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Updated by drosen on Jan 06, 2020
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Latest Regulatory News 2019

The latest news and opinion on regulation and enforcement.

Senate Passes Bill Banning Tobacco Sales to Anyone Under 21

The Senate voted to permanently ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21 on Thursday. The rule was included as a provision in the spending bill that was passed in the upper chamber and now heads to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law. Several senators had originally sponsored independent legislation to enact the rule, but partisan debates derailed that bill. The provision in the funding bill is supported by many major public health groups and has the backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

Senate Unanimously Approves Anti-Robocall Legislation

The Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to approve legislation passed by the House earlier this month to tackle robocalls, sending the bill to the president's desk. According to a source familiar with Trump's plans, the president is expected to sign the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, named after its sponsors in the House and Senate, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).

Environmental Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Chemical Disaster Prevention Rollback

A coalition of environmental groups is suing the Trump administration over its easing of chemical plant safety regulations following a recent plant explosion in Texas that injured several people. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last month finalized a rule that it said would get rid of "unnecessary and ineffective regulatory burdens," a change that was sought by industry groups and firms. The coalition of 13 groups challenging the rule argued in a Thursday statement, however, that the change would put millions of people who live near chemical facilities "in harm’s way."

Senate Democrats Slam HHS Reversal on Non-Discrimination Protections

Every Senate Democrat wants the Department of Health and Human Services to rescind a plan that would allow recipients of HHS grants and contracts to discriminate on the basis of religion and sex. The entire caucus, led by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), signed onto the letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar. According to the senators, HHS annually awards more than $500 billion in taxpayer-funded grants and contracts. In November, the administration proposed a rule that would effectively end non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals in HHS grant programs — most notably adoption centers and HIV prevention programs. The HHS proposal would remove Obama-era protections based on a wide variety of characteristics, including sex, race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. Instead, it would guarantee protections based only on current statute, which does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity.

A Dozen Groups Challenge EPA Decision to Leave Slaughterhouse Regulations Untouched

A dozen environmental and animal rights groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its decision not to update regulations that limit how much pollution from slaughterhouses can flow into rivers. In October, the agency announced it would not revise federal water standards for plants that discharge their processed wastewater directly into waterways, something critics say puts rivers at risk of being overwhelmed by nitrogen, spurring algae blooms that suffocate fish as well as plant life needed to keep rivers healthy. The suit asks for judicial review of the decision to not update regulations that were last revised about 15 years ago and date back decades.

Democratic Lawmakers Call for HUD Review of Facial Recognition in Federal Housing

A group of Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to review the use of facial recognition in federally assisted housing amid concerns the technology amplifies existing biases. The lawmakers cited reports of public and federal housing administrators installing facial recognition technology, which scans faces for the purposes of identifying individuals, in buildings.

Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy

Every minute of every day, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017. The data was provided to Times Opinion by sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share it and could face severe penalties for doing so. The sources of the information said they had grown alarmed about how it might be abused and urgently wanted to inform the public and lawmakers. After spending months sifting through the data, tracking the movements of people across the country and speaking with dozens of data companies, technologists, lawyers and academics who study this field, we feel the same sense of alarm. In the cities that the data file covers, it tracks people from nearly every neighborhood and block, whether they live in mobile homes in Alexandria, Va., or luxury towers in Manhattan.

How Has This Pesticide Not Been Banned?

The pesticide known as chlorpyrifos is both clearly dangerous and in very wide use. It is known to pass easily from mother to fetus and has been linked to a wide range of serious medical problems, including impaired development, Parkinson’s disease and some forms of cancer. That’s not entirely surprising. The chemical was originally developed by Nazis during World War II for use as a nerve gas. Here’s what is surprising: Tons of the pesticide are still being sprayed across millions of acres of United States farmland every year, nearly five years after the Environmental Protection Agency determined that it should be banned. The E.P.A. proposed a full federal ban after its scientists concluded that there was substantial risk for children and developing fetuses. But federal officials backed off the proposal soon after President Trump took office, and then reversed it completely this past July. The agency now says the data on chlorpyrifos is insufficient and unreliable, but that argument cuts against well-established scientific opinion and years of careful study by E.P.A. experts.

Boeing’s Fatal Lessons

Boeing is suffering the biggest corporate debacle in years after two of its 737 MAX jet liners crashed and killed 346 people. Anybody who thinks that American businesses don’t pay for their mistakes should look at Boeing’s crucible, not that the company deserves easy absolution. The FAA is doing political damage control as it tries to assure passengers and foreign regulators that it can be trusted to oversee Boeing’s safety. The regulator recently rebuked Boeing for supposedly bullying it into speeding up its safety review and intends to review each individual aircraft before allowing the MAX to return to the skies. Boeing shareholders will pay for the company’s failures many times over, and so will its suppliers and workers. We don’t believe boards should throw CEOs out the emergency exit door whenever they face turbulence, but it’s amazing that CEO Dennis Muilenburg still has his job.

