Family Fishermen Challenge Illegal, Industry-Killing At-Sea Monitoring Rule from Department of Commerce

Arlington, VA (Feb. 19, 2020) – Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) today filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of New Jersey family fishermen to block a new regulation that would force them to pay for third-party “at-sea monitors.”  The industry-killing rule—which was designed by the New England Fishery Management Council and promulgated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Department of Commerce—will require certain boats in the Atlantic herring fishery to carry “at-sea monitors” and at their own cost. Learn More

White House Issues Executive Orders Curtailing Use of Guidance Documents to Bypass Notice-and-Comment Rulemaking and Imposing Public Disclosure Requirement

On October 9, 2019, the White House issued two executive orders designed to curtail the abuse of guidance documents by government agencies. Both orders address due process violations by agencies by requiring notice and an opportunity to be heard before action can be taken or liability imposed against alleged wrongdoers. Learn More

Recap: Cause of Action Institute at Seafood Expo North America 2019

Earlier this month, Cause of Action Institute joined more than 20,000 members of the fishing industry from across the globe at the 2019 Seafood Expo North America in Boston. For years, Cause of Action has monitored and brought legal challenges against the overregulation of our nation’s fisheries and its negative economic impact on fishing communities – especially small business and family owned operations. However, after three days of speaking with industry insiders last week, the breadth of the harm caused by administrative state overreach continues to appall us.

We spoke with people from nearly every corner of the seafood industry who are severely impacted by the government regulations that plague this field: trade restrictions such as tariffs or quotas, the cost of complying with regulations such as the Jones Act, one size fits all or outdated regulations that benefit certain companies at the expense of others, and offshore development that has the potential to bring many companies’ business to a standstill. Many of the visitors we engaged with were small business owners who fear regulations like industry-funded monitoring will run them out of business entirely.

Cause of Action was fortunate to be able to reconnect with former clients David Goethel and John Haran. For David, John, and many members of their respective communities, fishing is not only their livelihood, but also a large part of the culture of their respective communities. When faced with economic devastation from regulations like the Omnibus Amendment, the way of life that communities have spent years building is also threatened with destruction.

Cause of Action Staff with former client David Goethel

Stories like those we encountered last week serve as an important reminder of the direct consequences posed by arbitrary and excessive executive power. American’s should be free to live prosperous lives and reach their highest potential without the interference of an overbearing administrative state, and Cause of Action looks forward to continuing to strive towards this goal in the commercial fishing industry, among many other affected fields.

Mallory Koch is a communications associate at Cause of Action Institute.

CoA Institute Highlights Deficiencies in Proposed Rule to Shift Burdensome Costs of At-Sea Monitoring to Commercial Fishermen

The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), in coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), seeks to approve and implement a controversial set of regulatory amendments that would create a new industry-funding requirement for at-sea monitoring in the Atlantic herring fishery and, moreover, create a standardized process for introducing similar requirements in other New England fisheries.  Under the so-called Omnibus Amendment, the fishing industry would be forced to bear the burdensome cost of allowing third-party monitors to ride their boats in line with the NEFMC’s supplemental monitoring goals.  This would unfairly and unlawfully restrict economic opportunity in the fishing industry.

Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) filed a public comment last month requesting that NMFS disapprove the Omnibus Amendment and scrap the NEFMC’s plans to shift monitoring costs onto fishermen. CoA Institute explained that the Omnibus Amendment raised serious legal questions concerning the authority of the government to compel regulated parties to pay for discretionary agency programs that cannot be funded with congressional appropriations or other statutorily-authorized means.

At the December 2018 meeting of the NEFMC, I reiterated the lack of statutory authorization for the Council’s efforts to create an industry-funded at-sea monitoring regime for the Atlantic herring fishery. A similar monitoring program currently exists in the Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery; CoA Institute represented a group of sector fishermen in a lawsuit challenging that requirement, but the case was dismissed on procedural grounds.

It is a fundamental principle of administrative law that federal agencies only possess congressionally delegated powers and are limited in their operation by the funding provided by Congress.  The NEFMC and NMFS’s efforts to coerce the fishing industry—including many small, family-owned businesses—to support monitoring programs that Congress has declined to fund sustain sets a dangerous precedent that lends itself to unaccountable and unlimited government.

Beyond the clear lack of statutory authorization, industry-funded monitoring in the herring fishery will also have devastating economic consequences.  Monitors are expected to cost between $710–810 per sea day, which would cut heavily into the economic viability of many small-scale operations.  And according to the government’s own proposed rule, at least some portion of the herring fleet would suffer up to a 20% reduction in annual “return-to-owner,” which is roughly analogous to profit.

Worse yet, the government’s cost estimates are based on data collected in 2014–2015, and the situation in the herring fishery has only worsened over the past few years.  This past summer, for example, the NEFMC and NMFS cut herring quota for the remainder of 2018 by 52%, and they now propose to cut the quota for the next three years by upwards of 70%.  Recent NMFS estimates suggest that these adjustments may cause an 80–87% reduction in herring revenue.  Coupled with new industry-funded monitoring requirements, that could spell the end of small-scale fishing firms dependent on herring operations.  That is an unacceptable result, and CoA Institute remains committed to fighting to prevent the effects of such burdensome overregulation.

Ryan P. Mulvey is Counsel at Cause of Action Institute

SEC Adopts CoA Institute’s Recommendations in Updated FOIA Regulations

The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) finalized new Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) regulations today, adopting two revisions from a comment that Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) proposed in January 2018.  The FOIA allows for the disclosure of records of federal agencies, including documents, emails, and reports, and is an essential tool for promoting government transparency.

