E.P.A.’s Final Deregulatory Rush Runs Into Open Staff Resistance

President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rushing to complete one of its last regulatory priorities, aiming to obstruct the creation of air- and water-pollution controls far into the future, when a senior career scientist moved to hobble it. Thomas Sinks directed the E.P.A.’s science advisory office and later managed the agency’s rules and data around research that involved people. Before his retirement in September, he decided to issue a blistering official opinion that the pending rule — which would require the agency to ignore or downgrade any medical research that does not expose its raw data — will compromise American public health…Last month, the agency finalized a rule that creates a lengthy new legal process to overturn or withdraw certain policy directives known as “guidance documents,” which give federal agencies direction on the specifics of how to enforce laws. Such guidance documents can give an administration some license to interpret laws in ways that advance their policy agenda. For example, the E.P.A. during the Trump administration has published a guidance document that allows oil and gas companies to release flares from their wells for up to 15 minutes at a time before regulations apply — a process that releases methane, a powerful planet-warming greenhouse gas…Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard and a former adviser to the Obama administration, called the rule a “little I.E.D.,” referring to an improvised explosive device, or roadside bomb, aimed at slowing a Biden administration’s plans to overturn Mr. Trump’s rules. “Shenanigans like these are what awaits the Biden team,” she said.

House to Vote on Booting Chinese Stocks From U.S. Over Audit Rules

Lawmakers next week are likely to force Chinese companies with shares traded on American exchanges to finally comply with audit-oversight rules—or leave U.S. markets altogether. House leaders plan to consider a measure on Wednesday that would force Chinese firms such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. either to make the transition to getting an annual audit that is reviewed by U.S. regulators, or remove the shares from trading in the U.S. The House plans to vote under rules that limit debate and require a two-thirds majority for passage, according to an online notice posted Friday. The legislation, if it becomes law, would give Chinese companies and their auditors three years to comply with inspection requirements before they could be kicked off the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq Stock Market…Other Chinese companies may go private instead. The mechanics of that process would be relatively simple, with investors getting cash for their shares. But management teams could buy out American stockholders at a low share price, benefiting insiders at the expense of outside investors. “They could use the threat of an impending delisting to take the company private at a low price,” said Jesse Fried, a law professor at Harvard University. “Then this law would have made U.S. investors worse off.”

Biden Aims to Appoint Liberal Judges After Trump’s Conservative Push

President-elect Joe Biden in January will begin an effort to recalibrate the federal judiciary with more liberal appointees who embrace a robust judicial role in addressing national problems and protecting an evolving spectrum of individual rights, a shift from the conservative appointees under President Trump…Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, an informal Biden adviser since the 1980s, said Mr. Biden believes in strong “national governmental power to deal with emerging problems,” a liberal constitutional approach that the Supreme Court embraced during the New Deal and that underpins federal initiatives from Social Security to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the same time, Mr. Biden sees the Constitution protecting individuals not through “a laundry list of rights, but a set of fundamental values and principles,” Mr. Tribe said. That approach has led to Supreme Court decisions that invalidated bans on contraceptives, recognized abortion rights and entitled same-sex couples to marry, which Mr. Biden endorsed before President Barack Obama, Mr. Tribe noted.

‘This Feels Like the Closest We’ve Ever Been.’ Why Growing Demands for Student Debt Forgiveness Could Be Joe Biden’s First Presidential Test

Roughly two months out from Inauguration Day, Joe Biden is already facing a brewing political storm among his ideologically-diverse base of supporters, who disagree over the issue of student loan forgiveness. As COVID-19 cases continue to surge—while federal economic protections for student loans, evictions, and expanded unemployment expire in December—a powerful coalition of Democrats, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, is pushing Biden to use executive action to cancel $50,000 of student loan debt per person as a form of economic stimulus. Meanwhile, some Democratic voters, joined by moderate Republicans who helped Biden win in key swing states, are looking on in horror. They argue that offering significant relief to people with existing student debt relief is deeply regressive: it excludes a population of blue-collar workers who never earned a college degree but are bearing the brunt of this economic downturn…Eileen Connor, Legal Director at the Project on Predatory Student Lending out of Harvard Law School, which has supported Warren in advocating for the policy fix, says the power to cancel debt is clear. “The language in the HEA is broad, has been there from the beginning, and has not been narrowed,” she says, “even as Congress has put other cancellation authority into the HEA and limited the compromise authority of other agencies in different ways.”

Biden promises some student loan forgiveness. Student borrowers hope he delivers.

For almost 15 years, Trygve “Spike” Magelssen says he faithfully paid down his student loans each month, slowly chipping away at the original debt of $53,000, even as medical bills, a home improvement loan and other costs left him “financially up against a wall.” Then in late 2018, Magelssen, an associate professor of electrical technology at Montana State University-Northern, wondered if he might benefit from Congress’ temporary expansion of the so-called Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Public servants, including teachers, health care workers and law enforcement, can apply under certain requirements, and must make 10 years’ worth of payments before the loan’s remaining balance can be erased…Theresa Sweet, a student borrower from the Bay Area who was the lead plaintiff in a 2019 lawsuit against DeVos, said Wednesday that she had lost faith in an Education Department that she believed was supposed to be protecting students’ interests. Her lawsuit, brought by attorneys with the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, alleges that DeVos illegally stalled a program known as borrower defense to repayment, a 1990s-era regulation that was expanded under the Obama administration and says borrowers who are cheated by their schools are eligible for federal loan forgiveness. But after a settlement agreement in April, in which DeVos admitted no wrongdoing but pledged to adjudicate the program promptly, the Education Department began issuing blanket denials to student borrowers — setting up an ongoing legal dispute that may finally end under the next administration.