Amazon Throws Its Weight Around in FedEx Feud

You almost have to wonder if Amazon.com Inc. is baiting antitrust regulators. The e-commerce giant reportedly sent a message to third-party sellers on Sunday instructing them to stop using FedEx Corp.’s ground-delivery network for Prime shipments. While Amazon earlier this year abandoned FedEx as a carrier for its own packages in the U.S., third-party merchants had still been able to work with the company, and they make up more than half of the merchandise sold on Amazon’s website, the Wall Street Journal reported. That loophole to Amazon’s FedEx freeze-out is now closed. Amazon reportedly blamed the change on a decline in the performance of FedEx ground services amid the typical deluge of holiday shipments. In the days after Black Friday, Amazon Prime members flooded the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts with complaints of delayed packages, Recode reported earlier this month. It’s unclear if these two events are connected, although it seems plausible. FedEx said the impact of this change on its business is minuscule but criticized the fact that the policy will limit “the options for those small businesses on some of the highest demand shipping days in history.”

FDA Under Fire for Years of Delays on e-Cigarette Regulation

As the FDA pressures e-cigarette firms to stamp out youth vaping, the agency faces criticism itself for failing to rein in the fast-growing industry after years of bureaucratic delays dating back to the Obama administration. Despite recent tough talk, the FDA has yet to pass any new industry-wide restrictions after two years of rapid growth in teenage vaping tied to the popularity of e-cigarettes made by Juul Labs Inc. A measure to restrict sales of flavored e-cigarette products perceived to target teens was first proposed more than a year ago and touted in September by U.S. President Donald Trump. But the proposal has gotten bogged down in negotiations between the FDA and the White House amid pressure from the industry. Vaping advocates have argued a ban on flavors could alienate potential Trump voters next year, citing polls commissioned by the e-cigarette industry.

What Does Your Car Know About You? We Hacked a Chevy to Find Out.

We’re at a turning point for driving surveillance: In the 2020 model year, most new cars sold in the United States will come with built-in Internet connections, including 100 percent of Fords, GMs and BMWs and all but one model Toyota and Volkswagen. (This independent cellular service is often included free or sold as an add-on.) Cars are becoming smartphones on wheels, sending and receiving data from apps, insurance firms and pretty much wherever their makers want. Some brands even reserve the right to use the data to track you down if you don’t pay your bills. When I buy a car, I assume the data I produce is owned by me — or at least is controlled by me. Many automakers do not. They act like how and where we drive, also known as telematics, isn’t personal information. Cars now run on the new oil: your data. It is fundamental to a future of transportation where vehicles drive themselves and we hop into whatever one is going our way. Data isn’t the enemy. Connected cars already do good things like improve safety and send you service alerts that are much more helpful than a check-engine light in the dash. But we’ve been down this fraught road before with smart speakers, smart TVs, smartphones and all the other smart things we now realize are playing fast and loose with our personal lives. Once information about our lives gets shared, sold or stolen, we lose control.

Boeing to Halt Production of 737 Max Aircraft

Boeing will reportedly halt production of its 737 Max aircraft, the latest setback for the company after its best-selling model was grounded following two fatal crashes, the company said Monday. The company has continued to build about 40 planes per month in its Washington state plant, even while the model was grounded, but it will temporarily halt production in January. "We will continue to assess our progress towards return to service milestones and make determinations about resuming production and deliveries accordingly. During this time, it is our plan that affected employees will continue 737-related work, or be temporarily assigned to other teams in Puget Sound," the company said in a statement.

New Study Finds Surge in Robocalls as Congress Weighs Legislation

Americans received over twice as many robocalls this year as they did in 2018, according to a new study released this week. Hiya, a company which develops tools to detect caller identity and protect from scams, estimates in its new report that 54.6 billion robocalls were placed from January to November 2019, up 108 percent from the previous year. That marks a significant acceleration in frequency: robocalls increased 46 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to Hiya CEO Kush Parikh.

