Opinion Analysis: Virginia's Moratorium on Uranium Mining Is Not Pre-empted, but the Role of Legislative Purpose Remains Open for Debate

by Emily Hammond | June 18, 2019

This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US).

The Supreme Court has concluded that Virginia's decades-old moratorium on uranium mining is not pre-empted by the Atomic Energy Act. But there is no clear answer to the question that pervaded the briefing and oral argument: What is the proper role for state legislative purpose in a pre-emption analysis?

Monday's judgment was accompanied by three opinions: a lead opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh; a concurring opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan; and a dissenting opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito. The Gorsuch opinion stated that state legislative purpose has no place in pre-emption analyses, whereas the Ginsburg opinion expressed discomfort at such a hard-line stance. Roberts' dissent would have used evidence of state legislative purpose to find that Virginia's ban was pre-empted. Overall, Monday's opinions likely presage important battles to come on the matter of legislative purpose as the court's composition shifts — battles that will take place across a wide variety of subjects and doctrinal fields.

The facts of the case, presented in more detail in my argument preview, involve the largest uranium deposit in the United States, located in Virginia. In 1983, the state placed a moratorium ...

Pollution Bursts and Public Health

by Daniel Farber | June 13, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. When a facility installs and operates the required pollution control equipment, we normally think of the pollution problem as solved. But there still may be bursts of pollution associated with start-up, shut-down, accidents, or external events. A recent study of pollution in Texas shows that these events have substantial health impacts, involving significant deaths and overall costs of about a quarter billion dollars a year in that state. Ironically, the study comes out at the ...

Getting Ready for Conference on Regulation as Social Justice

by James Goodwin | May 31, 2019
Next Wednesday, June 5, CPR is hosting a first-of-its-kind conference on Regulation as Social Justice: Empowering People Through Public Protections, which will bring together a diverse group of several dozen advocates working to advance social justice to serve as a wellspring for the development of a progressive vision for the future of U.S. regulatory policy. Much of the day’s proceedings will be dedicated to an innovative form of small group discussion sessions that we refer to as “Idea Exchanges,” which ...

Trump EPA Hiding Hundreds of Deaths in Plain View

by Daniel Farber | May 28, 2019
According to press reports, EPA is preparing to ignore possible deaths caused by concentrations of pollutants occurring below the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). This is a key issue in a lot of decisions about pollution reduction. For instance, there is no NAAQS for mercury, but pollution controls on mercury would, as a side benefit, reduce pollution levels of harmful particulates. According to EPA’s prior cost-benefit analyses, those reductions could save many lives even in areas where current levels of ...

EPA's Partial Retreat on Cost-Benefit Analysis

by James Goodwin | May 22, 2019
In a memo sent last week but just now released, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler backtracked a bit on one of the administration's initiatives to undercut sensible safeguards. His May 13 memo abandons the agency's push last year to establish uniform standards for bending agency decision making in favor of cost-benefit analysis, regardless of statutory directives, and instead directs that this effort follow a statute-by-statute approach. Wheeler’s retreat on this particular effort to ignore the life-saving benefits of environmental rules is good ...

CPR Member Scholars Feature Prominently in this Year's Duke Administrative Law Symposium

by James Goodwin | May 20, 2019
The annual Duke Law Journal Administrative Law Symposium has long served as one of the most prestigious fora for cutting-edge administrative law scholarship. This year's event, which featured the leadership and contributions of six CPR Member Scholars, was no exception. Each symposium is built around a theme, and this year's topic was "Deregulatory Games," which examined how the Trump administration's aggressive and often bizarre assault on our system of regulatory safeguards has tested the long-standing doctrines, norms, and institutions of ...

Buzbee in NYT: Census Case Tests SCOTUS Majority's Commitment to Political Neutrality

by Matthew Freeman | April 23, 2019
CPR Member Scholar Bill Buzbee has an op-ed in The New York Times this morning in which he observes that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority faces a true rubber-meets-the-road test as it considers the Trump administration’s determination to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, despite multiple procedural and substantive problems with the plan. The administration’s thinly veiled objective with the additional question is to discourage participation in the census by non-citizens, who might understandably fear that revealing their ...

CPR Scholars and Staff Call on EPA to Abandon Proposed Attack on Mercury Rule

by James Goodwin | April 18, 2019
One of the most successful environmental regulations in U.S. history is under attack from the Trump EPA – and its demise might be accomplished by shady bookkeeping. That is the conclusion of comments filed by Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholars and staff on April 17. Since it was issued in 2011, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS), which establishes rigorous technology-based standards to limit hazardous air pollution from fossil-fueled power plants – has reduced electric utilities' emissions of ...

