When the Wake Forest University emergency communications systems called me at 12:01 am on Tuesday, February 1, I could not have guessed that it was about a chemical bomb capable of wiping out blocks and blocks of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The call warned university students to heed the city’s voluntary evacuation of the 6,500 people living within in a one-mile radius of the Winston Weaver fertilizer plant that was on fire — and in danger of exploding.
Thankfully, the fire did not injure anyone, and the bomb did not ignite.
Yet it is a wakeup call — in my case, literally — not only to those of us here in Winston-Salem but across our nation: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to protect the public from exploding fertilizer plants, but it has left them unregulated.
These last few days have been harrowing, to say the least, especially for those forced to evacuate or shelter in place under threat of incineration. But we were lucky. Others haven’t been.
Nearly 600 residents were killed by a massive fertilizer explosion in Texas City, Texas, in 1947. In 2013, a fire at the West Fertilizer plant, located in West, Texas, a town …
This op-ed was originally published in Washington Monthly.
When the conservative movement contrived to pack the U.S. Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues, one of the goals was to create a powerful ally in its campaign to dismantle the federal regulatory system, which we all depend on every day to safeguard our families, communities, and environment. With its recent decision in the emergency vaccine-or-test case, the Court’s conservative supermajority gave its clearest signal yet that it will advance this campaign from the bench.
The unsigned majority opinion and the concurrence authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, when read together, lay out a comprehensive blueprint for defeating regulation in the public interest. Significantly, the arguments they raise are firmly grounded in the long-standing conservative myth that the regulatory system lacks sufficient “democratic accountability.” Quoting the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the concurrence casts the stakes in stark terms, warning …
UPDATE: On February 10, the Senate passed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act (H.R. 4445), sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature. Read my brief statement on the importance of this legislation.
A few years ago, Roschelle Powers took a routine trip to visit her mom, Roberta, at her nursing home in Birmingham, Alabama. When Roschelle opened the door, she found her mother vomiting, disoriented — and clutching a handful of pills. Roberta’s son, Larry, visited a few days later and found his mom alone and unresponsive. She died soon after – with 20 times the recommended dose of her diabetes medication in her blood.
The Powerses …
Last week, my colleagues and I advocated for a pair of clean water bills in Maryland and Virginia, which were spurred by research completed by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR). One bill would create a Private Well Safety Program in Maryland, and the other would create an aboveground chemical storage tank registration program in Virginia.
Both laws are sorely needed. This two-part blog series explains why. Part I, which ran yesterday, explores our collaborative work to protect clean drinking water in Maryland. Today, we look at our efforts to protect Virginia’s health and environment from toxic chemical spills.
As climate change intensifies, Virginia’s coastal and riverine communities are increasingly under threat of sea-level rise, hurricanes, and storm surge. Research published in 2019 by my colleague David Flores, a senior policy analyst at CPR, and CPR Member Scholar Noah Sachs found that flooding not only …
Last week, my colleagues and I advocated for a pair of clean water bills in Maryland and Virginia, which were spurred by research completed by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR). One would create a Private Well Safety Program in Maryland, and the other would create an aboveground chemical storage tank registration program in Virginia.
Both laws are sorely needed. This two-part blog series explains why. Today’s piece looks at our efforts to protect clean drinking water in Maryland; check back tomorrow for Part II, which explores our collaborative efforts to protect Virginians from toxic chemical spills.
In 2020, CPR policy analyst Katlyn Schmitt and I investigated nitrate concentrations in drinking water on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore — where much of the state’s agricultural activity is concentrated — and analyzed state policies designed to protect private well owners. We found that Maryland was one of five …
This op-ed was originally published by The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.
In recent decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has become increasingly interventionist on issues relating to the appointment and removal of officials. Nondelegation arguments have also escalated and even non-constitutional doctrines such as Chevron are debated in constitutional terms. But according to originalist scholars, who say that the Constitution should be understood based on its meaning at the time of drafting, these are necessary developments.
Although I am not an originalist, I had assumed that the originalist case must be a powerful one to justify such a forceful effort to overturn existing precedent. That turns out to have been a mistake on my part. Writing a book on presidential power led me to take a much closer look at the historical record and the recent scholarship on these questions. The work of scholars such as …
During the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior undermined its statutory obligations to protect lands and natural resources managed by the federal government. It also accelerated the extraction of fossil fuels from federal lands and constructed barriers to a shift to renewable energy, hindering efforts to abate climate disruption.
On March 15, 2021, the Senate confirmed Deb Haaland as new secretary of the department, which houses the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — three agencies that together are responsible for managing millions of acres of some of the nation's most precious terrain.
Before Haaland's confirmation, the Center for Progressive Reform identified five priorities for the department. Here is an update on progress so far.
Climate change is quickly evolving into climate catastrophe, and there’s a narrow window of time to do something about it. While the world works on solutions, there’s surprisingly little focus on the chemical industry, which accounts for roughly 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions — as well as other environmental harms.
But the industry essentially has a free pass to continue business as usual — it just keeps on keepin’ on, with little accountability.
The same holds true when it comes to the industry’s contributions to our warming planet, which is happening in three major ways:
First, fossil fuels are the “feedstocks” for …
Virginia's recent environmental and climate laws have been heralded as among the nation's most progressive. In recent years, Virginia passed landmark laws supporting renewable energy and environmental justice and joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, priming it to address the challenges posed by growing flood risks, climate-related disasters, and industry-related public health crises.
However, Gov. Glenn Youngkin's election has shrouded Virginia's green future in gray.
Youngkin's campaign rhetoric on climate change ranged from hostile to ambitious. Despite some positive appraisals of renewable energy projects, his statements and early Cabinet nominations make clear that he opposes regulatory and legislative landmarks that support the state's climate resilience.
To start, Youngkin has repeatedly promised to repeal the bipartisan Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), which mandates a 100 percent decarbonized power grid by 2045. To achieve this ambitious goal, energy producers are required to meet emission reduction benchmarks and increase their …
This op-ed was originally published in The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.
The idea that unelected judges rather than an elected U.S. President should resolve "major questions" that arise in the course of executing law makes no sense. And the idea that major questions should be resolved to defeat policies that the two Houses of the U.S. Congress and the President have agreed to makes even less sense. Yet, the so-called "major questions doctrine" endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court's current majority suggests that the rule of law only governs minor cases, not matters of "vast economic and political significance."
In important cases, the Court has abandoned the role that the Administrative Procedure Act assigns it—checking the executive branch when it contravenes the policies that Congress and the President have approved. Instead, it has assumed the role of constraining the faithful execution …