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More than a dozen Democratic senators signed a letter Thursday urging Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn to ease restrictions on blood donations by on men who have recently had sex with men, as the coronavirus outbreak has led to a dire shortage of blood. The current rule, which the senators describe as "discriminatory" in their letter, prohibits men who who have had sex with other men in the past 12 months from donating. "With important advances in blood screening and safety technology, a time-based deferral policy is not scientifically sound, continues to effectively exclude many healthy gay and bisexual men, and does not meet the urgent demands of the moment," the senators wrote.
President Trump has made rolling back environmental regulations a centerpiece of his administration, moving to erase Obama-era efforts ranging from landmark fuel efficiency standards and coal industry controls to more routine rules on paint solvents and industrial soot. But all along, scientists and lawyers inside the federal government have embedded statistics and data in regulatory documents that make the rules vulnerable to legal challenges. These facts, often in the technical supporting documents, may hand ammunition to environmental lawyers working to block the president’s policies. Trump administration loyalists see in the scientists’ efforts evidence that a cabal of bureaucrats and holdovers from previous administrations is intentionally undermining the president and his policies. And there can be little doubt that some career scientists are at odds with the president’s political appointees. But current and former federal employees who work on environmental science and policy say their efforts to include these facts are a civic and professional duty, done to ensure that science informs policy outcomes and protects the public. Some are trying to preserve regulations they spent years of their lives writing.
A bipartisan group of state attorneys general on Wednesday sent letters to major retailers urging them crack down on price gouging on their online platforms amid the spread of coronavirus. The 34 AGs recommended for Amazon, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook and Walmart to build tools to detect price spikes and create landing pages for people to report cases of price gouging. “Major online businesses must ensure consumers are charged fair prices when they shop on their platforms,” Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement on the letters. “We appreciate the efforts these companies are making during this difficult time and are hopeful that they will continue work with State Attorneys General to do more to root out price gouging online and protect consumers.” The letter cited several reported cases of price gouging related to coronavirus, including hand sanitizer and face masks prices spiking at least 50 percent and an eight ounce bottle of Purell selling for 40 dollars on Facebook marketplace. The attorneys general said their offices have been receiving reports of price gouging daily.
All five federal bank and credit union regulators on Thursday called on the financial firms they regulate to offer short-term loans to customers facing hardships during the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and National Credit Union Administration issued joint guidance Thursday to “encourage financial institutions to offer responsible small-dollar loans to both consumers and small businesses.”
In Europe and the U.S., regulators have also given banks room to absorb potential losses by letting them eat into capital cushions that were designed to be built up in the good times and eased in times of need. That’s justified by the severity and potential duration of a downturn that may be the worst since World War II. Yet additional moves to relax or postpone new accounting rules, which were meant to frontload losses on future bad loans, would be dangerous. As I argued when the pandemic was worsening earlier this month, letting banks sweep bad debt under the carpet is never a good idea. European authorities are considering suspending part of the IFRS 9 rulebook, introduced in 2018, which forced banks to book losses on doubtful loans at an earlier stage, Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday. The change might cause investors to lose confidence in banks if they think it hides the risk on balance sheets, according to a document seen by Bloomberg. Regulators shouldn’t underestimate this fear. European banks are only just emerging from a cleanup of soured loans that reflected, in part, lending practices that weren’t fit for purpose. We don’t know whether lenders have truly learned the lessons of the past, and recent bank rescues have illustrated how national governments are often far too willing to bend the rules.
If the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic are similar to other global crises historically, there will be long-lasting effects on the businesses, communities and households for years to come. Understanding just how much the crisis affects our country’s population should be an imperative for policymakers. To do so, our country’s research community needs the tools – and the data – to monitor and evaluate the success of our policy interventions to protect public health. Unfortunately, today the country is ill-equipped for such a task. While ongoing work to implement new federal data laws and practices have put the government on the precipice, the crisis indicates we need much more rapid improvement. The American people will need high-quality and reliable information to understand the current crisis and better prepare for the next one. We cannot wait a decade for that to happen. Using data must be a key component of the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and also a core feature of future planning to ensure the policies implemented today are sound and achieve the desired outcomes for the American people. These decisions are so important to our country’s future that evidence must guide our policies, and we can’t have useful evidence without good data.
