Richard L. Revesz


Regulation and Distribution

Richard L. Revesz

This Article tackles a question that has vexed the administrative state for the last half century: how to seriously take account of the distributional consequences of regulation. The academic literature has largely accepted the view that distributional concerns should be moved out of the regulatory domain and into Congress’s tax policy portfolio. In doing so, it has overlooked the fact that tax policy is ill suited to provide compensation for significant environmental, health, and safety harms. And the congressional gridlock that has bedeviled us for several decades makes this enterprise even more of a nonstarter.

The focus on negative distributional consequences has become particularly salient recently, playing a significant role in the 2016 presidential election and threatening important, socially beneficial regulatory measures. For example, on opposite sides of the political spectrum, environmental justice groups and coal miner interests have forcefully opposed the regulation of greenhouse gases through flexible regulatory tools in California and at the federal level, respectively.

The time has come to make distributional consequences a core concern of the regulatory state; otherwise, future socially beneficial regulations could well encounter significant roadblocks. The success of this enterprise requires significant institutional changes in the way in which distributional issues are handled within the executive branch. Every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama has made cost-benefit analysis a key feature of the regulatory state as a result of the role played by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and the Trump administration has kept that structure in place. In contrast, executive orders addressing distributional concerns have languished because of the lack of a similar enforcement structure within the executive branch. This Article provides the blueprint for the establishment of a standing, broadly constituted interagency body charged with addressing serious negative consequences of regulatory measures on particular groups. Poor or minority communities already disproportionally burdened by environmental harms and communities that lose a significant portion of their employment base are paradigmatic candidates for such action.

Congressional Influence on Judicial Behavior? An Empirical Examination of Challenges to Agency Action in the D.C. Circuit

Richard L. Revesz

Building on his earlier work on judicial decisionmaking in the D.C. Circuit, Professor Revesz now examines whether this court’s ideological divisions are affected by changes in the composition of the political branches: the two chambers of Congress and the Presidency. Thus, he seeks to test empirically the plausibility of positive political theory models of adjudication, which posit that judges act in an ideologically “strategic” manner. The data set developed for this study consists of all cases decided by the D.C. Circuit between 1970 and 1996 that challenged the health-and-safety decisions of twenty federal agencies. While the study confirms the author’s earlier findings of ideological voting in the D.C. Circuit, it does not find any statistically significant evidence that these ideological divisions are affected by the party controlling Congress or the Presidency. This finding invites a reassessment of the leading positive political theory accounts of the effects of judicial review of administrative action.

Rethinking Health-Based Environmental Standards

Michael A. Livermore, Richard L. Revesz

Under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to determine the stringency of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), arguably the most important federal environmental program, without considering the costs of achieving these standards. Instead, it must rely exclusively on health-related criteria. This Article argues that health-based standards, which are one of the principal approaches to setting the stringency of environmental requirements in the United States, exhibit two serious pathologies: the stopping-point problem and the inadequacy paradox. The stopping-point problem arises because there is no coherent, defensible way for EPA to set the permissible level of pollution based on health considerations alone. Moreover, contrary to the commonly accepted view, the NAAQS have generally been set at levels that are less stringent than those that would result from the application of cost-benefit analysis, giving rise to the inadequacy paradox. We urge a reinterpretation of the Supreme Court’s important decision in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations to avoid the inadequacy paradox.

The Genesis of Independent Agencies

Patrick M. Corrigan, Richard L. Revesz

This Article sheds light on significant doctrinal and policy issues that are central to the proper understanding of the administrative state. It grapples with a core question of administrative law: When are agencies established with features that insulate them from direct presidential control? Because of its constitutional significance, the legal literature focuses on removal protection for agency heads, and posits that agencies are more likely to be accorded such protection when the presidency and at least one of the chambers of Congress are controlled by different parties. The empirical support for this claim comes from a single political science study, which suffers from significant design flaws and has been widely misinterpreted. In fact, it shows that under almost all plausible scenarios Congress is less likely to vest agencies with indicia of independence under divided government.

To properly study the factors that affect the probability that agencies will be accorded indicia of independence we constructed and analyzed a new dataset. Three principal variables have a statistically significant impact: the approval rating of the President, the size of the Senate majority, and the alignment of the political party of the Senate majority and the President. The latter two variables had never been tested prior to our study. We find that Congress is less likely to establish agencies with indicia of independence when the President is popular. Moreover, when the Senate majority is not aligned with the President, an increase in the majority makes it more likely that Congress will establish an agency with indicia of independence. And, for a given size of Senate majority, alignment with the President makes it more likely that Congress will establish an agency with indicia of independence. Changes in the composition of the House do not produce comparable effects, suggesting that the Senate’s filibuster rule or the Senate’s role in confirming presidential appointees might play a role in this regard. Noting that the empirical results explain relatively little of the variation observed in the dataset related to when Congress establishes agencies with indicia of independence, this Article also explores the limitations of the quantitative empirical findings and the benefits of performing detailed case studies.