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April 20, 2021 by Darya Minovi

The Promise of Environmental Justice Screening Tools in Maryland and Beyond

Since President Joe Biden assumed office, environmental justice has been at the front and center of his administration. One key initiative: developing better mapping tools to identify communities that may bear a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution and climate change impacts. Biden’s environmental justice (EJ) plan emphasizes the value of these tools and the need to improve them.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current tool — known as EJSCREEN — dates to 1994, when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to collect, maintain, and analyze information on environmental and human health risks borne by low-income communities and people of color.

The EPA published EJSCREEN in 2015. It integrates demographic data (such as percent low-income, under the age five, over age 65, etc.) and environmental pollution measures at the block group or census tract level nationwide. The mapped data provide a visual of a community’s estimated pollution burden.

Though widely used by researchers and advocates, EPA EJSCREEN is not without faults.

A geospatial map, of course, is only as good as the data it uses. Unfortunately, the national air quality monitoring network is underfunded and outdated, and the devices have been found to routinely …

March 30, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Coal- and gas-fired power plants are a major source of U.S. carbon emissions. The Obama administration devised a perfectly sensible, moderate policy to cut those emissions. The Trump administration replaced it with a ridiculous token policy. The D.C. Circuit appeals court tossed that out. Now what?

It wouldn't be hard to redo the Obama policy based on all the changes in the power industry since he left office, which would result in much more rigorous emissions controls. The problem is that the ultra-conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to be very skeptical of the legal basis of any plan that, like Obama's, requires states to expand use of renewable energy.

Opponents of Obama's plan made two legal arguments, which both came up again in the litigation over the Trump rule …

March 9, 2021 by Alejandro Camacho, Melissa Kelly
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This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

Notwithstanding the Freedom of Information Act's primary goal of promoting transparency in government decision-making, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled by a 7-to-2 vote that the public policy of facilitating agency candor in exercising its expertise in preliminary agency deliberations can outweigh such transparency and accountability concerns. Justice Amy Coney Barrett delivered the 11-page opinion, her first majority opinion since joining the court in October. It was a natural debut given that the case, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club, was the first oral argument that Barrett heard after joining the bench.

The case presented the question of whether FOIA's deliberative-process privilege exempts from disclosure certain documents prepared during a statutorily required interagency consultation process between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service …

Jan. 12, 2021 by Victor Flatt
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One of the most vexing environmental law issues of the last three decades is the scope of the term "waters of the United States" (WOTUS) in the Clean Water Act — and what marshes, lakes, and streams fall under its purview. A connected legal question stretching back even further is how much deference to give agencies in policymaking and legal interpretations.

These issues are present in both the Trump administration's final "Waters of the United States" rule, which narrowly defines waters subject to the act, and the Biden administration's likely attempt to expand that definition. The Trump administration's narrow approach dramatically reduces the number of waterways under federal protection. A broader definition would restore and possibly expand protections to better safeguard public and environmental health.

A new study on the economic analyses in the Trump rule (which I co-authored) concludes that its supporting economic analyses rely on questionable …

Jan. 8, 2021 by Amy Sinden, Richard Parker
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This post was originally published by the Yale Journal on Regulation's Notice & Comment blog. Reprinted with permission.

T’was the season of gift-giving and on December 9, outgoing EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler delivered a parting gift for his successor in the form of a new regulation: Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rulemaking Process.

The new Rule is offered as a simple housekeeping measure designed “to ensure consistent, high-quality analyses [and to] codif[y] best practices for benefit-cost analysis in rulemaking.” Some observers find it relatively harmless; but others are not so sanguine. We view it as a sort of Trojan Horse—seemingly innocuous on its face, but harboring content that will hamper, and may undermine, EPA’s efforts to confront the climate crisis and protect the safety of the air we breathe. Here are a few …

Jan. 7, 2021 by Darya Minovi, James Goodwin
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UPDATE: On January 27, a federal district court in Montana found that the Trump EPA unlawfully made the censored science rule immediately effective. The court then delayed its effective date until February 5. This doesn't overturn the rule, but it does give the Biden-Harris administration more flexibility as it works to fully repeal this damaging policy.

