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EDITORIAL: Emissions reporting: Drillers have the same duty as other industries (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [PA], 01/09/15)
"A coalition of nine environmental groups filed suit Wednesday to force the Environmental Protection Agency to add gas and oil extractors to the list of industries that must report emissions to the federal Toxic Release Inventory....In 1997, the EPA unwisely decided to exempt the industry from the emissions reporting requirement. Now, after trying for two and a half years to get the agency to change its mind, the environmental groups filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to force a change....If the EPA won’t impose the reporting requirement on gas and oil extractors, the court should."

EDITORIAL: Congress returns: And there may be cause for cautious optimism (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [PA], 01/08/15)
"Although many Washington political players are pondering what Americans should expect of this Congress, it can be summed up fairly simply: The legislators, who are paid by the public, need to do their jobs. For senators, an important part of that is to act on presidential nominations. It is up to Mr. Obama to propose capable professionals as judges, Cabinet heads, ambassadors and other important officials, avoiding controversial nominations that will provoke serious opposition. It is then the Senate’s duty to act quickly on the appointments."

Editorial: A push for federal court diversity No woman of color has ever been a federal judge in Minnesota (Minneapolis Star Tribune [MN], 01/06/15)
"The advisory panel’s review will be only the start of what has become in too many cases a slow, arduous and politically charged appointment process. An applicant who passes muster with the panel must still win the favor of the two senators themselves, receive Obama’s nod and then survive a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate, now controlled by Republicans. Politically motivated delays have become all too commonplace in recent years, to the detriment of smooth-running courts. They could become more prolonged with the White House and the Senate majority now at political odds. This newspaper is rooting for the appointment of a highly qualified candidate who carries little, if any, partisan baggage, and for a fair and expeditious confirmation process. And, like the Infinity Project, we’d welcome an appointment that adds to the diversity of this state’s federal court."

EDITORIAL: A rose to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley  (Des Moines Register [IA], 01/04/15)
"A rose to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley for a move suggesting he wants to help President Barack Obama fill vacancies in the federal judiciary rather than continue the acrimonious confirmation process when Republicans take over the Senate. Grassley's office issued a press release in December inviting lawyers interested in two openings in the federal trial courts in Iowa to submit applications to his office. ... Grassley's invitation is a good omen that he wants the Senate to act on the president's nominees. As well he should. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley will be in a position to make that happen, and he should make it happen for all states where judicial vacancies exist, not just his own."

EDITORIAL: The EPA’s move to regulate ‘coal ash’ is a step forward (Washington Post, 01/02/15)
"EPA’s latest move to regulate huge accumulations of “coal ash” is, if anything, too modest.... coal ash pits saw major spills — one in Tennessee in 2008 and one in North Carolina in 2014 — that fouled rivers and endangered people and wildlife. Environmentalists report dozens more instances of air or water contamination ...Environmental activists warn that the EPA declined to classify coal ash as hazardous waste, a designation that would have triggered stricter federal oversight. ... EPA is largely leaving enforcement to the states, which have been the only overseers before now, though private citizens and environmental groups will be able to sue to demand adherence to the rules. The regulations leave room for extremely lengthy delays"

EDITORIAL: Six-year judicial saga finally ends (San Antonio Express-News [TX] , 12/29/14)
"The Senate this month confirmed President Barack Obama’s nomination of Robert Pitman, who has been serving as U.S. attorney for the region, to fill the bench vacated by Senior Judge Royal Furgeson in 2008. Because of the heavy caseload in the Western District of Texas, the vacancy was classified as an emergency. Still, the dysfunctional environment in Washington led to a six-year vacancy.... the appointments process would be a lot better with less partisan gamesmanship. And the truth is that even without any vacancies in the Western District of Texas, the state is growing rapidly and needs additional federal judges. Drug and immigration cases along the border continue to increase, and the justice system needs to keep up with the pace."

McCain and Flake's '14 (Arizona Republic, 12/27/14)
Dan Nowicki: "The Senate in 2014 also confirmed six long-awaited U.S. judicial nominations for Arizona that McCain and Flake helped usher through. The group included Diane Humetewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe and the first Native American woman to serve on the federal bench."

EDITORIAL: Chance missed (Greensboro News & Record [NC], 12/26/14)
"Federal regulators considered classifying coal ash a hazardous waste that requires special disposal. Instead, they will consider it no different than the banana peels and candy wrappers you put out in a can at your front curb. EPA passed up a chance to set high standards. The Obama administration took far too long to produce the rules, only publishing them under court order.... The biggest shortfall of the federal rules is that they will not be actively enforced. ...self-compliance seems dubious. More likely, it will be up to citizens to take them to court to enforce the law."