Inspectors Warn Unsafe Pork Could Make Its Way to Consumers Under Trump Rule Change

America's food inspectors are warning that "unsafe" pork is likely making it to consumers under a change in rules for meat inspection. That change is now set to roll out nationwide to plants that process more than 90 percent of the pork Americans eat. "The consumer's being duped," Food Safety and Inspection Service inspector Jill Mauer told NBC News. "They believe that it actually is getting federally inspected when there's no one there to even watch or do anything about anything." "It's so hard to go to work without feeling physically sick watching this just happen, unfolding in front of you," inspector Anthony Vallone said. "Especially since you took the oath to protect the American people." Mauer and Vallone have both filed whistleblower disclosure forms with the Office of Special Counsel about their concerns, but this is the first time they’ve spoken publicly. NBC News has spoken to five inspectors in person, over the phone and via email about the pilot program, which eligible pork plants will soon be able to adopt under a change in U.S. Department of Agriculture rules known as the New Swine Inspection System.

Congress Poised to Ban Tobacco Sales to Anyone Under 21

Congress appears poised to permanently prohibit the sale of tobacco to anyone under the age of 21. The provision is expected to be included in a final year-end spending deal, according to a senior Democratic aide. The provision, which is supported by many major public health groups, was originally included as part of a bipartisan and bicameral legislative package to fix surprise medical bills. But turf wars and partisanship have derailed that legislation and lawmakers wanted to ensure the tobacco provision survived intact. While larger efforts to regulate tobacco by banning certain flavors and e-cigarettes have stalled at the federal level, lawmakers believe raising the tobacco purchasing age will make a difference.

Research Fuels Debate Over E-Cigarettes as Smoking-Cessation Device

Researchers and public-health experts are locked in a debate about whether e-cigarettes should serve as a harm-reduction tool for smokers, as a new generation of young people becomes addicted to nicotine and roughly half a million people in the U.S. die each year of smoking-related causes. New regulations and reports keep fueling the debate, including an editorial in a prestigious academic journal last week that said the prohibitionist vaping bans threaten public health. A paper, being published Monday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, reports a link between e-cigarette use and increased respiratory diseases.

Vape Manufacturers Using Big Tobacco Tactics to Attract Addicts for Life

Vape device manufacturers – JUUL center stage among them – have derailed one of the most successful public health campaigns in the country while turning many young people into nicotine addicts. “It would be fascinating if it weren’t so sad,” says Dr. Linda Richter, who oversees policy-oriented research projects at the Center on Addiction. For decades, public health officials have worked to convince smokers to quit, and to stop those who have never smoked – youth in particular – from starting. “Rates of smoking cigarettes were really among the lowest we’ve ever seen,” Dr. Richter says. Since 1996, smoking dropped 76% among youth and 43% among adults, according to The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “And then along comes e-cigarettes. We’re now looking at a generation of young people who are becoming addicted to nicotine. So, a problem we were about to eradicate is now emerging once again.” The first vaping devices were introduced to the U.S. in August 2009, but most people were dissatisfied, complaining that the tobacco left a bad taste in their mouths or that the devices didn’t deliver enough nicotine. It wasn’t until 2015 – the same year popular vape manufacturer JUUL was founded – that vaping began to catch on. In fact, JUUL created a device that would deliver nicotine to the bloodstream so efficiently that the company considered adding mechanisms that would turn off the device after a certain number of puffs to prevent users from getting too much nicotine too fast, according to a Reuters report. In the end, the company never added those safeguards.

How Trump’s War on Science Is Borrowing From the Tobacco Industry Playbook

The Trump administration has recently proposed placing limits on the science that the Environmental Protection Agency can use in formulating public health regulations. The “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule would prohibit the agency from relying on findings relevant to agency decisions unless the data underlying those studies are made “publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation and analysis.” On its face, the rule seems to be a welcome safeguard for promoting good governance: Who could be against more transparency and independent checks on influential research? Indeed, in this moment of political polarization and “alternative facts,” transparency seems like a tonic with the potential to foster agreement by shining light on what is verifiable and what is not. In science, transparency has emerged as a watchword of responsible practice and a strategy for addressing the “replication crisis.” In government, transparency has been a cardinal virtue since the 1967 passage of the Freedom of Information Act, with its hope that “sunshine” could serve as a disinfectant against corruption. It’s hard to argue against sunshine. And this is precisely why some smoke-stained interests — including the tobacco and fossil fuel industries — have long sought to take advantage of transparency’s sterling reputation to advance an anti-regulatory agenda under its banner. The Trump administration’s EPA proposal borrows from this murky tradition.

