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Trump’s regulatory agenda was never about helping the economy; it was always about rewarding friends and punishing enemies. White House officials have weaponized the “administrative state” they claim to hate and have repeatedly tried to strangle disfavored groups with regulations and red tape.
To be very clear, we have always supported proven safety technology as an effective tool for reducing crashes, fatalities, injuries and associated costs. Automated systems, including those available now like automatic emergency braking (AEB), represent a transformational development in transportation. By advancing bills including S. 2700/H.R. 4871, H.R. 6284, and H.R. 3773, Congress would be taking a deliberate and thoughtful approach to ensure that these benefits can be realized in the short term. As driverless systems continue to be developed and tested, AV legislation must ensure standards, oversight and accountability. Simply put, any driverless car bill must put public interest over private investment, and fast-tracking a flawed bill will do more harm than good – unnecessarily risking lives along the way.
Renewable energy consumption in the U.S. topped coal consumption in 2019, the first time this has occurred in more than 130 years. The last time renewable energy was more widely consumed than coal was prior to 1885, when wood was the main source of energy, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The EIA released the new finding on Thursday, adding that coal use has been declining over the past decade while renewable energy has increased.
A group of House Democrats on Thursday called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate allegations that social media platform TikTok had violated a child privacy agreement. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), and a dozen other Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons, asking that the FTC look into a complaint submitted earlier this month that alleged child privacy violations by TikTok. The complaint, which was submitted to the FTC by a group of 20 nonprofit groups, accused TikTok of violating a $5.7 million agreement reached with the FTC in 2019 that settled previous allegations that the company had violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Clearview AI, the maker of a facial-recognition tool used by law enforcement agencies across the country. The ACLU alleges that Clearview's technology runs afoul of the 2008 Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, according to the complaint, filed Thursday in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. It alleges in a statement that the company is engaging in "unlawful, privacy-destroying surveillance activities." The ACLU said in the complaint that it is bringing the suit "to put a stop to its unlawful surreptitious capture and storage of millions of Illinoisans' sensitive biometric identifiers." Several other nonprofits, including the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and Sex Workers Outreach Project Chicago, have also signed onto the suit.
The failure of the Edenville dam offered a series of startling revelations, for many Michiganders: That roughly 70% of Michigan's 1,000 regulated dams are privately owned; that they're inspected by a staff of two on a shoestring budget; that it is possible for multiple regulatory agencies to be aware that a dam is in serious danger for more than a decade; and that a willful dam owner can, it seems, whistle on past orders to fix it. The Edenville dam's condition was well-known. So oversight wasn't the problem. But the regulatory tools available to both federal and state regulatory agencies seem to have amounted to a series of sternly worded letters. Repeated orders to repair the dam were simply ignored. But that's par for the course in environmental regulation, after a generation of politics determined to paint government as the problem, and regulation as burdensome bureaucracy that kills jobs and stifles business. Decades of policy has gutted oversight agencies' staff, budgets and ability to compel compliance. The lesson to learn, here, is that Michigan must invest not just in its infrastructure — the Edenville dam is just one of hundreds of aging dams across the state, and there are also bridges, roads and god knows what else poised to fail — but in the kind of sensible regulations and enforcement authority that will give those we entrust to keep us safe the power to make that happen.
Federal courts have delivered a string of rebukes to the Trump administration over what they found were failures to protect the environment and address climate change as it promotes fossil fuel interests and the extraction of natural resources from public lands. Judges have ruled administration officials ignored or downplayed potential environmental damage in lawsuits over oil and gas leases, coal mining and pipelines to transport fuels across the U.S., according to an Associated Press review of more than a dozen major environmental cases. Actions taken by the courts have ranged from orders for more environmental analysis to the unprecedented cancellation of oil and gas leases across hundreds of thousands of acres in Western states.
