- Subpoena turnabout not fair play: Congressional Republicans investigating state AGs’ climate advocacy probe are lobbing subpoenas at private enviro groups that urged the anti-speech campaign. Knock it off, two wrongs don’t make right [Eli Lehrer and earlier] “You don’t need complicated models to figure out what happens when governments censor speech. The evidence on that question is solid.” [Steve Simpson]
- And speaking of fraud in policy advocacy (whatever that may mean) some varieties of it are plainly going to have no legal consequences whatsoever [Matt Welch channeling Virginia Postrel on California political class and high-speed rail]
- Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette says 40 anti-pipeline activists gathered and beat on the front door of his home for 30 minutes with his wife alone there [Detroit News]
- Pro-nuclear demonstrators blockade Greenpeace office in San Francisco, but wouldn’t the ultimate way to protest an odious environmental group be to respect the property rights of all concerned? [SFist]
- “It’s a shotgun approach”: injury lawyers find many defendants to blame after Flint public water fiasco [NPR via Renee Krake, Legal Ethics Forum]
- “District court voids Obama administration fracking regulations” [Jonathan Adler, Alden Abbott]
Speaking of infringements on what is now the scope of attorney-client privilege, an Oregon law professor has proposed to make environmental protection part of lawyers’ ethical duties. [Daily Climate; Tom Lininger, “Green Ethics for Lawyers,” Boston College Law Review, 2016; Scott Greenfield] Some backers hope the idea will encourage lawyers representing the fossil fuel industry, in particular, to disregard conventional attorney duties of loyalty to clients; indeed, it might someday serve as grounds for them to be disciplined if they refrain from betraying client interests in various situations.
- Supreme Court should clarify whether agency has discretion to ignore any and all costs in designating Endangered Species Act habitat [Ilya Shapiro and Randal John Meyer on Cato certiorari amicus in Building Industry Association of the Bay Area v. U.S. Dept. of Commerce]
- Unanimous decision in Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes is second SCOTUS ruling this year against Environmental Protection Agency, and umpteenth blow to its reputation [Ned Mamula, Cato]
- Speaking of billionaires with vendettas against speech: Tom Steyer of San Francisco pushes New Hampshire attorney general to join probe of wrongful climate advocacy [Mike Bastasch, Daily Caller, earlier here, etc.]
- “Modern zoning would have killed off America’s dense cities”: 40% of Manhattan’s buildings couldn’t be built today because they would violate a law [New York Times, Scott Beyer/Forbes]
- And if anyone should know about tainting it’s them: United Nations human rights bureaucracy probes Flint water contamination [Associated Press]
- Anti-fossil-fuel demonstrators block rail line and the Associated Press can’t find a single critic to quote [related, Shift Washington]
In old Japan, it is said, the courts of Edo (now Tokyo) were presented with the complaint of a shopkeeper whose upstairs neighbor had enjoyed the delicious smell of his cooking without, as the plaintiff said would be fair, paying a price for it. To find out how the samurai judge cleverly resolved the complaint, read on…. [Dan Lewis, Now I Know]
- On the Flint water fiasco, building for many months now, multiple levels of governments have plenty to answer for [Detroit News (“Lower-level [state DEQ] officials continued to downplay severity of Flint’s drinking water problems for almost 3 more months.”), The Hill and Detroit News (EPA), earlier and on government impunity] More: David Mastio, USA Today (even after fiasco, prevailing blood-lead levels in Flint children greatly improved from ten years ago); Rob Sisson/ConserveFewell; Matt Pearce/L.A. Times.
