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Overnight Regulation: Court upholds consumer bureau's structure | CDC chief resigns after report she traded tobacco stocks | EPA delays Obama water rule

Overnight Regulation: Court upholds consumer bureau's structure | CDC chief resigns after report she traded tobacco stocks | EPA delays Obama water rule
© Camille Fine

Welcome to Overnight Regulation, your daily rundown of news from the federal agencies, Capitol Hill, the courts and beyond. It's Wednesday night in Washington. The House and Senate aren't in session but it's been a busy news day.

 

THE BIG STORY

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Language in the Dodd-Frank Act that gives the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) independence from Congress is constitutional, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled Wednesday, overturning a 2016 ruling by three of the court's judges.

In a review of the court's previous decision, PHH v. CFPB, the full court held that the bureau can exist as an independent agency with a sole director who can only be fired by the president for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance."

The full court's 6-3 vote to overturn the 2016 decision preserves the structure of the CFPB as laid out in Dodd-Frank, handing a victory to the bureau's supporters.

PHH, a mortgage lender, sued the CFPB in 2015 over a $103 million fine the bureau issued. Their suit challenged not only the legality of the fine, but also the constitutionality of the bureau's leadership structure. The full court ruled against the fine but upheld the agency's structure.

Who's happy with this decision? The ruling protects the bureau's legal foundation.

Former CFPB Director Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayFinancial firms brace for Biden's consumer agency chief Consumer bureau director resigns after Biden's inauguration Biden consumer bureau pick could take over agency on Inauguration Day MORE called it "an important ruling" that "vindicates the independence of the CFPB."

"It's a good day for America," Corday told The Hill, praising the court for protecting the agency he set up in 2013 as the founding director.

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What's the backstory? The opinion comes as progressives and conservatives clash over the future of the CFPB, now run by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyOMB nominee gets hearing on Feb. 9 Republicans now 'shocked, shocked' that there's a deficit Financial firms brace for Biden's consumer agency chief MORE.

Mulvaney has taken several steps to rein in the CFPB's regulations and its oversight of the financial sector, drawing criticism from liberals who say he is effectively shutting down the agency. Wednesday's ruling gives Mulvaney a clear path to continue reshaping the CFPB, as he will retain his power as acting director. Cordray said the ruling is important to the future of the bureau, even if it gives Mulvaney cover to unwind his legacy.

Read the rest of the story from Sylvan Lane here.

 

REG ROUNDUP

Health care: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Brenda FitzgeraldBrenda FitzgeraldThe hollowing out of the CDC Overnight Health Care: Drug company under scrutiny for Michael Cohen payments | New Ebola outbreak | FDA addresses EpiPen shortage CDC director to take pay cut of more than 5k MORE resigned Wednesday, one day after reports that she traded tobacco stocks while heading the agency.

"This morning Secretary [Alex] Azar accepted Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald's resignation as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

"Dr. Fitzgerald owns certain complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC Director. Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period."

Politico reported Tuesday that Fitzgerald bought a share in Japan Tobacco one month into her leadership of the agency, which is responsible for reducing tobacco use among Americans.

Fitzgerald was already under scrutiny for failing to divest from other holdings she bought prior to taking the job, which led to her recusal from some health issues.

Jessie Hellmann has the full story here.

 

Environment: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pushing back by two years an Obama administration rule redefining the federal government's power over small waterways.

The Trump administration is working to repeal the rule, dubbed the Clean Water Rule or Waters of the United States, and formally proposed to do so last year.

But earlier this month, the Supreme Court overturned a federal appeals court's action halting the rule, so it could take effect soon.

EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule Restoring the EPA: Lessons from the past MORE said the Wednesday action is meant to stop the Clean Water Rule from taking effect again.

"Today, EPA is taking action to reduce confusion and provide certainty to America's farmers and ranchers," Pruitt said in a statement.

"The 2015 WOTUS rule developed by the Obama administration will not be applicable for the next two years, while we work through the process of providing long-term regulatory certainty across all 50 states about what waters are subject to federal regulation."

