Sept. 16, 2019 by Amy Sinden

Overshoot: Trump's Deregulatory Zeal Goes Beyond Even Where Industry Asks Him to Go

Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

The Trump EPA last month proposed a new plan to remove oil and gas developers’ responsibility for detecting and fixing methane leaks in their wells, pipelines and storage operations. This proposal to axe the Obama-era methane rule is notable for two reasons. First, it is a huge step backward in the race to stabilize the climate, just at the moment scientists warn we need to move forward with unprecedented speed. Second, it’s the latest in a growing list of Trump rollbacks opposed by the very industries they’re purportedly intended to help.

The Obama EPA put the methane rule in place for good reason: Methane is a powerful driver of climate disruption. While it doesn’t linger in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, for the 10 or 20 years it does stay up there it packs 80 times the heat-trapping punch. There’s increasing evidence that such methane leaks may be far greater in number and volume than previously thought. Unless stopped, they threaten to undermine global efforts to stem the climate crisis.

The world’s largest energy companies don’t seem to …

July 26, 2019 by Amy Sinden

This commentary was originally published by The American Prospect.

Everyone in communications knows how to bury a news story: release it late on a Friday. So it was with the White House’s annual report on federal regulations, released months behind schedule on a Friday in February. As it has for many years, the report pegged the benefits of federal regulation in the hundreds of billions of dollars, swamping the calculated costs of compliance by at least 2 to 1 and possibly as much as 12 to 1—awkward results for the Trump communications team, to say the least. How to square these numbers with the “job-killing regulations” trope was a real head-scratcher.

It might seem like good news that regulatory safeguards actually do save a lot of lives, not to mention preventing a lot of diseases, accidents, and other bad things. But these big numbers on …

Jan. 30, 2019 by Amy Sinden

This post was originally published by JURIST.

The news on the climate crisis has been bad lately and getting worse. In the face of President Trump's continued denial and his administration's diligent efforts to roll back every shred of progress made by the Obama administration and to prop up an ailing coal industry, the warnings from the scientific community have only become more dire.

In November, 13 of Trump's own agencies released a 1,600-page report confirming that climate change is already impacting communities across the country — bringing major storms, droughts, disease, water shortages, and more. That came on the heels of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warning that climate change is occurring more rapidly than previously thought. The report predicted catastrophic consequences if we don't make "rapid," "far-reaching," and "unprecedented" "transitions in energy, land, infrastructure, and industrial systems" …

July 25, 2018 by Amy Sinden

This post is part of a series on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation process goes as quickly and affirmingly as his supporters hope, one of the cases he'll hear on his first day on the bench will invite him to consider an imponderable question: Whether it's possible to put a dollar value on an endangered species.

Weyerhaeuser v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will raise an important and long-controversial aspect of environmental law: the use of cost-benefit analysis in agency decision-making. The Court may well be able to decide this case without diving into the most contentious aspects of the long-running cost-benefit debate. Still, it could provide an opportunity for a glimpse into how a new justice would approach a set of issues that, while seemingly technical, are central to deciding the stringency of …

June 15, 2017 by Amy Sinden

I don't know what executive order the Chamber of Commerce is defending in the amicus brief it filed Monday in Public Citizen v. Trump. But it doesn't appear to be the one at issue in that lawsuit. The lawsuit charges that Trump's "one-in, two-out" executive order is unconstitutional. That's the order he issued in January requiring agencies to repeal two regulations for every one they issue. It requires agencies to make sure that the costs imposed by any new regulation are entirely offset by the costs of the two repealed regulations. And, yes, it's just as absurd as it appears at first glance – akin to a business deciding to close two old stores for every new one it opens in order to offset the costs of the new store, entirely ignoring the revenue side of the ledger. 

Perhaps the inherent absurdity is …

Jan. 31, 2017 by Amy Sinden

Remember how Donald Trump bragged he was going to run the country like a business?

Imagine if before Trump could open a new casino, he was bound by a rule to close two existing casinos, and the costs of the new casino couldn't exceed the cost savings from no longer operating the old ones. Would this make sense as a business strategy? Of course not.

