FCC Seeks Comment on Petition for Rulemaking to Extend Online Filing of Public Inspection Files to Cable and Satellite

On July 31, IPR filed a petition for rulemaking on behalf of the Campaign Legal Center, Sunlight Foundation, and Common Cause.  The petition asks the FCC to extend its existing requirement that broadcast television stations  place online the contents of their public inspection files, including records of political advertisements, to cable and satellite providers.   On August 7, the FCC sought public comment on this proposal.

Posted in Communications and Technology Law | Leave a comment

IPR’s native and environmental clients win critical protections for Black Mesa land

The following was issued as a press release on May 12, 2014

Native and environmental groups win critical protections for Black Mesa land
Federal mine regulators now under mandate to give greater consideration to Peabody coal mine’s impacts on cultural and water resources.

Black Mesa, Arizona: Native and environmental organizations reached a landmark agreement with the Federal government today that will ensure environmental, cultural, and historic impacts to Black Mesa land are considered before allowing the Peabody-owned Kayenta Coal Mine to continue operating.  Additionally, renewable energy proposals must be considered for tribal lands permanently damaged by Peabody’s mining and for purposes of powering the Central Arizona Project. The mine provides coal to the controversial Navajo Generating Station.

“These concessions are a small, but critical step to undoing the 40 year legacy of environmental impacts and harm Peabody has caused our community,” said Nichole Horseherder, a Black Mesa resident and co-director of To’ Nizhoni Ani, one of the Plaintiff organizations. “This is my homeland. My community. I raise my children here and they will raise theirs here. We are hopeful that this agreement is a signal that U.S. Secretary of Jewell is taking our concerns seriously, but we will continue to stand and fight until these dirty energy projects are retired.”

In 2012, three native organizations To’ Nizhoni Ani, Black Mesa Water Coalition, and Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment—joined by the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity—challenged Peabody’s permit to continue strip mining at Kayenta. The U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (“OSM”) oversees Peabody’s mining operation and reviews Peabody’s applications to renew or revise its five-year mine operator’s permit. When OSM approved Peabody’s latest application to renew its Kayenta Mine permit, the groups took action.

“Legal action is only one strategy we’re using to address the concerns of Black Mesa and Navajo Nation communities,” said Jihan Gearon, Executive Director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition. “But,” she continued, “it’s an important step in calling out Southern Arizona’s insatiable and unsustainable energy and water consumption, for which our communities suffer. It’s time the Navajo Nation is afforded the opportunity to create a just transition to an economy that works for us. Navajo-owned renewables can help start that transition.”

For the residents of the Black Mesa region, the Kayenta Mine and the nearby coal-fired Navajo Generating Station it feeds have meant decades of environmental degradation and disruption to historical and sacred sites. In addition to seeing visible impacts on the landscape since the mining operation first began in 1973, Black Mesa residents have felt the operations’ impacts on air quality, and on the quality and quantity of water available from the Navajo Sandstone Aquifer, or “N-aquifer,” located beneath the area surrounding the mine.

“For far too long, our communities’ interests have been ignored while our land, water, and culture has been threatened,” said Nellis Kennedy-Howard, of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “This is a very important step forward for better preserving the environment and the well-being of the Black Mesa region.”

The lawsuit brought before the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Hearings and Appeals in 2012 was finally resolved on April 29, 2014, when the parties all signed a settlement agreement, available here.

“The settlement is a recognition that the community’s concerns are valid,” said attorney Justin Gundlach of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center. “The community wants a relationship with OSM where their interests and concerns stand on an equal footing with Peabody’s. We feel this is a small step by the agency in that direction.”

The settlement followed two years of litigation and negotiations. The settlement agreement requires Peabody and OSM to do several things differently:

  • In its upcoming review of Peabody’s application for a revised permit, OSM must consider the effects of mining and of the Navajo Generating Station on the environmental, cultural, and historical resources of Black Mesa.
  • When it conducts the process required by the National Historic Preservation Act, OSM must give To’ Nizhoni Ani and Black Mesa Water Coalition a seat at the table for discussions and evaluation of the historical resources of Black Mesa. OSM must also evaluate the merits of placing Black Mesa on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • To monitor the mine’s impacts on the N-aquifer, OSM must now take physical measurements at well heads in the vicinity of the mine—this departs from the approach that the 2012 Permit Renewal would have allowed, which was not to measure anything, but to estimate water levels using a computer model designed by a Peabody-hired contractor.
  • When deciding what to do with lands damaged by mining, OSM must now evaluate using the site for renewable energy generation to power the Central Arizona Project.

