A gavel laid on a marble table

Challenging Efforts to Weaken Regulatory Enforcement


  • Jan­u­ary 2020

    In Jan­u­ary 2020, the White House Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get (OMB) issued a request for infor­ma­tion regard­ing poten­tial changes to reg­u­la­to­ry enforce­ment and adju­di­ca­tion. In the request, OMB solicit­ed pro­pos­als that would lim­it the abil­i­ty of fed­er­al agen­cies to inves­ti­gate and enforce laws that pro­tect the envi­ron­ment, pub­lic health, and the civ­il rights of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. The request fol­lowed an exec­u­tive order signed by Pres­i­dent Trump in Octo­ber 2019 that accused some fed­er­al agen­cies of hav­ing unfair­ly enforced fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions and direct­ed fed­er­al agen­cies to no longer con­sid­er non­com­pli­ance with agency guid­ance doc­u­ments alone as a reg­u­la­to­ry violation.

  • March 2020

    In March 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra led a coali­tion of five attor­neys gen­er­al in fil­ing com­ments crit­i­ciz­ing OMB for seek­ing pro­pos­als to weak­en fed­er­al reg­u­la­to­ry enforce­ment. In their com­ments, the attor­neys gen­er­al ques­tioned the pur­pose of the request, not­ing that OMB pre­sent­ed no evi­dence or exam­ples that demon­strate how the cur­rent sys­tem is defi­cient. The attor­neys gen­er­al high­light­ed that enforce­ment actions under this admin­is­tra­tion have actu­al­ly declined, con­tra­dict­ing OMB’s premise that enforce­ment actions are increas­ing. The coali­tion also empha­sized that the Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act already impos­es exten­sive pro­ce­dur­al require­ments that ensure due process for indi­vid­u­als dur­ing enforce­ment and adju­di­ca­tion. The attor­neys gen­er­al urged OMB not to move for­ward with changes that would weak­en reg­u­la­to­ry enforce­ment, not­ing that if fed­er­al reg­u­la­to­ry enforce­ment becomes lax, the bur­den of pro­tect­ing the pub­lic and the envi­ron­ment will fall more heav­i­ly on the states.

Pro­tect­ing Envi­ron­men­tal Reg­u­la­tions Dur­ing the Coro­n­avirus Pandemic


  • March 2019

    In March 2020, the EPA issued a memo announc­ing a tem­po­rary sus­pen­sion of mon­i­tor­ing and report­ing require­ments under a range of envi­ron­men­tal laws dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. The pol­i­cy offers No Action Assur­ance” to facil­i­ties the agency deems essen­tial, which could include oil refiner­ies, chem­i­cal plants and pow­er plants.

  • April 2020

    In April 2020, New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al Leti­tia James led a coali­tion of four­teen attor­neys gen­er­al in sub­mit­ting a let­ter to the EPA urg­ing the agency to rescind its pol­i­cy. Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra also sent a let­ter to the EPA express­ing seri­ous con­cern with the pol­i­cy. In their let­ters, the attor­neys gen­er­al high­light­ed the dan­gers of eas­ing reg­u­la­to­ry enforce­ment poli­cies meant to pro­tect pub­lic health and the envi­ron­ment in the midst of a pub­lic health cri­sis. The coali­tion also cau­tioned that the pol­i­cy leaves states, tribes and the pub­lic with­out a way to know when an envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion has been vio­lat­ed, poten­tial­ly leav­ing many com­mu­ni­ties at risk of expo­sure to harm­ful pol­lu­tion with­out warning.

  • May 2020

    In May 2020, New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al James led a coali­tion of nine attor­neys gen­er­al in fil­ing a law­suit chal­leng­ing the EPA’s non-enforce­ment pol­i­cy. In their com­plaint, the coali­tion not­ed that the EPA exceed­ed its author­i­ty in issu­ing a broad-open end­ed pol­i­cy allow­ing reg­u­lat­ed par­ties to self-deter­mine when com­pli­ance with fed­er­al envi­ron­men­tal law is not nec­es­sary, rather than exer­cis­ing enforce­ment dis­cre­tion, as autho­rized by law. The attor­neys gen­er­al also high­light­ed that the EPA failed to con­sid­er the impacts that relax­ing envi­ron­men­tal enforce­ment oblig­a­tions could have on pub­lic health – while in the midst of a pub­lic health cri­sis – despite the long­stand­ing recog­ni­tion that those oblig­a­tions pro­tect pub­lic health by inform­ing com­mu­ni­ties of pol­lu­tion haz­ards and deter­ring indus­try non­com­pli­ance with pol­lu­tion limits.

  • June 2020

    In June 2020, the coali­tion led by Attor­ney Gen­er­al James filed a motion for a pre­lim­i­nary injunc­tion in a fed­er­al dis­trict court regard­ing the arbi­trary and capri­cious No Action Assur­ance” pol­i­cy. The attor­neys gen­er­al high­light­ed the var­i­ous irrepara­ble harms that would arise from relaxed enforce­ment of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act under the pol­i­cy. Fur­ther, they not­ed envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice con­cerns as minor­i­ty and low-income com­mu­ni­ties would bear the brunt of increased indus­try pol­lu­tion stem­ming from weak­ened mon­i­tor­ing and report­ing oblig­a­tions. The fil­ing of the motion was unop­posed by the EPA and grant­ed by the court.

    Lat­er that month, the EPA released a new memo announc­ing August 31, 2020 as the select­ed ter­mi­na­tion date of the tem­po­rary non-enforce­ment pol­i­cy. A pro­vi­sion in the memo allows for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an ear­li­er ter­mi­na­tion date – either nation­al­ly or local­ly – pro­vid­ed that the EPA issues a notice at least sev­en days in advance. With the court’s approval, the par­ties agreed to adjourn the brief­ing sched­ule in the lit­i­ga­tion in antic­i­pa­tion of the EPA’s with­draw­al of its non-enforce­ment pol­i­cy on August 312020.

  • Sep­tem­ber 2020

    In Sep­tem­ber 2020, with the March 2020 pan­dem­ic enforce­ment pol­i­cy no longer in effect, New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al James dis­missed the states’ law­suit chal­leng­ing the policy.