Richard Revesz will take over as the long-awaited head of the Biden administration’s rulemaking review office, a confirmation that gives hope for rule-watchers looking ahead to more stringent environmental standards.
Revesz was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday to lead the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the US Office of Management and Budget.
He’s likely to be the most progressive director “we’ve ever had in terms of his approach to environmental policies, no question about that,” according to Temple Law School professor Amy Sinden.
Nominated by President Joe Biden in September, Revesz is a New York University law professor and expert in environmental litigation. He founded the Institute for Policy Integrity, a non-partisan think tank devoted to policy-making.
Revesz faced opposition on Tuesday from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), citing his “voiced support” for the now-defunct Clean Power Plan that was central to this summer’s Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia v. EPA, which limited the scope of the administration’s ability to regulate power plants.
Capito lifted her hold on the nomination Wednesday after speaking with Revesz.
“During their conversation, he recognized that the Supreme Court’s ruling in West Virginia v. EPA is the law of land, and committed to adhere to the decision’s constraints on regulatory authority,” according to a statement from Peter Hoffman, communications director for Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Republicans.
The confirmation comes two years into Biden’s administration, but there are a lot of significant rules on the horizon that will be under the care of Revesz at OIRA, which is the last step in the regulatory review process before agencies put out rule proposals.
Reconsideration of cornerstone air quality rules for particulate matter and ozone are still pending, as well as potential greenhouse gas limits for power plants.
“His whole thing has been that environmentalists shouldn’t be afraid of cost-benefit analysis. Cost-benefit analysis can actually promote more environmentally friendly policies,” Sinden said.
While OIRA under previous administrations has generally punted rules to make them less stringent, it will be interesting to see if a tenure under Revesz uses balance sheet considerations to make policies tougher, Sinden said.
The use of cost-benefit analyses—which weigh societal benefits of rules against their price tag—was ramped up under President Ronald Reagan, who issued an executive order early in his presidency that made cost-benefit analysis a central part of all agency rulemaking.
Since then, cost-benefit analysis has been met with criticism from some who see its use as a way to scale back on tighter rules, especially in the realm of environmental regulation.
But Revesz would bring a “sophisticated” understanding of the balance between the opportunities and limitations inherent in cost-benefit analysis, according to Melissa Powers, professor at Lewis & Clark Law School.
“He understands when basically pure economic policy design can create unintended consequences, at the same time that he understands what the value of a robust cost-benefit analysis can bring in terms of justifying ambitious regulation” that’s as airtight as possible against legal challenges, Powers said.
Cost-Benefit ‘Done Right’
Revesz has authored a number of works on the virtues of cost-benefit analysis, including a 2015 article focusing on health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS.
“Revesz is a proponent of cost-benefit analysis, done right,” Stanford Law professor Anne Joseph O’Connell told Bloomberg Law in an email.
The Supreme Court opinion Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc held that the EPA must only consider public health benefits when setting air quality levels under NAAQS, in order to avoid crafting purely industry-friendly standards.
Revesz argued in the article—co-authored by University of Virginia law professor Michael A. Livermore—that scrapping emphasis on cost-benefit and solely considering health-based levels actually resulted in less-stringent standards.
“Ironically, by eliminating costs from EPA’s calculation, American Trucking may have promoted environmental standards that imposed sub-optimally low costs on industry and thereby were less protective of public health than would have been socially desirable from an economic perspective,” he wrote.
Revesz has a tall task ahead of him, with groups ready to pick apart new policies from Biden for potential legal challenges, but some policy observers are confident in his impending approach to the role.
“Richard Revesz is uniquely qualified to lead OIRA,” according to a statement on his confirmation from the Institute for Policy Integrity’s new executive director Burçin Ünel. “His extensive expertise in regulatory law and policy will help improve federal policies and benefit the country.”
—With assistance from Courtney Rozen.
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