The Securities and Exchange Commission prevailed Tuesday in a key stage of its cryptocurrency enforcement crackdown, as a federal judge issued an injunction halting Telegram Group Inc. from distributing its digital coins. U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel wrote the SEC had shown a “substantial likelihood of success” in prevailing against Telegram, which was accused of breaking investor protection laws when it sold $1.7 billion in cryptocurrency. Dubai-based Telegram and other startups pushed forward with lucrative, unregulated fundraisings despite the SEC’s warnings in 2017 that they were subject to rules restricting how companies raise capital. Telegram’s argument that its deal was exempt from oversight because its investors were sophisticated venture capitalists didn’t win over Judge Castel. To the contrary, the judge wrote, the success of the deal depended upon allowing those investors to resell the digital coins to the public. The injunction ordered by Judge Castel on Tuesday puts a halt to that process while the litigation plays out. The judge didn’t conclusively rule for the SEC, despite the agency’s request that he do so.
Time has run out for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to challenge a federal court ruling that would limit the agency's use of waivers exempting small oil refineries from the country’s biofuels regulations. The EPA had until the end of March 24 to file a challenge, but by early March 25, no such filing had been entered, according to a Reuters review of the case docket though the U.S. government's electronic public access service for court records. A decision by the administration of President Donald Trump not to appeal the ruling would mark a big win for the U.S. corn lobby and a blow to the oil industry. Oil refiners say the waivers have been crucial to keeping small refineries in business, but the agriculture industry believes they have been over used and have cut into demand for corn-based ethanol. Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, refiners are required to blend billions of gallons of ethanol into their gasoline every year, a boon for corn farmers. But the EPA can give out waivers to small facilities that prove that compliance would put them in financial straits. The waiver program was cast into question in January after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Trump administration had been too free with the waivers and set a standard for the exemptions that would greatly reduce the numbers of waivers the EPA can give out in the future. The EPA has been considering its response since.
As the United States confronts the unprecedented coronavirus outbreak, it is clear that under President Trump’s leadership, the federal government’s ability to provide administrative guidance, coordination and support is startlingly inadequate. Perhaps it is no surprise that a president who campaigned against the “deep state” with promises of “draining the swamp” in Washington would take measures to disband key aspects of the federal administrative state, such as the U.S. Pandemic Response Team, which was formed to combat public health crises. Over the course of his presidency, Trump has repeatedly worked to undermine federal administrative capacity. The result is a government unprepared to protect its citizens and a president unwilling to take responsibility. Trump’s ineffective federal leadership in the face of the coronavirus crisis is the culmination of a decades-long agenda to erode federal bureaucracy. Now, as the nation suffers the consequences, it is crucial — particularly leading up to the 2020 election — to examine the past choices that produced our present situation and consider how to avert future disasters.
A federal appeals court sided with scientists Monday, forcing a lower court to reconsider a case challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to bar those who receive agency grants from sitting on its boards. The policy in question was put forth by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, blocking scientists from serving on the agency’s esteemed Science Advisory Board (SAB). He argued that receiving money from EPA represented a conflict of interest that should bar scientists from evaluating agency policies. But critics sued, arguing it will leave EPA’s board stocked with those with ties to industry.
Green groups see the coronavirus stimulus package as a way to push for environmental measures, an idea that’s gaining traction in the Democratic-led House but contributing to stalled negotiations in the GOP-run Senate. Organizations are calling for checks on industries heavily involved in the production and use of fossil fuels and offering tax incentives to renewable energy producers. The House seems to be heeding their calls, with a proposal from the chamber’s Democrats including provisions that would crack down on pollution from the airline industry.
One of Donald Trump’s first actions as President was to issue Executive Order 13,771, known as the “1-in-2-out” order on regulations, which drew both praise and strong criticism. Just after the order was issued, I wrote an article for The Regulatory Review describing how this order would impose an arbitrary regulatory budget—forcing agencies to ignore the benefits of new regulations and, instead, to focus only on the costs to corporations and other regulated entities. At the time, there were also significant unresolved questions about both the legality of the order and the technical feasibility of regulatory budgeting. Three years after the order’s implementation, President Donald J. Trump’s 1-in-2-out regulatory budgeting has been an abject policy failure on multiple levels. First, the Administration has defended the order’s legality by arguing in court that it plays no meaningful role in regulatory decision-making—a claim that, if true, demonstrates the order’s worthlessness. Second, numerous agencies were unable to comply with the order in fiscal year 2019, leading to the Administration missing its required 1-in-2-out target when comparing significant deregulatory actions to regulatory ones. Third, as I predicted, the order has forced agencies to wholly ignore the benefits of regulation to the public—leading some agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to issue deregulatory rules whose costs exceeded the benefits so that agencies could count the cost savings.