This FACT SHEET contains further details.

The parties have not yet resolved their dispute over fees and costs, though the settlement caps recovery at just over $48,000 (roughly the amount of our clients’ costs in the case).



Posted in Environmental Law | Comments Off

The Sunlight Foundation and Campaign Legal Center File Complaints Against Eleven Broadcasters Flouting Political Ad Disclosure Rules

Today, the Sunlight Foundation and Campaign Legal Center, through IPR, filed complaints against eleven broadcasters for failing to disclose legally-required information about the political ads they ran in early 2014.

Stations must disclose information about political ads they run and the purchaser of those ads. This provides more transparency into political advertising, an area often shrouded in secrecy by groups with names like “American Encore” and “LIBRE Initiative.” Without disclosure of information like the chief executive officer/board of directors, and information about what candidates or issues the ad refers to, the public will be left in the dark. This is especially important given the Wesleyan Media Project’s recent finding that ad viewers give ads by outside groups more credence than ads by candidates.

IPR student Matthew Dulac investigated the online political files of many stations by going through the stations’ online public files, accessible at http://stations.fcc.gov. Through that research, we identified eleven broadcasters, among many more, that showed the breadth of violations. These violations span network affiliations, station owners, political parties, and areas of the country. For example: WDIV, an NBC affiliate in Detroit, among other things, failed to upload its documents in a timely manner–waiting over two months to upload the purchase contracts that disclose the rates, dates, and times the ad ran. WTVD, an ABC affiliate in Durham, NC, ran an ad that explicitly stated on-screen “Vote for Thom Tillis,” but did not disclose Tillis’ name, nor the election the ad referred to–the upcoming primary election in North Carolina.

Smaller stations will soon have to upload this information to the FCC-hosted online public file. Those stations, as well as the stations that already disclose online, must take their disclosure requirements seriously, not only because it is a legal requirement, but because disclosure of advertising funders is vital in a functioning and vibrant democracy.

Below is a list of links to the filings:

Posted in Communications and Technology Law | Comments Off

IPR files amicus brief on behalf of the American Thoracic Society in latest Supreme Court case to address application of the Clean Air Act to GHG emissions

At 5 a.m. on Monday, February 24, 2014, members of the Institute for Public Representation’s Environmental Section lined up outside the Supreme Court to secure seats at oral argument for Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, Case No. 12-1146 (see photo at the bottom of this post). A month earlier, on January 28, 2014, IPR had filed an amicus curiae brief in the case on behalf of the American Thoracic Society (ATS). The brief urged the Supreme Court to affirm the D.C. Circuit’s ruling upholding EPA’s Timing and Tailoring Rules, which provide for regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program. As the brief pointed out, to do otherwise would ignore the CAA’s clear instructions to EPA, abrogate EPA’s longstanding interpretation of the Act, and allow for more emissions of harmful air pollution.

ATS is an international educational and scientific organization that represents more than 15,000 health care professionals. ATS was founded in 1905 and works to prevent and fight respiratory disease around the globe through research, education, patient care, and advocacy.  The organization filed its amicus brief chiefly to explain the impacts of GHG emissions and climate change on Americans’ health—and their respiratory health in particular. ATS was also keen to explain why EPA’s approach to GHG regulation would reduce not only harms associated with GHG emissions, but also harms associated with emissions of other air pollutants long regulated under the PSD program.

The Regulations at Issue

The issue in Utility Air Regulatory Group has roots in the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), which found that GHGs “without a doubt” fall under the CAA’s “sweeping” definition of “air pollutant.” Once that decision resolved the question of whether the machinery of the CAA should apply to GHGs, EPA began applying the CAA’s various components to emitters of GHGs.

EPA took the first step in that process in 2009 with the issuance of the Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings. In those Findings, EPA concluded that GHGs’ presence in the atmosphere threatens the public health and welfare of current and future generations, and further, that motor vehicle emissions contribute to GHG pollution. Accordingly, in May 2010, EPA promulgated the Tailpipe Rule, which set GHG emission standards for light-duty motor vehicles, and, for the first time, limited GHG emissions pursuant to the CAA. Next, in April 2010, EPA anticipated regulations for stationary sources by issuing the Timing Decision, which explains that a pollutant becomes “subject to regulation” under the CAA when compliance is required with the emission standards for that pollutant.  For GHGs, that date was January 2, 2011—when EPA first required compliance with the Tailpipe Rule. However, because regulation under the PSD and Title V provisions is triggered when sources emit regulated air pollutants in excess of statutory thresholds (100/250 tons per year (tpy), depending on the pollutant), and because a great many sources have the potential to emit GHGs in excess of these thresholds, EPA also issued the Tailoring Rule. In that Rule, EPA explained that immediate application of permitting requirements to every stationary source that emits GHGs in excess of the 100/250 tpy threshold would overwhelm the agency’s capacity to regulate GHG emissions from any stationary sources; accordingly, EPA would instead phase in application of PSD and Title V requirements, starting with the largest GHG emitters.

