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Sept. 15, 2020 by Joel Mintz

Citizen Suits, Environmental Settlements, and the Constitution: Part II

This is the second post of a two-part set. Click to read Part I.

As I noted in a previous post, the pending case of United States v. DTE Energy, Inc. tacitly raises issues concerning the constitutionality of both Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) and the citizen suit provisions of environmental laws. This second post considers another constitutional issue that may emerge in the DTE Energy litigation: whether SEP agreements – and citizen suits more generally – interfere with a “core executive function” of the president and executive branch and longstanding constitutional notions of separation of powers. To resolve that question soundly, one must look to the text of the Constitution itself, the Federalist Papers, and the relevant body of law that the lower federal courts have already developed.

Notably, neither the Constitution nor the Federalist Papers provide a clear indication of what constitutes a “core executive function” or the extent to which federal law enforcement activities may be delegated. Nonetheless, there are numerous historical precedents for delegations of law enforcement responsibilities to private parties – some of which go well back into English law – and none of these prosecutorial arrangements have been successfully challenged in the courts.

As far back as the 14th …

Sept. 14, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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This is the first post of a two-part set. Click to read Part II.

Over the past few years, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has shown increasing hostility to the use of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) in settlements of federal environmental enforcement cases. Aside from a series of ever-tightening SEP policies, however, DOJ has never asserted in court that these projects are unconstitutional. At least not yet.

In a case pending before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, United States v. DTE Energy, Inc., the constitutionality of both SEPs and citizen suits in general may soon be at issue. The case began as a typical New Source Review matter in the Obama administration. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the Justice Department to sue DTE on the grounds that equipment updates to some of the company's electric generating …

Aug. 4, 2020 by James Goodwin
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Yesterday, I joined a group of CPR Member Scholars and staff in submitting comments on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) "benefits-busting" proposal, which would drastically overhaul how the agency performs cost-benefit analysis on its biggest Clean Air Act rules. As we explain in our comments, the action is a thinly veiled effort to rig the results of those analyses – more so than they already are – to make it harder to issue appropriately strong safeguards, thereby sabotaging the effective and timely implementation of the Clean Air Act.

Our comments lay out in detail several shortcomings of the benefits-busting proposal. To begin, the EPA lacks legal authority to issue a binding rule of this kind. But even if the agency did have such authority, the proposal would do little, if anything, to improve its regulatory decision-making given that cost-benefit analysis is either superfluous to or even prohibited by the …

July 29, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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In an article headlined, "Dozens of facilities skipping out on EPA pollution monitoring have prior offenses," The Hill reports the following today:

More than 50 facilities across the country that have faced enforcement actions for alleged Clean Water Act violations are among those taking advantage of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy that lets companies forgo pollution monitoring during the pandemic, an analysis by The Hill found. The temporary EPA policy, announced in March, says industrial, municipal and other facilities do not have to report pollution discharges if they can demonstrate their ability to do so has been limited by the coronavirus. The Hill first reported that 352 facilities have skipped water pollution monitoring requirements under the policy, which applies to air pollution as well. Of those facilities, 55 have faced formal enforcement actions in the past five years from either the EPA or state …

July 22, 2020 by James Goodwin
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Donald Trump is no stranger to leaving things worse off than he found them, and this is precisely what his administration now aims to do with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), not just one of the most successful government institutions in the history of the United States, but indeed the world. Having worked quickly, if not sloppily, to dismantle every vestige of the Obama administration's efforts to promote cleaner air and water, the Trump EPA is now heading down a path of self-destruction. The agency's proposed "benefits-busting" rule, released early last month, is a big part of this campaign.

The benefits-busting rule is nominally about overhauling how the EPA does cost-benefit analysis for its Clean Air Act rules, but make no mistake: This action is really about putting that foundational law into concrete boots and shoving it into the nearest body of water. Future efforts to fulfill …

Oct. 4, 2019 by Robert Glicksman, Alejandro Camacho
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Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

For five decades California and the federal government have worked together in an innovative exercise in federalism aimed at achieving cleaner air. California has played an important role in controlling greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, particularly from motor vehicles.

