Week in Review

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Trump Administration announces climate accord withdrawal, EPA proposes coal pollution rules, and more…

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IN THE NEWS

  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States will formally withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Secretary Pompeo said that President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw was prompted by “the unfair economic burden imposed on American workers, businesses, and taxpayers by U.S. pledges made under the Agreement.” Because withdrawal is a yearlong process, however, the 2020 federal election may eventually result in a recommitment of the United States to the climate accord. But Jonathan Pershing, director of the Hewlett Foundation and former climate change envoy under the Obama Administration, reportedly states that even if the United States recommits, it will already have “been written off in many cases as a partner.”
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed two new rules that would weaken protections against water contamination from coal-fired power plants. The first rule allows coal plants to continue to use older, less expensive technology to process wastewater; the second extends the deadline for companies to dispose of coal ash, a toxic waste product. The agency claims the changes would save industry more than $175 million annually in compliance costs.
  • A federal judge temporarily blocked a Trump Administration rule requiring immigrants to prove that they have health care or can afford it. “It is wrong and unfair for a single district court judge to thwart the policies that the President determined would best protect the United States healthcare system,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. But Esther Sung of the Justice Action Center praised the decision, stating that the rule would have separated families and “cut two-thirds of green-card-based immigration starting tonight.”
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered the accounting firm that handled President Donald J. Trump’s tax returns to turn over eight years of information to the New York County District Attorney. Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann wrote that, because the past six presidents have released their tax returns, “the disclosure of personal financial information, standing alone, is unlikely to impair the President in performing the duties of his office.”
  • The U.S. Department of Justice announced that testimonies taken by the U.S. House of Representatives throughout the impeachment process will not be deemed by the Department to be legally valid unless a government lawyer is present. Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel wrote that the House Intelligence Committee “could address this separation of powers problem by allowing agency counsel to assist the employee during the deposition.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said earlier this week that President Donald J. Trump “is leading a campaign of blanket non-compliance and obstruction of the House’s inquiry.”
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed to withdraw an Obama-era rule prohibiting the agency from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity in its service delivery—including adoption and foster care services. In the proposed rule, HHS stated that the anti-discrimination provision imposed a “regulatory burden and created a lack of predictability and stability,” citing various complaints and legal actions challenging the rule. Opposing the proposed change, Denise Brogan-Kator, chief policy officer at Family Equality, stated that allowing “child-placing agencies to reduce the pool of qualified potential foster and adoptive parents runs counter to the cardinal rule of child welfare: that the best interests of children in care must come first.”
  • The U.S. Department of Labor proposed a rule that would withdraw an Obama-era overtime pay protection for workers whose paid hours fluctuate substantially from week to week. The proposal would allow employers to pay bonuses to fluctuating workweek employees. The Labor Department prohibited bonuses for fluctuating workweek employees in 2011 as a means of protecting workers from unscrupulous employers who would classify a portion of a worker’s salary as a “bonus” to avoid payment of higher overtime wages.
  • Voters in New York City passed a revision that would allow for ranked-choice voting in elections. Presidential candidate Andrew Yang said ranked-choice voting “would let us express our true preferences and make our politics more dynamic and responsive.” Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed a similar bill that would have allowed for ranked-choice voting, expressing his concern that “it has often led to voter confusion.”
  • Sixteen state attorneys general and the City of New York filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the U.S. Department of Energy’s new rule rolling back lightbulb efficiency standards. Led by New York Attorney General Letitia James and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the coalition alleges that the rollback will cost $12 billion in annual electricity savings while increasing pollution. In announcing the lawsuit, Attorney General Becerra said that the Trump Administration must “face the reality that American consumers deserve and demand more efficient and sustainable options.”

WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK

  • The proposed College Affordability Act would close a major loophole in how the government tracks education loan default rates, Ben Miller argued in a blog post for the Center for American Progress. Currently, some underperforming colleges manipulate their loan default rates by allowing recent graduates to defer repayment until after the three-year federal tracking period, thereby avoiding penalties, Miller wrote. He argued that the proposed bill offers a fair solution by continuing to allow loan repayment deferrals but extending the tracking period for students who defer repayment for more than 18 months of the first three years after graduating.
  • In an article in the Boston College Law Review, Andrew F. Popper of the American University Washington College of Law argued that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s decision in Zen Magnets v. Consumer Product Safety Commission undermined the presumption that courts must view administrative decisions with “honesty, integrity, and good faith.” Popper criticized the decision to undo an agency action by relying on a single comment made by a chairman of an agency instead of the enforcement action under review. This decision, Popper contends, moved the judicial standard of review to “an assumption of mistrust, the exact opposite assumption mandated by the Supreme Court.”
  • A new report by Tom Wheeler of the Brookings Institution used lessons learned from historical advancements in technology to offer guidance on the regulation of artificial intelligence. Considering past innovations like Babbage’s computer, Wheeler suggested regulating the effects of technology in lieu of chasing “broad-based fears about the technology itself.” Wheeler also advocated for particular consideration of acceptable technology use and technology-focused training for the workforce.

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