Economic, Workplace and Environmental Regulation

  • July 11, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on the Economic Policy Institute’s Working Economics Blog.

    by Celine McNicholas, Labor Counsel, Economic Policy Institute

    Yesterday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an independent agency that serves as a watchdog for consumers, issued a rule that would ban companies from using mandatory arbitration clauses to deny Americans their day in court. The rule would restore consumers’ ability to band together in class-action suits. Without the ability to pool resources, many people are forced to abandon claims against financial institutions and other powerful companies. Consider that hundreds of millions of contracts for consumer financial products and services include mandatory arbitration clauses. Yet, The New York Times found that between 2010 and 2014, only 505 consumers went to arbitration over a dispute of $2,500 or less. By prohibiting class actions, companies have dramatically reduced consumer challenges to predatory practices.

    Mandatory arbitration clauses are also used by employers. Employees are forced give up their right to sue in court and accept private arbitration as their only remedy for violations of their legal rights. Private arbitration clauses tilt the system in the business’s favor: the company is often allowed to choose the arbitrator, who will thus be inclined to side with the business; arbitration also cannot be appealed, leaving workers and consumers in much worse shape than if they had access to the courts. As such, employees who bring grievances against their employers are much less likely to win in arbitration than in federal court. Employees in arbitration win only about a fifth of the time (21.4 percent), whereas they win more than a third (36.4 percent) of the time in federal courts.

  • July 5, 2017

    by Kaiya Lyons

    At the 2017 ACS National Convention, Professor William Yeomans concluded the breakout panel on whether to serve in an unfriendly administration by emphasizing to the room of current, former and aspiring government lawyers that public service “really is a lawyer’s highest calling.” But for too many law students, the choice to pursue that higher calling comes at a high price, as student loan debt continues to rise well beyond most public interest wages. Later in the day, ACS Board member David Frederick had a simple solution—“make law school less expensive.”

    During the “Progressive Federalism” plenary, Frederick declared that massive student loan debt is the “number one impediment to law students going out and doing public service jobs.” To support his assertion, Frederick pointed to the time-honored tradition of public interest-minded grads spending two to three years in BigLaw to pay down their student loans before entering public service. Frederick explained that, instead of starting in public service, “law students are often forced into corporate law firms” for years to pay off their loans, a practice he characterized as a type of “indentured servitude.” While this image sparked laughter and jokes from the other panelists, Frederick maintained the veracity of his comparison and went on to stress that legal education must be more affordable in order for young lawyers to pursue public interest.

    Forgiveness in Exchange for Services Rendered

    However, much to our collective disappointment, law school tuition hikes show no signs of decreasing, nor does a decrease in tuition rates seem likely. Therefore, law students and recent grads have two options: (1) take the tried-and-true path of their predecessors and enter the corporate sector for a few years with the hope that they will be able to move into the public sector later, or (2) take advantage of the government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and be able to work in public interest law immediately after graduation and have their debt erased after ten years.

  • May 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on StateAG.org.  

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

    In a letter sent last week, 21 state attorneys general and the Office of Consumer Protection of Hawaii urged Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to immediately reconsider “the Department of Education’s revocation of critical student loan service reforms.” The policy and guidance memoranda withdrawn by the Department addressed industry-wide procedures by student loan servicing companies that were the subject of investigations and enforcement actions by the Illinois and Washington state attorneys general, among others.

    The April 24 letter highlights some of the industry practices that contributed to more than a quarter of borrowers being delinquent or in default on a student loan, according to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB):

    “In its 2015 report, the CFPB identified troubling student loan servicer practices – including paperwork processing errors and failure to provide accurate information – that discourage the use of income-driven repayment plans. By reforming service incentives and strengthening consumer protections, the rescinded guidance sought to eliminate the loan servicing failures that keep borrowers from entering affordable repayment plans.” — April 24 letter from 21 state attorneys general to Department of Education

    According to Forbes, 44 million borrowers owe approximately $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, making it the second-largest type of consumer debt behind mortgages.

  • April 26, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Joe Mendelson, Former Legal Director at the International Center for Technology Assessment, Former Democratic Chief Climate Counsel for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Author of 1999 Petition Seeking EPA Regulation of Carbon Pollution that Led to the Litigation in Massachusetts v. EPA; David Bookbinder, Former Chief Climate Counsel at the Sierra Club and Current Chief Counsel at the Niskanen Center; and Lisa Heinzerling, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Professor of Law, Georgetown Law and  Lead Author of the Petitioners’ Briefs in Massachusetts v. EPA

    Ten years ago this month, the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, holding that the Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the power to control the pollutants that cause climate change and that the George W. Bush administration had illegally refused to exercise this authority based on political considerations that had no basis in the Clean Air Act.

    The Trump administration has marked this anniversary with dubious ceremony. Last week, President Trump issued an executive order directing the rollback of Obama-era regulations that addressed climate change. Earlier, Trump's EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, publicly questioned the established scientific evidence of the link between human activities and rising temperatures. Pruitt, a lawyer, not only stepped into an area beyond his expertise but also managed to get the law wrong at the same time. Congress, Pruitt claimed, had never acted, and thus EPA's efforts to use the Clean Air Act to bring carbon pollution under control were illegitimate. The claim reflects an astonishing ignorance about the law that he is charged with implementing.

    Far from occurring in a legislative vacuum, EPA's carbon pollution controls are the culmination of a 50-year historical path to limiting these pollutants. It started in 1965 when during a speech to Congress President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke of modernizing the Clean Air Act to address air pollution threats before they occurred. He noted that “this generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through…a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.” During the following legislative debate on the Clean Air Act where Congressman Helstoski urged action because, “It has been predicted that by the year 2000, the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide may have increased by about 50 percent; and many believe that this will have a considerable effect on the world’s climate.”

  • 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.