EPA Enforcement in Distress — and More Trouble Is Brewing
by Joel Mintz | February 24, 2020
Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.
In recent months the Trump administration has intensified its assault on federal environmental safeguards on several fronts. It has proposed drastic reductions in the scope of protections against water and air pollution, lagged in the cleanup of hazardous waste contamination, allowed the continued marketing of toxic herbicides, narrowed the scope of needed environmental impact reviews, ignored and undermined legitimate scientific studies and findings, and dismantled government attempts to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.
Every bit as disturbing, but much less discussed, is a discouraging deterioration in the rigor of EPA’s once-effective enforcement program, which identifies and punishes polluters that skirt federal regulations.
The agency’s latest enforcement statistics reflect a dramatic decline in injunctive relief — the amount of money EPA-enforcement activities compelled polluters to commit to spending to correct their environmental violations and maintain compliance with the law. That crucial metric fell to its lowest level in 15 years, from $20.6 billion in 2017 to just $3.95 billion in 2018.
Similarly, statistics released recently by the U.S. Department of Justice indicate that the number of environmental criminal cases referred by EPA in 2018 declined to a shocking 20-year low. Though the agency’s enforcement efforts did have some legitimate successes in 2018 — particularly with respect to
House Oversight Shines Light on EPA's Use of 'Mercury Math' to Justify Dangerous Rollback that Hurts Kids
On Thursday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee's Environment Subcommittee will hold a hearing to examine the harm to children posed by the Trump administration's attack on one of the most wildly successful clean air protections in American history: the Obama-era Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS). The rule, adopted in 2012 after literally decades in the making, has reduced coal-fired power plant emissions of brain-damaging mercury by more than 81 percent, acid gases by more than 88 percent, and
What Do Farmers Actually Get from the New WOTUS Rule?
by Dave Owen | January 23, 2020
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. Reprinted with permission. This morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA released a final rule determining which aquatic features are covered by the Clean Water Act. Already, the press coverage is following a familiar pattern: farming lobbyists praise the rule as a major victory, and environmentalists condemn it as an abdication of clean water protection and water quality science. The former part of that pattern has always been interesting to me.
With Trump's NEPA Rollback, It's Conservatives Against Conservatives
When the Trump administration released its recent proposal to gut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it trumpeted the action as a long-overdue step to "modernize" the law's implementation by "simplifying" and "clarifying" its procedural and analytical requirements for federal agencies. If these words sound familiar, that's because they're the disingenuous claptrap that opponents of regulatory safeguards repeatedly trot out to camouflage their efforts to rig legislative and rulemaking processes in favor of corporate polluters. Put differently, those terms might
Trump Is Trying to Cripple the Environment and Democracy
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill. The Trump administration has fired the latest salvo in its never-ending assault on environmental safeguards: a proposal from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to overhaul its regulations governing federal agency compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The proposal would narrow the scope of NEPA’s protections, weaken federal agency duties when the law applies, and attempt to shield violations of NEPA from judicial oversight. More significantly, the proposal is wildly inconsistent with
Misunderstanding the Law of Causation
Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission. Last week's NEPA proposal bars agencies from considering many of the harms their actions will produce, such as climate change. These restrictions profoundly misunderstand the nature of environmental problems and are based on the flimsiest of legal foundations. Specifically, the proposal tells agencies they do not need to consider environmental "effects if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain." The proposal also excludes "cumulative effects."