EDITORIAL: EPA falls short on coal-ash rule (Lexington Herald-Leader [KY], 12/26/14)
"Regulations issued last week by the Environmental Protection Agency for waste from coal-fired power plants are welcome but fall short of fully protecting the public. Coal ash — the residue left over after coal is burned to produce electricity — contains varying amounts of carcinogenic and toxic metals ....The EPA, which was under a federal court's deadline to issue a regulation by Dec. 19, decided not to classify coal ash as hazardous, categorizing it instead as solid waste, the same as household garbage. That decision, which disappointed environmentalists and will save utilities billions, means there still will be no direct federal scrutiny of coal-ash landfills and impoundments. Instead the new federal rules will be enforced by state environmental agencies and, more likely in Kentucky, which has a high tolerance for coal industry shortcuts, by citizen lawsuits."

Editorial: EPA's decision on coal ash rule is a disappointment (Knoxville News Sentinel [TN], 12/22/14)
"Under a court-ordered deadline, the EPA announced Friday it would implement the less stringent of two options for regulating coal ash. Essentially, the agency's choices were to treat coal ash as hazardous waste or as little more than municipal garbage. The EPA chose the latter, a keen disappointment.... The adopted rule establishes minimum standards for impoundments but leaves regulation up to the states and citizen-initiated lawsuits. While it is much better than having no restrictions at all, the rule risks uneven enforcement between states and encourages costly and time-consuming court battles. The new federal rule is a welcome alternative to the status quo, but the EPA missed an opportunity to provide the highest level of protection for communities where coal-fired power plants operate."

Opinions: Despite a tough year, an optimistic mood in the White House, (Washington Post, 12/19/14)
Ruth Marcus: "On judges, the most lasting impact of any president’s tenure, Obama won confirmation of 307 federal judges, including 53 on the courts of appeal. I worried about Senate Democrats’ deployment of the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster for almost all nominations, but the move spurred the confirmation of 134 judges in the 113th Congress, the most since 1979-1980. As the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin observed, “When Obama took office, Republican appointees controlled 10 of the 13 circuit courts of appeals; Democratic appointees now constitute a majority in nine circuits.” That alone reflects a quiet, and lasting, revolution.”

Judicial Nominations: Accomplishments and the Work That Lies Ahead (The White House, 12/17/14)
White House Counsel Neil Eggleston: "When President Obama took office, there were 55 vacancies in the federal judiciary. With the Senate’s recent confirmations, we have reached a milestone—fewer vacancies than when we began. Today, there are only 42 judicial vacancies, for a decrease of 25%. But by way of comparison, at this point in their administrations, President George W. Bush had decreased vacancies by almost 40%, and President Clinton had cut them in half. Furthermore, Chief Justice John Roberts and the Judicial Conference of the United States have recommended that Congress create 90 new permanent and temporary judgeships to address increasing caseloads across the country. Finally, President Obama’s judges have waited, on average, almost two-and-a-half times longer to be confirmed after being reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee than President Bush’s judges did at this point his administration—even though the vast majority of our judges are confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support."

EDITORIAL: Keep nominations rule in U.S. Senate (San Antonio Express-News [TX] , 12/17/14)
"When U.S. Senate Democrats, after much provocation, changed the rules on most judicial and executive nominations in late 2013, Republicans cried foul. Conveniently ignoring their obstruction for the sake of thwarting all things Obama, the Senate GOP caucus insisted that Democrats were trampeling traditions of comity, deliberation and respect for the minority party’s rights. ... All it should take is a simple majority — not 60 votes — to get to confirmation of most judicial and executive nominations.... Leadership can simply refuse to allow floor votes and schedule hearings, for instance. It’s difficult to envision such a course gaining any public favor — much less sending any message about Republicans’ ability to govern."

Democrats push to get judicial vacancies down to Bush-era levels (Daily Kos, 12/16/14)
Laura Clawson: "It's been two decades since the Senate confirmed as many judges as it is currently on track to do in 2014. If Democrats succeed at confirming the 12 judges Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to get votes on before the Senate goes home for Christmas, the year's total will be 88, the highest since 1994. That's in large part because by the time Democrats changed filibuster rules to break through Republican obstruction of President Obama's nominees, there was a major backlog ... the fact that now, six years into Obama's presidency, we are just getting back to the vacancy level that existed under George W. Bush right before Obama took office should show how ridiculous those Republican arguments are. And Bush was able to confirm judges for his last two years in office despite Democrats controlling the Senate,"

A whole new day on filling the federal courts (Maddow Blog {MSNBC], 12/16/14)
Steve Benen: "It wasn’t too long ago that judicial vacancies had reached a crisis level, and the problem seemed intractable with dozens of qualified Obama nominees stuck in Senate quicksand. Slowly but surely, however, there’s been some amazing progress on the issue.... this is the part of a president’s legacy that will matter long after he or she has left office."

