Cornavirus-CDC-1-wide.jpg
April 3, 2020 by Joseph Tomain

Precaution and the Pandemic -- Part II

Read Part I of this pair of posts on CPRBlog.

The coronavirus has already taught us about the role of citizens and their government. First, we have learned that we have vibrant and reliable state and local governments, many of which actively responded to the pandemic even as the White House misinformed the public and largely sat on its hands for months. Second, science and expertise should not be politicized. Instead, they are necessary factors upon which we rely for information and, when necessary, for guidance about which actions to take and about how we should live our lives in threatening circumstances.

From all of this, three recommendations emerge:

  1. Regarding the precautionary principle, we should recognize there are two dimensions to the approach. First, moving slowly and watchfully can save lives. We cannot rush to put dangerous and ineffective drugs and other medical supplies on the market. At the same time, it is more important to oversupply resources than it is to wait until danger is upon us. The country should not have had to face shortages of masks or ventilators. Similarly, preparation for health crises cannot be abandoned. By way of example, the National Security Council Directorate for Global …

April 2, 2020 by Joseph Tomain
Coronavirus-CDC-2-wide.jpg

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 …

March 31, 2020 by Brian Gumm
epa-hq-cc-nrdc-wide.jpg

On March 27, the Center for Progressive Reform joined environmental justice, public health, and community advocates in calling out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for suspending enforcement of our nation's crucial environmental laws. The agency made the move as part of the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, despite mounting evidence that increased air pollution worsens COVID-19, the disease the virus causes.

Not missing the opportunity to use the crisis as an excuse to press its assault on our safeguards, the EPA said last week that it would not "seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations" for an indefinite period of time. As the coalition of groups noted, the order is broad and "relieves polluting and hazardous industries from meeting environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak, with no end date in sight."

The enforcement suspension will almost certainly lead to …

March 30, 2020 by Daniel Farber
coronavirus6-pixabay-wide.jpg

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 26, 2020 by Daniel Farber
smog-los-angeles-wide.jpg

Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The Trump administration's major deregulatory efforts share a common theme. They assiduously avoid having to rely on scientific or economic evidence. Confronting that evidence is time-consuming and difficult, particularly when it often comes out the other way. Instead, the administration has come up with clever strategies to shut out the evidence.

The effort to repeal the Clean Power Plan illustrates some of these strategies. The Obama administration's plan would have cut carbon emissions from power plants along with destructive particulate emissions from those plants. The Trump administration didn't have much of a policy argument against the plan. So instead, it argued that the Clean Air Act just didn't give EPA the power to take sensible measures against climate change. As the old trial lawyer's saying puts it, "If the evidence is against you, argue the law."

The Clean …

March 25, 2020 by Sidney Shapiro, Liz Fisher
coronavirus3-pixabay-wide.jpg

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 24, 2020 by Darya Minovi
houston-ship-channel-wide.jpg

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread around the globe, the inequalities in American society have come into even sharper relief. People with low incomes who are unable to work from home risk being exposed to the virus at work or losing their jobs altogether. Their children may no longer have access to free or reduced-price meals at school. They are also less likely to have health insurance, receive new drugs, or have access to primary or specialty care, putting them at a greater risk of succumbing to the illness. As with any shock to the system – natural disaster, conflict, and now a pandemic – vulnerable populations are hit hardest and have a harder time bouncing back.                                                

In addition to socioeconomic risk factors, a less obvious but often inescapable hazard puts poor people in a literal and figurative chokehold: pollution. People with underlying health conditions, such as heart …

March 19, 2020 by James Goodwin
WHouseGreySkies.jpg

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 18, 2020 by Daniel Farber
White_House_wide.JPG

Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Now that President Trump has belatedly declared a national emergency, what powers does he have to respond to the coronavirus pandemic? There has been a lot of talk about this on the Internet, some of it off-base.

It's important to get the law straight. For instance, there's been talk about whether Trump should impose a national curfew, but I haven't been able to find any legal authority for doing that so far. The legal discussion of this issue is still at an early stage, but here are some of the major sources of power and how they might play out.

The Stafford Act (major disasters and national emergencies). Trump has specifically invoked the emergency provisions of the Stafford Act. The Stafford Act, which is mostly administered by FEMA, covers federal responses for two categories of events: major disasters and …

March 5, 2020 by Matt Shudtz
farmworkers-ca-strawberry-field-wide.jpg

From the farm fields of California to the low-lying neighborhoods along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, structural racism and legally sanctioned inequities are combining with the effects of the climate crisis to put people in danger. The danger is manifest in heat stroke suffered by migrant farmworkers and failing sewer systems that back up into homes in formerly redlined neighborhoods. Fortunately, public interest attorneys across the country are attuned to these problems and are finding ways to use the law to force employers and polluters to adapt to the realities of the climate crisis.

The second installment in CPR's climate justice webinar series showcased some of the important work these public interest advocates are doing and explored how their efforts are affected by enforcement policy and resource changes at regulatory agencies, from the federal level on down. Scroll down to watch a recording of the hour-long …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
April 3, 2020

Precaution and the Pandemic -- Part II

April 2, 2020

Precaution and the Pandemic -- Part I

March 31, 2020

CPR Joins Advocates in Blasting EPA's Free Pass for Polluters

March 30, 2020

Inequality and the Coronavirus

March 26, 2020

The Flight from Evidence-Based Regulation

March 25, 2020

Three Steps for an Expert Response to COVID-19

March 24, 2020

Coronavirus Pandemic Reinforces the Need for Cumulative Impacts Analysis