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July 23, 2019 by Rena Steinzor

Cost-Benefit Analysis According to the Trump Administration

Originally published by The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

As the United States slogs through year three of a deregulatory implosion, one truth has become clear: As practiced by the Trump administration, cost-benefit analysis has become a perversion of a neutral approach to policymaking.

To be forthright, I was never a fan of the number crunching. I thought it created the false impression that numerical estimates were precise, drastically understated benefits, buried controversial value judgments behind barricades of formulas, and depended on unreliable indicators of how much real people valued risk. But I understood it was here to stay when Cass Sunstein persuaded President Barack Obama to embrace it. The task for people like me became understanding how the methodology was practiced by economists so that we could make arguments critiquing its harsh applications.

The first sign of a crumbling structure was the shift among congressional conservatives and their allies in the business community to an exclusive focus on costs without any mention of benefits. They talked as if society had decided to take huge bundles of money and set them on fire for no good reason. The other troubling sign on the cost side was that many economists maintained …

Oct. 11, 2018 by Rena Steinzor
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This post was originally published as part of a symposium on ACSblog, the blog of the American Constitution Society. Reprinted with permission.

Now that they have a fifth vote, conservative justices will march to the front lines in the intensifying war on regulation. What will their strategy be? Two tactics are likely, one long-standing and one relatively new. Both have the advantage of avoiding the outright repudiation of Chevron v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837 (1984), although, as a practical matter, the outcome will be the same.

The first is to pull most cases into Step One of Chevron, granting unto judges the exclusive authority to say what regulatory statutes mean when they use faux plain meaning words like (in)appropriate, (un)acceptable, and (in or un)feasible. As construed in multiple lower course opinions applying Chevron, such terms signify congressional intent that agencies gap-fill, making science-based …

Aug. 30, 2018 by Rena Steinzor
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This op-ed originally ran in The Hill.

Tens of thousands of thoughtful — and not so thoughtful — words have been written about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s substantive positions on issues the court will face. At least one question has not been addressed, however: Is Judge Brett Kavanaugh so ideological about certain topics that he veers toward sloppiness?

As a law professor, I spend a lot of time around first-year law students, introducing them to the professional standards that define a good lawyer. My advice includes three things they must never do: ignore inconvenient language in a law to distort its meaning; rocket off on tangents that have little to do with the subject at hand; and cite one law to support a conclusion in another area to which it does not apply.

Kavanaugh has done all three things in D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals opinions …

June 19, 2018 by Rena Steinzor, Wendy Wagner
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Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt recently opened another front in his battle to redirect the agency away from its mission to protect human health and the environment. This time, he cobbled together a proposed rule that would drastically change how science is considered during the regulatory process.

Opposition soon mobilized. In addition to the traditional forces of public interest groups and other private-sector watchdogs, the editors of the most prominent scientific journals in the country raised the alarm and nearly 1,000 scientists signed a letter opposing the proposal.

This essay offers a contextual explanation of the reasons why scientists, who are typically loathe to enter the regulatory fray, are so alarmed.

In normal times, when agencies must evaluate the scientific evidence that informs a significant policy decision about health or environmental hazards …

June 12, 2018 by Rena Steinzor
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This op-ed originally ran in the Baltimore Sun.

On June 5, a 19-year-old construction worker named Kyle Hancock was smothered to death when a deep trench where he was working collapsed. R.F. Warder Inc., the construction company that hired Hancock to help fix a leaking sewage pipe, and the bosses it employed are responsible for his death, plain and simple. Their failure to shore the trench to prevent a collapse was grossly negligent, readily foreseeable, eminently preventable and, therefore, criminal.

The scene of the incident was gruesome. To recover Hancock's body, emergency responders from the Baltimore Fire Department first shored the trench to protect themselves and then worked painstakingly until 1:30 a.m., digging with hand shovels 20 feet down. Before they began the rescue effort, they had to order two other workers out of the hole. We can assume from this fact that Hancock …

March 27, 2018 by Rena Steinzor
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Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

The spirited conservative attack on regulatory guidance is both puzzling and hypocritical. Admittedly, agencies sometimes issue guidance to avoid the quicksand of informal rulemaking. But the law makes clear that without full-dress procedure, guidance can never replace rules and statutes in enforcement actions. Remedying agency overreach in the rare circumstances when enforcement cases are based primarily on guidance is a straightforward legal matter—defendants have only to tell their problems to a judge. Given the acute problems of hollow government and browbeaten civil servants these days, an irate defendant likely need only threaten to sue to compel an agency’s general counsel to back down.