Trump Administration's Plans for SNAP Are a Shove Down, Not a Hand Up

While most people are opening their hearts and helping others this holiday season, the administration is headed in the opposite direction, penalizing the poor by taking away their basic necessities and making it harder for them to climb out of poverty. Last week, it finalized a plan to strip Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from nearly 700,000 people – many of whom have limited education and skills and mental and physical limitations. Billed as a way to extend a “helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand,” this rule implies it helps Americans get jobs when you take away their food. While we can all agree a good job is the best solution to hunger and poverty, this rule does nothing to help those impacted find a stable job or get back on their feet; it will only cause hunger and hardship. Let me be clear, this rule is not a hand up. It’s a shove down.

The Recent Natural Gas Blowout in South Texas Highlights the Need for Strong Regulation

Last week a natural gas well run by Devon energy experienced a blow-out in Texas near the towns of Yorktown and Nordheim. It lasted 3 days and spewed massive amounts of methane, dangerous Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and other pollutants in Southern Texas, leading authorities to seal off thousands of acres surrounding the site. The blowout did not receive significant coverage. Furthermore, a report by researchers at Colorado State University suggest that leaks of methane and pollutants from natural gas sites occur quite frequently. Despite the urgent need to cap methane emissions, a potent heat-trapping gas and driver of climate change, the Trump administration favors rolling back existing limits on methane leaks from oil and gas wells. In August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator announced a proposal to eliminate all methane pollution standards for new sources in the oil and gas sector. The plan is to prevent any future regulation of methane emissions from already-existing oil and gas sources. And he is also proposing to remove federal regulation for methane from pipelines and transmission and storage facilities, claiming that existing regulation of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) already ensures limited methane release.

The Next Democratic President Will Face Huge Hurdles. Here’s One.

A new memo from Take Back the Court, a group that advocates for court reform, seeks to put this issue squarely on the table for discussion among the Democratic presidential candidates. “With a Democratic president in charge of the administration and the regulatory process, we can expect right wing judges and justices to resume with vigor their multi-generation battle to do away with the modern regulatory state,” the memo warns. The memo places the Democratic candidates on notice: If one is elected president, he or she will face a “highly consequential battle” in the judiciary to undercut laws that require agencies to employ a good deal of discretion and the use of “expert-driven regulation” to achieve their ends. The occasion for this warning is a recent opinion written by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, which signaled that there may be five justices in place to carry out a long-cherished conservative effort to dramatically undercut the regulatory state.

Air Pollution Is Much More Harmful Than You Know

Air pollution — mostly fine particulates, but also ozone and nitrous oxides — has risen in recent years, in part due to ongoing rollbacks of regulations relating to air pollution, leading to what a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon estimate is nearly 10,000 extra deaths per year. Policymakers in the Trump administration seem determined to continue down this course. On November 11, Lisa Friedman of the New York Times reported on a draft memo circulating among Environmental Protection Agency officials that, if enacted, would sharply limit the kinds of scientific studies the agency can use to consider the impact of air pollution. Yet there’s good reason to believe the EPA and other global public health agencies should be moving in the opposite direction and considering a wider range of studies about the harms of air pollution. That’s because in addition to its impacts to lung and cardiovascular functioning, it seems increasingly clear that pollution has a significant effect on cognitive function over both the short and long term. A spate of studies released in recent years indicate that people work less efficiently and make more mistakes on higher-pollution days, and that long-term exposure to air pollution “ages” the brain and increases the odds of dementia. These consequences are not nearly as dramatic as dying, of course. But they are spread across a huge swath of the population. And since cognitive function is linked to almost everything else in life, the implications are potentially enormous.

FDA Can Regulate E-Cigarettes Just Like Conventional Cigarettes, Appeals Court Says

The Food and Drug Administration can regulate e-cigarettes like it does conventional cigarettes, an appeals court said Tuesday, finding that the products are “indisputably highly addictive and pose health risks, especially to youth, that are not well understood.” The case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, brought by an e-cigarette manufacturer, was not about banning the sale of the devices and did not pose the question of whether e-cigarettes are more or less safe than traditional cigarettes. The issue for the court was whether the FDA has the authority to treat e-cigarettes as “tobacco products” and to subject the vaping products to the same set of rules and regulations as their conventional counterparts. The case is the first to be decided by a federal appeals court, among a set of lawsuits filed throughout the country.

More Than Half of Americans Support More Oversight of Factory Farms: Poll

More than 50 percent of Americans think that the government should provide more oversight of companies with industrial-sized animal feeding operations, according to a new poll. The survey of registered voters in Iowa and North Carolina from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found broad support for oversight and regulation of factory farms and other large-scale animal operations, while much fewer Americans supported a reduction in such oversight. Fifty-seven percent of Americans said that a lot or a little more oversight was needed of the industry, while 29 percent said that the amount of government regulation should remain the same. Just 6 percent said that the government was too strict with the factory farming industry.