The Off-Switch Is Inside the Fenceline

by Daniel Farber | December 27, 2017

The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan would require utilities to improve efficiency at coal-fired power plants and reduce the use of those plants in favor of generators using natural gas or renewables. Head of EPA Scott Pruitt claims EPA can only require CO2 cuts that can be accomplished by utilities “inside the fenceline” of a power plant. Under his interpretation, EPA could require a utility to increase the efficiency of a coal-fired plant. But, he assumes, his interpretation would rule out requiring a utility to reduce use of the coal-powered plant and obtain power elsewhere. In other words, the efficiency improvements for coal-fired plants would still be required, but not the requirement to reduce use of coal-fired plants in favor of other sources of electricity, because obtaining electricity elsewhere is something that happens outside the fenceline. That’s his justification for proposing to completely repeal Obama’s entire Clean Power Plan, which was the Obama Administration’s most important climate change initiative. In its favor, it’s true that most pollution regulations do operate “inside the fenceline” in that they require changes to the specific polluting facility, like adding a scrubber to a power plant.

Pruitt’s “fenceline” interpretation may not be right to begin with: Just because regulations are normally “inside the fenceline” doesn’t necessarily mean they always have to be structured that way. But even if he’s right that EPA can only impose mandates that apply within a polluting facility, this doesn’t imply (as he ...

Steinzor: Trump's reform won't stop mass incarceration

by Matthew Freeman | December 21, 2017
"Despite the most extensive bipartisan support in many years for the reform of mass incarceration in the United States, the Trump administration has ignored this enormous problem and focuses solely on greater leniency for white collar criminals." So writes CPR’s Rena Steinzor in her latest op-ed in The Hill. She goes on to describe the circumstances under which the Department of Justice abandoned its prosecution of HSBC, and with it a deferred prosecution agreement that would have settled a “massive criminal ...

OSHA Delays Critical Protections as Worker Deaths Increase

by Katie Tracy | December 20, 2017
President Trump planned and then starred in his own ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, symbolic of all the safeguards for health, safety and the environment that he intends to shred while in office. This mockery of the administration’s obligation to ensure the public is protected from harm caused by corner-cutting businesses coincided with the release of the Administration’s fall 2017 regulatory agenda. What this political stunt — and the rhetoric that goes along with it — really means, however, is that ...

Trump's Newspeak

by Matthew Freeman | December 19, 2017
"You don't grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?" Winston Smith, 1984 Donald Trump has never been known for the breadth of his vocabulary. In his case, I’ve always assumed that was a marker of a not particularly curious mind. The guy’s openly contemptuous of higher education; he says he doesn’t read books because he gets what he needs to know ...

Weaponizing Wealth: Unjust Redistribution Upward

by Carl Cranor | December 18, 2017
Is the current "tax reform" going through Congress just? Justice is important because even if citizens are treated dissimilarly by institutions, if the differences are just, all have reasonable treatment and the institutions are likely to be socially accepted.  A widely endorsed theory of justice, developed by the philosopher John Rawls nearly 50 years ago, captures how thoroughly unjust the congressional tax plan is. Understanding this and how it weaponizes wealth against most ordinary citizens may explain why so many ...

New Report: Three Fundamental Flaws in Maryland's Water Pollution Trading Regulations

by Evan Isaacson | December 18, 2017
On December 8, the Maryland Department of the Environment published its long-awaited nutrient trading regulations, capping more than two years of effort to develop a comprehensive environmental market intended to reduce the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.  A trading market would allow people, companies, and governments required by law to reduce the amount of pollution they discharge to purchase "credits" for pollution reduction efforts undertaken by someone else. In theory, water pollution trading ensures overall ...

Trump Speech on Deregulation, Fall Unified Agenda Continue Dangerous Assault on Our Safeguards

by James Goodwin | December 15, 2017
This post was originally released as a press statement on December 14 in response to President Donald Trump's speech on deregulation and his administration's Fall 2017 Unified Agenda. Starting on Day One, the Trump administration has perpetrated an all-out assault on essential public safeguards for health, safety, the environment, and American families' financial security, and today, the president took the time to revel in all the damage he has overseen. The administration's anti-safeguard agenda for the coming year promises more ...

Bay Journal Op-Ed: Bay Jurisdictions' No-action Climate Policy Puts Restoration in Peril

by Rena Steinzor | December 14, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission. Despite research demonstrating that climate change is adding millions of pounds of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and his Bay states colleagues appear to be taking a page from the Trump playbook: Ignore this inconvenient truth. Doubts about whether climate change is caused by humans and threatens the planet are rapidly going the way of urban legend. Just ask any resident of Puerto Rico, the ...

