Environmental protection

  • February 20, 2013

    The Atlantic reports that it’s now been nearly three years since a major piece of legislation made its way through the Senate. While the Senate had done things like passing a highway bill, and reapproving the import-export bank, most of the Senate’s legislative agenda for the last two years has been lurching from crisis to crisis – like the deals the ended the fiscal cliff crisis of 2012 and the debt ceiling crisis of 2011. Even matters completely within the prevue of the Senate, and once considered routine business, are becoming mired in partisan bickering. The Washington Post commented that the filibuster of Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense, the first ever, marked the beginning of a 60-vote Senate. The president’s judicial nominations have fared even worse, with one nominee, Caitlin Halligan, waiting nearly two years for confirmation to the D.C. Circuit. Major action, such as comprehensive legislation on immigration reform and bold measures on climate change, is needed as are judges to fill vacancies on the federal bench (and there are a lot of them), but progress looks bleak in this atmosphere thanks largely to one of the nation’s two major political parties. The American people deserve far better than a Congress full of preening politicians constantly consumed with holding onto or expanding power.  

    -- ESA   

  • January 28, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Nearly a week after providing a staunchly liberal vision for a second term –– leading law professors, attorneys and other advocates are providing via an ACS project ideas and proposals for the administration’s second term. (Regarding the tone and vision of the president’s second Inaugural Address, some apparently believe the president was merely defending New Deal programs and policy the Clinton administration had supposedly advanced.)

    The ACS project, “Toward a More Perfect Union: A Progressive Blueprint for the Second Term,” was recently launched with three Issue Briefs:

    Former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Colgate Love looks at why the presidential pardon power “has lost its vigor, its integrity, and its sense of purpose,” and argues why it should be reinvigorated, as well as offering examples, many from the states, for reforming the process.

    Brookings Visiting Fellow Russell Wheeler examines the Obama administration’s record of filling federal judgeships during his first term and puts forth ideas for fixing a judicial nominations process that has become increasingly rancorous and ineffective. In a Brookings’ Up Frontblog post, Wheeler, a leading expert on the federal bench, explains, in part, why the process needs reforming. “First, judicial vacancies, which declined in Clinton’s and Bush’s first terms, increased during Obama’s. Empty judgeships hamper the federal courts’ ability to do their jobs – to sort out contractual disputes and other matters that, left unresolved, contribute to economic uncertainty, as well dispose of criminal complaints and adjudicate claims of discrimination and civil liberties violations.”

    University of Michigan Law School Professor David M. Uhlmann urges the Obama administration to exert great presidential leadership on climate change. Uhlmann, director of the law school’s Environmental Law and Policy Program, noted the small steps the Obama administration took during its first term. But, citing the work of climate scientists, Uhlmann warns that if our country fails “to limit greenhouse gas emissions, searing heat, widespread drought, destructive storms, and massive flooding will become commonplace.” Moreover, Uhlmann argues that climate change will be a “legacy issue” for the president – “either because he helped chart a course toward a sustainable future or because America failed to act while it was still possible to prevent catastrophic climate change. Uhlmann’s Issue Brief goes on to provide ways for the president to act, even without the help of Congress, to put the nation on a path toward sustainable resources.

    During his second inaugural, the president reminded us that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action” and unlike too many of his predecessors lauded the noble goal of advancing equality. Obama also took a shot at right-wing economic policy that is all about coddling the superwealthy at the expense of everyone else.

    The president also called for collective action on climate change.

  • January 7, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    It can be difficult to follow with great interest the machinations in the nation’s capital, especially with divisive, often ridiculous debates that unfold and then are taken to a whole new level by loud pundits dominating airwaves. But when cynicism sets in, as it has within parts of my family, there’s almost no room for serious, calm conversation about policy that is actually being advanced in the confines of the beltway.

