The Regulatory Week in Review: July 29, 2016

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Environmental Protection Agency finds that aircraft engine emissions endanger human health, Department of Transportation announces Air Transport Agreement with Mexico, and more…

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IN THE NEWS

  • In a move that sets the stage for the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, the EPA issued a formal finding that emissions from certain types of aircraft engines, primarily those used on large commercial jets, endanger human health and the environment—a step that was praised by members of the environmental community, who also urged the EPA to move forward on regulations.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that an Air Transport Agreement between the United States and Mexico will enter into force next month. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx hailed what he described as the “landmark” agreement, and stated that it will significantly expand travel opportunities between the two countries for Mexican and American airlines, travelers, and businesses—thereby increasing “market access for passenger and cargo airlines to fly between any city in Mexico and any city in the United States.”
  • In response to the Porter Ranch methane leak—in which 100,000 tons of methane were released from a natural gas well over the course of four months, making it the largest methane leak in U.S. history—the California Air Resources Board will reportedly move to develop a rule to limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations and give the state the authority to fine those responsible for major methane leaks.
  • After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released non-binding revised recommendations to its blood donor deferral recommendations in December—in which the FDA switched from recommending that men who have sex with men be indefinitely barred from donating blood to recommending that men who have sex with men be barred from donating blood for only 12 months since the last sexual contact with another man—the agency announced that it is seeking comment on the recommendations, signaling that the agency may pursue a formal rulemaking to change its policy on blood donor deferral.
  • In an effort to simplify hospital quality information for consumers, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) introduced a new hospital rating system called Overall Hospital Quality Star Rating, used on CMS’s Hospital Compare website. The new system is designed to present quality comparison information in an “easily understandable way” by consolidating existing quality metrics into a single star rating, but hospital industry leaders have reportedly expressed concern that the new system may be “skewed against institutions that treat the poorest or toughest patients” and those who have “complex illnesses.”
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released for public comment a set of draft guidelines for the implementation of unique device identifiers (UDIs)—information on up to five elements of medical device production that allow for better tracking of devices’ movement from manufacturer to user—the guidelines focus on the format of UDIs, clarifying that UDIs must be provided in both a plain text format and an automated format that can be read by a barcode scanner.
  • Over 600 Capitol Hill cafeteria workers will receive more than $1 Million in back wages after a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) investigation found that their employers, Restaurant Associates and its subcontractor, Personnel Plus, failed to pay the wages required of federal contractors, and that their actions violated both the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Wage and Hour Division Administrator David Weil lamented that the low-paid restaurant workers had been forced to deal with paychecks that didn’t “accurately reflect their hard work and the wages to which they are legally entitled.”
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released an outline of a new set of rules on debt-collection practices that are intended to address overly aggressive approaches to collection. Among other things, the rules would require companies to significantly improve the quality and quantity of information they have about the debt they own, and would limit the number of communications a collector can have with a customer—debt collectors welcomed the clarity the rules could bring, but voiced concern that they could drive up compliance costs and limit agencies’ ability to collect on debts.
  • Canada is reportedly set to move up its timeline for phasing out old crude oil-carrying train cars that do not feature the protective steel jackets that are standard on new oil cars. The push to modernize these train cars came as a result of an accident in Quebec in which a train derailed resulting in the non-jacketed cars exploding and killing 47 people. A similar effort is underway in the United States, though the timeline for phasing out non-jacketed cars is much longer.

WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK

  • The Commission on Care, established by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to assess the state of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), recently released a report that outlined what the Chairperson of the Commission, Nancy Schlichting, touted as “bold recommendations.” The Commission concluded that “no single factor” could explain the VHA’s “multiple systemic problems” that led to failures in the delivery of healthcare to veterans, but dissenters on the Commission derided the report as a “lost opportunity” and a “hodgepodge of perfunctory recommendations” that cannot be said to “boldly” transform the system.
  • Writing for The Hill, Stuart Shapiro, Director of the Public Policy Program at Rutgers University, analyzed the anti-regulation rhetoric that featured prominently at the Republican National Convention. Shapiro argued that speakers at the convention were too quick to blame economic struggles on regulations, suggesting that they were reacting to the costs of regulations, which are often very apparent, without considering the frequently less noticeable benefits like cleaner air and reduced threat of terror attacks. Further, Shapiro argued that the speakers failed to account for external causes of downturns in certain industries, specifically citing the role low oil prices have played in the coal industry’s struggles.
  • A recent report released by the Government Accountability Office found that the reporting requirements set by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) for oil and gas operations on public land may be insufficient for the agency to be able to consistently account for natural gas emissions from these operations. Among other shortcomings, the requirements don’t specify how to estimate natural gas emissions or which emissions should be reported, resulting in inconsistencies among how operators decide what to report.