Congress races to protect industry from lawsuits.

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Congress races to protect industry from lawsuits.

Postby Wilberforce » Tue Feb 13, 2018 9:00 am

Congress introduces record number of bills to prevent people from taking industry to court
Congress races to protect industry from lawsuits.
Mark Hand
Feb 12, 2018, 11:40 am

Industry-friendly lawmakers are waging a coordinated campaign with the Trump administration to strip Americans of their legal rights to use the courts to hold polluting companies and the government itself accountable for violations of bedrock environmental laws and other important public protections.

Members of Congress have introduced more than 50 bills over the past year that would make it extremely difficult or impossible for people to seek justice in a court of law, according to an in-depth analysis by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization. The proposed bills are targeting laws related to environmental protection, public health, consumer rights, and civil liberties.

The number of bills introduced in the current 115th Congress that would strip individuals of their legal rights to seek justice in a court of law have doubled from the previous Congress and quadrupled since the 112th Congress that ended in 2013. Similar to how credit card companies and other retailers block consumers from the use of a court of law to resolve disputes, these bills would have a similar effect by preventing aggrieved members of the public from filing lawsuits to ensure laws are enforced.

“The corporate interests that stand to benefit from these types of provisions see this window of time as an opportunity,” Patrice Simms, vice president of litigation at Earthjustice, said in an interview with ThinkProgress. “They have a president that they know will sign anything that benefits them and they have majorities in the House and Senate that they believe are willing to move the bills forward.”

Earthjustice has created an interactive tool that tracks each of these pieces of legislation. If passed into law, these bills would erect permanent obstacles that will prevent people and communities from going to court to defend their rights.

During the current Congress, 12 bills with a combination of threatening provisions have passed the House of Representatives. The president has signed one into law: H.J.Res. 111 repealed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s rule prohibiting banks, lenders, and other corporations from forcing consumers with grievances into arbitration. This law also prevents individuals from joining together in class action lawsuits in federal courts against banks, predatory lenders, and other bad actors.

Members of the George W. Bush administration, including some appointed by President Donald Trump to high-level positions in his administration, wanted to see similar restrictions placed on the rights of individuals to have their day in court. “Usually, it’s been a pretty extremist view,” said Jessica Culpepper, an attorney with Public Justice, a nonprofit law firm that focuses on environmental protection, consumer rights, and civil liberties.

For many years, a contingent in Congress has tried to limit the ability of citizens to use “bedrock environmental laws” like the Clean Water Act to protect themselves. “What is frightening is that at least with the Bush administration, some things were sacred. You still couldn’t get a lot of support for stripping citizens’ abilities to protect themselves,” Culpepper said. “And now those things are on the table.”

Congressional Republicans have been trying for years to get these types of bills passed. They’ve been introduced before, but typically only to make certain industry constituents happy, with little chance of passage, according to Culpepper. The bills “have not been as big of a threat” as they are under the current Congress, Culpepper told ThinkProgress.

According to Earthjustice, the list of bills from the current Congress attacking individuals’ access to justice include:

6 bills with provisions to eliminate judicial review, eroding the role of courts as a check and balance on other branches of government.
14 bills that could effectively strip people of their right to sue by either forcing them into arbitration or blocking their ability to join together in class action lawsuits.
17 bills that would make it too expensive to sue, forcing members of the public to bear the burden of costly litigation against the government.
10 bills that meddle with timely resolution through settlements, forcing government agencies to draw out challenges through costly litigation fights.

One bill, dubbed the “Farm Regulatory Certainty Act” by its industry backers, was introduced in the previous Congress and didn’t move at all. But in the current Congress, the bill is gaining momentum, with more than 60 co-sponsors. Culpepper delivered testimony to a congressional hearing in November in which she described the bill as an effort to shield “an entire industry from liability.” The bill “would essentially “strip rural Americans from their right to protect their drinking water,” she told lawmakers

Congress recognizes it cannot simply repeal the laws it doesn’t like. Its members can’t say, “We’re going to get rid of the Clean Water Act.” But what they do see they can do is engage in “this furtive attempt to undo the protections that those laws actually provide,” explained Simms.

By furtive attempts, Simms is referring to how certain lawmakers now realize that if an environmental law, for example, cannot be undone by direct repeal, they can try to pass bills that make the laws impossible to enforce. For example, the House of Representatives last October passed a bill that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies from settling lawsuits, even when the government has acted unlawfully.

House Republicans have dubbed the bill, H.R. 469, the “Sunshine for Regulations and Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act.” Earthjustice prefers to call the bill by describing its real intent: “Delaying Public Health Protections.” The bill still has not passed the Senate.