    Over the winter break I had the great fortune of seeing three of my brothers, two of whom I rarely get to see anymore. One brother, who has veered from libertarianism to socialism, has written off the entire political process. President Obama is a tool of Wall Street, it would not have mattered had Mitt Romney won the White House, they both represent the same interests, he would say. He scoffed at the Affordable Care Act – no public option, no expansion of health care to the needy – and at the extension of unemployment benefits that has occurred under the Obama administration’s watch. In my brother’s mind the entire system was bought by big corporations a long time ago and they pull all the strings of both major political parties. But I wasn’t all that surprised – he’s been regurgitating the late comedian George Carlin’s stinging, though simplistic, lines about a broken American government for many years now.

    The reality is that the American political process is messy, incredibly divisive and often terribly exhaustive and inadequate. But the constant carping about how bad politicians are is also tiring and irrelevant. When hasn’t our democracy been a messy, maddening affair? Sure there have been respites, but they often don’t last long. It’s a fairly large country, and regardless of Carlin’s jabs, we do and have had some remarkable politicians and heroic leaders for equality and civil rights.

    And regarding the Obama administration’s first term, a little research would reveal that it is wildly over-the-top to blast it as a tool of big business. As The American Prospect’s Jamelle Bouie notes, Obama’s first two years in office “are a good case study of what happens when Democrats have control of the federal government – they try to expand it. In those two years, Democrats greatly expanded the welfare state with a new, quasi-universal health-care program, funneled hundreds of billions of dollars to infrastructure and clean energy research, and implemented a host of new financial regulations. There’s a reason Time correspondent Michael Grunwald called his book on the stimulus The New New Deal – in both size and scope, the activity of Obama and the 111th Congress resembled that of FDR’s first term.”

  • December 10, 2012
    Guest Post

    by Rena Steinzor, Professor of Law, University of Maryland, Francis King Carey School of Law; Steinzor is also president of the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR).

    After the last of the applause lines has been delivered, and while the crowd that gathered for his historic second inauguration is still filing out of town, President Obama will once again sit at his desk in the Oval Office and begin the tough policy work that will define his second term in office and shape the legacy he will leave behind.

    Among the many challenges he'll face over the next four years will be an urgent agenda of addressing critical threats to public health, safety, and the environment that the Administration let languish during the first term. But good luck to him if he decides to attack the problems with legislation. The election made the numbers in both chambers of Congress somewhat more favorable to the President's cause. But it'd take an earth-shattering event or at least another election to get protective legislation out of the House of Representatives, which vacillates between being sullen and defiant and will undoubtedly return to its anti-regulatory drum-beating as soon as the fiscal “crisis” is over.

    So what's a President to do? Use every bit of executive power he can marshal, in this case, by directing the regulatory agencies to move with dispatch to regulate and enforce in a number of vital areas. In Protecting People and the Environment by the Stroke of a Presidential Pen: Seven New Executive Orders for President Obama’s Second Term, released today, my colleagues and I at the Center for Progressive Reform explain how the President can take the first vital step by making full use of his authority to manage executive agencies -- including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- by issuing a series of Executive Orders.

  • October 15, 2012

    By E. Sebastian Arduengo

    One of the country’s most significant federal appeals courts has morphed into a hotbed of activist judges striking longstanding federal regulations, says columnist Steven Pearlstein. And at a time when some corporations claim they are hesitant to hire because of regulatory uncertainty.

    (The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit  is so important because it has the responsibility of reviewing most of the rules and interpretative decisions made by federal agencies in the capital. It has also been seen as the U.S. Supreme Court’s farm team, as Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Ginsburg are all former D.C. circuit judges.)

    For example, The Washington Post columnist Pearlstein notes that just before Labor day, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, an appointee of President George W. Bush and possible Supreme Court contender under a Republican administration, issued a ruling in Homer City Generation v. EPA. The case involved the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, where the EPA was trying to regulate the amount of pollution states could dump on other, “downwind” states. As Pearlstein puts it, from Kavanaugh’s decision, “You’d have no idea that hundreds of dedicated, highly trained scientists, analysts and statisticians at the EPA might have spent more than a decade devoted to the extremely complex task of figuring out how much of the ozone or sulfur dioxide in the air in Rhode Island originated in Indiana.”