Two separate coalitions made up of 23 states and a dozen environmental groups sued the Trump administration Wednesday over its rollback of a key Obama-era climate measure that required automakers to meet ambitious fuel efficiency standards. The March rule cuts the year-over-year improvements expected from the auto industry, slashing standards that require automakers to produce fleets that average nearly 55 mpg by 2025. Instead, the Trump rule would bring that number down to about 40 mpg by 2026, bringing mileage below what automakers have said is possible for them to achieve. Attorneys general say the rule conflicts with laws requiring the government to set the maximum possible standard for automakers.
When President Trump took office in 2017, his team stopped work on new federal regulations that would have forced the health care industry to prepare for an airborne infectious disease pandemic such as COVID-19. That decision is documented in federal records reviewed by NPR. "If that rule had gone into effect, then every hospital, every nursing home would essentially have to have a plan where they made sure they had enough respirators and they were prepared for this sort of pandemic," said David Michaels, who was head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration until January 2017. There are still no specific federal regulations protecting health care workers from deadly airborne pathogens such as influenza, tuberculosis or the coronavirus. This fact hit home during the last respiratory pandemic, the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. Thousands of Americans died and dozens of health care workers got sick. At least four nurses died. Studies conducted after the H1N1 crisis found voluntary federal safety guidelines designed to limit the spread of airborne pathogens in medical facilities often weren't being followed. There were also shortages of personal protective equipment. "H1N1 made it very clear OSHA did not have adequate standards for airborne transmission and contact transmission, and so we began writing a standard to do that," Michaels said.
A federal court in Montana invalidated 440 oil and gas leases sold across the West, ruling Friday the Trump administration did not properly follow a plan to protect sage grouse habitat. U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris said the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Trump administration “undercut” the 2015 plan the agency created under the previous administration that set aside land for the threatened bird. The decision strikes down a 2018 memo that sought to change that plan, meaning the government will have to return millions of dollars for oil and gas contracts spread over some 336,000 acres.
Over the last three years, the Trump administration has employed this logic to eviscerate or eliminate dozens of environmental rules. Since the pandemic took hold, the pace of rollbacks has only increased, with the administration slashing rules on automobile efficiency and emissions, the disposal of toxic coal ash, the killing of migratory birds and more. The starkest — though by no means only — display of this administration’s attitude toward cures and trade-offs was the April 16 dissolution of the legal basis for the Obama-era Mercury and Air Toxic Standards rule, or MATS, which required coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants. MATS, which went into effect in 2012, has helped prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year, according to an analysis by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency. According to the Trump administration, however, the public health benefits weren’t enough to justify the projected $9.6 billion-per-year price tag. Trump’s EPA concluded: “The costs of such regulation grossly outweigh the quantified hazardous air pollution benefits.” As is often the case, when the administration worries about “cost,” it prioritizes and inflates any costs to industry, while ignoring or diminishing those that society would incur without the regulation. The Obama-era analysis of MATS, for example, found that its health benefits, if monetized, would amount to as much as $90 billion per year. And the automobile efficiency standards that the administration is discarding would have saved consumers money on gasoline in the long run. The architects of the rollbacks, from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, have spent most of their careers serving industry, anti-regulation ideologues or both. A few examples of the rollbacks pushed under the shadow of the coronavirus reveal that the winners are invariably corporate interests or ideologues, while the losers, most often, are the rest of us.
In a recent essay in The Regulatory Review, I argued that President Donald J. Trump’s Executive Order 13,771, known as the “1-in-2-out” executive order on regulations, has been a categorical policy failure. I may have been too harsh in my assessment—but certainly not because I have changed my verdict on the executive order’s failure. Rather, the Trump Administration’s experiment with a regulatory budget has been useful in one respect: It has proven that the idea of a regulatory budget does not deserve to be taken seriously in regulatory policy circles, and it shows that imposing a budget on regulations simply does not work in practice.
