CPR Scholars Testify on Judicial Deference to Agency Discretion

by Matthew Freeman | March 15, 2016

Later today, not one but two CPR Member Scholars will testify today before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law.

Emily Hammond and Richard J. Pierce both offer some perspective on the limits and scope of judicial deference to federal regulatory agencies. Pierce sketches out the long history of jurisprudence on the subject, noting that,

Until late in the Nineteenth century, courts could not and did not review the vast majority of agency actions. The Supreme Court held that courts lacked the power to review exercises of executive branch discretion. A court could review an action taken by the executive branch (or a refusal to act) only in the rare case in which a statute compelled an agency to act in a particular manner. In that situation, the court was simply requiring the agency to take a non-discretionary ministerial action.  

He then traces the evolution of the Supreme Court’s view, arriving at the landmark Chevron vs. NRDC decision, in which the court framed what is to regulatory scholars a now very familiar test. As Hammond describes it,

The test provides that when a court reviews an agency’s interpretation of a statute it administers, the court must ask first whether Congress has spoken clearly; if so, the clear language controls. If not, the court must uphold the agency’s permissible—that is, reasonable—construction of the statute. The deferential aspect of Chevron in step two has ...

Regulatory Capture: The Conservative Cure Is Worse Than the Disease

by Sidney Shapiro | March 14, 2016
I was recently a panelist at a Senate workshop on regulatory capture sponsored by the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS). In an earlier post about this event, I wrote about the potential of enhanced transparency to reduce regulatory capture, which I discussed at the workshop. Conservative commentators at the workshop argued that agencies are captured by public interest groups as well as by regulated entities. They contended that Congress should thus pass the REINs Act to reduce capture ...

Shining Light on Regulatory Capture: Four Proposals

by Sidney Shapiro | March 11, 2016
The subject of regulatory capture was back on Capital Hill last week as the result of a briefing sponsored by Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS). In 2010, I testified concerning regulatory capture in a Senate hearing chaired by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), but in the midst of the broad-scale conservative assault on regulation, the issue hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves. That’s unfortunate for a simple reason. As Rena Steinzor and I establish in our book, many ...

Environmental Enforcement in the Age of Trump

by Daniel Farber | March 10, 2016
Many thought that the BP Oil Spill would lead to new environmental legislation, as happened after past environmental disasters. That didn’t happen. But something else did happen: BP paid $24 billion in civil and criminal penalties. In an era where any effort at government regulation is immediately denounced as a dire threat to liberty, there was nary a peep out of Republican politicians about these massive penalties. Nor do I hear Trump, Cruz, or Rubio defending Volkswagen from penalties. The moral is ...

Breaking our Pesticide Addiction: A 12-Step Program for Ecologically-Based Pest Management

by Mary Jane Angelo | March 09, 2016
Recently I had the opportunity to spend an entire day at the University of Florida Department of Entomology — the same department where I obtained my M.S. more than 30 years ago. I gave a talk on the law and ecology of pesticides and pest management and met with graduate students and faculty. It was fascinating to hear about the innovative research being conducted related to ecologically based pest management and sustainable agriculture. The discussions that day provided concrete illustrations ...

Clean Water Act Jurisdiction and the Changing Supreme Court

by Dave Owen | March 07, 2016
Since Justice Scalia’s passing, the blogosphere has been abuzz with speculation about how the changed composition of the Court will affect environmental law. This post adds a little more to that speculation. My focus is not the Clean Power Plan litigation, which has (justifiably) gathered much of the attention, but instead the litigation over the joint EPA-Army Corps Clean Water Rule. And my prediction is a bit different from most predictions about the Clean Power Plan. Here, I predict, that ...

Roberts Denies Mercury Stay

by Daniel Farber | March 03, 2016
Chief Justice Roberts turned down a request this morning to stay EPA’s mercury rule. Until the past month, this would have been completely un-noteworthy, because such a stay would have been unprecedented. But the Court’s startling recent stay of the EPA Clean Power Plan suggested that the door might have been wide open.  Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be true. In some ways, a stay in this case would be even more shocking than the earlier one. Only the states, not industry, were ...

CPR's Shapiro Joins ACUS Forum on Regulatory Capture Today

by James Goodwin | March 03, 2016
CPR Vice President Sid Shapiro is among the many distinguished panelists participating this monring in a forum called "Regulatory Capture in the 21st Century." The forum is hosted by the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), an independent federal agency that works to provide Congress with advice on improving the administrative system. The event will feature remarks from Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Mike Lee (R-UT). Professor Shapiro will participate in a panel that looks at regulatory capture in ...

