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Nov. 15, 2021 by Daniel Farber

Aggregating the Harms of Fossil Fuels

This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The decision at the Glasgow climate conference to phase down fossil fuels is an important step forward — and not just because of climate change. We think of fossil fuels as a source of climate change, but that's only a one part of the problem. From their extraction to their combustion, everything about them is destructive to the environment and human health.

Our system of environmental regulation divides up regulation of a single substance based on each of its environmental impacts. Thus, the regulatory system sees the "trees," not the "forest." That muddies the waters when we are talking about regulatory priorities, strategies, and long-term goals. It can also lead to framing issues in ways that may weaken environmentalist arguments, since the various harms of a substance or activity get fragmented into different silos.

Fossil fuels are a case in point. Consider coal. There are different regulations and often different regulators for impacts from coal mining on public lands, private lands, carbon dioxide emissions from combustion, methane emissions from mines, particular emissions, sulfur dioxide emissions, etc. When a law is focused on one impact of coal, attempts to …

Nov. 11, 2021 by Richard Pierce, Jr.
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This commentary was originally published by The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

While most people were following the developments at the G20 meeting and the Climate Change Summit last week, or immersed in watching the outcomes of key elections in several states such as Virginia and New Jersey, I was waiting to learn the results of a referendum in Maine.

Last Tuesday, Maine voters approved a measure that prohibits the construction of a transmission line that would have delivered hydropower generated in Quebec to New England. New Hampshire refused to permit construction of the same transmission line last year.

The largely ignored vote in Maine may have a greater effect on the future of the United States than any of the highly publicized events of the past week. When states and localities block electricity transmission projects that are in the national interest, they threaten the country’s …

Nov. 8, 2021 by Daniel Farber
Solar Energy and Electricity

This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Late Friday, the House passed President Biden's infrastructure bill, the Build Back Better law. As The Washington Post aptly observed, the bill is the biggest climate legislation to ever move through Congress. It also attracted key support from some Republicans, which was essential to passing it in both houses of Congress. Biden is pushing for an even bigger companion bill, but the infrastructure bill is a huge victory in its own right.

One major area of spending is transportation. Some of that goes for roads and bridges. But as The Washington Post reports, there's a lot of money for rail and mass transit:

    "Another $66 billion will go to passenger and freight rail, including enough money to eliminate Amtrak's maintenance backlog. Yet another $39 billion will modernize public transit, and $11 billion more will be …

Nov. 4, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Unless you're deeply immersed in administrative law, you may not have heard of the major questions doctrine. It's a legal theory that conservative judges have used with increasing rigor to block important regulatory initiatives. The doctrine places special obstacles on agency regulation of issues of "major economic and political significance."

In its initial outing, the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority said that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) couldn't regulate tobacco without a clear congressional mandate. Most recently, it has applied the doctrine in striking down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moratorium on evictions during the pandemic. It now seems poised to do so in a case involving EPA's power to regulate carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Unfortunately, there are a host of major questions about the doctrine's legal scope …

Oct. 28, 2021 by Minor Sinclair
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Our society has finally reached a turning point on climate.

I’m not referring to the “point of irreversibility” about which the United Nations warns us: In nine short years, the cascading impacts of climate change will trigger more and greater impacts to the point of no return.

Rather, we have reached the turning point of political will for climate action. There is no going back to climate passivity or denialism. Choosing to electrify and greenify is a progressive agenda, a mainstream agenda, and an industry agenda though all of these agendas differ.

Reconciling these interests, Congress will pass one, if not two, major spending bills this fall, which would invest as much as $750 billion in climate investments to decarbonize, electrify, and build resilient infrastructure. This achievement is not the Green New Deal, nor the full vision of the Sunrise Movement, but it borrows parts from …

Oct. 25, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Cost-benefit analysis is required for all major regulations. It's also highly controversial, as well as being a mysterious procedure unless you're an economist. These FAQs will tell you what you need to know about how cost-benefit analysis (CBA) fits into the regulatory process, how it works, and why it's controversial.

Q: Let's start with a basic question. Exactly what is cost-benefit analysis?

A: The term cost-benefit analysis is sometimes used to mean any comparison of pros and cons, which is something we all do every day in ordinary life. For present purposes, though, it means a very rigorous way of balancing pros and cons, using economic analysis to quantify the costs and benefits of an action. Basically, everything gets converted into dollar equivalents in this process.

Q: Why do agencies conduct cost-benefit analyses?

A: A few …

Oct. 19, 2021 by Amy Sinden
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This post was originally published on LPE Blog and is part of a symposium on the future of cost-benefit analysis. Reprinted with permission.

In the actual work of crafting the regulatory safeguards that protect our environment and health, cost-benefit analysis has been largely ineffectual and irrelevant. Indeed, its ineffectiveness has been so profound as to prompt even its most ardent practitioners and proponents to question whether it has any impact on agency decisions at all. Meanwhile, it plays at best a minor role in the legal standards that actually govern agency decision-making. Despite all this, a certain cost-benefit orthodoxy has become remarkably entrenched in environmental policy circles. Especially in an era when so many progressive ideas are in ascendance, why does the idea of regulatory review based on CBA, first brought to us half a century ago by the two Ronalds—Ronald Coase and Ronald Reagan—have …

Oct. 14, 2021 by James Goodwin
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This post was originally published on LPE Blog and is part of a symposium on the future of cost-benefit analysis. Reprinted with permission.

Over the last 40 years, the U.S. regulatory system has played an increasingly influential role in redefining our political and economic relationships in fundamentally neoliberal terms. A key but often overlooked institutional force behind this development is the peculiar form of cost-benefit analysis that now predominates in regulatory practice. Building a new regulatory system befitting our vision of a post-neoliberal America requires a formal rejection of prevailing cost-benefit analysis in favor of a radically different approach—one that invites public participation, permits open and fair contestation of competing values at the heart of policy debates, and recognizes and honors our social interdependencies.

The predominant form of cost-benefit analysis—one embraced by neoliberals—finds its theoretical underpinning in the controversial ideology of welfare economics …

Oct. 11, 2021 by Melissa Lutrell, Jorge Roman-Romero
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This post was originally published on LPE Blog and is part of a symposium on the future of cost-benefit analysis. Reprinted with permission.

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is inherently classist, racist, and ableist. Since these are foundational problems with CBA, and are not simply issues with its implementation, they can never be fixed by mere methodological improvements. Instead, the ongoing modernization of centralized regulatory analyses must focus on "moving beyond" CBA, and not on fixing it or improving it. Thus, in implementing President Biden's memorandum on Modernizing Regulatory Review (the Biden Memorandum), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should make explicit that regulatory review no longer requires CBA, even—as will be true in the typical case—when regulatory review does demand economic analysis as part of a holistic, multi-factor regulatory impact analysis.

The Biden memorandum endorses a series of goals that are not premised in the …

Oct. 1, 2021 by Robin Kundis Craig
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This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

Mississippi v. Tennessee is not only the Supreme Court’s first oral argument of the 2021-22 term, but it is also the first time that states have asked the court to weigh in on how they should share an interstate aquifer. The court’s decision could fundamentally restructure interstate groundwater law in the United States for decades — or the case could be dismissed immediately on the grounds that Mississippi has failed to allege the proper cause of action.

The case will be argued on Monday, and it will be the court’s first in-person argument in a year and a half. In March 2020, the justices stopped meeting in person due to the coronavirus pandemic, and since then, all arguments have been conducted by phone. But the justices are returning to …

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