Economic, Workplace and Environmental Regulation

  • September 6, 2016

    by Caroline Fredrickson

    Last year, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse shed light on the fossil fuel industry’s “massive and sophisticated campaign” to deceive the American public about the harmful impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment. Big Oil’s strategy to create doubt about their products’ ability to cause widespread and lasting harm is eerily familiar to Big Tobacco’s tactics in downplaying the harm caused by cigarettes uncovered in United States v. Phillip Morris.

    Sen. Whitehouse, who has given 143 “Time to Wake Up” speeches on climate change on the floor of the Senate, explained in a recent speech how “phony climate denial” is the result of the fossil fuel industry actively misleading the public to protect their profits: “Phony-baloney front organizations are set up by the score to obscure industry’s hand. Phony messaging is honed by public relations experts to sow doubt about the real scientific consensus.”

    Big Oil, Sen. Whitehouse argues, is borrowing a page from the tobacco industry’s playbook in defrauding the American people. In February, Sen. Whitehouse gave remarks at the ACS event, “Combatting Climate Change in the Courts.” Speakers explored whether the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act could be applied to Big Oil in the way it was applied to Big Tobacco.

    In a recent ACSblog post, Sen. Whitehouse highlighted an example showing the fossil fuel industry is literally borrowing tactics from the tobacco industry. Last year, coal mining executives attended a workshop at the annual Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute titled, “Survival is Victory: Lessons From The Tobacco Wars.” The fossil fuel industry is gearing up for the slew of lawsuits coming their way.

  • August 31, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

    Last year, coal mining executives attending the annual meeting of the Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute were treated to a presentation on the future of American mining titled: “Survival Is Victory: Lessons From the Tobacco Wars.”  As the title implies, the presentation laid out a path for the fossil fuel industry to weather a barrage of lawsuits and new safety and health regulations, modeled on the efforts of the tobacco industry in the 90s and early 2000s.  (See John Schwartz’s story in The New York Times.)

    Richard Reavey, the Cloud Peak Energy vice president who delivered the presentation, described the similarities between what Big Tobacco went through and the challenges facing coal today as “remarkable and eerie.” (We should take his word for it. Before working for Cloud Peak, a mining company, Reavey was an executive at tobacco giant Philip Morris for 17 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.) His advice to the coal execs: do what tobacco did and “cut a deal while we are still relevant.” After all, “a much more heavily regulated tobacco industry is still viable and profitable.”

    Ironically, Reavey’s presentation on these similarities between tobacco and fossil fuel strategies has a much deeper parallel. 

  • February 10, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Patrick Parenteau, professor of law, Vermont Law School  

    In a move that stunned even the most seasoned court watchers, the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has blocked the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. The unsigned order, without any explanation, puts a hold on the rule pending the outcome of proceedings currently underway in the D.C. Circuit, which had earlier denied a stay. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor voted against the stay.

    This action is unprecedented in a number of ways. The majority made none of the findings typically required to obtain a stay. There is no analysis of the merits of any of petitioners’ claims. There is no showing that the rule threatens any immediate harm to petitioners, especially given the long lead times EPA has built into the process. There is no showing that the balance of hardships tips decidedly in favor of the petitioners, especially given the fact that most states are well into the process of developing implementation plans and those that do not want to submit a plan don’t have to. There is no showing that the stay is in the public interest, especially given the warnings from the scientific community that time is fast running out to avoid catastrophic consequences of climate disruption. Never before has the Court interjected itself in a case with such high stakes that hasn’t even been fully briefed and argued before the lower court.

    Some have speculated that the majority may be reacting to what happened last term in Michigan v. EPA (the mercury rule case). By the time the case got to the Court, over two years had passed and 80 percent of the industry had already complied with it. Thus, when the Court found a flaw in EPA’s cost analysis, it was faced with a fait accompli which no doubt irked the conservatives. But it would be a sad comment on the Court’s integrity if the decision to issue a stay was motivated by pique or distrust of the agency.

  • September 15, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Jamie Pang, Center for Biological Diversity   

    The right to petition the federal government for a "redress of grievances" is one of the heralded freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.  This right has been codified by the Administrative Procedure Act, and ensures that any citizen can petition an administrative agency of the executive branch to take a course of action.  The ability of citizens to petition the government to make progressive change has been a critical tool under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"), Clean Air Act, and Clean Water Act, among many other laws.  For example, a citizen petition was the precursor of the landmark Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, which requested that the EPA regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant.  At its most basic, the right to petition serves as a powerful tool that levels the playing field for citizens and  watchdog groups to ensure that environmental protections are not weakened by industry or state governments hostile to progressive change. 

    This summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively the "Services") proposed to severely limit the ability of private citizens and organizations to petition for protection of imperiled species as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. One of the most troubling aspects of this proposal is a requirement that any individual or organization petitioning to have a species listed under the ESA submit their petition to every state where the species may occur (live) prior to submitting the proposal.  Going further, the petitioner must allow each state to respond, refute, or comment on the petition.  The petitioner must also append any responsive information provided by a state agency to the petition, without the opportunity to rebut any information that may be adverse to the petition.  On a practical level, the proposal essentially gives potentially hostile states that are resistant to federal wildlife protections veto power over the petition.  On a constitutional level, the proposal violates the basic right of free speech to the extent that it requires a petitioner to act as a mouthpiece for state data.

    The second proposed requirement would mandate that a petitioner gather "all relevant information" regarding the imperiled species and include that information with the petition.  This unbounded requirement effectively forces a petitioner to act as if they are an expert government agency and compile an enormous amount of information at great cost.  Despite the ESA’s clear instruction that the government has the burden to conduct status reviews of imperiled species, this proposal would burden ordinary citizens with the nearly impossible task of collecting hundreds , if not thousands, of articles, books, reports and virtually everything about the species available on the internet.  The petitioner must legally "certify" that he or she has fully complied with these requirements under penalty of law.  These broad requirements will likely have a chilling effect on speech.  They will dissuade citizens, individual scientists and non-profit organizations from filing petitions to protect species and thereby infringe on the first amendment right to petition.

  • September 1, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Reuben Guttman, partner, Guttman, Buschner & Brooks, PLLC; member, ACS Board of Directors

    For a union-side labor lawyer, identifying the employer for the purposes of bargaining and unfair labor practices is akin to a search for the Holy Grail. Three years of law school and courses in labor and employment law ― from excellent professors at Emory Law ― could not prepare me for the challenge of this search which consumed virtually all of my time when I was a Washington, D.C.-based attorney for the Service Employees International Union from 1985 to 1990.

    The search began for me in the winter of 1985. SEIU had negotiated a city-wide contract covering its Pittsburgh janitors. Rather than allowing its union contractor to continue to service its buildings under the new labor agreement, Mellon Bank terminated its janitorial vendor and its union workforce. Nearly 70 workers lost their jobs and the benefits that went with them. They were replaced by low-wage, part-time workers who were not accorded nearly the same level of benefits. I was challenged to find a legal solution.  

    In the late hours of the night, poring through the case reporters at the University of Pittsburgh Law Library, I came across the Supreme Court’s decision in Boire v. Greyhound which established the joint employer doctrine. To my delight, I learned that an entity could be considered an employer even where employees were paid by another company. I also came across a Third Circuit case, NLRB v. Browning-Ferris Industries of Pennsylvania, Inc., which ― in my mind as a young lawyer ― made things quite clear: Two or more employers can be co-employers “if they share or codetermine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment.” If only the analysis were that simple.