Week in Review

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FDA authorizes Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot for select individuals, EPA will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and more…

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IN THE NEWS

  • Following the advice of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel, FDA authorized booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for individuals at high risk for life-threatening COVID-19 symptoms, those over 65 years old, and those who are at high exposure through institutional or occupational settings. The panel, however, declined to recommend a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine for the general public. The panel’s decision not to endorse booster shots for the general public stands at odds with the Biden Administration’s plan to distribute booster shots to everyone over 16 years old. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory committee reportedly approved of FDA’s decision.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule establishing a new program to cut greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs have a relative impact on global warming that is “hundreds to thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide.” The new rule responds to the passage of the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020, which directed EPA to establish a program to phase down HFCs. This program will focus on “allowance allocation and trading” for HFCs that will reduce HFC consumption by “85% below baseline levels within the next 15 years.” The Biden Administration called EPA’s rule “one of the most consequential climate actions taken by the federal government in years.”
  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a strategy to “address the increase” of migrants in South Texas. The plan, enacted under the U.S. government’s authority to remove migrants in the interest of public health, is in response to an increased number of refugees and immigrants entering the United States after recent tragedies in Haiti. DHS stated that it would accelerate the removal of migrants by adding additional removal flights, increasing agents and officers to the area, and relocating individuals to other areas to decrease processing time. U.S. ambassador to Haiti Daniel Foote reportedly resigned from his position due to the U.S. government’s “inhumane” treatment of Haitian migrants in time of tragedy.
  • The United States will lift some restrictions on travelers from over 30 countries, including China, India, Brazil, and most of Europe. The previous restrictions included measures such as quarantine requirements and travel bans for non-citizens who had been in the United Kingdom, European Union, China, and other countries in the previous 14 days. Jeff Zients, the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 response coordinator, announced that beginning in November foreign travelers that are fully vaccinated will be able to travel to the United States. In addition to their vaccination status, travelers will also need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to entering the country.
  • The CDC temporarily halted flights for Afghan evacuees going to the United States after public health departments discovered an outbreak of measles and mumps connected to recent arrivals from Afghanistan. The CDC noted that all of the confirmed cases are being treated and that the patients and their contacts have been isolated. The CDC recommended that those previously unvaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella receive the vaccine and quarantine for 21 days before traveling into the United States. President Joseph R. Biden issued an executive order adding measles to the list of quarantinable diseases, seemingly due to the recent outbreaks.
  • A federal appeals court dismissed its previous ruling that declared restrictions on gun sales to individuals between 18 and 20 years old unconstitutional. The plaintiffs originally claimed their Second Amendment rights were violated by gun laws that banned the sale of firearms to adults younger than 21 years old. The appeals court held that because the plaintiffs turned 21 and no longer needed the court’s intervention to purchase handguns, the previous opinion must be vacated. Judge James Wynn, who dissented from the previous ruling, concurred with the new decision and stated the previous ruling now has “no legal value.”
  • The Biden Administration announced a new interagency effort to protect people from extreme heat. The Administration directed the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to launch a rulemaking process to “develop a workplace heat standard.” Through the rule, OSHA will seek to prevent “heat injury and illness” in both indoor and outdoor work, which have increased as a result of extreme heat events related to climate change. OSHA also announced it is implementing a new enforcement initiative to respond to heat-related complaints and hazards. The Administration’s announcement also includes other measures designed to address heat-related problems, such as developing neighborhood cooling centers in schools.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice sued American Airlines and JetBlue because the airlines’ partnership, the “Northeast Alliance,” allegedly reduces competition and harms consumers in violation of the Sherman Act. As part of the partnership, American Airlines and JetBlue will plan routes, schedule personnel, and share revenue for flights in the Boston and New York markets, among other details. Although the airlines’ partnership is not a merger, the Justice Department alleged that it operates as one in practice. The Justice Department noted that because the airline industry is deregulated, private competition between airline carriers provides price and quality protections to consumers. The Justice Department reasoned that because the domestic travel industry is dominated by only four airlines, the partnership between American Airlines and JetBlue will result in “reductions in capacity, higher fares, and lower quality of service.”

WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK

  • In a Center for American Progress article, Kelly Kryc, now deputy assistant secretary for International Fisheries at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and Kat So highlighted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change findings indicate that countries must employ mitigation strategies beyond a complete transition to clean energy sources to prevent the earth from warming over 1.5 degrees Celsius. Kryc and So explained that the ocean has a large capacity to absorb carbon dioxide emissions, so it is an important resource for carbon dioxide removal and sequestration. Kryc and So argued that countries should develop ocean-based ecosystems, such as wetlands, seagrasses, and seaweed, to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Kryc and So concluded that the Biden Administration should research and design nature-based solutions for carbon dioxide removal and collaborate with environmental justice activists to develop guidelines for their implementation.
  • In an essay in the Northwestern University Law Review, Joseph Blocher, professor at Duke University School of Law, and Reva Siegel, professor at Yale Law School, advocate stronger gun regulations to protect the “public sphere on which constitutional democracy depends.” Blocher and Siegel examined the armed protests at the Michigan legislature in 2020 as an example of how guns present a threat to public safety and undermine the democratic process. Blocher and Siegel concluded that if gun regulations are inadequate, gun use will “define our constitutional democracy, rather than the other way around.”
  • In a paper issued by the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, Matt Bowen, research scholar at the center, discussed challenges and solutions to nuclear waste disposal. Bowen explained that although nuclear energy is the largest generator of low-carbon electricity in the United States, the country is at a standstill for nuclear waste disposal, which has led some states to prohibit nuclear development until progress is made. Bowen argued that the United States is limited in its progress on this issue because congressional amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act have limited access to a nuclear waste disposal fund and prevented the U.S. Department of Energy from exploring additional waste sites. Bowen suggested some options for the U.S. Congress to address nuclear waste, such as creating a new agency solely intended to manage nuclear waste, improving the funding structure for nuclear waste, and resolving regulatory inconsistencies to improve flexibility in disposal.

FLASHBACK FRIDAY

  • In an essay in The Regulatory Review, Adam M. Finkel, professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, argued that OSHA should collaborate with public and private entities at the federal, state, and local levels to identify and address hazardous workplace conditions. Finkel explained that although OSHA has broad statutory authority to exercise its power—such as when risk of disease poses a threat to relatively few workers—OSHA “faces a gauntlet of shrill opposition” that barricades its ability to regulate workplace conditions. Finkel recommended that OSHA rely on science and economics to justify using its authority to its full extent and institute policies advancing the protection and humane treatment of workers.