Johnson & Johnson announced this week that it will stop putting talc, a mineral linked to asbestos, in its baby powder products. The move comes after years of lawsuits alleging that the powder causes various cancers. It’s also a surprising turnaround. Johnson & Johnson has spent decades funding biased science and lobbying the government to avoid regulating its products or labeling them as cancer-causing. It’s a tactic deployed by many other industries that have a stake in stifling regulation and the science behind it. The history of this practice is documented in a new book by David Michaels, the former assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the Obama administration. It’s a close look at how powerful corporations fund junk science and misinformation campaigns in order to obscure evidence and undercut regulatory efforts. Big Tobacco and the fossil fuels industry are obvious examples, but the problem goes well beyond that. From cancer-causing hair products and apparel to diabetes-linked food and sugary drinks, corporations have realized that you don’t have to convince the public or government officials of anything — all you have to do is create the illusion of doubt. And they do that by piloting bogus studies, organizing partisan think tanks, supplying dubious congressional witnesses, and anything else they can think of to give regulators enough cover to plausibly look the other way. If you’ve ever heard a politician say “The science is still unclear” or “We need to keep researching the issue,” there’s a good chance that was made possible by industry-funded pseudo-science. I spoke to Michaels about what this process looks like, why journalists and civic actors have been unable to stop it, and how the practice has become more pervasive in recent years. We also discussed the coronavirus pandemic and how the tactics he describes in this book helped lay the groundwork for the extreme skepticism of scientific expertise we’re seeing from conservatives.
An executive order signed by President Trump directing agencies to slash regulations in order to boost the economy is likely to lead to a number of court challenges. The Tuesday order directs agency heads to “identify regulatory standards that may inhibit economic recovery,” highlighting that regulations could be permanently or temporarily lifted in order to fight the economic fallout of the coronavirus. But experts say speeding up the regulatory process or nixing public comment periods would likely be slammed in court unless the Trump administration can demonstrate their actions were necessary due to the pandemic. “The problem there is those measures have to be directly related to addressing the pandemic. They can't just be political priorities the Trump administration wants to speed up and get across the finish line in the first term,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate with Public Citizen, pointing to the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act. “They’re not going to be able to claim that their ideological rollbacks are needed urgently to address the coronavirus just because they’re going to create economic growth. It’s not an argument that’s going to carry water on the policy side but certainly on the legal side in court either,” Narang said. The order may be as likely to spur eye rolls as it is to spur lawsuits, however, as some say the directive is more about messaging than affecting regulation.
Washington legend has it that bureaucrats and political operatives overwhelmingly stay in issue advocacy or politics after their bosses leave office. But that notion is decades out-of-date. These days, many top officials who leave the D.C. swamp go directly to the private sector—and are paid handsomely to do so. More of former President Barack Obama’s top aides entered the private sector than from any other administration in the past four decades, including those of Republicans George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, according to Kathryn Tenpas, a nonresident senior fellow at the Governance Institute at the Brookings Institution. Former Obama officials took high-paying jobs at companies including Amazon, Uber, Morgan Stanley, and Lockheed Martin. Yet as Trump’s aggressive rollback of Obama-administration policies has continued, several former Obama officials who went into academia or took private-sector jobs have since returned to politics or advocacy work. Take Gina McCarthy, who spent seven chaotic years in Washington, four of them as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama. McCarthy was happy to pass the first years of the Trump administration in Boston, where she got to ride her bike to work every day as a professor at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health. But although she had always expected some shifts after Trump won, she hadn’t anticipated the speed with which his administration would dismantle environmental protections. Her Trump-appointed successors at the EPA announced changes to federal standards almost daily. By June 2019, they had done away with the Obama-era regulation to curb carbon emissions from power plants, and set their sights on redrafting a rule to allow cars to discharge more polluting gases—a change that the auto industry itself largely opposed. But late last year, when a rewrite of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, which limits the levels of mercury emitted from power plants, seemed imminent, McCarthy decided that she was ready to make a change. So when the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental-advocacy nonprofit that had been searching for a new president, called her last fall, McCarthy said she was in.
