Some Observations from the Howard Shelanski Confirmation Hearing

by James Goodwin | June 13, 2013

Yesterday's confirmation hearing for Dr. Howard Shelanski—President Barack Obama’s nominee to serve as the next “Regulatory Czar,” or Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)—may have been the “most important hearing in Washington this week,” but it did not produce much in the way of bombshells or drama.  Rather, it was a relatively staid affair, which at times had a distinct “going through the motions” vibe.

On the positive side, the hearing generated some good discussion about the problems associated with OIRA’s role in the rulemaking process.  Several of the questions posed by Chairman Carper (D-DE) and Senator Levin (D-MI) were very thoughtful. Senator Levin described the excessive rule delays at OIRA as “chronic” and asked what the nominee would do to address them.  He also touched on the problems of extending OIRA review to independent regulatory agencies (as some recent legislative proposals from anti-regulatory members of Congress have sought to do).  Chairman Carper addressed the need to limit cost-benefit analysis for rules promulgated under statutes where such statutes prohibit this analysis (which happens to be most of them).

Shelanksi offered some thoughtful answers to these and other question.  He stated that, if confirmed, his top priority would be to ensure “timely review” of agency rules, as opposed to OIRA’s current pattern of routinely violating the 90-day limit that Executive Order 12866 places on such reviews.  Shelanski also repeatedly acknowledged the need to ...

The Obama Administration’s Plan B for Plan B: Compliance, or Defiance?

by Lisa Heinzerling | June 11, 2013
The Obama Administration’s announcement that it will comply with a district court’s order that it make emergency contraceptives available to all women and girls without a prescription comes as a welcome development in a long-running administrative-law fiasco. But the Administration’s specific suggestions as to how it will set things right, set forth in letters sent yesterday to the district court and to the citizen petitioners who originally asked for nonprescription access to emergency contraceptives, are inadequate in several respects. First, under ...

EPA’s Formaldehyde Rule: The Mystery of the Shrinking Benefits

by Lisa Heinzerling | June 11, 2013
Why does the White House take so long to review rules from the regulatory agencies?  As I have documented elsewhere, many rules have been stuck at the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for years.  Some of these remain there to this day.  What is the White House doing for the months and years that rules are stuck there? One rule that just escaped from the clutches of regulatory review might provide a clue.  Just yesterday, EPA ...

What We Will Be Listening for at the Howard Shelanski Confirmation Hearing

by Sidney Shapiro | June 11, 2013
The confirmation hearing for Howard Shelanski, President Obama’s pick to serve as the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is set to take place Wednesday before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.  If confirmed, Shelanski would become the Administration’s new “Regulatory Czar,” a description that indicates the significant influence OIRA’s administrator has concerning what agency rules look like and, indeed, whether those rules are issued at all. Shelanski’s confirmation hearing comes at ...

CPR Scholar Frank Ackerman on Secret Climate Cost Calculations: the Sequel

by Frank Ackerman | June 10, 2013
Three years later, it was time for a new episode.  Back in 2010, Congress listened to some climate-denial rants, counted votes, and decided to do absolutely nothing about climate change; this year on Capitol Hill, the magic continues. Also in 2010, the Obama administration released an estimate of “the social cost of carbon”` (SCC) – that is, the value of the damages done by emission of one more ton of carbon dioxide. Calculated by an anonymous task force that held ...

Robert Verchick Reacts to Congressional Letter on OIRA Delays

by Robert Verchick | June 06, 2013
Late Tuesday afternoon, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representatives Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA) sent a letter to White House Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell urging her to take "prompt action" to implement rules and regulations held up at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). The letter notes that under Executive Order 12866, OIRA reviews of agency draft rules must be completed ...

Talking Through Their Hats: The Opposition to President Obama’s D.C. Circuit Court Nominees

by Sidney Shapiro | June 05, 2013
In the old television series, "Cheers," barfly and braggart Cliff Clavin was a guy who was forever "talking through his hat," offering up an endless supply of ridiculous factoids and explanations. Cliff made for good television, but the same cannot be said for the Senate Republicans who seem to be borrowing his approach. That's what's at work with the Republican effort to block President Obama’s nomination of three distinguished lawyers to fill longstanding vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court of ...

Statement of CPR Scholar Sid Shapiro on President Obama's Nominations to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals

by Sidney Shapiro | June 04, 2013
Today, President Obama announced three nominations to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The President nominated law professor Cornelia T.L. Pillard, appellate lawyer Patricia Ann Millett and federal district judge Robert L. Wilkins to the Court. The Court has had many longstanding vacancies, including one slot that was filled when the Senate confirmed Sri Srinivasan for the post in late May. If confirmed, the President's new nominations would fill all remaining vacancies. Below is Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar Sidney ...