Several states and regulated industries argued that EPA misconstrued the CAA, and petitioned for judicial review of EPA’s Endangerment Finding, Tailpipe Rule, Timing Decision, and Tailoring Rule. EPA defended its statutory interpretation on the grounds that it has, for over thirty years, understood PSD requirements to apply to any pollutant subject to regulation under the Act, and that it has always interpreted Title V (added to the CAA in 1990) to cover the same. The D.C. Circuit consolidated Petitioners’ challenges, and, in June of 2012 unanimously held that “1) the Endangerment Finding and Tailpipe Rule are neither arbitrary nor capricious; 2) EPA’s interpretation of the governing CAA provisions is unambiguously correct; and 3) no petitioner has standing to challenge the Timing and Tailoring Rules.” The court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction all petitions for review of the Timing and Tailoring Rules, and denied the remainder of the petitions. The full D.C. Circuit denied petitioners’ motion for rehearing en banc.

The Case

On October 15, 2013, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to answer the following, narrow question: Did EPA permissibly determine that its regulation of GHG emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the CAA for stationary sources that emit GHGs? In its merits brief, EPA explained why the CAA not only authorizes, but obligates it to regulate GHG emissions from stationary sources now that GHGs are “subject to regulation” under Title II. EPA’s brief also cited precedent to support its authority to enforce the Act’s requirements “one-step-at-a-time.”  Petitioners (briefs available here) advanced several arguments to dispute EPA’s reading of the statute—among them, that Congress did not intend the PSD program to cover GHGs, and that the term “air pollutant” has different meanings in different sections of the Act, such that regulation under Title II does not compel regulation under the PSD program.

ATS’s amicus brief focused on the impacts of GHG emissions and global climate change on human health. ATS highlighted the scientific community’s consensus that mortality will increase due to the effects of anthropomorphic climate change; that children and the elderly will feel the effects most acutely; and that climate change will increase health risks for people suffering from a wide variety of diseases. ATS’s brief also explained how regulating GHG emissions from stationary sources would yield the co-benefit of reducing emissions of other air pollutants, and conversely, how adopting petitioners’ proposals would curtail EPA’s authority to regulate all non-criteria pollutants—not just GHGs.

Oral Argument

Both Petitioners and the Government faced a hot bench at oral argument (click here for the transcript). Petitioners maintained that “any air pollutant” has different meanings in different sections of the CAA, and that Congress did not intend for the PSD program to deal with GHG emissions. Justice Kagan noted that Petitioners’ briefs advanced four different interpretations of “any air pollutant,” and Justice Sotomayor—after pointing out that counsel for the Petitioners had just presented a fifth—asked why, in the face of such ambiguity, the Court should not defer to EPA’s reasonable interpretation.  According to Justice Kagan, “reading ‘any pollutant’ to mean any pollutant except greenhouse gases for reasons that have nothing to do with the purpose of the [CAA] is not a plausible alternative to EPA’s interpretation”—particularly in light of Massachusetts v. EPA. Justice Breyer questioned why EPA and the Court should not read an implicit exception into the Act, as Courts and agencies have in other situations.  He explained,

Statutes all the time have implicit exceptions, and not every statute has such exceptions written in words into it. . . . So what’s the big problem here that everybody seems to have, except me? I mean, what’s the big problem with writing an implicit exception so that you don’t regulate tiny little things which no one normally wants to have regulated?

Chief Justice Roberts questioned why the parties were arguing over the scope of EPA’s authority when, as a practical matter, one approach would address 83 percent of GHG emissions and the other 86 percent. Justice Alito presented the government with another challenge: if—as EPA argued—immediate application of the 100/250 tpy threshold to GHGs would make the PSD program “unrecognizable” to Congress, would not EPA’s goal to eventually apply the thresholds to GHGs achieve the same unrecognizable result? And if that was the case, how could EPA argue that its interpretation conformed to congressional intent? Justice Alito, along with several of the other Justices, also questioned whether EPA had authority to alter the CAA’s numerical thresholds for other pollutants; to this the government answered “yes.” When the Court asked for caselaw to support such authority, the government cited Morton v. Ruiz, 415 U.S. 199 (1974)—a case that, as Justice Kennedy pointed out, was absent from EPA’s brief. Justice Scalia opined that EPA should have adopted a statutory interpretation that avoided the “absurdity” requiring the Tailoring Rule.

