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June 30, 2022 by Robert Fischman

Supreme Court Swings at Phantoms in West Virginia v. EPA

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 Court claimed for itself the power that presidents historically exercised through selecting agency officials to implement the administration’s agenda. This decision narrows the interpretive authority of those appointed officials, such as the EPA Administrator. It substitutes the judiciary for the executive branch in fleshing out broad congressional commands, such as “prescribe regulations …

June 23, 2022 by James Goodwin
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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 …

June 17, 2022 by Thomas McGarity
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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 …

May 25, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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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 …

May 19, 2022 by Jake Moore
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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.

OSHA …

May 2, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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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 …

April 25, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Last week, the White House undid an effort by the Trump administration to undermine the use of environmental impact statements. The prior rules had been in effect since 1978. Restoring the 1978 version was the right thing to do. The Trump rules arbitrarily limited the scope of the environmental effects that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can consider under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Their goal was clearly to prevent consideration of climate change.

More specifically, the Trump revision cut references to indirect or cumulative environmental impacts and discouraged consideration of effects that are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain. These restrictions flew in the face of everything we know about harm to the environment. We know that harm is often long-term rather than immediately obvious …

April 22, 2022 by Jake Moore
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In October 2022, the Clean Water Act will turn 50. Though heralded as a crowning environmental achievement, some argue it’s a costly and ineffective law. Half a century later, what has it achieved, and what can policymakers improve?

Since enactment, the Clean Water Act has led to cleaner waterways and healthier wildlife. Its implementation has prevented billions of pounds of pollutants from entering our water, protected public health, and slowed the decline of ecologically and economically crucial wetlands.

According to Center for Progressive Member Scholar Robin Kundis Craig, its most underappreciated achievement has been direct investment in wastewater and sewage treatment infrastructure. Often taken for granted, the social, economic, and environmental benefits of wastewater treatment facilities are massive. By some estimates, funding national water treatment needs would spur $220 billion dollars of growth. Since 1972, over $100 billion of Clean Water Act assistance funds alone have …

April 21, 2022 by Minor Sinclair
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This blog post is the third in a series outlining the Center for Progressive Reform's strategic direction. We previously published "Strengthening the 4th Branch of Government" and "A Turning Point on Climate."

I'm hopeful the recent disco revival won't last but that other resurging movements of the 1960s and '70s will. That era saw the birth and explosive growth of the modern environmental movement alongside other sweeping actions for peace and equality.

Public pressure led to critical environmental laws that continue to protect our natural resources and our health and safety. In 1970, Congress created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and enacted the Clean Air Act, which authorizes the federal government to limit air pollution, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which established the first nationwide program to protect workers from on-the-job harm. Two years later came passage of the Clean …

April 12, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The Trump administration left a trail of regulatory destruction behind it. Cleaning up the mess and issuing new regulations is Priority #1 for the Biden administration. Under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Michael Regan, the effort is beginning to pick up steam.

EPA has begun the year with several major new regulatory efforts. No one of them is transformative standing alone, but their cumulative impact will be substantially cleaner air and lower carbon emissions.

February 28. EPA proposed an unexpectedly strong expansion of the existing rules governing interstate air pollution. The proposal would strengthen existing limits for coal and gas-fired power plants, but it would also add other categories of industry such as cement. In addition, it adds western states like California to the rule's coverage. EPA estimates that the benefits of the rule …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
June 30, 2022

Supreme Court Swings at Phantoms in West Virginia v. EPA

June 23, 2022

Member Scholar Buzbee Leads Congressional Amicus in Crucial Supreme Court Clean Water Act Case

June 17, 2022

The Supreme Court's Demolition Agenda

May 25, 2022

After the Court Rules: Gaming out Responses to a Cutback in EPA Authority

May 19, 2022

Worker Safety Means Environmental Regulation

May 2, 2022

Taking the Supreme Court's Temperature on Global Warming

April 25, 2022

Biden Undoes NEPA Rollback