The attack on guidance, like many other aspects of the latest chapter in the ongoing war on regulation, is also hypocritical. A huge swath of regulation was designed and is implemented to protect …

Feb. 22, 2018 by Rena Steinzor
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This op-ed originally ran in The Hill.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has wasted little time portraying himself as the prosecutor-in-chief of street — as opposed to white collar — crime, rejecting this month even a broadly bipartisan effort to reduce sentences for nonviolent crime supported by a coalition that spans the Koch brothers and the NAACP.

Civil enforcement has also fallen off, as documented in investigative reporting by The New York Times and others. Both trends will almost certainly continue given the more subtle sabotage of corporate enforcement implemented in a series of largely overlooked policy changes announced by memoranda and speech.

The campaign began last June, when Sessions wrote a memorandum to U.S. attorneys and DOJ senior managers instructing them not to enter into any settlements that provide for a "payment or loan to any non-governmental entity." His targets were the nonprofit groups enlisted to provide counseling …

Dec. 14, 2017 by Rena Steinzor
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This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission.

Despite research demonstrating that climate change is adding millions of pounds of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and his Bay states colleagues appear to be taking a page from the Trump playbook: Ignore this inconvenient truth.

Doubts about whether climate change is caused by humans and threatens the planet are rapidly going the way of urban legend. Just ask any resident of Puerto Rico, the Gulf Coast or California how life was during the three consecutive hurricanes or the wildfires that have plagued them this summer and fall. Reliable scientific research shows climate change is also compounding pollution in the Chesapeake. Rainfall exacerbated by these dire developments could mean millions of additional pounds of nitrogen and significantly more phosphorus reaching the Bay every year that will put restoration out of reach …

Aug. 2, 2017 by Rena Steinzor
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Obama's Fall 2016 Versus Trump's Spring 2017 Unified Agendas

On July 20, 2017, the Trump administration announced that it was going to kill hundreds of rules considered by previous administrations to protect public health, worker and consumer safety, the environment, and working people navigating the financial services marketplace. The Trump Spring 2017 "regulatory agenda" was lengthy and complicated. To understand its full implications, you needed to compare it to the last regulatory agenda issued by the Obama administration in the fall of 2016. No one could achieve that detailed analysis within the news cycle spanning the president's announcement, although Matthew Shudtz, CPR's executive director, said accurately that "we are watching the American safety net unravel before our eyes." 

We have now completed a comparison of the Obama and Trump agendas, as reflected in two charts that list the rules contained in: 

July 19, 2017 by Rena Steinzor
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Early in the Trump administration, news about delayed and "disappeared" rules emerged in several media outlets. Many of these delays were driven by a memo issued by Trump White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on January 20, 2017, which "froze" the implementation of rules until March 21, 2017, so that a representative of the administration could review them. Freezing rules for a limited amount of time is standard practice for newly inaugurated presidents. But the White House and agency administrators like the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Scott Pruitt soon decided to move beyond the Priebus memo to impose further delays, some as long as a year or two, so that industry-friendly changes could be crafted without having to undergo the full rigor of a rulemaking process. Many of the targeted Obama-era rules were designed to protect public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
July 23, 2019

Cost-Benefit Analysis According to the Trump Administration

Oct. 11, 2018

The Major Rules Doctrine -- A 'Judge-Empowering Proposition'

Aug. 30, 2018

The Hill Op-Ed: Brett Kavanaugh's Opportunistic Corner Cutting

June 19, 2018

Deconstructing Regulatory Science

June 12, 2018

Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Baltimore Employer of Smothered Worker Should Be Held Criminally Accountable

March 27, 2018

The Guidance Racket

Feb. 22, 2018

The Hill Op-ed: Justice Dept's Enforcement Policies Make Change for the Worse