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June 29, 2012 by David Driesen

Health Care's New Commerce Clause: Implications for Environmental Law

Although the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that most individuals purchase health insurance (called the individual mandate) as within Congress’ power to levy taxes, it stated that Congress lacked the power to enact it under the Commerce Clause.  Under prior case law, Congress could regulate activities substantially affecting interstate commerce by any means not offending the bill of rights.  Since the Affordable Health Care Act regulates a set of activities that substantially affect interstate commerce, namely the provision of health care (including insurance), it posed no substantial issue under that case law.  The objection to the “individual mandate” at bottom involved an effort by conservatives to defend individual liberty of the type protected by the Court during the Lochner era, when it created “substantive due process” doctrines to ward off progressive legislation. 

Yet, the Court agreed to redefine the issue as whether the activity regulated by a single provision of this plainly constitutional statute, namely the individual mandate provision, substantially affected interstate commerce.  On this matter, five justices—Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas—answered, in essence, that this provision regulated inactivity, the failure to purchase insurance. They created, out of whole cloth, a brand new …

Sept. 14, 2011 by David Driesen
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Cross-posted from RegBlog.

As Stuart Shapiro recently pointed out in a RegBlog post, President Obama himself made the decision a week ago to withdraw the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). Presidents have occasionally acted to resolve disputes between the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) and EPA before, but typically OIRA acts in the President’s name without knowing exactly what he thinks about the regulatory details that OIRA negotiates with EPA. Stuart Shapiro also correctly points out that the President’s substitution of his general policy judgment for a judgment of an agency charged by Congress with the responsibility to implement a statute’s policy has implications for administrative law.

Obama’s withdrawal of the ozone NAAQS shows why these implications should trouble everybody, even those who do not like the Clean Air …

March 24, 2010 by David Driesen
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Last week, Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman (KGL) reportedly released an 8-page outline for a bill mitigating climate disruption that they are crafting in order to try to break the deadlock that has heretofore blocked legislation in the Senate. ClimateWire reported that the KGL bill would incorporate ideas from the bill introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell (D. Wash.) and Susan Collins (R. Maine), the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act. That incorporation might be a good thing, because CLEAR contains several great ideas.

Last year, Amy Sinden and I characterized the idea of Dirty Input Limits (DILs), limits on inputs causing pollution rather than pollution itself, as the “missing instrument” in environmental law. We used the idea of creating a tradable permit market from limits on fossil fuel production and imports as an illustration of the potential of this instrument, which has been …

Sept. 17, 2009 by David Driesen
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Cap-and-trade legislation making its way through Congress has become enormously complex, embodying a host of arcane political deals governing the distribution of the vast majority of emissions allowances being given away for free, with crucial details being left to EPA. This complexity threatens to hinder the effort to address climate disruption (see my article Capping Carbon). It would lead to long delays and weak implementation, just like other laws delegating a lot of controversial and litigable decisions to administrative agencies. Delays and weakness could prove disastrous in the climate disruption context, because greenhouse gas emissions have already warmed the planet and gases emitted while implementation flounders can create irreversible and potentially catastrophic ecological problems. Auctioning of 100% of the allowances would make the program run smoothly.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative—a cap-and-trade program that regulates utility emissions in the northeastern states— has relied on auctioning nearly …

April 29, 2009 by David Driesen
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A coalition of conservative and moderate Democrats has recommended deleting section 336 of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill because of “concern among industry about potential new liability for any emitter” under that provision (see the proposed amendments). Some polluters' objective, apparently, is to avoid liability for violating the law, and they recommend this deletion as a step toward accomplishing that goal.

But section 336 does not create any liability, new or old. Section 723 of the Waxman-Markey bill does that, quite appropriately, by establishing penalties for failure to meet targets or purchase sufficient allowances. And the liability in this other section does not apply to “any emitter,” but only to emitters that violate the law by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The whole notion that new obligations should create no new liability for violators, if accepted, would convert this bill from a mandatory cap and trade …

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