Deconstructing Regulatory Science

by Wendy Wagner | June 19, 2018

Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt recently opened another front in his battle to redirect the agency away from its mission to protect human health and the environment. This time, he cobbled together a proposed rule that would drastically change how science is considered during the regulatory process.

Opposition soon mobilized. In addition to the traditional forces of public interest groups and other private-sector watchdogs, the editors of the most prominent scientific journals in the country raised the alarm and nearly 1,000 scientists signed a letter opposing the proposal.

This essay offers a contextual explanation of the reasons why scientists, who are typically loathe to enter the regulatory fray, are so alarmed.

In normal times, when agencies must evaluate the scientific evidence that informs a significant policy decision about health or environmental hazards, they typically take four sequential steps:

  • First, they convene a group of respected scientists from within and sometimes from outside the agency that includes representatives of the disciplines needed to make the determination, such as neurologists, statisticians, pediatricians, and hydrogeologists.
     
  • Second, the scientists gather all the available scientific research and review it carefully, making informed judgments about which studies are more or less convincing.
     
  • Third, in a synthesis stage known as ...

Agency U-Turns

by Daniel Farber | June 18, 2018
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. The Trump administration is doing its best to wipe out Obama's regulatory legacy. How will the courts respond to such a radical policy change? The philosophical clash between these last two presidents is especially stark, but this is far from being the first time that agencies have taken U-turns. This is the fifth time in the past 40 years that control of the White House has switched parties, with accompanying changes in regulatory approaches. Yet the underlying statutory ...

Laying Down the Law on Rule Delays

by Lisa Heinzerling | June 14, 2018
Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission. Since the Reagan administration, it has become commonplace for new presidential administrations, in one of their first official acts after inauguration, to freeze at least some pending regulatory actions of the prior administration. These freezes have been of varying breadth and have taken varying forms. The Trump administration’s regulatory freeze was notable for its sweeping scope and blunderbuss execution. In the early months of President Donald J. Trump’s presidency, agencies delayed many ...

Trump's War on Progressive, Competitive Energy Markets

by Hannah Wiseman | June 13, 2018
It is widely recognized that President Trump has pushed an aggressive anti-regulatory agenda on the environmental front, but this agenda often hides a second, anti-free-market battle waged in the energy context. For decades, Congress and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have worked to move the country toward competitive markets in the sale of wholesale energy – energy that generators sell to utilities, or which utilities sell to each other, and then to retail customers. Congress and FERC believed that ...

Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Baltimore Employer of Smothered Worker Should Be Held Criminally Accountable

by Rena Steinzor | June 12, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in the Baltimore Sun. On June 5, a 19-year-old construction worker named Kyle Hancock was smothered to death when a deep trench where he was working collapsed. R.F. Warder Inc., the construction company that hired Hancock to help fix a leaking sewage pipe, and the bosses it employed are responsible for his death, plain and simple. Their failure to shore the trench to prevent a collapse was grossly negligent, readily foreseeable, eminently preventable and, therefore, criminal. The ...

Bay Journal Op-Ed: 'Stopping Rules' Would Say When It's Time to Shift from Debating to Acting

by David Flores | June 11, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission. Science is hard, environmental policy is complicated and regulatory science can seem endlessly confounding. It does not have to be. Earlier this year, the Chesapeake Bay partners stepped into a time-worn trap, heeding calls from overly cautious states to wait for more refined scientific modeling of climate change impacts before taking action to eliminate pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Having punted action until 2021 at the earliest, ...

Symposium on Regulatory Safeguards Features Warren, Frosh, Three CPR Scholars

by James Goodwin | June 04, 2018
Tuesday afternoon, three CPR Member Scholars – William Buzbee, Lisa Heinzerling, and Rena Steinzor – will be among the experts featured at a major symposium on the threats facing our system of regulatory safeguards. The symposium, The War on Regulation: Good for Corporations, Bad for the Public, was organized by the Coalition of Sensible Safeguards (CSS), which CPR co-leads as an executive committee member, and will include a keynote address from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and closing remarks from Maryland ...

The James River: Floods, Pollution, and the Potential for Toxic Soup in Virginia

by Elena Franco | May 31, 2018
This post is part of a series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities. As one of America’s first colonies, Virginia has a long history of industrialization and its consequent pollution along its waterways. It also has a long history of floods. This combination provides a potential for toxic flooding, putting Virginia's population and livelihoods at risk. The James River, named “America’s founding river” and spanning most of the state, is prone to floods, ...

