward a unitary executive back to former President Ronald Reagan’s executive order establishing centralized review of agency decisions by …

July 7, 2021 by David Flores, Darya Minovi
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To read the policy brief related to this post, click here.

Update: Read Senior Policy Analyst David Flores and Policy Analyst Darya Minovi's July 8 testimony to EPA.

Four years ago, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas, causing severe flooding in the Houston area and leading to a loss of electrical power throughout the region. During the blackout, a local chemical plant lost its ability to keep volatile chemicals stored onsite cool, and a secondary disaster ensued: A series of explosions endangered the lives of workers and first responders and spurred mass evacuations of nearby residents.

This infamous incident was a classic "double disaster" — a natural disaster, like a storm or earthquake, followed by a technical disaster, like a chemical release or explosion.

Also known as "natech" disasters, these events pose a severe and growing threat to public and environmental health — and to workers …

July 6, 2021 by James Goodwin
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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 …

July 1, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

For the last century, the Supreme Court has tried to operationalize the idea that a government regulation can be so burdensome that it amounts to a seizure of property. In the process, it has created a house of mirrors, a maze in which nothing is as it seems. Rules that appear crisp and clear turn out to be mushy and murky. Judicial rulings that seem to expand the rights of property owners turn out to undermine those rights. The Court's decision last week in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid illustrates both points.

Cedar Point Nursery involved a California law giving labor organizers the right to go into a farm to talk with farmworkers, thereby interfering with the owner's ability to exploit its workers. (No, that's not quite the language the Court used.) The Supreme Court held …

June 28, 2021 by Alina Gonzalez
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This month, environmental justice advocate Sharon Lavigne won the world's largest prize for environmental advocacy for blocking a chemical giant from building a roughly $1.3 billion plastic manufacturing plant in St. James Parish, Louisiana, a majority-Black community. Funded by the late Richard and Rhoda Goldman, the annual Goldman Environmental Prize is awarded to six people around the world who protect and enhance the environment in their communities

At the outset, Wanhua Chemical, the company behind the proposed facility, seemed likely to prevail. Wanhua is the world's largest producer of methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), showing its dominance in the global market.

But Lavigne did not falter. Through courage and persuasion, she defeated the petrochemical titan, which wielded power over local and state governments to the detriment of community members. For far too long, the petrochemical industry has targeted low-income communities and communities of color, believing it can …

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

Even most lawyers, let alone the rest of the population, are a bit fuzzy on how the regulatory system works. As the Biden administration is gearing up to start a slew of regulatory proceedings, here's what you need to know about the process.

Issuing Regulations

Q: Where do agencies like EPA get the power to create regulations?

A: EPA and other agencies are created by Congress. They also get the power to issue regulations from laws passed by Congress. For instance, the Clean Water Act tells EPA to issue regulations based on the "best available technology" for controlling the discharge of toxic water pollutants.

Q: Who decides whether an agency should start the process to issue a new regulation?

A: Some statutes set deadlines and require agencies to act. In those situations, a court can intervene …

June 16, 2021 by Robin Kundis Craig
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This is the first of of a two-part post. Part II is available here.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the regulations defining “waters of the United States” under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (better known as the Clean Water Act) are once again going to change.

The importance of that announcement is best demonstrated through a quick recap of the chaos that has dominated this element of Clean Water Act jurisdiction. In the 1980s, the EPA and Army Corps finally agreed on a regulatory definition of “waters of the United States,” a phrase that Congress had used in its 1972 overhaul of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to define “navigable waters.” The phrase is also one of the key jurisdictional terms defining the waters to which the restructured law applies.

“Waters of …

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