A Democratic House bill that would tighten restrictions on online political ad-targeting on platforms like Facebook is set to be introduced next week, bill sponsor Rep. David Cicilline told POLITICO Thursday. The so-called Protecting Democracy from Disinformation Act would limit political advertisers to targeting users based only on age, gender and location — a move intended to crack down on a practice known as microtargeting, in which advertisers direct messages at subsets of users based on data ranging from their hobbies to their ethnic background. The tactic has come under fire from Democratic lawmakers, who say it allows politicians, including President Donald Trump, to tailor lies to voters online with impunity — and tech companies to profit off it. Cicilline said the legislation, which he plans to introduce Tuesday, is essential toward stopping politicians from targeting voters who may be more susceptible to believing deceitful advertising.
Two key Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday grilled TikTok's parent company over data privacy concerns and its ties to China. In the letter to ByteDance, ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the ranking member of the panel's consumer protection subcommittee, pressed the Chinese-based company about potential violations of federal law governing safeguards for children online and data sharing with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). ByteDance and TikTok agreed to settle charges that one of its predecessors, Musical.ly, violated the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Developers of apps geared toward children cannot collect personally identifiable information on users under the age of 13 without consent from parents or legal guardians. As part of that settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, ByteDance paid a $5.7 million fee and agreed to obtain parental permission before collecting personal information on TikTok and to delete any information about users identified as under 13 on the short-form video platform. ByteDance purchased Musical.ly in 2017 and merged it with TikTok, which it already owned.
Floodwaters from two breached dams in Michigan on Wednesday flowed into a sprawling Dow chemical complex and threatened a vast Superfund toxic-cleanup site downriver, raising concerns of wider environmental fallout from the dam disaster and historic flooding. The compound, which also houses the chemical giant’s world headquarters, lies on the banks of the Tittabawassee River in Midland, where by late Wednesday rising water had encroached on some parts of downtown. Kyle Bandlow, a Dow spokesman, said that floodwaters had reached the Dow site’s outer boundaries and had flowed into retaining ponds designed to hold what he described as brine water used on the site. The Superfund cleanup sites are downriver from the century-old plant, which for decades had released chemicals into the nearby waterways. The concern downriver, according to Allen Burton, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan, is that contaminated sediments on the river floor could be stirred up by the floodwaters, spreading pollution downstream and over the riverbanks.
A group of Democratic senators on Wednesday urged antitrust regulators to monitor Uber's potential acquisition of GrubHub and to launch an investigation if any deal goes through. Multiple outlets reported last week that Uber, which operates Uber Eats, is in discussion to acquire GrubHub in a deal that would consolidate two of the biggest players in the meal delivery business. "A merger of Uber Eats and Grubhub would combine two of the three largest food delivery application providers and raise serious competition issues in many markets around the country," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the ranking member of the Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust issues, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) called on the regulators to launch an investigation if a deal is met "to ensure that competition is preserved."
Amid mounting coronavirus deaths, a faltering economy and slipping poll numbers, President Trump faces a fresh dilemma with possible consequences for his re-election: Should he stand by his education secretary’s efforts to roll back loan forgiveness for students bilked by their colleges? On Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent Mr. Trump Congress’s bipartisan resolution to overturn an Education Department rule that would make it considerably harder for students to have their federal loans forgiven, even if they could show they were victims of unscrupulous universities. If the president signs it, he will hand Education Secretary Betsy DeVos a humiliating defeat, the first reversal of a major Trump administration regulation. If he vetoes it, he stands to enrage veterans groups that have come out strongly against Ms. DeVos’s loan-forgiveness policy — and whose favor he has long courted.
More than 250 employees have had concerns that a manager or senior leader at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) possibly interfered with science, according to an internal watchdog report. The report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that almost 400 respondents in a 2018 survey who were "involved in science" said they had experienced but did not report potential violations of the EPA’s scientific integrity policy. Of those, 251 reported that their concern involved “interference with science by a manager or senior Agency leader” and 175 reported that their concern involved “suppression or delay of release of scientific report or information.” It stated that common reasons for not reporting possible violations of the scientific integrity policy included fear of retaliation, belief that reporting wouldn’t make a difference and perceived suppression or interference by leadership or management.