Editorial | Welcome judicial appointments (Courier-Journal [KY] , 12/12/14)
"Washington gridlock cleared briefly last week to allow Kentucky to fill two important federal judicial vacancies.... Federal judicial candidates, nominated by the president, have become particularly contentious duing the current partisan conflict between President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans. Kentucky still has three vacancies, two at the district court level and one on the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals. Who knows? Maybe more candidates can slip through the gates of gridlock."

EDITORIAL: High court decision saves Captain Sam's (Post and Courier [SC], 12/11/14)
"The South Carolina Supreme Court dealt a formidable blow on Wednesday to a long-contested development proposed by Kiawah Development Partners along a narrow strip of pristine barrier island. The court's decision should finally put an end to a bad idea....Captain Sam's Spit serves as irreplaceable habitat for numerous shorebirds, including at least one endangered and one threatened species.... Those assets merit protection, and both the South Carolina Legislature and the state Supreme Court agree. In the court's majority opinion, Justice Kaye Hearn wrote, "To allow the benefits to a private developer to override the interests of the people of South Carolina undermines the [S.C. Coastal Zone Management Act] statute and defeats the very purpose of the public trust doctrine.""

Editorial: New top environmental regulator should work for citizens, not ‘customers’  (Gaston Gazette [NC], 12/11/14)
"And three times the state stepped in to halt environmental groups’ lawsuits aimed at forcing Duke Energy to clean out its ash ponds. Under federal law, a lawsuit headed for the courts may be delayed if the state announces its intent to take action. But in North Carolina’s case, that action was much less than the environmentalists were seeking. Questions about the cozy relationship between DENR staff and the businesses they regulate did not originate with this administration; it has been an ongoing issue. Regulators do not have to be unnecessarily obstructionist."

Editorial: Democrats should stand up to NRA and confirm Vivek Murthy (Sacramento Bee [CA] , 12/09/14)
" As Republicans prepare to take over, they ought to cooperate by allowing up-or-down votes on 130-plus nominees of President Barack Obama, including ambassadors to 16 nations, and a dozen judgeships. Judicial nominees include Haywood S. Gilliam Jr., who clearly is qualified to serve as a U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of California. Gilliam got his law degree at Stanford and spent seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney in San Francisco....The filibuster was undemocratic when Republicans used it to impede Democrats during the first six years of the Obama presidency. Similarly, Democrats should not gum up the works when they are in the minority. Elections matter, which is why Obama has the right to appoint ambassadors, judges, cabinet secretaries and thousands of other officials, including Dr. Vivek Murthy as surgeon general."

The Senate Should Cancel Its Own Christmas and Stay in Session Until 2015 (The New Republic, 12/08/14)
Danny Vinik: "Reid should keep the Senate in session until Republicans take over next year in order to confirm as many executive branch and judicial nominees as possible. Consider the actions of Senate Republicans during the past six years. Led by Majority Leader-Elect Mitch McConnell, the GOP used the filibuster to block President Barack Obama’s nominations for key executive branch and judicial positions. ... it is too important for the functioning of the executive branch and the makeup of the courts to spend the entire time on holiday."

Waiting Game: Lame-Duck Dilemma: More Than 130 Obama Nominees Still Await Senate Action (Bloomberg News, 12/03/14)
Greg Giroux: "Judicial vacancies are a perennial cause of concern for court-watchers as caseloads clog federal dockets....Even some Republicans aren't happy with the backlog that's been building in the judicial ranks. “... vital resource needs include the appointment of an adequate number of judges to keep current on pending cases,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in his annual year-end report in 2012, ... “I urge the Executive and Legislative Branches to act diligently in nominating and confirming highly qualified candidates” to fill judicial vacancies, he said."

COMMENTARY: Middle District Judge nominee still awaiting confirmation (Progressive Pulse [NC], 12/02/14)
Chavi Khanna Koneru: "delay tactics do seem to be a ploy to avoid confirming President Obama’s nominees. There has been a long pattern of Republicans attempting to prevent the President from confirming judges ... delay tactics do seem to be a ploy to avoid confirming President Obama’s nominees. There has been a long pattern of Republicans attempting to prevent the President from confirming judges"

Editorial | Starving the beast (Courier-Journal [KY] , 12/01/14)
"Ruling in a case involving alleged violations by the Frasure Creek Mining Co., Judge Shepherd found that state cuts over the past 10 years have “drastically and adversely affected the ability of the cabinet to do its job in implementing the Clean Water Act.”...Even more troubling is that it took an outside group of citizens’ advocates to uncover the problems and bring them to the state’s attention. Groups including Appalachian Voices, Waterkeeper Alliance and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth found some coal companies falsified reports they are required to file with regulators. Prodded to act, state regulators ... did little to investigate the actual environmental harm, then attempted to enter into a modest settlement ... . Judge Shepherd rejected the settlement as one that sends the message that “cheating pays.” He also rejected the attempt of the state to cut the outside citizens’ groups out of its final settlement with Frasure Creek Mining, ordering they be included."