- Background on Oregon standoff: what would a market-based federal lands grazing program look like? [Randal O’Toole, earlier on Malheur refuge occupation here, here]
- “Trying to Build a Catskills Resort Despite Mountains of Regulation” [Cori O’Connor, WSJ]
- “Next stop for Paris climate deal: the courts” [Politico] Chart overview of climate change litigation in U.S. [Arnold & Porter via Kyle White, Abnormal Use]
- “The emerging cross-ideological consensus on zoning” [Ilya Somin] “Zoning Laws Transfer Wealth in the Wrong Direction” [Noah Smith]
- Time for Supreme Court to revisit its doctrine on exhaustion of state litigation remedies in takings cases [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
- Pulitzer logrolling, politicization of Columbia J-school are old stories, but vendetta against Exxon adds a few new twists [Fraser Seitel, O’Dwyer, earlier]
Recommended in sorting out what went wrong on many sides: here’s a local, detailed commentary on Flint, Michigan’s water crisis that doesn’t read as if it’d picked its villain in advance. [Greg Branch]
My take on the Oregon standoff, this morning at The Federalist:
As my Cato Institute colleague Randal O’Toole skillfully explained, none of the protagonists in the Oregon standoff really deserve our admiration: the Hammond ranching family misbehaved, the federal government overcharged, and then the Bundy cranks arrived to spray kerosene on the glowing embers….
Unlawful protest occupations of public places and government buildings have long been a familiar part of American public life, and even those not involving arms sometimes have rather serious consequences for the health and well-being of innocent bystanders….
In the ordinary calculations of humanity, events like Waco and Ruby Ridge and the Philadelphia MOVE bombing represent a grotesque failure. Despite the spirit of the mob and the ever-present temptation to shoot first, most such situations in our country are resolved with legal consequences for the wrongdoers but not with loss of life and limb. We should be glad of that.
Read the whole thing here. I’ve covered the earlier Bundy Nevada standoff in this space, as well as the wider phenomenon I call folk law. For more coverage of occupations, blockades, and acts of physical intimidation that were resolved without bloodshed (and sometimes without later legal consequences to those who broke the law) see our tag on selective law non-enforcement, including this from 2011 about how some cheered when unionized Wisconsin police announced solidarity with protesters occupying the state capitol and refused orders to oust them.
More: Randal O’Toole has a new post up on the Hammonds’ actions and punishment.
It’s a familiar libertarian insight that regulation often holds government itself to lower standards than it does private actors. Pension funds for public employees are mostly immune from the federal solvency and funding requirements that apply to their private counterparts; Federal Trade Commission rules against false advertising by private companies do not restrain false advertising by government actors on the same topics; the FTC can fine companies massively for data breaches even as the federal government itself suffers gigantic losses of sensitive data to foreign actors with few, if any, visible career consequences for those who had dozed; anticompetitive practices per se illegal under antitrust law become legal when the states engage in them, and so on and so forth.
Now David Konisky of Indiana University and Manuel Teodoro of Texas A&M, in a study published by the American Journal of Political Science entitled “When Governments Regulate Governments,” have taken a look at some data:
Our empirical subjects are public and private entities’ compliance with the U.S. Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. We find that, compared with private firms, governments violate these laws significantly more frequently and are less likely to be penalized for violations.
For the study, Konisky and Teodoro examined records from 2000 to 2011 for power plants and hospitals regulated under the Clean Air Act and from 2010 to 2013 for water utilities regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The study included over 3,000 power plants, over 1,000 hospitals and over 4,200 water utilities — some privately owned and others owned by public agencies.
* For power plants and hospitals, public facilities were on average 9 percent more likely to be out of compliance with Clean Air Act regulations and 20 percent more likely to have committed high-priority violations.
* For water utilities, public facilities had on average 14 percent more Safe Drinking Water Act health violations and were 29 percent more likely to commit monitoring violations.
* Public power plants and hospitals that violated the Clean Air Act were 1 percent less likely than private-sector violators to receive a punitive sanction and 20 percent less likely to be fined.
*Public water utilities that violated Safe Drinking Water Act standards were 3 percent less likely than investor-owned utilities to receive formal enforcement actions.
[After speculating that public operators may find it harder to raise funds promptly for needed facilities improvements:] Public entities also face lower costs for violating the regulations, the authors argue. There is evidence from other studies that they are able to delay or avoid paying fines when penalties are assessed. And officials with regulatory agencies may be sympathetic to violations by public entities, because they understand the difficulty of securing resources in the public sector.