The short but tragic history of the federal government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has been shaped by the same corporate-backed science denialism that has long been deployed by the tobacco, fossil fuel, chemical, and mining industries to fight public health and environmental regulation. That denialism has infected the body of the Republican party and now the Trump administration. Experts in manufacturing scientific doubt on behalf of corporate polluters have been installed in influential posts, shaping the work of key government agencies. Hundreds of dedicated, career scientists have left the agencies, leaving huge gaps in expertise. World-renowned scientists were dismissed from advisory committees and important public health functions, like the National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, have been shuttered. We are now reaping the consequences of the rejection of science and expertise Republican politicians and their corporate allies have sown for decades. Long before the current crisis, they belittled the science that documented the dangers of tobacco, firearms, numerous toxic chemicals and pollutants, and, of course, the atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases. They frequently accused public health scientists of being scaremongers seeking to advance their own careers or political ideology.
More than 1,000 proposed federal rules and regulatory actions are due to finish their public comment periods while stakeholders are distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Governors Association and others wrote to President Donald Trump. Nine state and local government associations asked Trump to pause the comment periods for all active federal rulemaking and notices, according to their letter dated Friday. The pandemic’s “extreme impact on normal working and living conditions will impair the ability of not only state and local officials, but also the general public, issue experts and others to provide thoughtful and meaningful participation and involvement in potential federal government actions that directly affect millions of people,” the groups wrote. Signing on to the letter along with the governors association were the U.S. Conference of Mayors; National Conference of State Legislatures; National League of Cities; National Association of Counties; Government Finance Officers Association; Council of State Governments; International City/County Management Association; and National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers, and Treasurers. The website for commenting on federal proposals, regulations.gov, shows nearly 700 comment periods due to close within 30 days and more than 1,000 that will close in 90 days, according to the letter. The letter urged Trump to “extend agency comment periods for a reasonable period of time.” Similar letters sent earlier this week to Russell Vought, acting director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, also urged him to require federal agencies to extend their public comment periods. One letter came from the Center for Progressive Reform and another from a coalition of 170 groups including environmental, public-interest, and labor advocates. The regulatory actions where comment periods close within 30 days cover a broad range of topics, including restrictions on companies’ “significant new use” of certain chemicals, filing fees for foreign investors giving notice of U.S. real estate and other kinds of transactions, applications to register new pesticides for use in the U.S., and rules for banks to satisfy the community reinvestment requirements in federal law.
When developing health, safety, consumer and environmental protections, agencies depend upon truthful feedback from the public. But lately, corporate malefactors are misleading federal agencies through manipulated public comments. It’s suspicious when small business owners fight against basic protections from bad investment advice; when teachers, veterans and retirees want shareholders kept in the dark about corporate political spending; or when academics attack basic science and tout long-discredited studies. When we scratch the surface of these ostensibly grassroots efforts, we often find thinly disguised fakery: astroturfing operations created by corporations. Earlier this year, I testified at a House Financial Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on how prevalent these deceptive industry tactics have become.
Environmental group Earthjustice sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday following an investigation that found the agency was fast-tracking approval for various chemicals. The investigation, done alongside the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) “found that EPA is approving hundreds of new chemicals each year without giving the public access to important information or opportunities to provide input.” The lawsuit based on the report hinges on the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, which require the EPA to announce new applications for chemicals ranging from pesticides to new forms of non-stick chemicals. But the groups found that in one out of every six applications, the EPA did not publish the notice until after the chemical was already approved, preventing the public from weighing in with concerns.
Pressure for federal privacy legislation has been building in Washington, D.C. Despite efforts to craft a single, bipartisan bill, the U.S. Senate now has before it two competing—but similar—proposals, one from Senators of each party. If legislation is to pass, Democrats and Republicans must find agreement on two issues over which the two competing bills diverge: preemption and private rights of action. Pressures for federal privacy legislation emanate from three sources. First, 75 percent of Americans want more government regulation over what companies can do with personal data. As Cambridge Analytica, data breaches, and other scandals have mounted in recent years, consumers have lost trust in companies’ use of their data. Advocates have called on the U.S. Congress to fix the “failure” of the current privacy regime. In addition, companies themselves, especially big tech, have pushed Congress to pass privacy law to establish a national privacy framework to “enable continued innovation” and “ensure that American companies continue to lead a globally competitive market.”