But now, contrary to law and in a massive departure from past practice, President Donald Trump has announced that his administration is pulling the rug out from under California's feet by divesting it of its longstanding authority to adopt auto emission controls more stringent than the Environmental Protection Agency's.

The action, implemented jointly by the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Administration, couldn't come at a worse time. Less than a year ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called "ambitious mitigation actions" indispensable to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees …

July 12, 2019 by Alice Kaswan
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High hopes that putting a price on carbon emissions would provide the most effective and politically expedient climate change policy keep getting dashed. In June, Oregon's Republican senators fled the state and hid rather than enact a carbon cap-and-trade program. Washington State citizen initiatives to pass a carbon tax have failed – twice. Even in progressive California, efforts to include a cap-and-trade program in the state's initial climate legislation failed; cap-and-trade came later, administratively rather than legislatively, and as part of a larger plan. 

Carbon pricing has an important role to play and should be a part of any comprehensive climate strategy. However, as I argue in a new CPR Issue Brief, Carbon Pricing: Essential But Insufficient, carbon pricing will not solve the climate crisis. Pricing alone is unlikely to be fully effective, would sacrifice core democratic values, and, as we've seen, may be less politically viable than …

June 13, 2019 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet.

When a facility installs and operates the required pollution control equipment, we normally think of the pollution problem as solved. But there still may be bursts of pollution associated with start-up, shut-down, accidents, or external events. A recent study of pollution in Texas shows that these events have substantial health impacts, involving significant deaths and overall costs of about a quarter billion dollars a year in that state. Ironically, the study comes out at the same time as Trump's EPA has proposed to approve Texas's lax treatment of these "exceptional events." Texas purports to bar federal courts from even considering civil penalties for permit violations due to those events.

These events may be exceptional, but that does not make them harmless. The study by researchers at the University of Indiana proved that excess emissions from exceptional events impact public health. According …

Oct. 16, 2018 by Joel Mintz
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To serve the cause of justice, law enforcement must be prompt, even-handed, and appropriate to the circumstances of individual cases. In their handling of an important recent pollution case, however, the enforcement activities of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have been none of those things.

The case involves the alleged use by Mercedes-Benz of software "defeat devices" in its diesel cars to override pollution control devices. There is considerable evidence that Mercedes' misconduct was intentional, and that over a period of years, its systematic cheating resulted in the emission of many times the allowable amount of nitrogen oxide – a pollutant that harms human health and contributes to climate change, smog, and other air pollution problems. In fact, one Mercedes diesel model's maximum emissions were found to be a whopping 91 times the emission standard.

The Mercedes-Benz defeat device scandal …

July 31, 2018 by Lisa Heinzerling
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Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

In the fitting last act of his corrupt reign as the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt handed a gift to companies who profit from producing cheaper trucks by dispensing with modern pollution control equipment. He arranged for political appointees at EPA to issue memoranda that together promised that EPA would not enforce an existing legal limit on production numbers for the super-polluting trucks.

The memos had all the usual eyesores of Pruitt's approach to governing EPA: disdain for the law, dismissal of scientific evidence, scrambled logic, and contempt for the environmental mission intended for EPA. EPA's case for granting amnesty to the super-polluters was so threadbare that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit granted an unusual administrative stay of EPA's action while the court was considering a …

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CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 15, 2020

Citizen Suits, Environmental Settlements, and the Constitution: Part II

Sept. 14, 2020

Citizen Suits, Environmental Settlements, and the Constitution: Part I

Aug. 4, 2020

CPR Comments Deliver Scathing Critique of EPA 'Benefits-Busting' Rule

July 29, 2020

Who Could Possibly Have Guessed?

July 22, 2020

EPA's 'Benefit-Busting' Proposal Would Add to Trump's Anti-Safeguard Legacy

Oct. 4, 2019

Trump's Decision to Hamstring California's Climate Authority Is Illogical and Uninformed

July 12, 2019

Beyond Carbon Pricing: Envisioning a Green Transition