Week in Review

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President-Elect Biden receives funding for his transition team, Pfizer applies for emergency use authorization for a coronavirus vaccine, and more…

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IN THE NEWS

  • Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration Emily Murphy sent a letter to President-Elect Joe Biden announcing plans to “make resources and services available in connection with a presidential transition.” Murphy’s change in position will provide President-Elect Biden with funds to aid in the transition of power, including hiring and training a transition team. Murphy noted that she was not instructed by any White House or executive branch officials to delay the funding for the transition team. President Trump tweeted that Murphy should “do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols.” Despite his acceptance of aiding Biden’s transition team, President Trump did not concede the election and instead reiterated his commitment to fighting election results.
  • Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech requested an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their coronavirus vaccine—purportedly the first of its kind ready for public dissemination. Clinical trials showed that the vaccine is 95 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 and safe to administer. The companies also requested authorization for distribution in several other countries and announced that they expect to produce as many as 50 million doses by the end of 2020 and 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021. FDA will hold a public meeting on December 10 to discuss their findings, but noted that any approval would be temporary until the agency can fully investigate the safety of the vaccine. 
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rejected a petition by Chinese telecommunications company ZTE that sought to overturn the company’s designation as a threat to U.S. national security. This summer, the agency found that China’s National Intelligence Law permits the Chinese government to demand that private telecommunications companies such as ZTE comply with requests for sensitive information such as customer and network data. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called on Congress to “appropriate funds so that our communications networks are protected from vendors that threaten our national security.”
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected the Pebble Limited Partnership’s application for a permit to construct a large gold and copper mine in southwest Alaska. The agency reportedly said the pipe did not comply with the Clean Water Act’s guidelines and was “contrary to the public interest.” The decision contradicted an earlier analysis by the agency that found the pipeline would have no “measurable” impact on certain fish populations or the nearby Bristol Watershed. Shortly after this decision, the Environmental Investigation Agency released secret recordings that captured a conversation between Pebble Mine executives discussing plans to expand the mine beyond the proposed size and downplaying environmental concerns. In response to the agency’s decision, Adam Kolton of the Alaska Wilderness League said that “the tribes, fisherman and communities that depend on a healthy Bristol Bay can breathe a sigh of relief.”
  • President Donald J. Trump, joined by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, announced the finalization of regulations intended to reduce prescription drug prices “dramatically.” One regulation would reduce drug prices by prohibiting manufacturers from giving rebates to pharmacies on prescription drugs as incentives to sell their drugs. Another regulation prohibits Medicare from paying more for a drug than the lowest price charged to other countries. Because these rules were finalized at the end of the Trump presidency, the rules may not survive if the Biden Administration seeks to quickly override them. 
  • The Trump campaign requested a recount of Georgia’s presidential election results. The campaign filed the petition a day after Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger verified the results of the hand-counted audit that cemented President-Elect Joseph Biden’s victory in Georgia. Although Raffensperger found no sign of foul-play in the hand recount and then certified the election results, the Trump campaign petitioned for a recount based on Georgia election law that permits a recount for races with margins of victory under 0.5 percent. The vote will be recounted by the same electronic scanners used to count votes on Election Day. According to Georgia Public Broadcasting reporter Stephen Fowler, the recount is unlikely to change the outcome of the election.
  • The U.S. Department of State proposed a rule to amend requirements for intercountry adoptions. The rule would provide “long-awaited” revisions that make it easier for relatives of children living abroad to adopt the related child. The rule would simplify the requirements for intercountry adoptions to allow for a faster process. The new regulation would also reduce the number of services that the adoption agency must provide because the relative would provide the services instead. The relative, for example, would now identify the child for adoption and obtain consent to terminate parental rights. 
  • The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency proposed a rule that would prevent banks from refusing to lend to entire categories of lawful businesses, most notably ensuring that fossil fuel companies may not be denied financing solely on the basis of their business category. The agency emphasized in a press release that the proposed rule would advance the principle of “fair access to financial services” enshrined in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Ben Cushing, senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club, reportedly rejoined that the Dodd-Frank Act was “not designed to force banks to invest in projects they deem to be overly risky and not good investments.”
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ordered the recall of approximately 7 million vehicles manufactured by General Motors to replace airbag inflators that have been known to explode after prolonged exposure to heat. The decision is the latest in a series of recalls targeting over 60 million airbag inflators, which have already resulted in 18 deaths and hundreds of injuries across the country according to NHTSA. General Motors reportedly estimated that the recalls would cost the company $1.2 billion.

WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK

  • Richard J. Pierce, Jr., professor at George Washington University Law School, published a working paper arguing that President-Elect Joe Biden will successfully restore the pre-Trump Administration “regulatory environment” shortly after taking office. Pierce emphasized, however, that a progressive congressional agenda will not succeed if Republicans control the U.S. Senate. Pierce also cautioned that new rules made by administrative agencies must survive heightened judicial review because of the number of conservative judges appointed by President Trump.
  • In a Brookings Institution report, researchers Caitlin Chin and Mishaela Robison found that the common practice of assigning female voices to artificial intelligence bots and voice assistance can perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes. Specifically, Chin and Robinson found that users may develop gender stereotypes by hearing a feminine voice respond to demand-like requests. They emphasized the need to establish industry standards for the humanization of artificial intelligence, require companies to publish available data on gender diversity on their teams, and reduce barriers to the STEM field to prevent artificial intelligence from perpetuating gender stereotypes.
  • A group of researchers and military personnel at the Palm Center released a report examining how the Trump Administration’s ban on transgender troops has impacted U.S. military readiness. The group found that the ban has harmed the U.S. military across a broad spectrum of areas, including recruitment, reputation, and morale, concluding that the policy has been a net cost to the military and should be reconsidered.

FLASHBACK FRIDAY

  • In an essay, members of The Regulatory Review’s editorial board charted the history of regulatory efforts to protect the wild turkey population in the United States. In the early 20th century, the wild turkey population fell to a historic low of only 30,000 turkeys nationwide, with 18 of the 39 states that had been home to wild turkeys reporting that their populations were completely gone. A combination of land management and hunting regulations, however, has restored the wild turkey population, representing one of the great success stories of American wildlife conservation.