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April 10, 2020 by Rena Steinzor

The Pandemic and Industry Opportunism

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, accusing the agency of inviting industry to suspend monitoring and control even for hazardous pollutants. Four days later, EPA blamed the controversy over its enforcement memo on its own version of fake news, issuing an angry press statement that purported to “correct the record after reckless reporting on temporary compliance guidance.”

What is …

April 9, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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Today, the Center for Progressive Reform joined the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health in calling on the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) to retract its outrageous guidance that allows employers to send workers potentially exposed to coronavirus back to work without any guaranteed protections. This flawed guidance is weaker than previous guidance, fails to protect workers, and is not based on scientific evidence.

“CDC’s flawed guidance contradicts its previous guidance for businesses and its current recommendations for members of the public who’ve been exposed to coronavirus, which is to quarantine for 14 days after a potential exposure,” said Matthew Shudtz, Executive Director at the Center for Progressive Reform. “Forcing our nation’s essential workers to remain on the job after exposure poses great risks, not just to their health, but to their coworkers, their families, and the community at …

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 …

April 8, 2020 by David Driesen
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Last week, Hungarian President Viktor Orbán used the coronavirus as an excuse to secure emergency legislation giving him permanent dictatorial powers. President Trump has long admired Orbán and emulated the democracy-undermining strategies that brought Hungary to this point — demonizing opponents; seeking bogus corruption investigations against opposition politicians; using vicious rhetoric, economic pressures, and licensing threats to undermine independent media; and whipping up hatred of immigrants.

President Trump also has copied Orbán in destroying the rule of law and honest government by subjugating the executive branch of government to his will. He has made it clear to every government employee that standing up for the law or truth in opposition to Trump triggers dismissal. For example, he's conducted a campaign of retaliation against executive branch employees who dared testify truthfully to his corruption during the impeachment process, and just last week, fired the intelligence community's inspector general who …

April 7, 2020 by David Flores
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With all the talk of the "new normal" brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot lose sight of how government policies and heavy industry continue to force certain populations and communities into a persistent existential nightmare. Polluted air, poisoned water, the threat of chemical explosions – these are all unjust realities that many marginalized and vulnerable Americans face all the time that are even more concerning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nothing could make these injustices more outrageously apparent and dangerous than EPA’s signaled retreat on environmental standards and enforcement, which cravenly takes advantage of the global pandemic and a rapidly expanding economic collapse. On March 26, Susan Bodine, EPA's Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, issued a memo outlining the agency's sweeping, temporary enforcement policy. Advocates, scientists, and communities almost immediately objected, and in a few days’ time, environmental organizations filed a …

April 3, 2020 by Joseph Tomain
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Read Part I of this pair of posts on CPRBlog.

The coronavirus has already taught us about the role of citizens and their government. First, we have learned that we have vibrant and reliable state and local governments, many of which actively responded to the pandemic even as the White House misinformed the public and largely sat on its hands for months. Second, science and expertise should not be politicized. Instead, they are necessary factors upon which we rely for information and, when necessary, for guidance about which actions to take and about how we should live our lives in threatening circumstances.

From all of this, three recommendations emerge:

  1. Regarding the precautionary principle, we should recognize there are two dimensions to the approach. First, moving slowly and watchfully can save lives. We cannot rush to put dangerous and ineffective drugs and other medical supplies on the market …

April 3, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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Amazon's response to the coronavirus pandemic is the latest in a long line of instances where the company has put profit ahead of the health, safety, and economic well-being of its workforce. According to Amazon employees at its fulfillment centers and Whole Foods stores, the company is refusing to provide even basic health and safety protections for workers in jobs where they could be exposed to coronavirus.

In Staten Island, New York, several Amazon warehouse workers organized a walk-out after multiple co-workers tested positive for COVID-19 and the company refused to shut down the facility for deep cleaning. In response, the company fired Christian Smalls, an employee who participated in and helped organize the protest. Amazon claims it fired Smalls because the company had put him on paid leave for 14 days and asked him to remain home in self-quarantine after he was exposed to another Amazon …

April 2, 2020 by Joseph Tomain
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In this time of pandemic, we are learning about our government in real time – its strengths and weaknesses; the variety of its responses; and about our relationship, as citizens, to those we have elected to serve us. Most importantly and most immediately, we have learned the necessity of having a competent, expert regulatory structure largely immune from partisan politics even in these times of concern, anxiety, and confusion.

One of life’s lessons that most of us have learned, most likely from our mothers, is that it is better to be safe than sorry. That bit of folk wisdom has been embedded in environmental law for about three decades, where it is known as the precautionary principle. Briefly, that principle can be explained this way: “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for …

April 2, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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The states have been out in front in dealing with the coronavirus. Apart from President Trump's tardy response to the crisis, there are reasons for this, involving limits on Trump's authority, practicalities, and constitutional rulings.

Statutory limits

As I discussed in a previous post, the president's power to deal with an epidemic is mostly derived from statutes. The available statutory powers include deploying federal resources and funding to support the states; controlling the movement of infected individuals across state lines and the U.S. border; and dealing with infections within the government's workforce. [Addendum: The way this was originally stated, it was a bit too narrow. The feds can also quarantine those who are likely to infect people who will cross state lines.]

States have broader powers. Governors, and often mayors, have the power to impose quarantines, close down …

April 1, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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Front-line health care workers and other first responders are in the trenches of the battle against the COVID-19 virus. The news is replete with tragic stories of these workers fearing death, making wills, and frantically utilizing extreme social distancing techniques to keep their own families sheltered from exposure to the virus. Should they contract the virus and become unable to work, they may seek workers' compensation coverage, which is the primary benefit system for workers suffering work-related injuries or diseases.

Under workers' compensation, workers are entitled – after a waiting period of seven days or so, depending on the state – to a portion of the wages earned at the time of suffering the work-related injury or illness and payment of reasonably necessary related medical expenses.

Yet, as Bill Smith, president of the Workers' Advocates Law and Injury Group (the largest group of employee-side lawyers in the country) noted …

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