EDITORIAL: Coal's costs keep adding up (Lexington Herald-Leader [KY], 11/30/14)
"Judge Phillip J. Shepherd laid bare the charade that is Kentucky's enforcement of coal industry compliance with the Clean Water Act. The judge described a state agency that barely even goes through the motions of enforcing the law.... The massive violations were discovered by citizens who threatened to sue. The cabinet agreed to a consent decree under which Frasure Creek would pay $310,000. The cabinet also fought — and lost — all the way to the state Supreme Court to exclude citizens from any involvement in deciding the case. Shepherd ruled the penalties were too small .... coal. It's not cheap, though. The costs are high — they just get pushed onto someone else, the disabled or dead miners, or Kentuckians who depend on water, ruined by surface mining, that flows from the mountains across our state."

GOP has a golden opportunity during the lame duck session (Herald Sun [NC] , 11/29/14)
Rob Schofield: "One of the first indicators will be what happens with a slew of pending and stalled nominations to serve on the federal courts.... At her confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee just before the election, Biggs received a big “thumbs up” from senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr. While welcome and encouraging, Burr’s positive, “trains-on-time” stance on the Biggs nomination was enough to leave a sense of profound confusion given that it comes on the heels of an almost 18-month-long blockade of another Obama nominee – federal prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker,"

Thanksgiving and federal judicial appointments (The Hill, 11/28/14)
Prof. Carl Tobias: "the United States appellate and district courts should be thankful that a number of the 90 lower court vacancies which the judiciary has experienced for almost five years have finally been filled. ... The judiciary should be grateful that the White House has nominated, and the Senate has approved, two exceptional Supreme Court Justices, 53 excellent appellate judges, and 235 fine district judges. Obama has assiduously sought the advice and support of Democratic and Republican elected officers before actual nominations and has tendered nominees of balanced temperament, who are intelligent, diligent, independent and ethical, as well as diverse vis-à-vis ethnicity, gender and ideology.... However, the promising signs will only materialize into confirmations, if Democrats and Republicans work cooperatively in the remainder of the 113th Congress’s second session for the good of the courts and the country."

LETTER: Senate should act on judicial vacancies now, not later (Erie Times-News [PA], 11/25/14)
Brenda Barron: "Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, along with their colleagues in the Senate, must make confirmation of judicial nominees a priority in the upcoming "lame duck" session....Republican obstructionism has delayed or derailed many of President Obama's judicial nominations. The resulting shortage of judges means our court system is now struggling to keep up with the growing backlog of cases."

Editorial: Fix the Senate (Boston Globe, 11/24/14)
"Increasingly, senators have been using their role of “advice and consent” to delay and refuse, not just controversial nominees, but everyone. Republicans are trying to run out the clock on Obama’s term. This is abuse of power. Nominees, the vast majority of whom have put other professional responsibilities on hold to serve their country, deserve consideration. Now that the Senate is set to change hands, leaders should agree to hold up-or-down votes as soon as possible on these nominees.... Another change that should be made is the removal of anonymous holds....When Democrats were faced with near-universal obstructionism on their nominees, they changed the Senate rules to avoid filibusters and get more quickly to an up-or-down vote. Thanks to the so-called “nuclear option,” it only takes 51 senators to confirm a presidential nominee... Presidential nominees deserve consideration, and the public deserves a government that is able to break through gridlock."

Make sure federal courts fully staffed (Editor's Inbox) ( Mason City Globe Gazette [IA], 11/23/14)
Dean Genth: "I urge Sen. Chuck Grassley to use his position on the Senate Judiciary Committee to make sure our federal courts are fully staffed. Federal judges hear cases that directly affect the lives of everyday Americans, including cases addressing clean air and water,... Many of the pending nominees are the result of bipartisan agreement."

U.S. Senate needs to confirm federal judges (Denver Post [CO] , 11/23/14)
Amanda Gonzalez letter to the editor: "Colorado’s senators have gone back to Washington for a “lame duck” session, and one area where bipartisan cooperation might be possible is the confirmation of federal judge nominees. More than 60 federal judgeships are vacant, and 16 nominations are sitting waiting for Senate votes — mostly with bipartisan approvals by the Judiciary Committee.... We deserve a fully staffed judiciary to make sure justice is served. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet should remain in Washington until the Senate clears its calendar of pending judicial nominees."