CoA Institute made three recommendations in response to the SEC’s proposed rulemaking.  First, we urged the agency to remove outdated “organized and operated” language from its definition of “representative of the news media.”  Such language has been used in the past to deny FOIA fee waivers to organizations like CoA Institute that investigate agency waste, fraudulent activity, cronyism, and wrongdoing.  In 2015, we argued Cause of Action v. Federal Trade Commission before the D.C. Circuit, which resulted in a landmark ruling that invalidated the “organized and operated” requirement.

In Cause of Action, the D.C. Circuit clarified proper fee category definitions and the application of fees for FOIA requests.  CoA Institute cited this case in its comment to the SEC and the agency concurred with our proposal to remove the outdated “organized and operated” language from its definition of a news media requester.  The FTC also acknowledged the D.C. Circuit’s landmark decision in its final rule.

Second, CoA Institute recommended eliminating “case-by-case” fee category determinations.  Under the original rule proposed by the SEC, FOIA offices would “determine whether to grant a requester news media status on a case-by-case basis based upon the requester’s intended use of the requested material.”  CoA Institute again cited Cause of Action to argue that the focus of the fee waiver inquiry should be on “requesters, rather than [their] requests.”  The SEC agreed and removed the restrictive language.

Finally, CoA Institute recommended that the SEC recognize that a news media requester may use “editorial skills” to turn “raw materials into a distinct work” when writing documents such as press releases and editorial comments.  This understanding broadens the potential pool of news media requesters and our recommendation tracks language from the D.C. Circuit’s decision in Cause of Action.  Although, in this respect, we did not recommend any specific changes to the final rule the SEC nevertheless acknowledged our comments by stating that it “will consider Cause of Action and any other relevant precedents in applying the fee provisions in its regulations.”

Americans have an interest in living free and prosperous lives without the interference of arbitrary and abusive executive power.  One of the ways CoA Institute monitors government overreach is by fighting for access to information on the federal government’s activities.  Our successful comment is a small but important victory in our work to ensure a transparent government that works for the benefit of all Americans.

Chris Klein is a Research Fellow at Cause of Action Institute

Senate Overturns CFPB “Guidance” Document

The Senate has overturned a CFPB “guidance” document that was for all intents and purposes a regulation. This repeal was effected by the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) which allows the Congress to overturn regulations within 60 days of the later of the regulation being sent to Congress or being published in the Federal Register. As I wrote for the Hill in March of last year, the CRA’s evasion of the filibuster invites a deregulatory agenda by the Congress that need not be blocked by partisan divisions or the filibuster. As we noted on this website at that time there are many, many such regulations. With the wise test of a “guidance document” by Senator Toomey more avenues for reform open up.

I have remarked on the threat to the Rule of Law and our Constitutional structure by the CFPB before. One of its previous high-handed regulations has already been removed by a similar use of the CFPB to our applause. The various federal agencies’ attempts to rule by letter and by guidance have been brushed back here and there. But they remain a troubling bureaucratic subversion of the fundamental separation of powers created to protect and empower American liberty.

John J. Vecchione is president and CEO at Cause of Action Institute.

Regulation Czar Neomi Rao Discusses Deregulatory Agenda

In his State of the Union address last month, President Donald J. Trump patted himself on the back for the economic boom and the steady drop in unemployment over the past year. Many economists agree that he ought to take some credit, and suggest his deregulatory push has played a role. To discuss the Trump administration’s regulatory achievements, Neomi Rao, the president’s appointee for administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (“OIRA”) last week joined the Federalist Society’s Free Lunch Podcast.

Last year was “a banner year for regulatory reform,” Rao said in the beginning of the podcast.

When Trump took office, he signed Executive Order 13771, ordering agencies to eliminate two regulations for every new regulation added. It also capped the net cost of new regulations to zero dollars. This means that for every new dollar in regulatory costs, one offsetting dollar had to be cut from regulatory costs elsewhere.

Rao said that the administration lived up to Trump’s campaign promise – and then some. For every new regulation added, 22 regulatory actions were cut, which she said far exceeded his promise. Additionally, the net savings for Americans on regulations was $8 billion, also exceeding his promise. The administration also halted 1500 new rules proposed under the previous administration because, Rao said, it wants to analyze the scope and content of all regulations.

But more important than these small changes, according to Rao, the administration is striving to make structural and cultural reform, which would hopefully extend into future administrations. “We want to continue with the momentum from the past year and with the success that we had,” she said.

For example, Rao indicated that agencies must properly follow the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”), which Rao claims requires them to submit proposed regulations to OIRA, so it can determine whether it imposes a cost of $100 million or more. If it does, then OIRA sends the proposed regulation to Congress for approval. Agencies that don’t comply, she said, risk some of their rules losing legitimacy.

As Cause of Action Institute has pointed out over the past year, there are hundreds of rules that are currently vulnerable to be repealed under the CRA that have yet to be received by Congress. For example, last month Cause of Action Institute released an investigative report revealing the IRS has dodged compliance with the CRA and other oversight mechanisms by suggesting that its rules have no economic impact, a suggestion that we have argued is false and intended to shield the agency’s actions from oversight.

Apart from the economic effect of excess regulations, Rao said OIRA is working to make sure the government is more respectful of the separation of powers and more transparent. Because only Congress has the power to make laws, Rao said it can be dangerous to increase the power of the executive branch to the extent that it is making a lot of rule changes. To improve transparency, OIRA will ensure that agencies comply with a federal law that requires they give public notices of new rules and regulations so that the public and stakeholders have an opportunity to voice their support or opposition. Additionally, Rao said OIRA will be working to reduce paperwork for businesses to save them cost and time.

The Trump administration has made progress in the past year to cut regulatory red tape. Hopefully the administration can continue going in this direction with a series of structural changes to scale back the administrative state.

Tyler Arnold is a communications associate at Cause of Action Institute.