Simms said this particular bill is a prime example of how congressional Republicans are working closely with the Trump administration on these types of bills. “There’s a degree of coordination between Congress and the administration that I have not seen in the past,” he said. “They’re coming back over the course of the last year with an intensity that we have not seen before and a coordination that I have not seen in the past. This is really something frightening.”

Even the mine’s owners see natural gas as better bet.

H.R. 469 reflects almost exactly the policy adopted by the Trump administration. In mid-October, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced his agency would no longer engage in settlement discussions with public interest lawyers, what anti-environment lawmakers refer to as “sue and settlement” practices. “What did we see several weeks later? A bill gets passed in the House that would essentially codify that and apply it not to just EPA but all agencies,” Simms said.

The bill would inhibit the EPA and other federal agencies from settling lawsuits, even when the government has acted unlawfully. This drags out legal action, raising costs for plaintiffs, and allows the administration to avoid enforcing environmental regulations, leading to more pollution and industrial harm to communities, according to Earthjustice.

In her 10 years as an environmental and public interest attorney, Culpepper said she’s never seen so many bills introduced at once — bills that would roll back individuals’ ability to use the courts to seek justice — that have a good chance of moving through Congress. “I spent more time fighting these things in 2017 than I have in my an entire career,” she said.

source ... 3094167d3/

Trump budget seeks 23 percent cut at EPA, eliminating dozens of programs
By Brady Dennis February 12 at 4:39 PM Email the author

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, drastically reduced the agency’s staff in his first year on the job. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

The White House is seeking to cut more than $2.5 billion from the annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency — an overall reduction of more than 23 percent.

The fiscal 2019 proposal released Monday marks the Trump administration’s latest attempt to shrink the reach of an agency the president once promised to reduce to “little tidbits.” The EPA already has lost hundreds of employees to buyouts and retirements over the past year, and its staffing is now at Reagan-era levels.

Under the latest budget, the agency would continue to shrink in size and ambition, leaving much more of the work of environmental protection to individual states. The administration said Monday that its proposal will help “return the EPA to its core mission,” reduce “unnecessary reporting burdens on the regulated community,” and eliminate programs that “create unnecessary redundancies or those that have served their purpose and accomplished their mission.”

But environmental groups on Monday were quick to criticize the proposal, calling it a thinly veiled attempt to gut federal environmental safeguards.

“The Trump administration budget released today is a blueprint for a less healthy, more polluted America,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “A budget shows your values — and this budget shows the administration doesn’t value clean air, clean water, or protecting Americans from toxic pollution.”

President Trump's second budget was unveiled on Feb. 12. It seeks to bolster military and infrastructure spending and embraces deficit spending. (Reuters)

The administration’s plan would cut several dozen programs altogether. Among them: funding for state radon-detection initiatives; assistance to fund water system improvements along the U.S.-Mexico border; and partnerships to monitor and restore water quality in the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound and other large bodies of water. Funding for the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay would fall from $72 million to $7 million, and a similar program for the Great Lakes would be cut from $300 million to $30 million — although neither would be wiped out.

The head of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation called the proposal “another assault on clean water, from a president who campaigned saying he valued it.”

“This administration says they want to partner with states, but a 90 percent budget reduction says the opposite,” William C. Baker said in a statement. “The Chesapeake Bay Program is the glue that holds the state/federal partnership together. A cut of this magnitude would severely damage Bay restoration efforts, just at a time when we are seeing significant progress.”

In addition, the Trump budget would eliminate — or very nearly eliminate — the agency’s programs related to climate change. Funding for the agency’s Office of Science and Technology would drop by more than a third, from $762 million to $489 million. And funding for prosecuting environmental crimes and for certain clean air and water programs would drop significantly.

The Superfund cleanup program, a priority of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, would not face the same draconian reductions as were proposed last year. The agency expects to use the $1 billion fund “to reduce administrative costs, identify efficiencies, and prioritize the cleanup of sites.”

The agency also would receive an additional $397 million to bolster investment in wastewater and storm water infrastructure. The White House is no longer seeking to eliminate the Energy Star program, although it would be funded entirely through fees.

The fiscal 2019 proposal comes a year after the Trump administration proposed slashing the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, as well as cutting 3,200 positions, or more than 20 percent of the agency’s workforce.

“You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it. So I guess the first place that comes to mind will be the Environmental Protection Agency,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told reporters at the time. “The president wants a smaller EPA. He thinks they overreach, and the budget reflects that.”

source ... 6f74b46d62
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