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Jan. 23, 2020 by James Goodwin

With Trump's NEPA Rollback, It's Conservatives Against Conservatives

When the Trump administration released its recent proposal to gut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it trumpeted the action as a long-overdue step to "modernize" the law's implementation by "simplifying" and "clarifying" its procedural and analytical requirements for federal agencies. If these words sound familiar, that's because they're the disingenuous claptrap that opponents of regulatory safeguards repeatedly trot out to camouflage their efforts to rig legislative and rulemaking processes in favor of corporate polluters. Put differently, those terms might as well be conservatives' code words to describe something that will cause more trips to the emergency room for urban children who suffer from asthma, more toxic contaminants in our drinking water, more irreversible degradation of fragile wetlands, and more runaway climate change.

To wit, it was not so not long ago when opponents of regulatory safeguards used these exact words – modernize, simplify, and clarify – to describe another policy measure they supported. That measure – the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) – also sought to overhaul a procedural statute, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Despite the identical terminology, though, the specific provisions of the Trump NEPA rollback and the Regulatory Accountability Act could not be more diametrically opposed. But …

Jan. 21, 2020 by Robert Glicksman, Alejandro Camacho
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This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

The Trump administration has fired the latest salvo in its never-ending assault on environmental safeguards: a proposal from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to overhaul its regulations governing federal agency compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

The proposal would narrow the scope of NEPA’s protections, weaken federal agency duties when the law applies, and attempt to shield violations of NEPA from judicial oversight. More significantly, the proposal is wildly inconsistent with NEPA’s most fundamental goal: fostering deliberation and democratic participation to improve the government’s capacity to promote social welfare. 

NEPA relies on four key mechanisms.

First, it directs all federal agencies to accompany proposals for “major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment” with a detailed environmental impact statement (EIS) comparing the environmental impacts of the proposed action …

Jan. 13, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Last week's NEPA proposal bars agencies from considering many of the harms their actions will produce, such as climate change. These restrictions profoundly misunderstand the nature of environmental problems and are based on the flimsiest of legal foundations.

Specifically, the proposal tells agencies they do not need to consider environmental "effects if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain." The proposal also excludes "cumulative effects." [85 FR 1708] Not coincidentally, all of these restrictions target climate change, which involves very long-term, global, complex, and cumulative effects.

These restrictions fly in the face of everything we know about harm to the environment. We know that harm is often long-term rather than immediately obvious – think of chemicals that cause cancer decades after exposure. We also know that environmental effects aren't limited …

Dec. 30, 2019 by James Goodwin
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As I noted in my last post, 2019 brought a number of worrisome developments in regulatory policy. There were a few bright spots – most notably the positive attention public servants received for holding the Trump administration accountable. But, by and large, the most significant regulatory policy stories reflected the conservative movement’s successes in weakening the regulatory system. As a result, the threat to the future vitality of our system of safeguards – which we depend upon for our health and safety, the vitality of our economy, and the future of our planet – has never been greater. Here, in no particular order, are ten stories I will be following over the next year that could determine whether we will still have a regulatory system that is strong enough to promote fairness and accountability by preventing corporations from shifting the harmful effects of their activities onto innocent …

Dec. 20, 2019 by James Goodwin
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For many of us, the best way to characterize the past year in three words would be “too much news.” That sentiment certainly applies to the wonky backwater of the regulatory policy world. Today, that world looks much different than it did even just a year ago, and with still more rapid changes afoot, the cloud of uncertainty that now looms ominously over it doesn’t appear to be dissipating anytime soon. None of this is good for the health of our people, our democracy or our economy, and it’s certainly not good for the millions of working families struggling to keep their heads above water between paychecks.

Here, in no particular order, are 10 of the biggest developments from the past year that have contributed to this disquieting state of affairs.

  1. Nondelegation bullet dodged – for now. The case, Gundy v. United States, presented as clear …

Dec. 17, 2019 by James Goodwin
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Last week, my CPR colleagues and I were honored to be joined by dozens of fellow advocates and member of the press for a webinar that explored the recent CPR report, Regulation as Social Justice: A Crowdsourced Blueprint for Building a Progressive Regulatory System. Drawing on the ideas of more than 60 progressive advocates, this report provides a comprehensive, action-oriented agenda for building a progressive regulatory system. The webinar provided us with an opportunity to continue exploring these ideas, including the unique potential of the regulatory system as an institutional means for promoting a more just and equitable society.

Few organizations better illustrate this potential better than the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, so we were delighted to be joined at the top of the webinar by the organization's Founding Director, Anne Rolfes. Anne vividly described the work that the Louisiana Bucket Brigade is doing, empowering members of the …

Nov. 25, 2019 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The idea of low-hanging fruit is ubiquitous in environmental policy – sometimes in the form of a simple metaphor, other times expressed in more sophisticated terms as an assumption of rising marginal costs of pollution reduction. It's an arresting metaphor, and one that can often be illuminating. But like many powerful metaphors, it can also mislead us badly.

The idea behind the metaphor can be expressed in various ways, which can be equally arresting for those attuned to them. The same idea can be incorporated into graphs showing the cost of additional pollution reductions rapidly rising as the level of removal increases. If you google something like "marginal costs pollution reduction," graphs like that will pop up immediately along with verbal statements of the same concept. Combined with the assumption that the harm done by a unit of pollution …

Nov. 22, 2019 by James Goodwin
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This post was originally published on the Union of Concerned Scientists' blog. Reprinted with permission.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears poised to take the next step in advancing its dangerous "censored science" rulemaking with the pending release of a supplemental proposal. The EPA presumably intends for this action to respond to criticism of the many glaring errors and shortcomings in its original proposal, hastily released in 2018. Unfortunately, if the leaked version of the supplemental proposal is any indication, the agency is no closer to curing one of the 2018 proposal's biggest defects: identifying a plausible legal authority to issue the rule in the first place. As such, if and when it's finalized, the rule is doomed to easy rejection on the judicial review that is certain to follow.

The censored science rule—perhaps more than any other action of the Trump-era EPA—has come to …

Nov. 21, 2019 by Sean B. Hecht
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Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Over a year ago, EPA issued a proposed rule, ostensibly to promote transparency in the use of science to inform regulation. The proposal, which mirrors failed legislation introduced multiple times in the House, has the potential to dramatically restrict EPA's ability to rely on key scientific studies that underpin public health regulations.

The rule, on its face, would require EPA to take actions inconsistent with statutory mandates, including requirements to use the best available science in its regulatory processes. Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic provided an informative discussion of the proposed rule last year. The latest draft proposed update to the proposal, discussed at a House Science Committee hearing this week, further confirms that the Trump administration isn't really interested in reining in agencies' power relative to Congress, or in other professed conservative values. In this bizarre apparent move …

Oct. 22, 2019 by Robert Glicksman, Alejandro Camacho
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Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

Ever since Ronald Reagan declared government to be the problem rather than the solution, the federal bureaucracy has been the target of criticism from right-leaning think tanks, regulatory skeptics in academia, and politicians of all political persuasions. Lately, members of the federal judiciary have visibly joined this chorus of criticism.

Among the charges leveled against regulation and the agencies responsible for issuing and enforcing rules is the claim that, even assuming the validity of regulatory goals, traditional regulatory approaches too often fail to achieve them or impose unjustified social costs. Others assert that regulatory "intrusions" on the operation of the free market are antithetical to the protection of individual liberty and the economic system on which our nation was built.

We take a different view.

Government regulation serves a critical role in promoting the public interest by, for …

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