Timothy Cama has the full story here.

 

Environment: Chairmen of the House Natural Resources Committee and its subcommittees sent a joint letter Wednesday to Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Interior finalizes plan to open 80 percent of Alaska petroleum reserve to drilling | Justice Department lawyers acknowledge presidential transition in court filing | Trump admin pushes for permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff Trump administration pushes for grazing permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff Interior secretary tests positive for COVID-19 after two days of meetings with officials: report MORE, praising his "bold and innovative" plans to reorganize the department, and urging him to relocate more staff on the ground in western regions.

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In the letter, the six Republican chairmen, led by Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopGOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Westerman tapped as top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee | McMorris Rodgers wins race for top GOP spot on Energy and Commerce | EPA joins conservative social network Parler MORE (Utah), called Zinke's proposed reorganization plans "a first step in transforming the department for the 21st Century."

The chairman told Zinke that he "must consider" relocating staff or bureau management to areas "on the ground" outside of Washington, D.C.

Miranda Green has more here.

 

Technology: Apple on Tuesday said it has been contacted by government agencies about the intentional slow down of older devices and that it is in the process of answering their questions.

"We have received questions from some government agencies and we are responding to them," an Apple spokesperson said in a statement emailed to The Hill, without specifying which agencies.

"As we told our customers in December, we have never -- and would never -- do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades," the spokesperson noted.

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Bloomberg on Tuesday reported that Apple had been contacted by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission as part of inquiries into whether Apple broke securities laws in revealing that it slows its phones down as they age to preserve deteriorating battery life.

Apple apologized to consumers after disclosing this in December.

Read Ali Breland's story here.

 

International: The United States on Wednesday added the head of Hamas's political arm to its terrorist list in a move likely to raise already-soaring tensions in the region.

The State Department announced that Ismail Haniyeh, the chairman of Hamas's political bureau, had been put on the U.S. blacklist, citing the official's close ties with Hamas's military wing and his reported involvement in terrorist attacks against Israelis.

The designation cuts Haniyeh off from the American financial system, freezing any assets he may have in the U.S. and barring him from doing business from U.S.-based entities.

The move came amid rising tensions between the U.S. and the Palestinians, which boiled over in December after President TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Max Greenwood has more here.

 

Technology: Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe bizarre back story of the filibuster Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill MORE (D-N.Y.) has recommended one of his aides for a slot on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Reuters reports.

Schumer suggested the White House nominate his chief counsel Rebecca Slaughter to fill a Democratic opening at the consumer protection agency, according to the report.

Last week, President Trump nominated four potential FTC commissioners, including three Republicans and one Democrat.

Harper Neidig has the rest here.

 

Technology: Lawmakers at a Tuesday hearing discussed ways to crack down on human traffickers who are using new financial tools to avoid detection.

The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations heard from witnesses on the increasing use of cryptocurrencies and encrypted communications, including on smartphones, that make it harder for authorities to catch traffickers.

"The lifeblood of human trafficking is the ability to transfer money," said Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerSix ways to visualize a divided America House panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading apps Republicans rally to keep Cheney in power MORE (R-Mo.). "While money has historically been transmitted using remittance services and funnel accounts, the use of prepaid cards and cryptocurrency create an unforeseen challenge for financial regulators."

Kaitlin Milliken has more here.

 

ELSEWHERE IN THE NEWS:

Rise of bitcoin futures prompts regulator to revisit hands-off approach -- The Wall Street Journal

Google rivals ask EU to toughen measures in antitrust case -- The Wall Street Journal

Two ex-Morgan Stanley advisers to plead guilty to US fraud charges -- Reuters

EU to put banks through Brexit mill in toughest stress test yet -- Reuters

South Korea detects $600M of illegal cryptocurrency trading as it steps up regulation -- The Independent

California mayors ask state regulator to spur battery-powered bus buying -- Bloomberg

 

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION PAGES:

To regulate or not to regulate? Cryptocurrencies beg the question