Flood Safety, Infrastructure, and the Feds

by Daniel Farber | May 30, 2018
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. The federal government is responsible for responding to major floods and runs the federal flood insurance program.  It also has millions of dollars of its own infrastructure at risk from floods. Yet the government is failing to deal effectively with flood risks before the fact. Let’s begin with the levees that are the main defense against flooding. There are over 100,000 miles of levees across the United States, including about a fifth of all U.S. counties, many of ...

Shapiro Takes on Pruitt's Pseudo-Transparency Rule

by Matthew Freeman | May 29, 2018
While most of the press EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is getting these days has to do with his various over-spending scandals, his more lasting impact is likely to be his scorched-earth approach to environmental protections. In an op-ed in The Hill earlier this month, CPR’s Sid Shapiro highlighted one way Pruitt hopes to make an across-the-board, anti-environment impact: By limiting the scope of scientific studies that his agency may consider when developing safeguards. Under the guise of greater transparency, Pruitt ...

Seeking Climate Justice in the Courts

by Karen Sokol | May 21, 2018
Back in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted the likelihood of an increase in what is now often referred to as "climate change" or "climate justice" litigation. The reason for the increase, according to the IPCC, is that "countries and citizens [will] become dissatisfied with the pace of international and national decision-making on climate change." Just over a decade later, that observation now looks quite prescient, with several cities and counties taking the oil industry to court ...

Let a Hundred (Municipal) Flowers Bloom

by Daniel Farber | May 17, 2018
In the era of Trump, one bright spot remains what's happening in cities across the nation. Here are some numbers: 402 U.S. mayors have endorsed the Paris Agreement and announced their intention of meeting its goals, while 118 have endorsed the goal of making their cities 100 percent renewable. A bit of quick research provides a sample of what some major cities are already up to: Atlanta. Atlanta's city council has set ambitious goals: 100 percent renewable energy for city ...

Connecting the Dots: Rob Verchick and Laurie Ristino Talk Food Security and Climate Change

by Matt Shudtz | May 15, 2018
CPR President Rob Verchick recently sat down to talk with one of our newest Member Scholars, Professor Laurie Ristino of Vermont Law School, about the connections between climate change, food security, and policymaking tools like the Farm Bill that could be better used to promote sustainable agricultural practices. We’re excited to share an audio recording of that conversation here as a “soft launch” of a new product at CPR – our “Connect the Dots” podcast. It’s a work in progress. Our ...

Trump's OSHA to Roll Back More Worker Safeguards, Slow Walk Others

by Katie Tracy | May 14, 2018
The White House released its Spring 2018 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions on May 9 with little fanfare. A close examination of the agenda for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) shows that protecting worker health and safety is anything but a priority for the Trump administration. Rather, the agency will continue to focus on weakening worker protections. OSHA's spring agenda lists 20 planned activities – 15 carryovers from the fall agenda, four agenda items moved from ...

Senators' Letter Brings Welcome Oversight to Troubled White House Office

by James Goodwin | May 10, 2018
Yesterday, six senators, led by Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, criticized Trump administration "regulatory czar" Neomi Rao and her office for what appears to have been a slapdash review of a highly controversial Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft policy designed to stifle the agency's progress on advancing environmental and public health protections. Rao is the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), a small but powerful bureau located within the Executive Office of the ...

Disastrous Inequality

by Daniel Farber | May 10, 2018
Texas and Puerto Rico both got hit very hard last year by major hurricanes. But the federal government moved a lot more quickly to get help to Texas. In a new paper, I document the difference and explore the reasons. Although I won't go into all the details here, this is a situation people need to know about. , though there's a more extensive table in the paper. FEMA says it poured just as many resources into Puerto Rico as ...

New Report: It's Time to Repeal the Congressional Review Act

by James Goodwin | May 02, 2018
Over the last couple of weeks, conservatives in Congress have continued their assault on public safeguards using the once-obscure and once-dormant Congressional Review Act (CRA). If their latest adventure succeeds, it will be the 16th public protection that these members, working with in concert with President Donald Trump, have obliterated over the last year, laying waste to a broad and diverse range of measures related to public health, safety, the environment, and consumer financial protection.  The anti-safeguard lawmakers behind these ...

Workers at Risk from USDA's Proposed Swine Slaughter Inspection Rule

by Katie Tracy | May 01, 2018
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) proposed a rule on Feb. 1 to alter inspection procedures for hog slaughter plants by revoking the existing cap on maximum line speeds and transferring key inspection tasks from USDA inspectors to private plant workers. These changes to current practices raise numerous concerns for worker health and safety, all of which the agency fails to address in the proposal.  Because of these concerns, Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) Member ...
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