Policy for a Just America: Responsive Government

To protect and empower the public, government must be people-driven and people-focused. We focus on strengthening crucial but often overlooked democratic institutions, such as the regulatory process and the courts, so they offer a fair and durable forum in which people, communities, and advocates can define and defend the common good.

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Sustainable Future

Public Protections

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White House Reform

Political operatives often delay and weaken regulations designed to protect people and the planet. The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) runs many proposed safeguards through a gauntlet known as cost-benefit analysis. Though it sounds objective, it is not. It often inflates the cost of proposed rules and minimizes or ignores their benefits. We're working to transform OIRA into a hub for the constructive coordination of agency rulemaking. Doing so would remove a major roadblock to effective safeguards for people and our environment.

Top Recommendations

  • The Biden-Harris administration should articulate a positive vision of the regulatory process and public protections.
  • President Biden should issue a new executive order to replace the problematic existing one (known as Executive Order 12866).
  • Biden should nominate an OIRA administrator committed to advancing the public interest, constructively coordinating agency rulemaking, and ensuring that safeguards are equitable and effective.

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A More Just Regulatory Process

The regulatory process — whereby agencies develop rules to implement laws — is core to our democracy. These rules ensure our food, water, and air are healthy and our homes and workplaces are safe. Yet few Americans understand how this process works and have the time and ability to weigh in. Corporations, however, are experts in rulemaking — and use their influence to weaken regulatory protections for their financial gain. We can do better. We are working to make this process more inclusive, transparent, and equitable so it prioritizes people and the planet.

Top Recommendations

  • The Biden administration should rebuild and reform the federal regulatory process to make it more inclusive, to strengthen protections, and to advance justice and equity.
  • Congress and the president should develop strong conflict-of-interest standards to prevent people with close financial ties to industry from holding leadership positions in federal agencies.

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Repairing the EPA

Upon taking office, Donald Trump turned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over to Scott Pruitt, a corrupt ideologue who hobbled the agency and blocked efforts to protect communities from environmental health hazards. Before resigning, Pruitt proposed a "benefits-busting" rule that would bias the flawed process of assessing regulatory costs and benefits to the point where almost no proposed environmental standard could be justified on paper. Former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler decided to take Pruitt's concept and implement it on a program-by-program basis. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris Harris must reverse course.

Top Recommendations

  • EPA should update agency guidance to ensure that the benefits of environmental protections are fully counted and that costs to industry aren't exaggerated.
  • EPA should assess proposed regulations on a substantive basis to ensure they comply with federal law, including requirements to prioritize public health and environmental protection over industry cost considerations.

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Effective Climate Governance

To effectively combat climate change, America needs a better, more responsive government. This means reimagining how federal, state, and local agencies and policies interact. Our climate, energy, and administrative law scholars are advancing this goal by helping policymakers reform climate governance and ensure decision-making is open and inclusive, especially for historically disenfranchised communities that have been and continue to be shut out of the process.

Top Recommendations

  • Congress and the Biden administration should research and develop clean energy, assess the cost of inaction (known as the "social cost of carbon"), develop carbon pricing options such as a carbon tax, and fully fund and enforce all federal climate policies.
  • Congress should examine the relationships among different agencies and levels of government, as well as current responsibilities for climate and energy policy. Where shifting responsibilities or rebalancing authority among different agencies or levels of government would increase effectiveness, inclusiveness, and equity, Congress should do so.

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Climate Justice in the Courts

The science is clear: Burning fossil fuels has warmed Earth's climate and harmed our communities. The record is also clear: Not only did fossil fuel companies understand the risks of their products, they also lied to policymakers and the public about them. They chose profits over people and cast doubt on the reality of human-driven climate change. Individuals, cities, counties, and states must be able to seek justice, particularly for the communities of color and low-wealth communities disproportionately impacted by climate change. We have developed recommendations to ensure that those hurt by the fossil fuel industry will get their day in court.

Top Recommendations

  • Congress, state legislatures, and state and federal courts should not limit the ability of individuals, cities, counties, and states to seek climate justice.
  • Legislators and the courts should allow those harmed by climate change to seek and receive compensation from companies that insured the fossil fuel industry.
  • Plaintiffs' attorneys should take on clients harmed by climate change and should do so at reduced cost or pro bono when possible.

Resources

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Justice for All Workers

Our nation's main worker health and safety law is known as the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. This landmark law is not without shortcomings: It lacks provisions allowing workers to go to court to remedy workplace hazards and hold scofflaw employers accountable. Another weakness: The law's criminal penalties are too weak, and charges against dangerous employers are rare. We are working with local prosecutors to address these problems, and we created the nation's first database of crimes against workers. We have also crafted legislation that would embed citizen enforcement tools into the OSH Act.

Top Recommendations

  • Congress should amend the OSH Act to allow workers to take employers to court over workplace health and safety violations.
  • Congress should strengthen the OSH Act's criminal penalties to make them more effective deterrents.
  • State and local prosecutors should investigate worker deaths, injuries, and wage theft as potential crimes rather than punting to federal and state health and safety regulators.

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Justice for Victims of COVID-19

Nearly a year into the coronavirus pandemic, we know employers and businesses can protect their workers and customers from COVID-19. They can require masks, enforce social distancing, and limit the number of people in offices, warehouses, packing plants, and stores. When companies fail to take common-sense steps and people get sick, those harmed have the right to hold corporations accountable for their negligence. We are protecting access to the courts and working with allies to stop GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell from robbing Americans of their legal rights.

Top Recommendations

  • Congress should enact pandemic relief legislation that enables workers and consumers to seek justice if they contract COVID-19 due to employer or retailer negligence.
  • Policymakers should strengthen access to the courts, not weaken it.
  • Policymakers should develop health standards to protect workers and consumers from COVID-19.

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It’s Our Time. Let’s Get to Work.

CPR is working to enfranchise those who have been shut out of our democracy, particularly people and communities in the crosshairs of climate change and toxic pollution, who are routinely denied economic opportunity, and whose workplaces are unsafe or unhealthy. We’ve spent the last four years preparing for this opportunity, crafting the policy solutions that will protect our health and safety and make our government work for us. Now it’s time to turn those ideas into reality. Please support this important work with your secure donation today.