OMB Leveraging the CRA to Add to Its Oversight of Independent Regulatory Agencies

by Bill Funk | April 16, 2019
Last week, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum to all agencies regarding compliance with the Congressional Review Act (CRA). This memo supersedes one issued in 1999 and pulls independent regulatory agencies – specifically designed by Congress to be less prone to political interference than executive agencies – into a far more centralized CRA review process. The CRA requires federal agencies to send newly adopted rules to the House and Senate before the ...

CPR Member Scholars to EPA: Clean Water Rule Rollback Based on Bad Law, Weak Science

by Matt Shudtz | April 15, 2019
The federal Clean Water Act has been a resounding success as a tool for restoring our nation's waterways and preserving wetlands and other vital components of our ecosystems. But that success depends, in part, on restricting development in ecologically sensitive areas. That's why the Trump administration has proposed to narrow the scope of the Clean Water Act's protections. Not by amending the law, mind you – that wasn't possible when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, much less now. Instead, ...

What Else Should Congress Investigate?

by Daniel Farber | April 12, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Every day, it seems that there is a headline about some investigation involving campaign finance violations, the White House, or the actions of some foreign power. Perhaps that's all the bandwidth that Congress has. But there are other areas calling out for inquiry. Here are just a few: CAFE Standards. The car industry asked for delays and modifications in fuel efficiency standards. The administration came back with a drastic rollback that went far beyond what ...

Economists vs. Environmentalists: Time for D├ętente?

by Daniel Farber | April 09, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Cost-benefit analysis has long been the target of environmentalist ire. But one lesson of the Trump years has been that economic analysis can be a source of support for environmental policy — it is the anti-regulatory forces who have to fudge the numbers to justify their actions. Most energy and environmental economists are aghast at Trump's assaults on climate change regulations — many of them would instead favor stricter regulation over the status quo. Maybe ...

Shackling EPA Risk Assessment

by Daniel Farber | April 01, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. EPA pollution regulations are based on an assessment of the risks posed by pollutants. This can be a complex scientific judgment. The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), the agency's scientific advisory board, is pushing for major changes in the way that EPA approaches this analysis. The effect would be to make it much harder for EPA to prove that a risk exists. Currently, risk assessment is based on a "weight of the evidence" approach ...

Trump on the Environment: A Study in Falsehood

by Daniel Farber | March 29, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. The Washington Post has a list of false statements by Trump, which turns out to be searchable by topic. They've found, "In the first eight months of his presidency, President Trump made 1,137 false or misleading claims, an average of five a day." As of March 17, he was up to 9,179 false statements. There were 200 false statements about the environment – that's about one every four days, which compares favorably to the number ...

Opinion Analysis: The Justices Wish Sturgeon 'Good Hunting' in Sturgeon v. Frost

by Sandra Zellmer | March 28, 2019
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). The Supreme Court ruled unanimously this week in favor of Alaskan John Sturgeon, who waged a 12-year battle against the National Park Service over its ban on hovercraft in park preserves. As a result of the decision, Sturgeon can once again "rev up his hovercraft in search of moose" on the Nation River in the Yukon Charley Preserve. This is the ...

Some Recusal Rules of Thumb for Recently Confirmed Judge Rao

by James Goodwin | March 25, 2019
During her confirmation hearing, Neomi Rao – then the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) and President Trump's pick to fill Justice Kavanaugh's vacant seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – attracted a lot of controversy. Much of it surrounded the outrageous student newspaper commentaries she wrote as an undergrad, in which she casually passed judgment on date rape victims and the scourge of creeping multiculturalism. Now that Rao ...

EPA's Mission: The Original Understanding Wasn't Cutting Regulatory Costs

by Daniel Farber | March 21, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. What is EPA’s mission? To what extent is minimizing regulatory costs part of the core mission, as the Trump Administration seems to believe? Does the Trump-Pruitt/Wheeler view comport with original intent? History makes it clear that the answer is “no.” The title of the agency itself suggests that the core mission is protecting the environment, just as the core mission of the Defense Department is presumably national defense (though cost isn’t irrelevant in either setting). It’s ...

Public Interest Community Calls on EPA Administrator to Halt Dangerous 'Benefits-Busting Rule'

by James Goodwin | March 19, 2019
Today, the Center for Progressive Reform and 46 other environmental, labor, and public health organizations sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler calling on him to withdraw the agency's pending "benefits-busting" rule. Wheeler was recently confirmed as the official agency head, and, as the letter notes, he can begin his tenure on the right track by abandoning this dangerous rulemaking. The proposal is a vestige of the disastrous Scott Pruitt era that would radically overhaul how the ...

Regulatory Policy

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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