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April 30, 2014
CC by: Seth Anderson

The Obama administration has had some pretty serious defeats before the Supreme Court recently, but Tuesday wasn't one of those cases. In a 6-2 decision, the justices ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency can use the Clean Air Act to regulate pollution from one state crossing into another. (Justice Samuel Alito recused himself, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are the dissenters.) The decision overturns a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia circuit.

This upholding of the 2011 "good neighbor" rule is not just a win for the White House and EPA but also for states along the Eastern Seaboard who have spent decades breathing the smog and fumes sent over from Appalachia and the upper Midwest, where air quality rules are more lax. It's a loss for the coal industry, since coal-fired plants will have to install expensive equipment to "scrub" emissions of smog-causing pollutants or close down.

But the ruling is more than that — it provides, or hints at, maybe the biggest tool the Obama White House has to fight climate change. "It's a big win for the EPA, and not just because it has to do with this rule," Harvard environmental law expert Jody Freeman tells The New York Times. "It's the fact that it's setting the stage and creating momentum for what's to come." And what's to come is a broader use of the Clean Air Act to, well, clean our air of some heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions. Peter Weber

7:10 p.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Navient Corp., the country's largest servicer of student loans, claiming the company violated several acts and went out of its way to cheat borrowers.

"For years, Navient failed consumers who counted on the company to help give them a fair chance to pay back their students loans," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. "At every stage of repayment, Navient chose to shortcut and deceive consumers to save on operating costs. Too many borrowers paid more for their loans because Navient illegally cheated them and today's action seeks to hold them accountable." Navient, formerly part of Sallie Mae, services private and federal loans worth more than $300 billion for more than 12 million borrowers.

The CFPB alleges that Navient misapplied or misallocated borrowers' payments, and incentivized customer service representatives to push borrowers into forbearance as opposed to income-based repayment plans, which racked up additional interest charges of up to $4 billion from January 2010 to March 2015. The agency also claims Navient violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, and the Dodd-Frank reform act, and allegedly told credit reporting agencies disabled Americans defaulted on their loans, when really they were discharged under a special program, the Los Angeles Times reports. Navient called the allegations "unfounded." Catherine Garcia

5:31 p.m. ET
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) brought a bottle of Trump water to Environmental Protection Agency administrator nominee Scott Pruitt's Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, apparently to prove a point about the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan. "Trump water, natural spring water," Markey said. "On the label it says, 'Pure, fresh, and free from contaminants. This is water the way it was meant to be.'" While Trump hotel guests have the "luxury" of drinking this water instead of tap water, Markey said, low-income Americans don't have that option.

The big wind-up was so Markey could ask Pruitt if he would commit to making environmental justice for low-income communities a top priority if confirmed. Pruitt heartily agreed. You can watch the moment in its entirety at C-SPAN. Becca Stanek

4:35 p.m. ET
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Millennials aren't the only ones drowning in student debt: A staggering amount of older Americans are also underwater. The number of Americans older than 60 with student loan debt quadrupled from 700,000 in 2005 to 2.8 million in 2015, making the over-60 set the fastest-growing age group with student debt, Quartz reports. The total debt for these older borrowers is some $66.7 billion, and more than two-thirds of it is owed for children or grandchildren. While older debtors owe less than the typical under-50 crowd — an average of $23,000 compared to $37,172, respectively — they're also twice as likely to default.

Quartz notes the particular dangers of being 60 or older and still carrying that much debt: The government can sometimes withhold Social Security checks to elderly borrowers who default, and Americans over 60 with unpaid loans typically have less saved for retirement than those without debt. The Week Staff

3:50 p.m. ET
Screenshot/C-SPAN

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) comically illustrated the overreach of the Environmental Protection Agency during an otherwise turbulent Senate hearing for President-elect Donald Trump's EPA nominee, Scott Pruitt, on Wednesday. "This is a chart of the state of Iowa," Ernst began, showing a nearly entirely red map of her state. "As you can see, with the expanded definition as provided by the EPA, 97 percent of the state of Iowa is now considered Waters of the U.S. So if you are in an area like mine, in southwest Iowa here, I live in a Water of the U.S."

It wasn't the only thing Ernst took issue with. In fact, she has some serious concerns about ... well, puddles.

"The Obama EPA told the public that they will not regulate puddles," Ernst went on. "They will not regulate puddles. However, we learned that the Corps [of Engineers] is already regulating puddles by claiming that a puddle in a gravel parking lot is a 'degraded wetland.' A degraded wetland."

But wait, there's more: "The Obama EPA also told farmers not to worry about being regulated because ordinary farming activities have a statutory exemption. We learned that the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Justice have decided that plowing is not an ordinary farming activity. Explain that to my dear deceased grandfather and my father," Ernst said.

And that's not even to mention "small mountain ranges," which are certainly small and probably not mountains. Watch the entire clip at C-SPAN here. Jeva Lange

3:18 p.m. ET
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China is easing the government's 2,000-year-old monopoly on table salt by letting producers set prices and sell directly to the market. The monopoly has supported Chinese rulers from the Han dynasty to the Communist Party, even helping to pay for the construction of the Great Wall, The Financial Times reports.

Beginning this year, salt producers will have the freedom to set their prices based on normal market factors like cost, quality, supply, and demand — though the country's top economic planning agency still encourages state officials to keep those prices somewhat stable by tapping a "strategic reserve." The salt producers will also be able to sell without going through government-owned distribution companies, which used to absorb most of the industry's profits.

Nonetheless, most Chinese salt producers still work for the Chinese government, which has also said it will not grant any new licenses into the market until the end of 2018. The Week Staff

2:58 p.m. ET

At his final press conference Wednesday, President Obama defended his decision to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst convicted of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. "I feel very comfortable justice has been served," Obama said. He noted that Manning has already served "a tough prison sentence" lasting seven years, proving to other possible leakers that the crime does not "go unpunished."

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, a term Obama said was "disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received." She will now be released in May 2017, instead of in 2045.

Watch Obama defend his decision below. Becca Stanek

2:57 p.m. ET

President Obama began his last press conference as president Wednesday by thanking the reporters who assembled week after week to pepper him with questions. "Some of you have been covering me for a long time," Obama said. "I have enjoyed working with all of you. That does not of course mean that I have enjoyed every story that you have filed, but that's the point of this relationship. You're not supposed to be sycophants, you're supposed to be skeptics, you're supposed to ask me tough questions. You're not supposed to be complimentary."

Hmm, wonder what inspired that? Watch Obama's full appreciation of the press — including a great quip about that suit — below. Kimberly Alters

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