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April 2, 2020 by Joseph Tomain

Precaution and the Pandemic -- Part I

In this time of pandemic, we are learning about our government in real time – its strengths and weaknesses; the variety of its responses; and about our relationship, as citizens, to those we have elected to serve us. Most importantly and most immediately, we have learned the necessity of having a competent, expert regulatory structure largely immune from partisan politics even in these times of concern, anxiety, and confusion.

One of life’s lessons that most of us have learned, most likely from our mothers, is that it is better to be safe than sorry. That bit of folk wisdom has been embedded in environmental law for about three decades, where it is known as the precautionary principle. Briefly, that principle can be explained this way: “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

To be sure, the principal has its advocates and critics, and, unsurprisingly, it has been highly politicized. However, the principle is not new, and it is embedded in many of the laws we use to regulate potential hazards. Most significantly for today and for our concerns …

March 30, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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It's a truism among disaster experts that people who were disadvantaged before a disaster are also the most vulnerable during the disaster. There are aspects of the coronavirus pandemic that fit this mold. Here are some of the disparities we can expect to see.

Rural v. Urban

Much of our economic growth and job opportunity is in cities, which is why young people continually leave the countryside. Life expectancies also tend to be lower in rural areas. Although it's hard to be sure, people in those areas may also be disadvantaged in terms of the coronavirus. The virus is likely to spread more slowly in rural areas because the web of interpersonal interactions is less dense and because rural areas are further from the airports that initially spread the disease. That's a definite advantage. But when the epidemic does …

March 25, 2020 by Sidney Shapiro, Liz Fisher
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Whatever one's political views, the end goal regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) is the same – to minimize the number of people dying and suffering from severe disease. As commentators have repeatedly noted, we need genuine expertise for that. Beyond involving scientists and physicians in decision-making, there are three steps in determining what that expertise should look like and how we tap into it most effectively.

First, the experts can inform decision-making, even if uncertainty will remain. While we can all agree on the end point – no one dying – how to get there is not clear, even to the experts. Rigorous expert judgment and a respect for science are therefore required. Expertise is developed not just from professional training, but from experience in using that training over and over, building up a store of experience that makes one a better expert.

Ultimately, however, the choices in uncertain situations are …

March 19, 2020 by James Goodwin
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Earlier this week, a group of 25 Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) Board Members, Member Scholars, and staff signed a joint letter urging Russell Vought, Acting Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to direct federal agencies to hold open active public comment periods for pending rulemakings amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter further urges Vought to extend comment periods for at least 30 days beyond the end of the crisis.

Meaningful public participation is one of the bedrock principles upon which our regulatory system is based. Among other things, by enlisting the dispersed expertise of the public, it ensures higher-quality regulatory decision-making, and it imbues the process and its results with a crucial measure of credibility and legitimacy.

This goal of meaningful public participation is most notably enshrined in the Administrative Procedure Act’s requirement that agencies provide members of the public …

March 16, 2020 by Karen Sokol
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"This report is a catalogue of weather in 2019 made more extreme by climate change, and the human misery that went with it." That is the statement of Brian Hoskins, chair of Imperial College in London's Grantham Institute for Climate Change, about the recently released State of the Climate in 2019 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the WMO compiles information from scientists all over the world that has been a key driver of international climate law and policymaking. One of the IPCC's reports was similarly dire to that of the WMO's, but not without hope.

Although anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have disrupted the planet's climate system in ways that have already caused and will continue to cause massive harms all over the world, the IPCC warned, we still have time to prevent a level of disruption that …

March 2, 2020 by Karen Sokol
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Earlier this year, on the heels of the Earth's hottest decade on record, a coalition of former government officials, fossil fuel companies, car manufacturers, financial companies, and nonprofit organizations renewed their endorsement of a national carbon tax as "the most effective climate solution" (emphasis added). And by "the," it appears that they mean "the only." The catch is that the coalition's legislative plan also calls for preventing the federal government from regulating carbon emissions and from taking any other protective measures "that are no longer necessary upon the enactment of a rising carbon fee."

Given the scale and complexity of the planetary emergency that we face, it would certainly be nice if the solution were that simple. But that, of course, is too good to be true. A carbon tax may very well be one important component of the climate crisis toolbox, but …

Feb. 27, 2020 by David Driesen
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On March 3, the Supreme Court will hear a plea to invent a new rule of constitutional law with the potential to put an end to the republic the Constitution established, if not under President Trump, then under some despotic successor. This rule would end statutory protections for independent government officials resisting a president’s efforts to use his power to demolish political opposition and protect his party’s supporters. Elected strongmen around the world have put rules in place allowing them to fire government officials for political reasons and used them to destroy constitutional democracy and substitute authoritarianism. But these authoritarians never had the audacity to ask unelected judges to write such rules, securing their enactment instead through parliamentary acts or a referendum.

The blessings of liberty in this country and other functioning democracies depend in important ways on something that legal scholars call the “internal …

Dec. 20, 2019 by James Goodwin
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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 our people, our democracy or our economy, and it’s certainly not good for the millions of working families struggling to keep their heads above water between paychecks.

Here, in no particular order, are 10 of the biggest developments from the past year that have contributed to this disquieting state of affairs.

  1. Nondelegation bullet dodged – for now. The case, Gundy v. United States, presented as clear …

Dec. 17, 2019 by James Goodwin
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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 the unique potential of the regulatory system as an institutional means for promoting a more just and equitable society.

Few organizations better illustrate this potential better than the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, so we were delighted to be joined at the top of the webinar by the organization's Founding Director, Anne Rolfes. Anne vividly described the work that the Louisiana Bucket Brigade is doing, empowering members of the …

Sept. 20, 2018 by Laurie Ristino
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Donald Trump has, in a sense, made good on his promise to "drain" Washington, D.C. – but not in the way many people probably thought he would. The exodus from our nation's capital has been made up of the scientists, diplomats, and policy experts that a democracy needs to function, not the high-powered, special interest lobbyists voters likely had in mind. Meanwhile, a raft of grifters has gleefully taken a temporary perch in the executive branch. The ensuing debacles, scandals, and assaults on safeguards and agencies have made it stunningly clear how critical a competent, public interest-focused executive branch is to our country's well-being.

One recent example of Trump's war on federal agencies is Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue's surprise announcement last month that he planned to reorganize the Economic Research Service (ERS), an independent economic research agency. Perdue's announcement was a shock to ERS …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
April 2, 2020

Precaution and the Pandemic -- Part I

March 30, 2020

Inequality and the Coronavirus

March 25, 2020

Three Steps for an Expert Response to COVID-19

March 19, 2020

CPR, Allies Call on Trump Administration to Hold Open Public Comment Process during COVID-19 Pandemic

March 16, 2020

Trump's Bungling of Coronavirus Response Mirrors His Approach to Climate Crisis

March 2, 2020

The Problem with the Climate Leadership Council's Carbon Tax Plan

Feb. 27, 2020

Will the Supreme Court Create a Pathway to Autocracy in Consumer Protection Agency Case?