Pride Goeth Before a Fall
Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission. The White House just released its proposed revisions to the rules about environmental impact statements. The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) simply does not have the kind of power that it is trying to arrogate to itself. Its proposal is marked by hubris about the government's ability to control how the courts apply the law. That hubris is evident in the proposal's effort to tell courts when lawsuits can be brought
Top Ten Regulatory Policy Stories to Look Out for in 2020 (IMHO)
As I noted in my last post, 2019 brought a number of worrisome developments in regulatory policy. There were a few bright spots – most notably the positive attention public servants received for holding the Trump administration accountable. But, by and large, the most significant regulatory policy stories reflected the conservative movement’s successes in weakening the regulatory system. As a result, the threat to the future vitality of our system of safeguards – which we depend upon for our health
The Decade in Review
Like many humans, the Twenty-First Century’s teenage years were stormy. Reposted by permission from LegalPlanet. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” That pretty much sums up the ten years from January 2010 to January 2020. As the decade began, Barrack Obama was in the White House and the Democrats controlled Congress but were one vote short of a filibuster-proof majority in the House. Under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership, the Waxman-Markey bill had passed the House,
Top Ten Regulatory Policy Stories of 2019 (IMHO)
For many of us, the best way to characterize the past year in three words would be “too much news.” That sentiment certainly applies to the wonky backwater of the regulatory policy world. Today, that world looks much different than it did even just a year ago, and with still more rapid changes afoot, the cloud of uncertainty that now looms ominously over it doesn’t appear to be dissipating anytime soon. None of this is good for the health of
Webinar Recap: Achieving Social Justice through Better Regulations
Last week, my CPR colleagues and I were honored to be joined by dozens of fellow advocates and member of the press for a webinar that explored the recent CPR report, Regulation as Social Justice: A Crowdsourced Blueprint for Building a Progressive Regulatory System. Drawing on the ideas of more than 60 progressive advocates, this report provides a comprehensive, action-oriented agenda for building a progressive regulatory system. The webinar provided us with an opportunity to continue exploring these ideas, including
Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission. The idea of low-hanging fruit is ubiquitous in environmental policy – sometimes in the form of a simple metaphor, other times expressed in more sophisticated terms as an assumption of rising marginal costs of pollution reduction. It's an arresting metaphor, and one that can often be illuminating. But like many powerful metaphors, it can also mislead us badly. The idea behind the metaphor can be expressed in various ways, which can be equally
The EPA's 'Censored Science' Rule Isn't Just Bad Policy, It's Also Illegal
This post was originally published on the Union of Concerned Scientists' blog. Reprinted with permission. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears poised to take the next step in advancing its dangerous "censored science" rulemaking with the pending release of a supplemental proposal. The EPA presumably intends for this action to respond to criticism of the many glaring errors and shortcomings in its original proposal, hastily released in 2018. Unfortunately, if the leaked version of the supplemental proposal is any indication,
EPA's Draft Update to Its 'Science Transparency Rule' Shows It Can't Justify the Rule
by Sean Hecht | November 22, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission. Over a year ago, EPA issued a proposed rule, ostensibly to promote transparency in the use of science to inform regulation. The proposal, which mirrors failed legislation introduced multiple times in the House, has the potential to dramatically restrict EPA's ability to rely on key scientific studies that underpin public health regulations. The rule, on its face, would require EPA to take actions inconsistent with statutory mandates, including requirements to use the
Argument Analysis: Context Trumps Text as Justices Debate Reach of Clean Water Act
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). Click here to read Professor Heinzerling's argument preview for this case. The Clean Water Act requires a permit for the addition to the navigable waters of any pollutant that comes “from any point source.” Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court examined this clause during oral argument in County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund. The question in this case is
Argument Preview: Justices to Consider Reach of Clean Water Act's Permitting Requirement
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). The central regulatory construct of the Clean Water Act is the requirement of a permit for the addition to the nation's waters of any pollutant that comes "from any point source." Congress' high hopes for the cleansing power of the act's permitting system are reflected in the name Congress chose for it – the "national pollutant discharge elimination system" –
How to Improve Allocations of Regulatory Authority
Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission. Ever since Ronald Reagan declared government to be the problem rather than the solution, the federal bureaucracy has been the target of criticism from right-leaning think tanks, regulatory skeptics in academia, and politicians of all political persuasions. Lately, members of the federal judiciary have visibly joined this chorus of criticism. Among the charges leveled against regulation and the agencies responsible for issuing and enforcing rules is the claim that, even assuming
2020 in the Courts: A Preview
Originally published on Legal Planet. There are going to be some significant environmental cases over the next year. In addition, some important new cases will be filed now or in the near future, which may produce some interesting rulings. It will probably take more than a year, however, for some of the big new cases down the turnpike to result in their first level of judicial opinions, let alone reach completion. The Supreme Court The Court agreed last spring to
When it comes to health, safety and the environment, executive branch enforcement of the law has become yet another arena to fight and re-fight policy battles presumably settled in Congress. In particular, regulated entities, including companies that pollute or make potentially dangerous products, spend millions working to block, delay, and unravel such protections.
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