Unless, of course, you were secretly trying to sabotage the business and run it into the ground (and maybe drown it in a bathtub).

Funny then, that Trump would impose that rule on the agencies now working for him. But that's just what he's done. Under Trump's latest executive order (signed Monday, January 30), before a federal agency can issue a new regulation, the agency first has to rescind two pre-existing regulations. And the cost savings from scrapping …

Sept. 26, 2016 by Amy Sinden

Originally published on RegBlog by CPR Member Scholar Amy Sinden.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in Michigan v. EPA last term, a number of commentators have revived talk of something called the "Cost Benefit State." It is supposed to be a good thing, although it makes some of us shudder. The phrase was originally coined by Cass Sunstein in a 2002 book by that name. It describes a supposedly utopian government in which agencies and courts apply to all regulatory decision-making a formal cost-benefit analysis (CBA) grounded in welfare economics.

Sunstein and other eager proponents of CBA have seized on language in the Michigan case that, in the course of striking down the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) mercury rule, gestured toward the existence of a presumption favoring the consideration of costs in regulatory decision-making. Sunstein heralded the opinion …

July 13, 2015 by Amy Sinden

In Michigan v. EPA, handed down two weeks ago, the Supreme Court waded into the decades-long debate over the use of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) in agency rulemaking.   The decision struck down EPA’s limits on mercury emissions from power plants for the agency’s failure to consider costs, and so appears, superficially at least, like a win for the pro-CBA camp.  Indeed, Professor Cass Sunstein of Harvard—President Obama’s former “regulatory czar” and one of CBA’s most prominent cheerleaders—has been crowing about the opinion, hailing it as “a rifle shot,” ringing in the arrival of “the Cost-Benefit State.” 

But Sunstein’s celebration is a bit premature; his so-called “cost-benefit state” remains mostly in his imagination.  In fact, there is good reason to believe that the Court remains quite skeptical of the particular brand of CBA that Professor Sunstein advocates.  And that’s very good …

May 20, 2014 by Amy Sinden

The EPA issued its long-awaited cooling water rule yesterday and the score appears to be:  Industry – home run; Fish – zero.   Which is to say, it’s bad news not just for the fish but also for all of us who depend on the health of our aquatic ecosystems – which is to say, everyone.  

This is the rule that governs the design standards for the massive cooling water intakes at power plants and other large industrial facilities that withdraw billions of gallons of water a day from our rivers, lakes and estuaries. In the process, they kill billions of fish and other aquatic organisms.   Congress was aware of this problem when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 and so included language directing the EPA to require those structures to “reflect the best technology available BTA for minimizing adverse environmental impact.”  

When EPA finally got around to …

Nov. 5, 2013 by Amy Sinden

Since the Reagan Administration, federal agencies have been required by Executive Order to send their major rules to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review before releasing them to the public. OIRA review consists of, among other things, ensuring that agencies subject their rules to cost-benefit analysis to make sure the dollar value of their costs to industry exceeds the dollar value of the benefits they confer on the public.

It was no surprise under the Reagan administration – or more recently under the George W. Bush administration – that OIRA review served largely to delay and weaken rules. But you might be surprised to hear that the Obama administration’s record on OIRA delays has been significantly worse than the George W. Bush administration’s. A new report prepared by the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) found that “in 2012 …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 16, 2019

Overshoot: Trump's Deregulatory Zeal Goes Beyond Even Where Industry Asks Him to Go

July 26, 2019

The Cost-Benefit Boomerang

Jan. 30, 2019

Cap-and-Trade Could Fill Gaps in Governor Wolf's Climate Change Executive Order

July 25, 2018

Imagining a Justice Kavanaugh: For One Endangered Frog, Might Justice Scalia Have Been a Kinder, Gentler Jurist?

June 15, 2017

Chamber's Brief Lays Bare Crackpot Theory at Heart of Two-for-One Order

Jan. 31, 2017

Trump's Latest Executive Order: Scrap Two Regs for the Price of One

Sept. 26, 2016

Supreme Court Remains Skeptical of the 'Cost-Benefit State'