As usual, Justice Thomas said nothing.  Justice Kennedy, often the “tie-breaker,”  offered few clues as to where he stood.  The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision in June, 2014.

IPR braves the cold!

IPR braves the cold!
Pictured (left to right): Jessica Nyman, Jamie Bowers, Aislinn Shaul-Jensen, Lynne Dzubow, TJ Graven, and Stephen Ruotsi


Georgetown Law student Jessica Nyman helped draft this post.


Posted in Environmental Law | Comments Off

Andy Schwartzman Joins IPR’s Communications Practice

IPR is excited to announce that Andrew Jay Schwartzman will join the “Communications, Technology and the Public Interest” practice of the clinic as the Benton Senior Counselor.

AJSAndy brings to the clinic his vast knowledge and expertise in this field as former head of Media Access Project, a public interest law firm that brought many cases on which the broader public interest communications practice now relies. He has been a constant figure in the fight for civil rights and civil liberties in communications, and has worked tirelessly to ensure a thriving media ecosystem. He is currently on the FCC’s Advisory Committee on Diversity in the Digital Age, and teaches at Johns Hopkins University. The issues Andy will work on include media ownership, prison phones, and political advertising.

A more complete description of his extensive background can be found here. Georgetown’s press release is here.

Posted in Communications and Technology Law | Comments Off

IPR Reunion Happy Hour

A big thank you to IPR alums Erin Dozier, Corie Wright, Jenny Prime, Karen Henein, and Khaliah Barnes, for organizing a Reunion Happy Hour for former IPR students and fellows who worked in the communications section while at IPR and/or are currently working the in a communications-related area.  The well-attended event was held on January 30, 2014, at James Hoban’s Irish Bar.  Former students spanned the range from Sherille Ismail (F1980), who works at the FCC, to to recent graduate Amanda Burkett (F2013). Former fellows ranged from Karen Oneiji (formerly Edward, 1995-97), who also works at the FCC, to current fellow Eric Null.  If you are an IPR alum and did not receive an invitation to this fun, not to mention great-networking, event, we probably don’t have you correct email address.  Let us know by sending your contact information to nwp2@law.georgetown.edu.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

2014 Spring Semester Students

Spring 2014 IPR Students

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off

IPR Recovers Attorney’s Fees Following Its FOIA Victory Against the District of Columbia

Way back in 2009, IPR filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the District of Columbia on behalf of its client, Friends of McMillan Park (FMP). FMP opposes the District’s effort to convert McMillan Park – currently an open green space and the site of a historic water filtration system – into a private mixed-use development. They advocate for, at a minimum, preservation of publicly accessible green space at McMillan. IPR’s FOIA request sought documents and communications from the District that relate to the planned development.

When the District refused to supply documents in response to IPR’s request, IPR filed suit, beginning what became a protracted litigation. Over three years of motions practice, the presiding judge gave the District several opportunities to produce either documents responsive to IPR’s requests or a legally valid explanation for why those documents should be withheld. The District produced a fraction of what was sought, along with deficient explanations of why others should be withheld. Finally, in August of 2013, the judge reviewed the remaining disputed documents in camera and ordered the District to produce over 80 percent of what IPR initially sought. (Click here to access the judge’s order to that effect.)

IPR began working on a petition in September of 2013 to recover the fees and costs available to it as a prevailing party under the DC Freedom of Information Act. Before IPR filed that petition, however, the parties entered into settlement talks and ultimately agreed that the District would pay IPR $58,500 to resolve the matter. (Click here to access the executed settlement agreement.)

As this Washington Post article describes, plans for McMillan Park’s development have continued to pass regulatory hurdles, albeit slowly.

Posted in Environmental Law | Comments Off

IPR Submits Comments Critical of Proposed FDA Food Safety Rules; FDA Announces Major Reconsideration of those Rules

On behalf of our client, Future Harvest – A Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (Future Harvest CASA), IPR submitted comments to FDA in November 2013 in response to proposed food safety rules. The comments respond to two of the rules proposed in particular:

Future Harvest CASA, a network of farmers, agricultural professionals, landowners, and consumers who live and work in the Chesapeake Bay region, promotes profitable, environmentally sound, and socially responsible food and farming systems that work to sustain communities. Future Harvest CASA worked with IPR to develop responses to FDA’s proposed rules after discerning that those rules would—in the name of food safety—put an end to a number of farming and retail practices that are safe and sustainable.

