Week in Review

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President Biden requires most federal employees to be vaccinated, a judge blocks enforcement of Texas’s abortion law, and more…

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IN THE NEWS

  • President Joseph R. Biden issued an executive order to require federal employees to vaccinate themselves against COVID-19. Under the new mandate, federal employees cannot decline vaccination in favor of regular testing. This executive order contributes to the Biden Administration’s Path Out of the Pandemic plan, which directs the U.S. Department of Labor to develop a COVID-19 vaccination or testing mandate for businesses with 100 or more workers and a rule requiring businesses to provide paid time off to become vaccinated, among other measures.
  • U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas challenging its new abortion restriction law, which allows private entities to sue anyone who aids an abortion after six weeks. Garland argued the state was in “open defiance of the Constitution.” A Texas federal judge also temporarily blocked an anti-abortion group from suing Planned Parenthood under the law. The judge ruled that Planned Parenthood would suffer “irreparable injury” if sued by anti-abortion groups under the law. Planned Parenthood’s vice president for public policy litigation and law, Helene Krasnoff, said the organization was “relieved” that the court “acted quickly” but that the order was “not enough relief for Texas.”
  • Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a new voting restriction bill into law after months of Democratic-led delays. The law restricts methods and hours for voting, imposes more stringent identification requirements, and grants partisan poll-watchers more freedom. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Common Cause of Texas filed a lawsuit in response, challenging multiple provisions of the law as violations of the Texas Constitution. The League of United Latin American Citizens and other Texas organizations also challenged the law under the U.S. Constitution. Abbott said that the law “ensures trust and confidence” in Texas’ elections system.
  • The Supreme Court of Mexico ruled that criminalizing abortion is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Mexico’s ten-justice unanimous ruling struck down a penal code from the state of Coahuila establishing criminal punishment, including prison sentences for people who had abortions. The decision is binding on all federal and local judges and will prevent the Mexican government in every jurisdiction from prosecuting any person who has had an abortion. The Coahuila state government stated that the decision will be applied retroactively and any people currently serving sentences for having an abortion will be released.
  • The Los Angeles Unified School District is the first major public school district to mandate vaccinations for students attending school in person who are over 12 years old. The mandate notes that “the percentage of children hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19 has been disproportionately rising” and argues that COVID-19 is “a further threat to the successful return to continuous in-person instruction.” Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 12 to 15, if the vaccines are granted full approval for this age group, more districts may impose similar vaccine requirements.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new plan to start making rules to regulate certain pollutants, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and other pollutants found in wastewater. EPA’s three new planned rules address wastewater discharge from meat and poultry facilities, PFAS manufacturing facilities, and metal finishing facilities. EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox noted in the announcement that this was the first time that the EPA will “limit PFAS in wastewater discharges.”
  • FDA will reportedly delay deciding which e-cigarettes are authorized for continued sale in the United States. In September 2020, FDA required e-cigarette manufacturers to submit their products for review or remove them from the market. A federal judge had ordered FDA to issue determinations by September 9, 2021 for vape products with the largest market share, including those from Juul Labs. FDA temporarily banned the sale of flavored vape products because of concerns about use by underage individuals, and agency officials have apparently told manufacturers to “expect stricter controls on the way their products are marketed and sold.”
  • EPA requested information and comments on a potential change in the way it regulates gasification and pyrolysis, also called waste-to-energy. The waste-to-energy processes convert wastes such as plastics, tires, and solid waste into energy, fuels, and chemicals. The proposal would change existing regulations under the Clean Air Act to clarify the specific rules for waste-to-energy as the processes have increased in popularity with market trends in plastics recycling. An environmental group, GAIA, previously vocalized the shortcomings of waste-to-energy as a renewable energy source, citing “technical and economic challenges” for the projects, as well as carbon dioxide emissions from the facilities.

WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK

  • The U.S. Department of Energy recently released the Solar Futures Study, a report explaining how the expansion of solar energy has the potential to supply 40 percent of the nation’s electricity needs by 2035. The study showed how decarbonization policies, such as carbon emissions restrictions or tax incentives for renewable energy, grid modernization, and the new deployment of renewable energy can be used to help reach President Biden’s goal of a “carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.” The study also demonstrated that the benefits of “avoided climate damages” and improved health from cleaner air outweighed the costs associated with decarbonizing.
  • In a report by EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs, the agency analyzed the disproportionate impact of climate change on four socially vulnerable populations: low income, minority, no high school diploma, and 65 and over. EPA discovered that among the populations studied, minorities are most likely to live in areas projected to experience the highest levels of climate change impacts. The agency found that individuals with low income or no high school diploma were 25 percent more likely to live in areas with the highest projected losses of labor hours due to rising temperatures than those outside of these vulnerable populations. Older populations, however, were not projected by the agency to be more likely than younger populations to live in areas most impacted by climate change.
  • In an essay published on the website of the Urban Institute, Elaine Waxman, Craig Gunderson, and Olivia Fiol posited that due to recently increased maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, only 21 percent of counties will have gaps between the cost of meals and amount of assistance provided. Waxman, Gunderson, and Fiol explained that the SNAP benefits are calculated under the Thrifty Food Plan, a plan that has not been updated since 2006, despite findings that SNAP benefits do not adequately account for differences in food cost across geographic areas. Waxman, Gunderson, and Fiol concluded that the benefit increase is “a huge step forward in maximizing the effectiveness of one of the nation’s most powerful antihunger strategies.”

FLASHBACK FRIDAY

  • In an essay in The Regulatory Review, Shelley Metzenbaum, the former president of the Volcker Alliance, argued that government can work well when it is valued and invested in. Metzenbaum refuted arguments that the primary obstacles to good government arise from government contracting, existing laws governing the civil service, or a “lack of professionalism among government employees.” She explained how the Department of Homeland Security’s investment in training in the wake of disasters such as the September 11th attacks and Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina prepared the agency to respond successfully to future disasters. Metzenbaum concluded that the government can be effective when those running it adequately prepare, have sufficient resources, and have “well-designed accountability” mechanisms in place.