In a last-ditch effort to further weaken the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ability to protect public health, this week, the Trump administration published its final “censored science” rule. As stated in the Center for Progressive Reform’s comments on the draft rulemaking, this proposal unjustifiably limits the research that can be used in regulatory decision-making, giving more weight to studies where the underlying data is publicly available. These restrictions will apply to dose-response studies — which measure how much an increase in pollution exposure increases public health harms — and which …

Dec. 18, 2020 by Victor Flatt, Joel Mintz
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Update: On March 10, 2021, the Senate voted to confirm Michael Regan as EPA Administrator.

President-elect Joe Biden is set to name Michael Regan to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Regan is currently the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and his past experience includes earlier stints at EPA and the Environmental Defense Fund. He would be the first Black man to serve as EPA administrator.

Donald Trump and the industry allies he appointed to head this critical agency — Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler — harmed it through a series of air, water, pesticide, and chemical safety rollbacks. Pruitt and Wheeler also imposed damaging procedural rules on the agency that, if left in place, will make it next to impossible to use the best science to craft environmental protections — or to justify them in the first place. Adding insult to injury, the …

Dec. 15, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Donald Trump prided himself on his contempt for established norms of presidential action. Whole books have been written about how to restore those norms. Something similar also happened deeper down in the government, out in the agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that do the actual work of governance. Trump appointees have corrupted agencies and trashed the norms that support agency integrity. It will take hard work to undo the harm. White House leadership is important, but success will require dedicated effort by the agency heads appointed by Biden.

Scientific integrity. The role of science is the most obvious example of norm busting under Trump. Whether it is EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Trump …

Dec. 10, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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Ever since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a dangerous (and now-rescinded) policy relaxing enforcement of environmental protections in March, the Center for Progressive Reform has watchdogged responses from state environmental agencies in three states in the Chesapeake Bay Region — Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

While the EPA essentially gave companies a free pass to hide pollution violations during the pandemic, most states set up processes to handle COVID-19-related noncompliance. Environmental agencies in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania received dozens of waiver requests related to water, land, and air quality protections, pollution controls, sampling and monitoring, inspections, and critical infrastructure deadlines.

A majority of these requests were related to the pandemic. But others, such as those seeking to delay important deadlines for construction projects, were not. This suggests that some polluters are using COVID-19 as an excuse to subvert or delay deadlines that prevent further air or …

Sept. 24, 2020 by James Goodwin
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An underappreciated side effect of the modern conservative movement now epitomized by Trumpism is its dogged pursuit of any legal argument to support “the cause,” no matter how ridiculous or specious. Long-settled questions like nondelegation and the constitutionality of independent regulatory agencies are suddenly, if bizarrely, up for grabs again. Add to this list a new line of argument – now germinating like a mushroom spore in horse manure – that posits that citizen suit provisions, such as those included in the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, are unconstitutional infringements upon the so-called unitary executive.

Earlier this month CPR Member Scholar Joel Mintz demolished this argument in a pair of posts published here. In this post, I want to move the ball forward and argue that citizen suits offer an essential opportunity for public engagement in regulatory implementation and thus should be extended universally across the entire …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
April 20, 2021

The Promise of Environmental Justice Screening Tools in Maryland and Beyond

March 30, 2021

Biden's Dilemma: Limiting Carbon from Existing Power Plants

March 9, 2021

Court Favors Deliberative-Process Privilege Protections over FOIA Transparency Goals

Jan. 12, 2021

Study Finds Significant Flaws with Trump Waters of the United States Rule, Provides Legal Support for Biden Replacement

Jan. 8, 2021

Andrew Wheeler's Trojan Horse for Clean Air Act Regulation

Jan. 7, 2021

Incoming Biden Administration Should Repeal Harmful EPA Censored Science Rule

Dec. 18, 2020

Trump Damaged the EPA. Here's How Michael Regan Can Rebuild It and Advance Equitable Environmental Protections.