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April 13, 2020 by Thomas McGarity, Wendy Wagner

Give Government Experts Their Own Microphone

Over the last month, the scripts of the daily White House COVID-19 briefings have followed a familiar pattern: President Trump leads off with assurances that the crisis remains “totally under control” and that miracle cures are just around the corner. Then agency experts come to the microphone and tell a very different story.

For example, on March 19, the president reported that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “very, very quickly” approved a malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, for treating COVID-19 that it had previously approved for lupus, malaria, and rheumatoid arthritis. Later in the briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the long-time head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned listeners that controlled testing would have to be completed before we know whether the drug works on the novel coronavirus. And FDA later warned that it had definitely not approved hydroxychloroquine for fighting the virus.

The warnings may have been too late. Within days, there was a run on the drugs, and one person in Nigeria had died and two more were hospitalized after taking large doses of chloroquine to treat what they thought were COVID-19 infections. Meanwhile, patients who need the drug for approved uses are in danger of …

April 10, 2020 by Rena Steinzor
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If you were the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as news of the coronavirus pandemic hit, what would you do to implement your mission to protect public health?

The best answer has three parts: first, determine what specific categories of pollution could exacerbate the disease; second, assemble staff experts to develop lists of companies that produce that pollution; and, third, figure out how the federal government could ensure that companies do their best to mitigate emissions.

Rather than take that approach, EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine issued a memo late last month offering businesses assurance that EPA would overlook certain regulatory violations for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. Public interest groups, already alarmed by the possibility that regulatory rollbacks at the agency would continue at a relentless pace despite the pandemic, were apoplectic …

April 9, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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Today, the Center for Progressive Reform joined the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health in calling on the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) to retract its outrageous guidance that allows employers to send workers potentially exposed to coronavirus back to work without any guaranteed protections. This flawed guidance is weaker than previous guidance, fails to protect workers, and is not based on scientific evidence.

“CDC’s flawed guidance contradicts its previous guidance for businesses and its current recommendations for members of the public who’ve been exposed to coronavirus, which is to quarantine for 14 days after a potential exposure,” said Matthew Shudtz, Executive Director at the Center for Progressive Reform. “Forcing our nation’s essential workers to remain on the job after exposure poses great risks, not just to their health, but to their coworkers, their families, and the community at …

April 8, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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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 …

April 8, 2020 by David Driesen
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Last week, Hungarian President Viktor Orbán used the coronavirus as an excuse to secure emergency legislation giving him permanent dictatorial powers. President Trump has long admired Orbán and emulated the democracy-undermining strategies that brought Hungary to this point — demonizing opponents; seeking bogus corruption investigations against opposition politicians; using vicious rhetoric, economic pressures, and licensing threats to undermine independent media; and whipping up hatred of immigrants.

President Trump also has copied Orbán in destroying the rule of law and honest government by subjugating the executive branch of government to his will. He has made it clear to every government employee that standing up for the law or truth in opposition to Trump triggers dismissal. For example, he's conducted a campaign of retaliation against executive branch employees who dared testify truthfully to his corruption during the impeachment process, and just last week, fired the intelligence community's inspector general who …

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 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 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 …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 17, 2020

Pandemic Spawns Dangerous Relaxation of Environmental Regulations

Sept. 16, 2020

The Pandemic's Toll on Science

Sept. 8, 2020

Pandemic's Other Casualty: Expertise

Sept. 3, 2020

It's Time for Maryland to Protect Its Poultry Workers

Aug. 24, 2020

Pandemic Lessons in Governance

July 29, 2020

Empowering Workers to Sue Employers for Dangerous Working Conditions

July 29, 2020

Who Could Possibly Have Guessed?