The Trump Administration's New Anti-Safeguard Executive Orders on Guidance, Explicated

by James Goodwin | October 14, 2019

Last week, President Trump unleashed the latest volley in his administration's efforts to bring about the "deconstruction of the administrative state" with the signing of two new executive orders relating to agency issuance and use of "guidance documents." The first purports to ensure "improved agency guidance," while the second claims to promote "transparency and fairness" in the use of guidance for enforcement actions. The bottom line for the orders is that, with a few potentially big exceptions, they are unlikely to have much practical impact. Instead, this is mostly a messaging exercise by the Trump administration aimed at advancing the broader conservative campaign to delegitimize the regulatory system by propagating the tired old myth that regulatory agencies are unaccountable and pose a threat to our society.

Before diving into orders' substance, two housekeeping points need to be addressed. First, what are guidance documents anyway? They are best understood as a conceptual catchall term describing nearly anything that agencies put in writing that's not a rule (i.e., that does not have the independent force of law). According to this understanding, guidance documents cover a huge universe of diverse things – emails, webpages, warning posters, and so on – making efforts to "regulate" their issuance and use an inherently difficult proposition. Instead of imposing new requirements like traditional regulations, the function of guidance is to promote regulatory certainty. Moreover, and relatedly, the vast majority of guidance documents are ...

What the Trump Impeachment Inquiry Teaches Us about the Federal Bureaucracy

by James Goodwin | October 10, 2019
Just when it seemed that President Donald Trump was completely immune to accountability for his various abuses of power, impeachment proceedings against him have quickly picked up steam over the last couple weeks. Laying aside what happens with Trump, it's significant that it was a whistleblower complaint from a current CIA officer that helped expose the president's misconduct. (Reports that a second whistleblower, another intelligence official, is preparing to step forward have emerged in recent days.) Therein lies one of ...

Overshoot: Trump's Deregulatory Zeal Goes Beyond Even Where Industry Asks Him to Go

by Amy Sinden | September 16, 2019
Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. The Trump EPA last month proposed a new plan to remove oil and gas developers’ responsibility for detecting and fixing methane leaks in their wells, pipelines and storage operations. This proposal to axe the Obama-era methane rule is notable for two reasons. First, it is a huge step backward in the race to stabilize the climate, just at the moment scientists warn we need to move forward ...

The Hill Op-ed: Trump Trashes the Natural World and Calls It 'Environmental Leadership'

by Joel Mintz | July 17, 2019
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill. In a recent speech, President Trump touted what he described as "America's environmental leadership" during his presidency. He claimed that over the past two-and-a-half years, his administration has been "a good steward of public land," reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, and successfully promoted clean air and water.  His claims are Orwellian in scope and mendacity. Even the most cursory examination of the Trump administration's environmental record reveals an appalling litany of irresponsible, anti-environmental ...

CPR Member Scholars Feature Prominently in this Year's Duke Administrative Law Symposium

by James Goodwin | May 20, 2019
The annual Duke Law Journal Administrative Law Symposium has long served as one of the most prestigious fora for cutting-edge administrative law scholarship. This year's event, which featured the leadership and contributions of six CPR Member Scholars, was no exception. Each symposium is built around a theme, and this year's topic was "Deregulatory Games," which examined how the Trump administration's aggressive and often bizarre assault on our system of regulatory safeguards has tested the long-standing doctrines, norms, and institutions of ...

What President Trump's Infrastructure Agenda Gets Wrong

by Alejandro Camacho | May 08, 2019
Originally published in The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission. At the outset of the Trump Administration, policymakers of all stripes hoped infrastructure might be an issue on which Congress and the President could reach bipartisan agreement. President Donald J. Trump stressed infrastructure needs during and after the 2016 election, and members of Congress from both parties asserted that repairing and upgrading infrastructure was a top priority. Recently, President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats claimed to make progress over the possibility of ...

A Defeat on Offshore Drilling Extends the Trump Administration's Losing Streak in Court

by Alejandro Camacho | April 11, 2019
Originally published by The Conversation. The Trump administration's push to boost fossil fuel extraction has received a major setback. On March 29, Judge Sharon Gleason of the U.S. District Court for Alaska ruled invalid Trump's order lifting a ban on oil and gas drilling in much of the the Arctic Ocean and along parts of the North Atlantic coast. Gleason held that the relevant law – the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act – authorizes presidents to withdraw offshore lands ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Using Emergency Powers to Fight Climate Change

by Daniel Farber | January 14, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Republicans are apparently worried that if Trump could use emergency powers by declaring border security a national emergency, the next president could do the same thing for climate change. There's no doubt that this would be far more legitimate than Trump's wall effort. Border crossings are much lower than they were ten years ago; he has said in the recent past that his prior efforts have vastly improved border security. In contrast, the Pentagon has classified ...

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 ...

Two Years and Counting: Looking Forward

by Daniel Farber | December 10, 2018
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. In terms of regulatory policy, the second half of Trump's term is shaping up to look a lot like Obama's final two years in office. Congress won't be doing much to advance Trump's environment and energy agenda, as was the case with Obama. So, like Obama, Trump's focus will be on administrative action, particularly regulatory initiatives (or deregulatory ones, in Trump's case). The big question is how these efforts will fare in court. I want to ...

Two Years and Counting: A Historical Perspective

by Daniel Farber | December 06, 2018
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. This is the second of three posts assessing the first two years of the Trump administration. You can read the first post here. We all seem to be subscribed to the "All Trump News, All the Time" newsfeed. It may be helpful to step back a bit and compare Trump with his last Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. How do the two stack up? Bush and Trump were very different in character and style, but their ...

Two Years and Counting: Trump at Mid-Term

by Daniel Farber | December 03, 2018
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. In September 2017 – that seems so long ago! – Eric Biber and I released a report assessing the state of play in environmental issues 200 days into the Trump administration, based on an earlier series of blog posts. As we end Trump's second year, it's time to bring that assessment up to date. This is the first of three posts examining what Trump has done (and hasn't done) in terms of environment and energy. For ...

Taming White House Review of Federal Agency Regulations

by Lisa Heinzerling | October 11, 2018
This post was originally published as part of a symposium on ACSblog, the blog of the American Constitution Society. Reprinted with permission. Presidents since Ronald Reagan have, by executive order, required agencies to submit significant regulatory actions to the White House for review. Academic and public interest observers have variously criticized this review as slow, opaque, chaotic, lawless, and power-grabbing. Yet every president in the intervening years has not only embraced but also deepened the control of the White House ...

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