EPA's Mission: The Original Understanding Wasn't Cutting Regulatory Costs

by Daniel Farber | March 21, 2019

Originally published on Legal Planet.

What is EPA’s mission? To what extent is minimizing regulatory costs part of the core mission, as the Trump Administration seems to believe? Does the Trump-Pruitt/Wheeler view comport with original intent? History makes it clear that the answer is “no.”

The title of the agency itself suggests that the core mission is protecting the environment, just as the core mission of the Defense Department is presumably national defense (though cost isn’t irrelevant in either setting). It’s worthwhile, however, to take a closer look at the marching orders given to the agency when it was formed. As it turns out, we do have clear evidence of what Congress and the President had in mind.

EPA wasn’t established by a statute. It was established through a special process that no longer exists for government reorganization, which allowed the President to pull units out of existing parts of the government and put them together in a new agency. The process was initiated through an executive order by President Nixon.

In explaining his plan in a message to Congress, President Nixon said that “Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food. Indeed, the present governmental structure for dealing with environmental pollution often defies effective and concerted action.” His message explained that the “principal aims” ...

Public Interest Community Calls on EPA Administrator to Halt Dangerous 'Benefits-Busting Rule'

by James Goodwin | March 19, 2019
Today, the Center for Progressive Reform and 46 other environmental, labor, and public health organizations sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler calling on him to withdraw the agency's pending "benefits-busting" rule. Wheeler was recently confirmed as the official agency head, and, as the letter notes, he can begin his tenure on the right track by abandoning this dangerous rulemaking. The proposal is a vestige of the disastrous Scott Pruitt era that would radically overhaul how the ...

Why Is Trump Getting the Cold Shoulder from the Car Companies?

by Daniel Farber | March 13, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Usually, you'd expect a regulated industry to applaud an effort to lighten its regulatory burdens. So you would think that the car industry would support Trump's effort to roll back fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles and take away California's authority to set its own vehicle standards. But that effort is being met by silence in some cases and vocal opposition in others. According to E&E News, "senior officials from EPA and the National Highway Traffic ...

Due to NEPA, Trump's 'One-In, Two-Out' Order Does Not Apply to Environmentally Protective Regulations

by Joel Mintz | March 11, 2019
This post is adapted from a recent law review article published in the University of Missouri—Kansas City Law Review. In myriad ways – from speeches, favoritism toward polluting industries, and ill-advised regulatory rollbacks – the Trump administration has consistently exhibited unrestrained antagonism toward regulatory safeguards for health, safety, and the environment. One of the earliest manifestations of that antagonism – and arguably one of the most pernicious – was an executive order signed by the president only ten days after ...

The Missing Ingredient in the Green New Deal

by James Goodwin | March 07, 2019
To this point, much of the focus in the discussion over the Green New Deal has been on the substance of the vision it lays out for a better society – and why shouldn't it be? There's some really exciting stuff included in the Green New Deal's toplines, which are by now well-rehearsed: a full-scale mobilization plan put in place over the next 10 years to get the United States to net zero carbon emissions; major government investments in clean ...

Resolution of Disapproval: Call for Repealing the CRA Featured in 'The Environmental Forum'

by James Goodwin | February 28, 2019
The return of divided government promises to bring with it a welcome, albeit temporary, reprieve from the unprecedented abuse of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that we witnessed during the 115th Congress. As I argue in an article featured in the March/April edition of The Environmental Forum, published by the Environmental Law Institute, the CRA has become far too dangerous a law – and the happenstance of divided government should not be the only thing protecting the public interest from ...

Trump's 'Emergency' and the Constitution

by David Driesen | February 20, 2019
Originally published in The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission. President Donald J. Trump has declared a national emergency to justify building a wall on the U.S. southern border, which Congress refused to fund. But Mexicans and Central Americans coming to our country in search of a better life does not constitute an emergency. Immigration at the southern border is neither new, sudden, nor especially dangerous. The number of immigrants has been declining for years and crime rates among immigrants are lower ...

It's Official: Trump's Policies Deter EPA Staff from Enforcing the Law

by Joel Mintz | February 19, 2019
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an annual report Feb. 8 on its enforcement activities in fiscal 2018. After wading through a bushel full of cherry-picked case studies and a basket of bureaucratic happy talk, the report paints a dismal picture of decline in a crucially important EPA program. EPA's data indicate that it initiated and concluded approximately 1,800 civil judicial enforcement cases in 2018 — fewer than half the number it ...

