Buzbee in NYT: Census Case Tests SCOTUS Majority's Commitment to Political Neutrality

by Matthew Freeman | April 23, 2019

CPR Member Scholar Bill Buzbee has an op-ed in The New York Times this morning in which he observes that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority faces a true rubber-meets-the-road test as it considers the Trump administration’s determination to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, despite multiple procedural and substantive problems with the plan.

The administration’s thinly veiled objective with the additional question is to discourage participation in the census by non-citizens, who might understandably fear that revealing their status on an official government questionnaire could result in deportation. Since the Constitution makes clear that the purpose of the census is to count the total population, not just citizens, such questions haven’t been included since 1960.

But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross apparently regards that problem as a feature, not a bug, no doubt with the approval of the president. So, in March 2018, he announced that a citizenship question would be included in the short-form census questionnaire that goes to most households. As Buzbee points out:

Secretary Ross’s action violated three mandates from Congress. First, the government must use alternative data sources before adding questions to a census questionnaire to acquire the information. Second, Congress required Mr. Ross to review any changes with Congress three years before the census. He failed to meet that deadline. Third, agency officials cannot act arbitrarily and without a factual basis, as Mr. Ross did.

Various members of the conservative majority on the ...

CPR Scholars and Staff Call on EPA to Abandon Proposed Attack on Mercury Rule

by James Goodwin | April 18, 2019
One of the most successful environmental regulations in U.S. history is under attack from the Trump EPA – and its demise might be accomplished by shady bookkeeping. That is the conclusion of comments filed by Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholars and staff on April 17. Since it was issued in 2011, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS), which establishes rigorous technology-based standards to limit hazardous air pollution from fossil-fueled power plants – has reduced electric utilities' emissions of ...

OMB Leveraging the CRA to Add to Its Oversight of Independent Regulatory Agencies

by Bill Funk | April 16, 2019
Last week, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum to all agencies regarding compliance with the Congressional Review Act (CRA). This memo supersedes one issued in 1999 and pulls independent regulatory agencies – specifically designed by Congress to be less prone to political interference than executive agencies – into a far more centralized CRA review process. The CRA requires federal agencies to send newly adopted rules to the House and Senate before the ...

CPR Member Scholars to EPA: Clean Water Rule Rollback Based on Bad Law, Weak Science

by Matt Shudtz | April 15, 2019
The federal Clean Water Act has been a resounding success as a tool for restoring our nation's waterways and preserving wetlands and other vital components of our ecosystems. But that success depends, in part, on restricting development in ecologically sensitive areas. That's why the Trump administration has proposed to narrow the scope of the Clean Water Act's protections. Not by amending the law, mind you – that wasn't possible when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, much less now. Instead, ...

What Else Should Congress Investigate?

by Daniel Farber | April 12, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Every day, it seems that there is a headline about some investigation involving campaign finance violations, the White House, or the actions of some foreign power. Perhaps that's all the bandwidth that Congress has. But there are other areas calling out for inquiry. Here are just a few: CAFE Standards. The car industry asked for delays and modifications in fuel efficiency standards. The administration came back with a drastic rollback that went far beyond what ...

Economists vs. Environmentalists: Time for Détente?

by Daniel Farber | April 09, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Cost-benefit analysis has long been the target of environmentalist ire. But one lesson of the Trump years has been that economic analysis can be a source of support for environmental policy — it is the anti-regulatory forces who have to fudge the numbers to justify their actions. Most energy and environmental economists are aghast at Trump's assaults on climate change regulations — many of them would instead favor stricter regulation over the status quo. Maybe ...

Shackling EPA Risk Assessment

by Daniel Farber | April 01, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. EPA pollution regulations are based on an assessment of the risks posed by pollutants. This can be a complex scientific judgment. The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), the agency's scientific advisory board, is pushing for major changes in the way that EPA approaches this analysis. The effect would be to make it much harder for EPA to prove that a risk exists. Currently, risk assessment is based on a "weight of the evidence" approach ...

Trump on the Environment: A Study in Falsehood

by Daniel Farber | March 29, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. The Washington Post has a list of false statements by Trump, which turns out to be searchable by topic. They've found, "In the first eight months of his presidency, President Trump made 1,137 false or misleading claims, an average of five a day." As of March 17, he was up to 9,179 false statements. There were 200 false statements about the environment – that's about one every four days, which compares favorably to the number ...

Opinion Analysis: The Justices Wish Sturgeon 'Good Hunting' in Sturgeon v. Frost

by Sandra Zellmer | March 28, 2019
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). The Supreme Court ruled unanimously this week in favor of Alaskan John Sturgeon, who waged a 12-year battle against the National Park Service over its ban on hovercraft in park preserves. As a result of the decision, Sturgeon can once again "rev up his hovercraft in search of moose" on the Nation River in the Yukon Charley Preserve. This is the ...

Some Recusal Rules of Thumb for Recently Confirmed Judge Rao

by James Goodwin | March 25, 2019
During her confirmation hearing, Neomi Rao – then the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) and President Trump's pick to fill Justice Kavanaugh's vacant seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – attracted a lot of controversy. Much of it surrounded the outrageous student newspaper commentaries she wrote as an undergrad, in which she casually passed judgment on date rape victims and the scourge of creeping multiculturalism. Now that Rao ...

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 ...

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 ...

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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