Economic, Workplace and Environmental Regulation

  • March 16, 2017
    Guest Post

    by James Tierney, Former Maine Attorney General and Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School

    In the face of a reduced federal presence, Columbia Law School's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, in partnership with StateAG.org, has produced a valuable legal research tool for those interested in environmental law and policy. The State AG Environmental Action Database includes a variety of environmental lawsuits and other actions involving state attorneys general. Users can search its contents by state, issue or type of action. The database also includes links to relevant documents and resources.

    This impressive database has been put together by dedicated Columbia Law School students under the supervision of Jessica Wentz, who serves as staff attorney and associate research scholar for the Sabin Center.

    I cannot overstate the importance of this effort. It is the only place where this information has been brought together in a coherent, organized fashion. The database will remain a "work in progress" as AG offices provide more cases to be uploaded. Notwithstanding the efforts by some in Washington D.C., this database is demonstrable proof that state attorneys general remain vigorous protectors of our environmental heritage.

  • March 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Justin Pidot, Associate Professor, University of Denver Sturm College of Law

    In its zeal to block regulations adopted by the Obama Administration, the U.S. House of Representatives recently approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to overturn BLM’s Waste Prevention Rule, sometimes called the venting and flaring rule. The effort is another in a recent spate of misguided uses of the CRA and represents poor stewardship of natural resources owned by the American public. 

    The Waste Prevention Rule requires companies drilling for oil and gas on federal land to take reasonable steps to prevent natural gas from being released into the atmosphere. Gas in the air cannot be used to generate electricity and it significantly contributes to climate change. Companies also do not have to pay royalties on gas that they do not bring to market, meaning that taxpayers receive no revenue from these public resources. 

    The CRA allows Congress to overturn any regulation adopted by a federal agency within the last sixty legislative days. Until this year, Congress only used the CRA once. This week Congress used it to torpedo the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, which required coal mining companies to restore waterways after mining, and Congress is considering a raft of other CRA resolutions. 

    Congress should think twice before using the CRA casually and frequently. Federal agencies spend years developing regulations: the Stream Protection Rule was in development for eight years and the Waste Prevention Rule for more than two. The process of developing a regulation harnesses the wisdom of policy, scientific and legal experts and involves extensive public participation. Under the CRA, Congress undoes years of work in the span of hours; a feature of the CRA is that it limits congressional debate. Perhaps most troublingly, language in the CRA suggests that Congressional action also blocks any similar rule the agency may want to issue in the future, thereby threatening to permanently prevent federal agencies from tackling important issues.

  • January 30, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared in the Detroit Legal News.  

    by Gary Maveal, Professor of Law, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

    The president’s nominee to head the nation’s Environmental Protection Agency is a staunch opponent of its work. Should this disqualify Scott Pruitt from consideration as the next EPA Administrator? I submit that it clearly does.

    The Role to Fill

    Founded under President Nixon in 1970, the EPA was borne of a national movement insisting that a federal agency was needed to defend the nation’s lands, air and water from degradation. Citizens recognized that pollution ignored the bounds of state lines – and that individual states lacked the resources or political will to confront polluting industries.  

    The design of most federal statutes authorizes the EPA to set national standards for polluting activities which are then implemented by the states. In this way, the EPA avoids the “race to the bottom” by states competing by offering varying (i.e., higher) allowable levels of emissions or discharges.

    The role of EPA administrator is a challenging one, overseeing a dizzying array of complex federal statutes protecting the air, water and endangered species.  EPA rules regulate toxins from arsenic to zinc. In addition, the agency oversees a variety of public education and grant programs to inform and study environmental issues across the nation. The administrator must be proficient in assessing scientific data from public and private sources.  

  • October 26, 2016
    Guest Post

    *Read more on this topic in the ACS Issue Brief: Redefining Employment for the Modern Economy

    by Brishen Rogers, Associate Professor of Law at Temple University Beasley School of Law

    The explosive growth of Uber and other on-demand labor platforms has brought public attention to a longstanding issue facing workers in this country: the fissuring of employment. Fissuring comes in many forms, including misclassification of employees as independent contractors, subcontracting and franchising arrangements.

    Such strategies can deprive workers of their rights under our employment laws, most of which define employment per the common law “right to control test.” That definition is narrow, failing to reflect the economic realities of modern work relationships. It is also notoriously difficult to apply in practice, which increases litigation costs and disempowers low-wage workers.

    This is not a small problem. Wage and Hour Administrator David Weil estimates that there are “over 29 million workers in just five industries affected …  including in the construction, hospitality, janitorial, personal care and home health care industries.”

    Unfortunately, some prominent reform proposals—such as to create a new legal category of worker that would slot between “employee” and “independent contractor,” with limited employment rights—would move us backwards rather than forwards. Ethically speaking, workers in fissured relationships are no less deserving of basic protections than standard employees. Creating a third category of worker would also make employment status litigation even more complicated and more expensive.

    In a new issue brief for ACS, I propose an omnibus employment status bill to address such challenges. The central reform would redefine employment under the core federal labor/employment statutes per the broad “suffer or permit” test from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. In misclassification cases under that test, courts’ and agencies’ task is not to determine whether the putative employer enjoys a right to control the performance of the work, but rather “to determine whether the worker is economically dependent on the employer (and thus its employee) or is really in business for him or herself (and thus its independent contractor).”

  • October 13, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Jack Beermann, Professor of Law and Harry Elwood Warren Scholar, Boston University School of Law

    In PHH Corporation v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, held that it was unconstitutional for the CFPB to be headed by a single Director who could not be removed by the president without cause. The consequences of the court’s decision were muted by its decision not to declare the agency completely unconstitutional. Rather, as the Supreme Court did with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), the court simply excised the Director’s “for-cause” protection and its implication that the Director was beyond the president’s control and otherwise left the agency and all of its decisions, intact. Thus, the CFPB can go on as before, with the only change being that the president can remove the Director at will and can order the Director to act in accord with presidential policies and priorities.

    Judge Kavanaugh’s reasoning in support of this outcome is surprising. The basis for the decision was not that the president, as head of the Executive Branch, needs the power to control the CPFB. Recall that the need for presidential control was the Supreme Court’s basis for invalidating the PCAOB’s for-cause protections. In the case of the CFPB, Judge Kavanaugh’s expressed reason for invalidating the Director’s protection was that “[t]he CFPB’s concentration of enormous executive power in a single, unaccountable, unchecked Director not only departs from settled historical practice, but also poses a far greater risk of arbitrary decisionmaking and abuse of power, and a far greater threat to individual liberty, than does a multi-member independent agency.” In Judge Kavanaugh’s view, the multi-member structure of most independent agencies provides a check on abuse of power that was, unconstitutionally, absent in the case of the CFPB. (Judge Kavanaugh also relies heavily on the history and tradition of plural heads of independent agencies. In this blog, I focus only on the pragmatic reasoning, not the reasoning based on tradition.)