Senate Republicans Flip-Flop on the White House and Independent Agencies

by James Goodwin | March 02, 2016
Yesterday, the Republican members of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC)—the Senate committee with primary oversight jurisdiction over the regulatory system—published a report detailing their shock and dismay over a Wall Street Journal story alleging that the White House "may have inappropriately influenced" the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) so-called "net neutrality" rule. In releasing the report, Committee Chairman Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) could barely contain his contempt: "It is concerning that an independent agency like the FCC ...

Toxicity, Trading and Watershed Restoration: Seeking a More Holistic Approach

by Evan Isaacson | March 02, 2016
The mysterious deaths of 13 bald eagles on Maryland's Eastern Shore last month captured headlines around the country. While a tragic story, it was also a reminder of just how far bald eagle populations and those of other birds of prey have recovered over the last several decades. From a population of fewer than 1,000 in 1963, almost as many bald eagles now soar in the skies over Maryland alone. The iconic bird's recovery is a case study in the ...

Steinzor Reacts to SCOTUS Chesapeake Bay Case

by Rena Steinzor | February 29, 2016
The Supreme Court today denied certiorari in a case challenging the watershed-wide effort led by the EPA to reduce pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. The Court's action leaves standing a lower court ruling upholding the effort. CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, issued the following reaction: "The Supreme Court's decision is a milestone victory for the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and the thousands of local waters in the Bay watershed. Today's ...

Unleashing the Lower Courts

by Daniel Farber | February 25, 2016
There’s already been a lot written about how Justice Scalia’s untimely death will affect pending cases, not to mention speculation about the possible nominees to replace him. Less attention has been given to the effect on the lower courts. Yet Justice Scalia’s departure gives liberal judges in lower courts more freedom than they’ve had in the past. Here, I’m specifically thinking of the D.C. Circuit and the Ninth Circuit, which between them are the most important forums for environmental litigation. ...

More Delay for OSHA's New Silica Rule

by Katie Tracy | February 24, 2016
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has informally announced that it is unlikely to finalize its long-awaited rule to limit workers' exposure to respirable crystalline silica by the month's end, as the agency had expected. OSHA's deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, Jordan Barab, told Politico on Friday, Feb. 18, that he "can pretty much guarantee" the rule will be delayed, but he expects "it will be out soon." The silica rule, which OSHA proposed ...

Testimony: Maryland Needs Effective Manure Management Policies to Restore Watersheds

by Evan Isaacson | February 23, 2016
Legislative committees in both the Maryland House and Senate are holding hearings this week on the Poultry Litter Management Act, a bill that has been attracting a lot of attention in Maryland and beyond. I have been asked to testify as part of a panel featuring representatives of the United States Geological Survey and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The focus of my testimony will be the problems posed by farm animal manure – in this case, poultry litter on Maryland’s Eastern ...

Justice Scalia and the American Eco-Kulturkampf

by Robert Verchick | February 22, 2016
Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court chair sits empty, draped in black wool to honor a man whose intellect and fire-breathing keyboard helped reshape the nation’s political landscape. Depending on how things go, that chair could be empty for a while. Unlike more recent nominations to replace a Justice, a nomination from President Obama could reorient the Court away from its long-standing conservative tilt toward something more progressive or even merely moderate. In the current session alone, important cases involving affirmative ...

What Are 'Ag-Gag' Law Proponents Trying to Hide?

by Mollie Rosenzweig | February 19, 2016
At a time when consumers are demanding greater transparency in the food system – and some food companies are delivering by means of genetically modified organism labeling and removal of artificial food dyes — a troubling North Carolina law that runs counter to that goal has recently gone into effect. The state’s so-called “ag-gag” law prohibits whistleblowers from making audio or video recordings inside industrial agricultural facilities. Following the success of a similar suit in Idaho last year, consumer protection ...

Another Strong DOJ Settlement on Stormwater Pollution - Outside of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

by Evan Isaacson | February 18, 2016
On May 12, 2009, the federal government finally got serious about protecting the Chesapeake Bay. That’s when President Obama signed Executive Order 13508 on Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration, which declared that the federal government would put its shoulder into the multi-state effort to restore the Bay. Taking turns at a podium perched on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River, the Governors of Maryland and Virginia and the Mayor of Washington D.C. praised the President that day for ordering the ...

Justice Scalia and Environmental Law

by Daniel Farber | February 16, 2016
Scalia's decisions were almost unremittingly anti-environmental. Over the past three decades, Justice Scalia did much to shape environmental law, nearly always in a conservative direction.  Because of the importance of his rulings, environmental lawyers and scholars are all familiar with his work.  But for the benefit of others, I thought it might be helpful to summarize his major environmental decisions.  The upshot was to restrict EPA’s authority to interpret environmental statutes, make property rights a stronger bulwark against environmental protection, ...

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