Our comments highlighted for FDA some of the most important ways that the proposed rules would hurt sustainable farmers, yet fail to improve food safety. For instance, we pointed out that by including community supported agriculture programs (CSAs or farm-shares) in the definition of “retail food establishment” FDA had created a costly and irrational mismatch that would not improve the safety of food sold through farm-shares, but would nonetheless shut many farm-shares down. We also described how FDA’s proposed rules would impose a form of sterility on farms that not only would not protect consumers of sustainably-farmed produce from food-borne pathogens, but would also make the farms more susceptible to a variety of pathogens carried by pests.

In addition to pointing out that FDA’s proposed rules would not promote the safety of food produced and sold by sustainable farmers, our comments also highlighted that the rules generally pushed farmers away from sustainable practices. For our clients, their customers, and society more generally, this would amount to imposing costs with no expectation of a benefit—something FDA surely did not intend to do.

About one month after the comment period closed, FDA announced that it would undertake a thorough reexamination and revision of the rules it had proposed. The following excerpt from that announcement conveys the basic thrust of FDA’s decision (emphases added):

Based on our discussions with farmers, the research community and other input we have received, we have learned a great deal, and our thinking has evolved. Everyone shares the goal of ensuring produce safety, but, as we said at the beginning of the process, the new safety standards must be flexible enough to accommodate reasonably the great diversity of the produce sector, and they must be practical to implement. To achieve this goal, we believe that significant changes will be needed in key provisions of the two proposed rules affecting small and large farmers…. Because the changes to the key provisions would be significant, FDA plans to propose revised rule language and seek comment on it.

You can read IPR’s comments, submitted on behalf of Future Harvest CASA, here:

Posted in Environmental Law | Comments Off

IPR Asks FTC to Investigate Violations of COPPA Rule by Marvel and Sanrio

This morning, IPR filed two complaints with the FTC, on behalf of our client Center for Digital Democracy (press release, Washington Post article), alleging COPPA violations by two significant players in the children’s industry: Marvel and Disney, which operate the children’s website Marvelkids.com, and Sanrio, which markets the children’s mobile app Hello Kitty Carnival. The complaints come on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the passage of the revised Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (COPPA Rule). IPR students Yena Kwon and Richard Bahrenburg were largely responsible for conducting the research and drafting these complaints.

Marvelkids.com, the target of one complaint, is a child-directed website that fails to comply with the COPPA Rule in several respects. Even though the COPPA Rule was amended in December 2012 and took effect in July 2013, the site’s privacy policy has not been updated since April 2012.

As a result, the Marvelkids.com privacy policy describes many troubling practices that constitute COPPA Rule violations. For example, the privacy statement says that “Marvel may sell, rent, or give a visitor’s personal information to any third party so long as the visitor has not . . . specifically opted out.” The revised COPPA Rule does not allow for the disclosure of children’s  personal information to third parties without providing direct notice to and obtaining advance, verifiable consent from parents. Thus, Marvelkid.com’s practice is directly contrary to both the letter of the COPPA rule and the purpose to ensure that parents get to decide whether and how their children’s information is used.

This case also raises serious questions about the effectiveness of industry self-regulation. As detailed in our request, Marvelkids.com violates the COPPA Rule in many respects, yet nonetheless displays the BBB CARU safe harbor seal, falsely indicating that it satisfies the COPPA Rule. Further, the site is not even in compliance with the industry guidelines that prohibit online behavioral advertising without first obtaining parental consent.

Sanrio’s Hello Kitty Carnival (HKC) is the subject of the other complaint. Sanrio and third parties collect personal information from children playing the game without seeking prior parental consent. For example, Hello Kitty Carnival’s privacy policy states that it “mainly collect[s] persistent identifier [sic] (such as an IP address, mobile device id, or a unique device identifier from the child.” Under the revised COPPA Rule, identifiers such as these are considered personal information except in few limited circumstances not applicable here. The app also collects geolocation information and may collect photographs of children. Because the app fails to provide direct notice to parents and obtain advance verifiable consent for its collection of personal information, it also violates the COPPA Rule.

CDD urged the FTC to investigate and take enforcement action against Sanrio, Disney/Marvel, and the many third parties involved in the collection, use or disclosure of children’s information. The FTC should also investigate the BBB CARU safe harbor and the industry self-regulation regime in general.

UPDATE: CARU appears to have revoked Marvel’s certification in response to the complaints filed.

Posted in Communications and Technology Law | Comments Off