Week in Review

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EPA issues a rule designed to reduce methane emissions, the Fifth Circuit rules that federal agents can remove barbed wire on border fence, and more…

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  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule designed to eliminate 58 million tons of methane gas emissions by 2038. The rule aims to reduce methane emissions by mandating the use of emerging technology to prevent methane leakage during the drilling and transportation processes. The proposed rule would also phase out the practice of “flaring,” where methane producers burn off excess methane gas extracted with oil. EPA estimated that the expected emissions reductions will equate to taking 28 million gasoline cars off the road.
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit temporarily stayed a federal trial court’s order permitting federal agents to remove barbed wire installed by Texas at the nation’s border. In the appealed ruling, the trial judge wrote that border patrol agents may have lawful reasons to cut the concertina wire, such as preventing injuries or deaths, and found that Texas failed to provide enough evidence that the federal government had trespassed or violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a national strategy to combat food waste in the United States. The agencies seek comment on the draft strategy. The draft strategy suggests steps that the three agencies can take to reduce food loss and waste and increase organic recycling rates. For example, the agencies proposed that FDA and USDA inform “labeling and food safety advice” in EPA’s consumer education plans.
  • The U.S. Department of State issued a final rule removing an immigrant visa process that allowed immigration officers to conduct informal interviews of a visa applicant’s family members. Created in 1952, the informal examination process allowed consular officers to make preliminary eligibility determinations about family members planning to travel to the United States after their relative-visa applicant arrives. The State Department wrote in its proposed rule that the increasingly complex visa process has made informal evaluation impractical “to complete with accuracy” and found that the five busiest immigrant visa offices rarely rely on informal interviews.
  • The House Judiciary Committee voted 35-2 to pass a bipartisan bill that would renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for three years. Passed in 2008 and set to expire at the end of this month, Section 702 empowers the federal government to collect digital communications of foreigners located outside the United States. Privacy advocates from both parties have criticized the statute for permitting agencies to search through NSA’s data for information about Americans without warrants. The bill would require all intelligence agencies to obtain a warrant before searching collected data for information about Americans. The committee also approved exceptions to the warrant requirement for imminent or cybersecurity threats. Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) said that he expected a floor vote on the bill by “next week,” before Congress is expected to adjourn for the year on December 15.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would adjust the recording time of cockpit voice recorders in new aircrafts. The rule would increase the mandated recording time from two hours to 25 hours. Currently, cockpit voice recorders overwrite old recordings when the two- hour limit is reached, hindering investigations by airlines and civil aviation authorities. The FAA reasoned that the rule would “increase aviation safety” and prevent future accidents and incidents by increasing the data available for investigations.
  • The U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry announced that the United States joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance. By joining the alliance, the United States promised to ban the construction of coal power plants and phase out existing coal power plants. The announcement did not provide a timeline for these goals, but other U.S. climate commitments set 2035 as a target. Kerry described the move as a “first step … to stop making the problem worse.”
  • The Texas Senate passed a bill that would increase the funds distributed to schools for safety initiatives. The bill allocates $800 million for student and campus safety through 2025. The bill would provide enough funding to schools to allow them to comply with HB 3, which mandates that all schools have armed security on campus. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick praised the bill for “ensuring the safety and security of every Texan, especially our children.”


  • In a working paper, Robert Frieden, a professor of telecommunications and law at Penn State, argues that the irresponsible use of space resources may result in a “tragedy of the commons,” making space unusable. Frieden cautioned that launching too many satellites into space will create risk of satellite collisions and high levels of debris, resulting in costly hazards for both nations and businesses. Frieden contended that revisions to existing space treaties will combat the depletion of space resources. Frieden suggested the revised treaties hold businesses to the same standards as nations and institute penalties for breaking the treaties’ terms.
  • The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on federal agencies’ cybersecurity capabilities and noncompliance with federal requirements. GAO found that 20 agencies failed to meet even the lowest level of the Office of Management and Budget’s cyber-incident tracking requirements, citing staff shortages, technical challenges, and limited ability to share cyber threat information. GAO mostly assigned responsibility to departments’ secretaries to implement event-tracking standards. GAO also recommended that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency contact agencies when it changes federal security standards and provide agencies with details on continuity of operation plans designed for emergencies.
  • In a recent article in the Northwestern University Law Review, Daiquiri Steele, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, proposed changes to the enforcement of worker-protection regulations in the United States. Steele explained that most agencies that enforce statutes designed to protect workers rely on complaints filed by employees against their employers. But Steele argued that this system leaves employees vulnerable to retaliation from their employers. Steele suggested that agencies should emphasize internally initiated audits to enforce worker-protection statutes instead of relying on employees who may face retaliation.


  • In an essay in The Regulatory Review, Richard J. Pierce, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, discussed the benefits of using natural gas during the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Pierce argued that existing renewable energy sources are not yet reliable enough to power the entire country, but natural gas—which is cleaner than coal or oil—could provide energy security in the transition period. The widespread adoption of methane emissions-sensing technologies would further reduce emissions during this transition period, according to Pierce.