Reno Gazette-Journal Op-Ed: Don’t Toss Out Cooperation in the West’s Sage Country

by Dan Rohlf | December 12, 2017
This op-ed originally ran in the Reno Gazette-Journal. During the holiday season, many people put significant effort into plans for getting along with one another at family gatherings. Seating plans are carefully strategized and touchy subjects avoided. We’ve learned that enjoying our shared holiday demands that we all compromise a little. Plans for cooperation in managing the vast shrub-steppe plains of the American West – including thousands of acres in Nevada – are no different. A few years ago, conflict ...

Looking Back on Lucas

by Daniel Farber | December 11, 2017
Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Commission was the high-water mark of the Supreme Court's expansion of the takings clause, which makes it unconstitutional for the government to take private property without compensation. Lucas epitomized the late Justice Scalia's crusade to limit government regulation of property. The decision left environmentalists and regulators quaking in their boots, especially because of its possible impact on protection for wetlands and habitat for endangered species. Ultimately, however, Scalia failed to make a compelling case for ...

Clean Water Laws Need to Catch Up with Science

by Evan Isaacson | November 29, 2017
The field of environmental law often involves tangential explorations of scientific concepts. Lately, one scientific term – hydrologic connectivity – seems to keep finding its way into much of my work. As for many others, this principle of hydrology became familiar to me thanks to its place at the center of one of the biggest fights in the history of environmental law, spilling onto the front pages and into the public consciousness.  Over the last several decades, a pair of ...

More Thoughts on the CFPB Puzzle: President Trump Can Select Someone to Run the CFPB Only if the Senate Has an Opportunity to Confirm

by Nina Mendelson | November 28, 2017
Originally posted at Notice & Comment, a blog of the Yale Journal on Regulation and the American Bar Association Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice. Reprinted with permission. On Friday, November 24, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray named Leandra English, the longtime CFPB Chief of Staff, to the post of Deputy Director. Based on legislation specific to the CFPB, that put her in a position to serve as Acting Director upon his departure. Cordray then resigned. A few ...

An Antidote to Greed

by Matthew Freeman | November 28, 2017
If there's a defining value to the tax bill now working its way through Congress, it's greed. How else to account for a bill that wipes out tax deductions for health care expenses, double-taxes the money you pay in state and local income taxes, eliminates the deduction for interest on student loans, and at the same time eliminates the tax that's now paid on estates in excess of $5.5 million, eliminates the alternative minimum tax, and slashes corporate taxes, all ...

North Carolina v. Chemours: Early Reflections on an Ongoing State Environmental Enforcement Case

by Joel Mintz | November 27, 2017
The Trump EPA's shrinking commitment to enforcement of the nation's environmental laws has focused new attention on state-level enforcement and the extent to which it does or does not address problems of environmental pollution and threats to public health. One recent – and ongoing – controversy, involving toxic chemical contamination of a river in North Carolina by a large and profitable corporation, provides some insights into both the promise and the shortcomings of state environmental law enforcement. It also sheds ...

Beyond the Dinner Table -- U.S. Poultry Plant Workers at Risk

by Katie Tracy | November 20, 2017
On Thanksgiving Day, families across the country will sit down for huge feasts, filling their bellies with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and lots of gravy. My mouth is watering just writing about it. In many households, it's tradition for each person at the table to say what they're thankful for and express their appreciation for the meal in front of them. But when it comes to that delicious meal, we often overlook the workers inside the poultry slaughter facilities and ...

How Tax 'Reform' Impacts the Bay -- and Everything Else

by Evan Isaacson | November 17, 2017
Everyone should be paying attention to the tax "reform" bills making their way through Congress. Whether you are a concerned citizen, a volunteer activist, or a career advocate, chances are the tax legislation will do much more than increase or lower your tax bill. Much of the mainstream media and financial press, along with some public finance scholars and think tanks, are doing a thorough job of explaining what the tax bills will mean for the rich and the middle ...

New Report: Toxic Industrial Stormwater Widespread, Maryland Enforcement Seldom Seen

by David Flores | November 16, 2017
Those who take public safeguards seriously are well aware of the potential consequences that arise from the dangerous combination of poorly written pollution permits and lax – even absent – enforcement. From construction sites with failing erosion and sediment controls to ammonia and bacteria-spewing concentrated animal feeding operations, our waterways, their users, and vulnerable populations in the pathway of pollution suffer the consequences. Starting today, we add industrial stormwater to the ignoble list of poorly regulated sources of environmental pollution ...

CPR Member Scholar Hammond Brings a Real EPA 'Back to Basics' Lesson to Senate

by James Goodwin | November 14, 2017
Today, CPR Member Scholar Emily Hammond is testifying at a Senate subcommittee hearing that will examine four bills that amount to "rifle shot" attacks on the Clean Air Act's public health and environmental protections. Hammond's testimony before the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee casts in powerful terms what is at stake with these bills, highlighting how they contribute to the Trump administration's own assault on public safeguards. She also explains ...
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