The Senate confirms Scott Gottlieb as FDA Commissioner, move to repeal Obama-era methane regulations fails, and more…
IN THE NEWS
- The U.S. Senate confirmed Scott Gottlieb as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Gottlieb is reportedly interested in lowering the price of generic drugs, approving drugs more quickly, and encouraging the FDA to defer to doctors on drug safety. Democratic Senators expressed concern over Gottlieb’s connections to the pharmaceutical industry. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has reportedly deemed Gottlieb’s connections “unprecedented.” To address these concerns, Gottlieb pledged to recuse himself for one year from any agency decision involving any of the over 20 pharmaceutical companies he worked with.
- The Senate voted against repealing an Obama-era Bureau of Land Management regulation requiring oil and gas companies to capture methane released during drilling rather than burning it. Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.), joined all 48 Democratic Senators to block the repeal. The House of Representatives passed a Congressional Review Act resolution to repeal the rule in January, but without a Senate resolution to repeal, the regulation will stay in place. This is the first time since President Donald Trump’s election that Republican efforts to repeal a regulation using the Congressional Review Act have proven unsuccessful.
- EPA reached out to state governors for input on rewriting the so-called “Waters of the United States” rule. In February, President Trump ordered EPA to review and rescind or revise the rule. EPA plans to rescind the Clean Water Rule and implement a new rule with a more limited interpretation of “navigable waters.” Administrator Scott Pruitt believes it is important for EPA to work with the states in order “to return to a regulatory partnership.”
- President Trump plans to nominate Neil Chatterjee and Robert F. Powelson to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Chatterjee is currently an advisor on energy to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Powelson is a Commissioner on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Confirming Chatterjee and Powelson would create a quorum, reportedly revitalizing FERC’s decision-making abilities, as FERC has not had enough commissioners to reach a valid decision since Norman Bay’s February resignation.
- The U.S. Department of Interior said it would continue to review permit applications from six companies to carry out “geological and geophysical (G&G) activities in the Atlantic Ocean,” pursuant to Secretarial Order 3350. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had been following Obama Administration instructions to deny these applications, an action that the current Administration believes “underestimated the benefits of obtaining updated G&G information.” “G&G seismic data” finds locations for offshore wind energy, resources like sand and gravel, and “potential seafloor hazards.” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said the G&G activities “will play an important role in the President’s strategy to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign energy resources.”
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed rule to give North Dakota regulatory authority over carbon dioxide wells in the state. The proposed rule would make North Dakota the first state with the authority to regulate underground wells used to store carbon dioxide waste. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said allowing North Dakota to regulate the wells would “empower state regulators, provide needed certainty, and advance Carbon Dioxide Capture and Sequestration (CCS) technologies, all while ensuring drinking water sources remain protected.”
- Bumble Bee Foods agreed to plead guilty to fixing the price of canned and pouch tuna fish from 2011 to2013. The plea comes as part of a larger U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) antitrust investigation into price fixing by suppliers of prepackaged seafood. If the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California accepts the plea deal, Bumble Bee will pay a $25 million fine that could increase to $81.5 million if the company is sold. FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett said, “Companies small and large hold a great deal of the American peoples’ trust and this type of unfair, greedy behavior will not be tolerated.”
- The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) declared five species of shark endangered and one threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the ESA, a species is endangered when it is “presently in danger of extinction,” and a species is threatened when it “is not presently in danger of extinction, but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future.” The NFMS ruling comes in response to a petition from WildEarth Guardians asking the NMFS to protect eighty-one species under the ESA.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) postponed until November 14 the execution of a rule issued on January 19. The rule regulates “livestock handling and transport for slaughter and avian living conditions,” and had already been postponed from March 20 to May 19. The postponement will allow AMS “to receive and consider public comments and take action on the disposition of the rule.”
WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK
- In a report for the Brookings Institution, Anne Joseph O’Connell examines nominations requiring senatorial confirmation based on data from the past five presidents. O’Connell found that, since President Ronald Reagan took office, one-fifth of all nominees submitted to the Senate for confirmation to the more than 1,200 agency positions that require such approval, were not successful. One-third of President Barack Obama’s nominees were not confirmed. Further, on average,the Senate took three months to confirm nominations, but, for President Obama’s nominees, the average wait time increased to four months.
- Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) published an essay arguing that the U.S. remaining in the Paris Agreement could actually be detrimental to the environment. The article’s author observes that, under the Paris Agreement, the U.S. would be legally allowed “to modify or even scale down its emission reduction targets without breaching the agreement’s principles,” creating “dangerous precedent.” Countries in Africa and Asia might “welcome the opportunity to water down their pledges” to combat climate change. However, Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow working on climate change at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), reportedly said of the United States, “Let them leave us and go in the opposite direction and let us move forward together.”
- Writing for the Heritage Foundation, Justin Bogie argues against the increasing power of agencies, holding that “steps must be taken to restore” Congress’s spending power “and bring accountability back to the appropriations process.” Agencies do not have to rely on Congressional appropriations to use funds from “fines, fees, and proceeds from legal settlements, ” which amounted to $516 billion in 2015. Bogie praises the Agency Accountability Act of 2017, a bill introduced in the Senate and in the House, which would increase Congress’s alleged “diluted…oversight ability” by instructing agencies to give their funds to the U.S. Department of the Treasury and undergo the appropriations process.