China rolls back COVID-19 restrictions, the U.S. House passes a bill to grant federal protection for same-sex and interracial marriage, and more…
IN THE NEWS
- China eased COVID-19 restrictions requiring mass testing, mandatory quarantines, and lockdowns, marking a dramatic change to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “zero-COVID” strategy. China’s National Health Commission announced that people with mild cases can now isolate at home instead of going to a government quarantine center and schools will return to in-person instruction. Most public facilities, aside from schools and hospitals, will also no longer require visitors to produce a “health code” on their phones, which tracked individuals’ health status. These relaxed measures followed recent protests that erupted in major Chinese cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, over Jinping’s strict COVID-19 policies.
- The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which will create federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriage if signed into law. The U.S. Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act on November 29, 2022. Although the bill would not require that all states legalize same-sex marriage, it would prohibit states from denying the validity of an out-of-state marriage based on sex, race, or ethnicity. President Joseph R. Biden expressed that he will “promptly and proudly” sign the bill into law.
- A federal district court upheld an Oregon gun control law that bans the sale and transfer of new high-capacity firearms. The law also mandates that individuals must pass a background check and complete a gun safety course to purchase a firearm. The district court judge explained that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen established that states can enact firearm safety laws that are “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” In a separate lawsuit, a state court ruled that the law violates the Oregon Constitution.
- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended the deadline for air passengers to use a REAL ID identification when traveling within the United States until May 2025. Under the rule, travelers 18 years and older who board domestic flights must show a security-enhanced driver’s license or other Transportation Security Administration-approved form of identification, such as a passport. DHS had planned for the REAL ID Act, which Congress passed to make airport screening more secure after the September 11 attacks, to go into effect in 2020, but then delayed the requirement twice until 2023 due to the pandemic. DHS Secretary Alejando Mayorkas stated that the agency “will use this time to implement innovations to make the process more efficient and accessible.”
- A federal district court ordered several of the largest U.S. tobacco companies to display in the retail locations that sell their products, information about the health risks associated with smoking cigarettes. The court’s order outlines remedial actions these tobacco companies must take following the court’s finding that these companies deceived consumers about the health impacts of smoking cigarettes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office on Smoking and Health director Deirdre Lawrence Kittner noted that the new signage will play an important role in curbing “the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the United States”—tobacco use.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service issued a final rule that allows the agency to provide loans to borrowers for the purpose of financing grid security and cybersecurity improvements. Cyberattacks are a significant threat to electricity distribution and have increased since 2014. The Rural Utilities Service explained that investments in physical and cyber infrastructure strengthen the infrastructure itself and reduce financial risk that utility borrowers may face due to infrastructure failures.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule that would increase reporting requirements for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are long-lasting chemicals linked to adverse human health outcomes. The proposal would increase local oversight of PFAS waste management by eliminating an existing loophole for manufacturers who use only low concentrations of the chemicals. EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan explained that “communities deserve to know if they may be exposed because of the way these chemicals are being managed, recycled, or released.”
- The U.S. Bureau of Land Management proposed amendments to the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement program, which provides guidelines for the development of large-scale solar energy projects on public lands in six states. The proposed changes would expand the program to more states and modify the criteria used to select land for solar development. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said that the proposed changes reflect the Bureau’s commitment to “expanding clean energy development to address climate change, enhance America’s energy security and provide for good-paying union jobs.”
WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK
- In an article in the Washington Law Review Jonathan Skinner-Thompson, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Law School, argued that, although Clean Air Act permitting approvals are subject to public comment, communities most affected by the permitting decisions often lack the technical expertise to participate in this process. Clean Air Act permit decisions, he emphasizes, “legalize acceptable levels of pollution” and therefore may have long-term effects on communities surrounding permitted facilities. Skinner-Thompson recommends that EPA provide technical advisory assistance grants to affected communities to support their ability to make meaningful contributions to permitting decisions and advocate controls that protect their health and quality of life.
- In a forthcoming article in the Boston University Law Review, Hannah Wiseman and Samuel Wiseman, professors at Penn State Law, and Chris Wright, a student at Penn State Law, argued that the federal government should pay farmers to install solar panels on farmland. Wiseman, Wiseman, and Wright noted that the need for a massive amount of land has posed a major impediment to the expansion of renewable energy. The authors proposed that policymakers address this challenge by amending the Agriculture Improvement Act, which already pays farmers to abstain from farming their land for environmental or conservation purposes.
- In a recent Brookings Institution report, Nathan Donley, a director at the Center for Biological Diversity, argued that EPA’s lenient regulation of pesticides is harming the U.S. economy, trade, and human health. Donley noted that America has failed to restrict the use of the most dangerous pesticides, even as India, China, Brazil, and the European Union—the other largest agricultural economies—have done so. Donley recommended that EPA prohibit pesticides that much of the rest of the world has banned and that the United States ratify the Stockholm and Rotterdam treaties, which regulate many toxic chemicals.
- In an essay for The Regulatory Review, Usman Ahmed, head of global public affairs and strategic research at PayPal, Daniel Gorfine, founder of Gattaca Horizons, and Ivy K. Lau, public affairs and strategic research manager at PayPal, argued that the United States needs a universal digital identification system on pace with the digital economy. They identified, however, that fragmentation between states, the federal government, and the private sector, as well as data privacy concerns, pose a significant challenge to achieving a digital ID.