As the federal government shifts into an all-hands-on-deck fight to battle coronavirus, President Trump and his White House have increasingly called on tech companies to lend a hand. The companies are in conversations with government about to leverage their might and reach; the Trump White House held a conference call last week to talk about what they can do to help, from helping analyze scholarly research to pulling down misinformation on the virus. For the tech giants, this plea represents a huge opportunity to get back in the public’s good graces, as an industry whose image has taken a beating is being asked, even urged, to step up in a moment of national emergency. But they also have a problem: Arguably the single most powerful tool at their disposal, their growing troves of data on every American user, is exactly the thing their customers have grown worried about. They’re fighting the perception that they’re Big Brother — which, in a pandemic, that’s exactly why they’re useful.
The health damage inflicted on people by long-standing air pollution in cities is likely to increase the death rate from coronavirus infections, experts have said. Dirty air is known to cause lung and heart damage and is responsible for at least 8m early deaths a year. This underlying health damage means respiratory infections, such as coronavirus, may well have a more serious impact on city dwellers and those exposed to toxic fumes, than on others. However, strict confinement measures in China, where the coronavirus outbreak began, and in Italy, Europe’s most affected nation, have led to falls in air pollution as fewer vehicles are driven and industrial emissions fall. A preliminary calculation by a US expert suggests that tens of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution may have been avoided by the cleaner air in China, far higher than the 3,208 coronavirus deaths.
It is clear that increasing the number of Americans who have broadband network availability at home remains a worthy goal. However, it must be pursued within a larger context that links network expansion with more digital privacy protection. As the National Broadband Plan wisely noted, “Broadband networks only create value to consumers and businesses when they are used in conjunction with broadband capable devices to deliver useful applications and content.” Surely the future health of our broadband ecosystem will also require more holistic thinking about the critical link between network expansion and digital privacy protection.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) will no longer allow polluting companies to reduce their fines by footing the bill for environmental projects, putting an end to a tool that's been popular with both industry and government agencies. Special Environmental Projects (SEPs), which have been used for roughly 30 years, let businesses reduce their civil penalties by taking steps such as cleaning streams or replacing old gas-guzzling school busses. But a DOJ memo on Friday said the program violates the Miscellaneous Receipts Act, which requires money acquired by the government go to the U.S. Treasury. DOJ argued that SEPs could only legally be allowed with express authorization from Congress. The agency said the special projects have been “controversial for decades” and suspended their use “both in light of their inconsistency with law and their departure from sound enforcement practices.”
A group of 16 Democratic Senators sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Monday urging it to free up funds for schools to provide internet for students as more classes have to shift online because of coronavirus. The lawmakers are asking for the FCC to determine how much of the E-Rate program, which has a $4 billion yearly cap, can be used for one-time discounts to schools attempting to loan out Wi-Fi hotspots or enable internet access on other devices.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) asked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to step up oversight of the $1.3 trillion in auto loans held by Americans as the economy faces a deep slowdown due to the global coronavirus pandemic. In a letter released by Warren and Brown on Tuesday, the Democrats asked CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger to detail how she and the bureau “will ensure the agency fulfills its mission of stopping abusive practices and protecting consumers from this emerging threat.”
The Justice Department has opened an antitrust investigation into Fair Isaac Corp., the financial company whose credit scores underlie nearly all U.S. consumer credit decisions, according to information obtained by POLITICO. The probe follows years of complaints from rivals about Fair Isaac's dominance, and comes amid efforts by Congress and financial regulators to inject more competition into the credit score market. Fair Isaac's FICO scores are a measure of risk that banks and credit card companies use to make lending decisions, and are used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to determine creditworthiness of mortgage applicants. The exact scope of the DOJ’s antitrust investigation isn’t yet known. The agency recently sent letters to Fair Issac and others in the consumer credit industry asking them to preserve documents, according to a person knowledgeable about the case who was not authorized to speak about it. Such hold-letters are the first step in an investigation.
Citing the global coronavirus pandemic, a federal judge has blocked a food benefit cut that would have taken effect next month and denied benefits to thousands. The Trump administration wanted to limit benefits for unemployed able-bodied adults without dependents, but D.C. District Court Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell granted a preliminary injunction on Friday sought by Democratic attorneys general. “Especially now, as a global pandemic poses widespread health risks, guaranteeing that government officials at both the federal and state levels have flexibility to address the nutritional needs of residents and ensure their well-being through programs like SNAP, is essential,” Howell wrote in her memorandum opinion, which will stop the new rule from taking effect while the case moves through the courts. Some 700,000 Americans could be denied Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits annually if the cut takes effect, according to the Trump administration. That’s roughly 2% of the SNAP program’s overall enrollment.