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April 8, 2020 by Joel Mintz

Trump's EPA Uses the Coronavirus Crisis to Mask Environmental Deregulation and Suspend Enforcement

Originally published on Expert Forum, a blog of the American Constitution Society. Reprinted with permission.


It has often been observed that natural disasters bring out the best and worst in people. Sadly, with regard to environmental protection, the coronavirus pandemic has brought out the worst in the Trump administration. Using the pandemic as a pretext, Trump's EPA has continued to propose and implement substantial rollbacks in important safeguards to our health and the environment while issuing an unduly lax enforcement policy.

For example, the administration recently issued a final rule rolling back automobile fuel efficiency standards. Its new regulation effectively undoes the federal government's program to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In a severe blow to global efforts to address the climate crisis, the regulation allows motor vehicles driven in the United States to emit almost 1 billion tons more carbon dioxide than would have been permitted under the previously effective requirements.

Moreover, EPA is now in the process of rushing through a so-called "transparency rule" that would greatly limit the scientific studies that the agency may use when proposing or revising its regulations. This dramatic regulatory change will be used to curb important, much needed scientific and medical research, and …

April 7, 2020 by David Flores
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With all the talk of the "new normal" brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot lose sight of how government policies and heavy industry continue to force certain populations and communities into a persistent existential nightmare. Polluted air, poisoned water, the threat of chemical explosions – these are all unjust realities that many marginalized and vulnerable Americans face all the time that are even more concerning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nothing could make these injustices more outrageously apparent and dangerous than EPA’s signaled retreat on environmental standards and enforcement, which cravenly takes advantage of the global pandemic and a rapidly expanding economic collapse. On March 26, Susan Bodine, EPA's Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, issued a memo outlining the agency's sweeping, temporary enforcement policy. Advocates, scientists, and communities almost immediately objected, and in a few days’ time, environmental organizations filed a …

April 3, 2020 by Joseph Tomain
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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 …

April 3, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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Amazon's response to the coronavirus pandemic is the latest in a long line of instances where the company has put profit ahead of the health, safety, and economic well-being of its workforce. According to Amazon employees at its fulfillment centers and Whole Foods stores, the company is refusing to provide even basic health and safety protections for workers in jobs where they could be exposed to coronavirus.

In Staten Island, New York, several Amazon warehouse workers organized a walk-out after multiple co-workers tested positive for COVID-19 and the company refused to shut down the facility for deep cleaning. In response, the company fired Christian Smalls, an employee who participated in and helped organize the protest. Amazon claims it fired Smalls because the company had put him on paid leave for 14 days and asked him to remain home in self-quarantine after he was exposed to another Amazon …

April 2, 2020 by Joseph Tomain
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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 …

April 2, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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The states have been out in front in dealing with the coronavirus. Apart from President Trump's tardy response to the crisis, there are reasons for this, involving limits on Trump's authority, practicalities, and constitutional rulings.

Statutory limits

As I discussed in a previous post, the president's power to deal with an epidemic is mostly derived from statutes. The available statutory powers include deploying federal resources and funding to support the states; controlling the movement of infected individuals across state lines and the U.S. border; and dealing with infections within the government's workforce. [Addendum: The way this was originally stated, it was a bit too narrow. The feds can also quarantine those who are likely to infect people who will cross state lines.]

States have broader powers. Governors, and often mayors, have the power to impose quarantines, close down …

April 1, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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Front-line health care workers and other first responders are in the trenches of the battle against the COVID-19 virus. The news is replete with tragic stories of these workers fearing death, making wills, and frantically utilizing extreme social distancing techniques to keep their own families sheltered from exposure to the virus. Should they contract the virus and become unable to work, they may seek workers' compensation coverage, which is the primary benefit system for workers suffering work-related injuries or diseases.

Under workers' compensation, workers are entitled – after a waiting period of seven days or so, depending on the state – to a portion of the wages earned at the time of suffering the work-related injury or illness and payment of reasonably necessary related medical expenses.

Yet, as Bill Smith, president of the Workers' Advocates Law and Injury Group (the largest group of employee-side lawyers in the country) noted …

March 31, 2020 by Brian Gumm
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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
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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 …

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