Climate Damages: Uncertain but Ominous, or $51 per Ton?

by Frank Ackerman | February 14, 2019
Originally published on Triple Crisis. Second in a series of posts on climate policy. Find Part 1 here. According to scientists, climate damages are deeply uncertain but could be ominously large (see the previous post). Alternatively, according to the best-known economic calculation, lifetime damages caused by emissions in 2020 will be worth $51 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, in 2018 prices. These two views can’t both be right. This post explains where the $51 estimate comes from, why it’s not reliable, ...

On Buying Insurance, and Ignoring Cost-Benefit Analysis

by Frank Ackerman | February 11, 2019
Originally published on Triple Crisis. The damages expected from climate change seem to get worse with each new study. Reports from the IPCC and the U.S. Global Change Research Project, and a multi-author review article in Science, all published in late 2018, are among the recent bearers of bad news. Even more continues to arrive in a swarm of research articles, too numerous to list here. And most of these reports are talking about not-so-long-term damages. Dramatic climate disruption and ...

Rao's Record as Regulatory Czar Raises Red Flags

by James Goodwin | February 04, 2019
Tomorrow morning, Neomi Rao, the current administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), is set to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing on her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. If confirmed, she would fill the open seat once occupied by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Administrator Rao's nomination has prompted intense media and public scrutiny of her background, and appropriately so, given the high stakes involved. ...

Flipping the Conservative Agenda

by Daniel Farber | January 31, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Conservatives, with full support from Donald Trump, have come up with a menu of ways to weaken the regulatory state. In honor of National Backward Day – that's an actual thing, in case you're wondering, and it's today – let's think about reversing those ideas. In other words, let's try to come up with similar mechanisms to strengthen protections for public health and the environment instead of weakening protections. It's an interesting experiment, if nothing ...

Regulatory Review in Anti-Regulatory Times: Congress

by Daniel Farber | January 17, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. In theory, cost-benefit analysis should be just as relevant when the government is deregulating as when it is imposing new regulations. But things don't seem to work that way. This is the second of two blog posts analyzing how costs and benefits figured in decisions during the past two years of unified GOP control of the federal government (read the first post here). Today, I focus on Congress. For the first time in history, Congress ...

Wheeler Hearing Provides Opportunity to Learn More about 'Benefits-Busting' Rule

by James Goodwin | January 15, 2019
During his tenure, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt launched multiple assaults on environmental and public health safeguards. His attacks on clean air standards and water quality regulations made so little sense in our reality that he went to the absurd and extreme lengths of creating an alternative reality to make them look legitimate. That alternative reality is rendered in the "benefits-busting" rule, which would systematically distort the analyses EPA economists conduct to assess the economic impacts of ...

How Trump Officials Abuse Cost-Benefit Analysis to Attack Regulations

by Daniel Farber | January 09, 2019
This op-ed was orignally published in the Washington Monthly. In December of 2017, Donald Trump gathered the press for a variation on a familiar activity from his real estate mogul days. Stretched between a tower of paper taller than himself, representing all current federal regulations, and a small stack labeled "1960," was a thick piece of red ribbon – red tape, if you will. The president promised that "we're going to get back below that 1960s level." With his daughter ...

The Thin Gray Line

by Daniel Farber | January 08, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. "Bureaucrat" is just another name for public servant. It has been said that a thin blue line of police protects us from the worst elements of society. But it is a thin gray line of underpaid, overworked, anonymous bureaucrats who protect society against more insidious risks – risks ranging from nuclear contamination to climate change to unsafe food. Due to Trump's government shutdown, many of these people are currently not being paid. Yet without the professionals ...

The Year Ahead

by Daniel Farber | December 31, 2018
A version of this post was originally published on Legal Planet. What are the key things to watch for in 2019 in the environmental area? Regulations. According to the Trump administration’s schedule, three big rules should be issued in March: repeal of the Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS), repeal and replacement of the Clean Power Plan, and the freeze on fuel efficiency standards. This seems very ambitious to me, especially for the last two where there are major technical ...

Top Ten Regulatory Policy Stories to Look Out for in 2019 (IMHO)

by James Goodwin | December 31, 2018
As I documented in my most recent post, 2018 was an active year for regulatory policy, bringing several notable controversies, milestones, and developments. For those who follow this area, 2019 promises to be just as lively and momentous. Indeed, it appears that the dynamics that spurred much of the regulatory policy-related action in 2018 – namely, the high priority that the Trump administration has placed on corrupting our system of regulatory safeguards, and the accompanying political polarization around the issue ...

Regulatory Policy

When it comes to health, safety and the environment, executive branch enforcement of the law has become yet another arena to fight and re-fight policy battles presumably settled in Congress. In particular, regulated entities, including companies that pollute or  make potentially dangerous products, spend millions working to block, delay, and unravel such protections.

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