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April 21, 2020 by Brian Gumm

CPR's Verchick Notes Weakening Environmental Enforcement during Pandemic Endangers Fenceline Communities

On April 17, CPR Board President Rob Verchick joined EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine and other panelists for an American Bar Association webinar on environmental protections and enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the event, Bodine expressed "surprise" that the agency's pandemic enforcement policy was so roundly criticized, but she shouldn't have been caught off guard by those critiques.

As Verchick noted during the discussion, "The problem with [weakening monitoring and pollution reporting requirements] is that fenceline communities have no idea where to look. They have no idea if the facilities in their backyards are…taking a holiday from pollution requirements or not."

Verchick added, "Companies don't know what their competitors are doing, and so now you've got companies who might be thinking, oh, well, my competing facilities, maybe they're taking advantage of this and I must, too, because nobody knows who's taking advantage of it and who isn't."

He also pointed out the scope of the problem that EPA's policy creates, saying, "I mean, when you're talking about hundreds of thousands of facilities…you have no idea where to look [for pollution spikes]."

You can watch and listen below.

ABA Webinar with Rob Verchick

April 17, 2020 by Matthew Freeman
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Every four years, as presidential elections draw near, the political appointees driving the incumbent administration's regulatory agenda put their feet on the gas, working to cover as much ground as they can before their boss's term is up. It makes no difference whether the current White House occupant is running for reelection or heading off into presidential library-land; they all want to get as much done while they control the steering wheel.

The one thing that usually constrains them, particularly first-termers, is the politics of the moment. Candidates for reelection aren't interested in seeing their agencies promulgate rules that will inflame opposition, and retiring presidents worry a lot about their legacy and aren't so eager to tarnish it with firestorm-inducing midnight regulations. That, at least, has been the norm. But as with so many other things about the Trump administration, standard rules don't apply. And so, we're …

April 10, 2020 by Rena Steinzor
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If you were the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as news of the coronavirus pandemic hit, what would you do to implement your mission to protect public health?

The best answer has three parts: first, determine what specific categories of pollution could exacerbate the disease; second, assemble staff experts to develop lists of companies that produce that pollution; and, third, figure out how the federal government could ensure that companies do their best to mitigate emissions.

Rather than take that approach, EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine issued a memo late last month offering businesses assurance that EPA would overlook certain regulatory violations for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. Public interest groups, already alarmed by the possibility that regulatory rollbacks at the agency would continue at a relentless pace despite the pandemic, were apoplectic …

April 8, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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Originally published on Expert Forum, a blog of the American Constitution Society. Reprinted with permission.


It has often been observed that natural disasters bring out the best and worst in people. Sadly, with regard to environmental protection, the coronavirus pandemic has brought out the worst in the Trump administration. Using the pandemic as a pretext, Trump's EPA has continued to propose and implement substantial rollbacks in important safeguards to our health and the environment while issuing an unduly lax enforcement policy.

For example, the administration recently issued a final rule rolling back automobile fuel efficiency standards. Its new regulation effectively undoes the federal government's program to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In a severe blow to global efforts to address the climate crisis, the regulation allows motor vehicles driven in the United States to emit almost 1 billion tons more carbon dioxide than would have been permitted under …

March 25, 2020 by Sidney Shapiro, Liz Fisher
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Whatever one's political views, the end goal regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) is the same – to minimize the number of people dying and suffering from severe disease. As commentators have repeatedly noted, we need genuine expertise for that. Beyond involving scientists and physicians in decision-making, there are three steps in determining what that expertise should look like and how we tap into it most effectively.

First, the experts can inform decision-making, even if uncertainty will remain. While we can all agree on the end point – no one dying – how to get there is not clear, even to the experts. Rigorous expert judgment and a respect for science are therefore required. Expertise is developed not just from professional training, but from experience in using that training over and over, building up a store of experience that makes one a better expert.

Ultimately, however, the choices in uncertain situations are …

Feb. 27, 2020 by David Driesen
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On March 3, the Supreme Court will hear a plea to invent a new rule of constitutional law with the potential to put an end to the republic the Constitution established, if not under President Trump, then under some despotic successor. This rule would end statutory protections for independent government officials resisting a president’s efforts to use his power to demolish political opposition and protect his party’s supporters. Elected strongmen around the world have put rules in place allowing them to fire government officials for political reasons and used them to destroy constitutional democracy and substitute authoritarianism. But these authoritarians never had the audacity to ask unelected judges to write such rules, securing their enactment instead through parliamentary acts or a referendum.

The blessings of liberty in this country and other functioning democracies depend in important ways on something that legal scholars call the “internal …

Feb. 4, 2020 by James Goodwin
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On Thursday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee's Environment Subcommittee will hold a hearing to examine the harm to children posed by the Trump administration's attack on one of the most wildly successful clean air protections in American history: the Obama-era Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS). The rule, adopted in 2012 after literally decades in the making, has reduced coal-fired power plant emissions of brain-damaging mercury by more than 81 percent, acid gases by more than 88 percent, and sulfur dioxide by more than 44 percent. Altogether, its pollution reductions have saved thousands of lives.

The February 6 hearing is part of a series that will highlight the despicably cruel impacts the Trump administration's assault on our safeguards is having on the nation's children. The other hearings will look at the administration's actions on the poverty line calculation, fair housing accountability, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance …

Jan. 23, 2020 by James Goodwin
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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 – …

Jan. 23, 2020 by Dave Owen
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Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. Reprinted with permission.

This morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA released a final rule determining which aquatic features are covered by the Clean Water Act. Already, the press coverage is following a familiar pattern: farming lobbyists praise the rule as a major victory, and environmentalists condemn it as an abdication of clean water protection and water quality science. The former part of that pattern has always been interesting to me. It's true that the farm lobby has been a prominent and effective participant in debates about this rule and its predecessors. But I think much of its participation, and the resulting press coverage, has been misleading. This new rule does offer benefits to farmers (at a likely cost to water quality), but the benefits aren't likely to be nearly as great as the rhetoric would lead …

Jan. 22, 2020 by Katie Tracy, Robert Verchick
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​It's no secret that President Trump has harassed staff at federal agencies since his first moment in office. Days after his inauguration, he blocked scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from talking to the press and the public. He famously cracked down on federal labor unions and chiseled early retirees of their expected pension benefits. Now he's requiring hundreds of staff from USDA's Economic Research Service and the Bureau of Land Management to leave their homes in the Washington area and move to offices out West or risk losing their jobs.

The administration has been particularly disdainful of the professional staff at the EPA – the people who work every day to make sure you can take a dip in the lake, fill your lungs on a morning walk, or drink from the tap without some nagging fear of …

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