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 ...

Declaring a Climate Change Emergency: A Citizen's Guide

by Daniel Farber | March 14, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. The possibility of declaring a national emergency to address climate change will probably remain under discussion for the next couple of years, particularly if the courts uphold Trump's "wall" emergency. For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to pull together the series of blog posts I've written on the subject. I want to emphasize three key points at the beginning: Declaring a climate emergency should be off the table if the Supreme Court rules ...

Oversight, Executive Orders, and the Rule of Law

by David Driesen | March 14, 2019
This post is based on a recent article published in the University of Missouri—Kansas City Law Review. Congressional oversight and the public's impeachment discussion tend to focus on deep dark secrets: Did President Trump conspire with the Russians? Did he cheat on his taxes? Did he commit other crimes before becoming president? The House Committee on Oversight and Reform (or the Judiciary Committee), however, should also focus on a more fundamental and less hidden problem: Trump has systematically sought to ...

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 ...

Can the House Save Science from the Trump Purge?

by Laurie Ristino | March 12, 2019
The Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has a weighty agenda – from policy reform to oversight of the Trump administration. Given all that the House Democrats have on their plate, urging them to restore policy rationality by making the support of science-based policy central to their strategy might seem like a prosaic ask, but it's critically important.   Without science as the lodestar for government policymaking, anything goes, which is exactly the problem. As the Union of ...

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 ...

New Report: Socially Vulnerable Communities Face Increasing Risks from Toxic Floodwaters in Virginia

by David Flores | March 06, 2019
2018 was one of the wettest years on record in Virginia, causing catastrophic floods and landslides, as well as unexpectedly high levels of pollution in the Commonwealth’s waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. While the last waterlogged year is only a recent memory for Virginians, seemingly unremarkable snow and rainfall at the end of February caused the James River to crest last week at its highest level in Richmond in almost ten years. Climate change has clearly transformed our experience with ...

The Potential Benefits of Declaring a Climate Emergency

by Daniel Farber | March 04, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. I have a confession: When I started thinking about the possibility of a climate emergency declaration, it was mostly as a counterpoint to Trump's possible (now certain) declaration of an immigration emergency. As I've thought about it, however, it seems to me that there are enough potential benefits to make the idea worth serious consideration. A relatively restrained use of emergency powers could still have some real payoff. In general, I'm not in favor of expanding ...

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 ...

New on 'Connect the Dots': The Frontline Communities Fighting Back Against Polluting Pipelines

by James Goodwin | February 21, 2019
For affected indigenous communities in the United States and Canada, new oil and gas pipelines snaking across their lands represent a new kind of attack. Dirty, polluting, dangerous, and built without the communities' consent, these pipelines are the inevitable outcome of North America's hydraulic fracturing and tar sands oil "revolutions" that have played out in recent decades. These indigenous frontline communities must bear the disproportionate costs brought about by developed nations' continued addiction to fossil fuels, all without seeing most ...

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 ...

National Security, Climate Change, and Emergency Declarations

by Daniel Farber | February 18, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Trump finally pulled the trigger and declared a national emergency so he can build his wall. But if illegal border crossings are a national emergency, then there's a strong case for viewing climate change in similar terms. That point has been made by observers ranging from Marco Rubio to Legal Planet's own Jonathan Zasloff in a post last week. I agree, but I want to dig deeper because it's such an important point. In order to ...

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 ...

Does the Future Have Standing?

by Daniel Farber | February 07, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Climate change is not just a long-range problem; it's one that will get much worse in the future unless major emissions cuts are made. For instance, sea levels will continue to rise for centuries. But the people who will be harmed by these changes can't go to court: they haven't been born yet. How can their interests be represented in court? And even people now alive who might still be around in, say, 2100, will ...

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