The FDA Doubles Down On Its Plan B Troubles

by Lisa Heinzerling | May 29, 2013
Cross-posted on ACSBlog. A panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York has just taken under consideration the Food and Drug Administration’s motion for a stay of a district court order directing the agency to make levonorgestrel-based emergency contraceptives available to women and girls of any age without a prescription and without other point-of-sale restrictions. In deliberating on this motion, the panel of judges should not, I am sorry to say, take anything the FDA has said in ...

Adapting to Climate Change: Seven Principles for Policy-Makers

by Jake Caldwell | May 29, 2013
The impacts of climate change do not fall equally. That is obvious on a global level, where low-lying countries, like Bangladesh and small island states, face inundation, while poor equatorial countries face devastating heat and droughts. It is less obvious, but still true, in the United States, where poor and marginalized communities without sufficient financial and social resources will face significant challenges adapting to the changing climate. While catastrophes appear to affect everyone equally, they are much harder on those who lack ...

What the White House Taketh Away, It Can Also Giveth: An Agenda for 'Regulatory Czar' Howard Shelanski's First 30 Days

by Rena Steinzor | May 23, 2013
As the scandal du jour over the pure lug-headedness of some IRS staffers reminds us, any screw-up, anywhere in the government, will make its way to the White House press briefing room in about a nanosecond of Internet real time. Suspicion is deeply bred into the press corps, and appropriately so. For that reason, the 2,000 or so people who directly serve on the President's White House staff, but who remain faceless to the rest of us, insist on maintaining control over ...

Dam Futures

by Dave Owen | May 23, 2013
Reposted from Environmental Law Prof Blog. A standard environmental history of American dams unfolds something like this: As a nation, we had a long love affair with dams.  And while they helped our nation grow into an industrial power, the environmental side-effects were immense: lost forests and farmland, drowned canyons, and, perhaps most importantly, devastated fisheries.  Yet even after some of those consequences became apparent, the story goes, dam-building marched on, powered by bureaucratic inertia and the seemingly unstoppable engine ...

What’s holding up the Clean Water Act jurisdictional guidance?

by Holly Doremus | May 20, 2013
Reposted from LegalPlanet. People on both sides of the political spectrum agree that the boundaries of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act are murky, to say the least. But efforts by EPA and the Corps of Engineers to clarify those boundaries have been tied up in the White House for more than a year, with no explanation and to no apparent useful purpose. The President is fond of telling that nation that it should place more trust in government. ...

WARNING: Individual Research Findings and Economic Models May Not Be Fully Grounded

by Daniel Farber | May 15, 2013
Reposted from Legal Planet. A couple of weeks ago, a major paper on the economics of government deficits turned out to have huge flaws. Matt Kahn and Jonathan Zasloff have already had something to say about this, but I’d like to add some thoughts about the implications for environmental issues.“Interesting,” you say, “But what does that have to do with the  environment?”   I see two big lessons.  The first lesson is about the danger of overreacting to a dramatic ...

Why is the White House Blocking Rules on Energy Efficiency?

by Lisa Heinzerling | May 10, 2013
Cross-posted at ACSBlog. “The easiest way to save money,” President Obama declared in his 2012 State of the Union address, “is to waste less energy.”  In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama took another step and issued “a new goal for America”: “let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years.” The President also vowed that if Congress did not “act soon” to address climate change, he would “direct [his] ...

Senate Republicans' Boycott of McCarthy Vote: More Shameless Obstructionism

by Rena Steinzor | May 09, 2013
Today's move by Senate Republicans to boycott a committee confirmation vote on Gina McCarthy to lead the EPA is just another in a series of shameless tactics aimed at hampering the Environmental Protection Agency and preventing it from doing the people's business. The list includes endless filibusters; sequester cuts that make it harder to enforce existing laws; a host of attacks on specific environmental regulations under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other statutes addressing critical environmental issues; ...

Lisa Heinzerling Reflects on OIRA-EPA Relationship

by Matthew Freeman | May 08, 2013
CPR's Lisa Heinzerling has an article in the most recent issue of the Pace Environmental Law Review, Inside EPA: A Former Insider's Reflections on the Relationship between the Obama EPA and the Obama White House, in which she discusses the ways that the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) under Cass Sustein exercised control over EPA's regulatory process. She writes that, using cost-benefit analysis as a point of access, OIRA departs considerably from the structure created by the executive ...

In Dallas Morning News Op-Ed, McGarity Examines Texas Legislature's Response to West, Texas, Disaster

by Matthew Freeman | May 06, 2013
Last week, CPR’s Tom McGarity had a column in the Christian Science Monitor, describing the ways that the political right’s war on regulation and enforcement helped contribute to the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion last month. Today, he’s got a separate piece in the Dallas Morning News (and this past Friday, it was in the Houston Chronicle) taking a look at the Texas legislature’s response to the disaster. In the piece, McGarity takes a state legislator to task for declaring ...

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