Average winter temperatures have warmed by 4.8 degrees in Philly since 1970, says new research

In the winter of 1969-70, Philadelphia had an average temperature of 30.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Last year, the average was 39.4. No one says snow and cold spells are things of the past. But winters have warmed considerably since 1970 in the Northeast, including in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to data compiled by Climate Central, an organization of scientists and journalists that research and report on climate. Overall, the group found that winter not only is warmer than it was 50 years ago, it is warming faster than any other season in 38 states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey…Attempts to address climate change have been stalled since 2017 when President Donald Trump took office, pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, and spent the remainder of his term rolling back 82 environmental regulations, according to the Harvard Law School Environmental and Energy Law Program. Other organizations list more than 100. Some of those rollbacks were aimed at curbing emissions from carbon and methane, both of which are greenhouse gases, from power plants, fracking operations, and auto emissions. President-elect Joe Biden has named former U.S. Sen. John Kerry to a new post, special envoy for climate change, and pledged to rejoin the Paris accord. But if Biden plans to undo the Trump administration’s work, it could take years on some of the regulations because of how government rules are set up and possible court challenges.

Belief in Trump Fiction Can Be Worn Down by Fact

An op-ed by Cass SunsteinPresident Donald Trump keeps claiming that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and was replete with fraud. He has spread the false assertion that voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems Inc. deleted millions of pro-Trump votes and shifted hundreds of thousands to his victorious opponent, President-elect Joe Biden. Many Republicans agree that the presidency has been stolen. Polls show that about half of them think that Trump “rightfully won” the election, and a whopping 68 percent have concerns about a “rigged” process for counting votes. Various media outlets associated with the political right have fueled these beliefs. Social media are playing a major role. Wild ideas are circulating on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. In a recent interview, former President Barack Obama identified the contemporary media environment as “the single biggest threat to our democracy.” He added: “If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work. We are entering into an epistemological crisis.” Obama’s claim calls to mind a brilliant 2002 essay, “The Crippled Epistemology of Extremism,” by the late political scientist Russell Hardin, who taught at the University of Chicago and New York University.

Teachers Can’t Wear Their Politics

An op-ed by Noah FeldmanA school district in Pelham, NY, is in the news for barring staff from wearing masks depicting thin blue line flags, deeming them a political statement. Is this a violation of the First Amendment? To begin, it’s important to note that a ban on teachers and employees is different from banning students from wearing political symbols. According to Supreme Court precedentgoing back to 1969, public school students have free speech rights, although that right has been limited to circumstances where their speech doesn’t disrupt school operations. As a result, a school district couldn’t constitutionally ban students from wearing political symbols. Employees are a different story. The leading case in this area holds that public employees — including school employees — have much more limited free speech rights while performing of their duties. If they are speaking as employees, not as citizens, their speech rights mostly evaporate. Schools can tell teachers what to say in class and what curriculum to teach without violating the teachers’ First Amendment rights, because while teaching, a teacher is speaking as an employee. To limit school employees’ speech as citizens, as with the Pelham employees wearing thin blue line flags, the government has to show that the employees’ speech substantially interfered with their official responsibilities. Based on this rule, a school district can bar the wearing or display of thin blue line flags, given that some students may associate them with hostility against people of color. The theory would be that a teacher who sends a message associated with racism, even obliquely, can’t educate students effectively.

‘No hands to play’: Harvard Law professor says even competent lawyers wouldn’t have saved Trump’s case

On Monday’s edition of CNN’s “OutFront,” Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe argued that President Donald Trump’s legal case to overturn the presidential election results was doomed to fail — even if he had had more knowledgeable and skilled legal counsel. “Let me ask you about the breaking news from the GSA,” said anchor Erin Burnett. “Emily Murphy, Trump appointee, said she was not pressured to do anything. Trump obviously seems to be clearly taking credit, I recommended she do this, I am the one calling the shots. You have been very clear that this withholding of a transition from the GSA and Emily Murphy, as the chief, could have been in violation of federal law. Do you believe any laws were broken in this delay?” “I do think that laws were broken in this delay, but I think the important thing now is to move forward,” said Tribe. “Whether it is her decision or Trump’s decision doesn’t matter. The fact is that we’re now fully into the transition and all of the harm she has done, which cannot be undone, a lot of people, I think, will die because she dragged her feet as much as she did.” “Now it’s without the slightest doubt, that Joe Biden is the president-elect,” said Tribe. “He will be the president of the United States. He’s forming his cabinet. He’s governing more from outside the government than our pathetic president is from within the government. And it’s very clear that there are no options left. And I do want to say that we shouldn’t simply focus on the ineptitude of his lawyers. It’s not as though if he had a better legal team, he could have done anything. When you don’t have a case, no facts, no law, even get the best lawyers in the world, you’re not going to win.”

Gig firms expected to push California law to other states

App-based rideshare and delivery companies will likely seek to build on a recent California ballot victory to limit potential employment-related liabilities they may face in other states, employment law experts say. Proposition 22, a ballot initiative that was passed by California voters earlier this month following heavy promotion by companies such as Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and DoorDash Inc., addresses the realities of today’s workforce and will benefit employers and workers, its proponents say. Opponents, however, have criticized the ballot initiative as being a loss for workers. The proposition carves out app-based drivers from benefits employers are required to provide, including sick leave, workers compensation coverage and unemployment…Terri Gerstein, the director of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife program, which works with government agencies and officials engaged in enforcing workplace laws, said the proposition misleadingly says workers will receive 120% of minimum wage, but “excludes an awful lot of the work time that drivers would be doing,” including time spent cruising before they are summoned to pick up a rider, or providing maintenance on their cars, for which an employee would be paid.