This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.
“Data drives policy, and the lack of data drives policy,” according to former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) environmental justice official Mustafa Santiago Ali. This crucial insight succinctly encapsulates one of the fundamental disconnects between the Clean Air Act and environmental justice.
A bill pending in Congress called the Public Health Air Quality Act aims to bridge that divide by significantly enhancing our nation’s air pollution monitoring infrastructure and improving community access to monitoring data.
Lying at the core of the legislation is a concept called “information justice.” Information justice starts from the recognition that policy-relevant uncertainty is an inescapable feature of environmental decision-making. Agencies like the EPA simply will never have perfect information when deciding whether and how to address a particular pollution risk.
Critically, such uncertainty entails certain costs in the form of suboptimal regulatory policies. While the EPA cannot fully eliminate those costs, it can determine how they are distributed by how it chooses to act in the face of such uncertainty. Information justice seeks to ensure that these costs are distributed as fairly as possible. In practice, that means adopting a default rule that shifts these costs to …
The Biden administration’s path forward on climate change — as the widely deployed metaphor goes — has become more difficult with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in West Virginia vs. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) apparent veto of a reconciliation package that contains climate measures. If the Biden administration is to successfully navigate that path — and it must if we are to avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis — the president will need to abandon the “compass” that his predecessors have relied on for decades to guide their policy agenda: Executive Order 12866: Regulatory Planning and Review.
First issued in 1994, the …
This op-ed was originally published by The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.
Law professors dream of the day when the U.S. Supreme Court will rely on one of their publications for a proposition that is crucial to the outcome of an important case. What better validation of all the blood, sweat, and tears that were poured into the publication? What a surge of power to discover that their work has had an impact, if only in the context of a single lawsuit. What an existential high to know that they have finally arrived at the pinnacle.
We experienced none of those emotions when reading Chief Justice John Roberts' opinion in West Virginia v. EPA. The citations to our work were both minor and innocuous, so that fact helps allay any sense of accomplishment. But equally significant, the Court's analysis bears little relationship to our own understanding …
Throughout the first half of 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced several actions in pursuit of the goals it laid out in its PFAS Strategic Roadmap — the blueprint it released last October outlining plans for addressing widespread PFAS contamination in the United States.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a group of more than 9,000 synthetic chemicals that pose serious risks to human health, including increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels, abnormal liver function, decreased birth weights, and certain cancers. Exposure to even extremely low levels of certain PFAS are unsafe for humans.
For most people, the primary source of PFAS exposure is drinking water contaminated by industrial discharge and runoff of PFAS-containing foam used by firefighters and members of the military. Through a comprehensive analysis of state and federal reports, the Environmental Working Group found PFAS contaminates thousands of water …
In West Virginia v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court slayed a phantom, a regulation that does not exist. Why? The justices in the majority could not contain their zeal to hollow out the EPA’s ability to lessen suffering from climate change in ways that impinge the profits of entrenched fossil fuel interests.
In doing so, the activist justices reached out to interpret the Clean Air Act despite the Court’s traditional restraint in deciding only cases where plaintiffs suffering individualized harm present a focused, redressable dispute. The Court has been particularly strict in foreclosing judicial review when environmental plaintiffs complain about prospective rules and actions. But today’s decision eagerly engaged with the speculative harms presented by West Virginia and coal companies. They were not harmed by a regulation that never took effect and that never will be implemented.
In its “what if” analysis, the …
Any high school student can tell you that water follows the path of least resistance. A similar rule might be said to apply to corporate polluters and small government ideologues who now see the federal judiciary — especially a U.S. Supreme Court stocked with Trump-era judicial activists — as the path of least resistance in pursuing their agenda of the "deconstruction of the administrative state." The first case they have teed up for the October session of oral arguments is Sackett v. EPA, which the Court could use to gut the Clean Water Act.
Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar William Buzbee is helping lead the defense of this bedrock environmental law. Working with the Georgetown Law Center's Environmental Law and Justice Clinic, Buzbee authored an amicus brief for members of Congress who support a strong Clean Water Act. In all, 167 members of Congress signed on …
The U.S. Supreme Court's upcoming ruling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants offers an unwelcome opportunity for its conservative majority to advance the former Trump administration's goal of "deconstructing the administrative state."
The vehicle for advancing the Trump agenda is the obscure "major questions" doctrine, under which the Court insists that congressional delegations of power to regulatory agencies must be made with pinpoint precision on questions of "vast economic and political significance."
The Court invented the major questions doctrine about 20 years ago in a case involving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's authority to regulate cigarettes, but it had used it only very rarely to overturn agency actions until Democratic presidents began to write regulations that aggressively protected public health, worker safety, and the environment.
The doctrine is at the heart of …
This post was originally published by Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.
In West Virginia v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) itself no longer has any practical relevance, but there’s every reason to predict the Court will strike it down. The big question is what the Biden administration should do next. That depends on the breadth of the Court’s opinion.
The Clean Power Plan was the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate policy. It had three pillars: (1) reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants; (2) shifts by the owners of coal plants to gas and renewables, and of gas-fired plants to renewables; (3) shifts by states toward the same kinds of shifts for their overall power mixes.
The Clean Power Plan has no practical significance today: the deadlines in …
In 2001, an explosion at the Motiva Enterprises Delaware City Refinery caused a 1 million gallon sulfuric acid spill, killing one worker and severely injuring eight others.
In 2008, an aboveground storage tank containing 2 million gallons of liquid fertilizer collapsed at the Allied Terminals facility in Chesapeake, Virginia, critically injuring two workers exposed to hazardous vapors.
In 2021, the release of over 100,000 gallons of chemicals at a Texas plant killed two contractors and hospitalized 30 others. In addition to injury and death, workplace chemical spills and exposures contribute to an estimated 50,000 work-related diseases such as asthma and chronic lung disease each year, as well as nearly 200,000 hospitalizations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created to reduce risks and hazards to workers, and to prevent incidents like these. However, following through on this promise has been another matter.
This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.
Court watchers and environmentalists are waiting with bated breath for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on West Virginia v. EPA, the Court's most important climate change case in a generation. The issue in that case is what, if anything, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can do to regulate carbon emissions from power plants and factories. Last week, conservative states asked the Court to intervene in another climate change case. How the Court responds could give us hints into just how far the activist conservative majority is likely to go in the West Virginia case.
The new case is a challenge to the government's use of the social cost of carbon in making decisions about regulation. The social cost of carbon is an estimate of the harm done by the emission of a …