The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Texas attorney Trey Trainor to serve on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), giving the agency the quorum it needs to conduct business for the first time since August. Trainor, who was an adviser on President Trump’s 2016 campaign, was confirmed 49-43 along party lines, with eight senators not voting. He received strong Democratic pushback due to his record on campaign finance and concerns over a lack of bipartisanship during the nomination process. The FEC has lacked the required four commissioners to conduct business and issue opinions since former Commissioner Matthew Petersen stepped down in August, leaving the agency largely powerless in the run-up to a presidential election. The period without quorum was the longest in the agency’s history.
The bipartisan rebuke of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ “borrower defense” rule that cleared Congress earlier this year is now heading to President Donald Trump’s desk. House and Senate leaders on Tuesday enrolled the Congressional Review Act resolution to overturn DeVos’ new rule. That final procedural step now means that legislation will be presented to the White House for Trump’s signature or veto. “Proud to send @RepSusieLee’s bipartisan resolution to the President’s desk and protect tens of thousands of defrauded students, many of whom are hurting now more than ever, by blocking Devos’s harmful student borrower defense rule,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Twitter. “@realDonaldTrump must sign it without delay.” A spokesperson for Sen. Chuck Grassley, the president pro tempore of the Senate, confirmed that the Iowa Republican also signed the legislation to enroll the bill. The White House previously issued a Statement of Administration Policy threatening to veto the measure, though Trump told GOP senators earlier this year that he was “neutral” on the issue. Several dozen veterans organizations are ramping up their efforts to win over the White House on the issue. They’ll be running an ad on Fox News, starting Wednesday, urging Trump the sign the legislation. The groups include Veterans Education Success, the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Vietnam Veterans of America. The Democrat-led effort to overturn DeVos’ rule won some Republican votes in both chambers but did not garner a veto-proof majority in either the House or Senate. Ten Republican senators broke with the Trump administration and joined with Democrats on a 53-42 Senate vote in March. The House passed the resolution in February 231-180, with the support of six Republicans.
A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency violated the law when it denied a request from Maryland and Delaware to tighten air pollution controls at power plants in upwind neighboring states. The decision by the three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit could force the EPA to impose new curbs on some coal-fired power plants, even as the administration of President Donald Trump seeks to help the industry by slashing environmental regulations.
With traffic dramatically down in recent months, the United States is in the middle of an accidental experiment showing what happens to air pollution when millions of people stop driving. The air is clearer. But the pollution declines aren't nearly as large as early indications suggested, according to an NPR analysis of six years of Environmental Protection Agency data. In some cities, the amount of one pollutant, ozone, has barely decreased compared with levels over the past five years, despite traffic reductions of more than 40%. Ground-level ozone, or smog, occurs when the chemicals emitted by cars, trucks, factories and other sources react with sunlight and heat. NPR analyzed more than half a million air pollution measurements reported to the EPA from more than 900 air monitoring sites around the country. We compared the median ozone levels detected this spring with levels found during the comparable period over the past five years. Our analysis revealed that, in the vast majority of places, ozone pollution decreased by 15% or less, a clear indication that improving air quality will take much more than cleaning up tailpipes of passenger cars. In cities such as Los Angeles, stubbornly poor air quality during the coronavirus lockdown underscored how vast fleets of trucks are a dominant source of pollution. In industrial cities like Houston, refineries and petrochemical plants spew considerable air pollution. And in Pittsburgh and across a swath of the eastern U.S., much of the air pollution still comes from burning coal. Scientists say those cities, where air pollution often exceeds federal health standards, will likely have to change the way they generate power, manufacture goods and move those goods around if they hope to have healthy air.