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Jan. 21, 2020 by Robert Glicksman, Alejandro Camacho

Trump Is Trying to Cripple the Environment and Democracy

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 and its alternatives. 

This requirement forces agencies that might be (and sometimes had been) inclined to subordinate environmental considerations to unbridled development to consider whether creative approaches might achieve programmatic goals without sacrificing the environment.

Second, NEPA directs agencies to share with the public the information they develop in assessing the environmental effects …

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 …

Jan. 10, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The White House just released its proposed revisions to the rules about environmental impact statements. The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) simply does not have the kind of power that it is trying to arrogate to itself. Its proposal is marked by hubris about the government's ability to control how the courts apply the law.

That hubris is evident in the proposal's effort to tell courts when lawsuits can be brought and what kind of remedies they can provide. For instance, it states that issuance or refusal to issue an impact statement does not trigger the right to go to court, that no claim can ever be raised in court unless it was first raised by the agency, and that lawsuits must be always be brought quickly. Some of these might be right, some might not be …

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. 10, 2019 by James Goodwin
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Last week, President Trump unleashed the latest volley in his administration's efforts to bring about the "deconstruction of the administrative state" with the signing of two new executive orders relating to agency issuance and use of "guidance documents." The first purports to ensure "improved agency guidance," while the second claims to promote "transparency and fairness" in the use of guidance for enforcement actions. The bottom line for the orders is that, with a few potentially big exceptions, they are unlikely to have much practical impact. Instead, this is mostly a messaging exercise by the Trump administration aimed at advancing the broader conservative campaign to delegitimize the regulatory system by propagating the tired old myth that regulatory agencies are unaccountable and pose a threat to our society.

Before diving into orders' substance, two housekeeping points need to be addressed. First, what are guidance documents anyway? They …

Sept. 16, 2019 by Amy Sinden
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Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

The Trump EPA last month proposed a new plan to remove oil and gas developers’ responsibility for detecting and fixing methane leaks in their wells, pipelines and storage operations. This proposal to axe the Obama-era methane rule is notable for two reasons. First, it is a huge step backward in the race to stabilize the climate, just at the moment scientists warn we need to move forward with unprecedented speed. Second, it’s the latest in a growing list of Trump rollbacks opposed by the very industries they’re purportedly intended to help.

The Obama EPA put the methane rule in place for good reason: Methane is a powerful driver of climate disruption. While it doesn’t linger in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, for the 10 or 20 years it …

Sept. 16, 2019 by Joel Mintz
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Late last month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) quietly took a major step to undercut the enforcement of our federal pollution control laws. In a publicly released but little publicized memorandum, DOJ’s Associate Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, announced that the agency will no longer approve enforcement case settlements with local governments that include Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) – a long-standing feature of negotiated resolutions of environmental enforcement cases.

SEPs allow a non-complying company, state, or local government to develop an environmentally beneficial project, not otherwise required by law, in lieu of paying part of its fine. To implement its SEP program, EPA carefully crafted a Policy on Supplemental Environmental Projects with the intention of ensuring that SEPs are limited to projects that improve public health or the environment while not directly benefitting a violator or third parties. Under EPA …

Sept. 9, 2019 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet.

Prompting rage by President Trump, California and several carmakers entered into a voluntary agreement on carbon emissions from new cars that blew past the administration's efforts to repeal existing federal requirements. Last week, the Trump administration slapped back at California. Although there's been a lot of editorializing about that response, I've seen very little about the legal dimensions of the administration's actions. I'd like to shed a little bit of light on those.

The administration took two separate actions. First, the Department of Transportation and EPA sent a letter arguing that California's action appeared to violate the federal statutes governing CAFE (fuel efficiency) and emissions standards for new vehicles. Second, the Justice Department opened an antitrust probe of the car companies themselves. How strong are the government's legal positions?

Let's start with the DOT/EPA letter. The Clean Air Act and the …

Aug. 5, 2019 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet.

The first phase of Trump's regulatory rollbacks has been directed against Obama's climate change regulations. Those deregulatory actions will be finalized soon. What happens next will be in the hands of the courts. But the Trump EPA is now beginning a new phase in its attack on environmental regulation. Having tried to eliminate climate regulation, its next move will be an attack on basic protections against air pollution.

The Clean Air Act, the federal air pollution statute, is largely structured in terms of achieving national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). In March 2020, EPA will propose revisions in the standards for ozone and particulates, the two most important pollutants. It has already started work on the revisions. Guess what? EPA won't be planning to tighten the standards. If anything, they are likely to loosen them, weakening a crucial safeguard.

Trump's EPA has …

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