Improving Public Policy

  • October 02, 2017

The Pew Charitable Trusts applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public, and invigorate civic life, as these recent accomplishments illustrate.

Pew Project: Protecting Ocean Life on the High Seas

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Trust Magazine Fall 2017

A leopard anemone floats freely through deep blue waters—a rare event as these shape-shifting creatures usually attach to hard surfaces such as corals or rocks for months at a time. More than a thousand species of sea anemones can be found in all depths of the Earth's oceans, including the high seas, which belong to no country. (© Richard Robinson)

A commitment to protect the high seas

After a decade of discussions, debates, and meetings, the United Nations is moving forward with negotiations for an international treaty to protect the high seas. In July, countries negotiated recommendations for this first-of-its-kind ocean treaty that will govern areas beyond national jurisdiction. The treaty will provide a mechanism for protecting biodiversity in the high seas, including establishing marine protected areas. Pew’s campaign to protect ocean life on the high seas had worked on behalf of the treaty and will continue to seek additional support for conservation provisions while working with U.N. member nations to set the timetable for treaty negotiations.

Congress takes steps to address maintenance backlog in national parks

In May, U.S. Representatives Will Hurd (R-TX), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Dave Reichert (R-WA), and Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) introduced a bill in the House of Representatives mirroring the Senate’s National Park Service Legacy Act. The bipartisan legislation would direct federal funds toward National Park Service maintenance needs, ramping up to $500 million a year over a 30-year period. In June, Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID) introduced the Land and National Park Deferred Maintenance Act, which would dedicate $375 million a year to park maintenance for seven years and $25 million a year to other public land agencies for seven years and would authorize permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Revenue streams for both measures would come from mineral revenue not already assigned to other programs. Pew’s project to restore America’s parks supports these proposals.

Arbitration rule finalized

In July, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced the finalization of a rule banning companies from using arbitration clauses that bar consumers from engaging in class-action lawsuits. It incorporates key Pew policy recommendations and cites the consumer finance team’s work as part of its rationale. Each year since 2013, Pew has evaluated the dispute resolution policies and practices disclosed by the 50 largest retail banks in the U.S. In 2016, the review showed that almost three-quarters of banks’ account agreements mandated pre-dispute arbitration. The study also found that 95 percent of consumers want to be able to have their disputes with banks heard in court.

States improve tax incentive policies using evidence-based findings

Lawmakers in Alabama and Minnesota used evaluations of tax incentives to help make major policy decisions in 2017. Alabama lawmakers used a rigorous evaluation to guide key reforms to the historic renovation credit, one of the state’s largest incentives, which will cost $100 million over the next five years. Minnesota lawmakers were set to expand the state’s research tax credit for businesses until a new analysis cautioned that the change could hurt the program’s cost-effectiveness; the decision not to expand the credit is expected to save the state $190 million over four years. Both states began assessing existing economic tax incentive programs with assistance from Pew’s state fiscal health team.

Mid-Atlantic fishery managers reduce East Coast squid trawling

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted in June to restrict trawling to protect spawning of longfin squid. Pew’s U.S. oceans Northeast team helped organize more than 13,000 public comments and worked with scientists, recreational fishermen, and fishery managers to support the measure. The longfin squid is an important source of food for predators such as tuna and summer flounder, as well as whales, birds, sharks, crabs, and dolphins. Reductions in summer squid fishing in sensitive nearshore areas will prevent bycatch, damage to seafloor habitat, and the removal and damage of eggs, and will protect millions of spawning and embryonic squid.

New findings on how marine reserves alleviate effects of climate change

A new study published in June provides the first in-depth scientific review of the role marine reserves can play in building the ocean’s resilience to the effects of climate change. Researchers from 10 institutions, including members of the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project’s scientific advisory board, found that large-scale reserves protect marine life and can also reduce the impact of ocean acidification and buffer against rising oceans and intensifying storms. Led by advisory board member Dr. Callum Roberts and Dr. Bethan O’Leary of the University of York in the United Kingdom, the work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Conservation support in French Polynesia

The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project launched a 20-day cultural expedition to the Austral Islands aboard the Faafaite, a traditional Polynesian canoe. The expedition, the first time a traditional canoe has visited some of these islands in generations, earned support from mayors, island communities, and local media outlets for the rāhui, the traditional Polynesian practice of restricting access to an area or resource in order to conserve it. French Polynesia President Édouard Fritch also coordinated a visit to one of the five inhabited Austral Islands, Tubuai, where he voiced support for the principle of the rāhui. Pew has been working to establish a highly protected reserve in French Polynesian waters since 2013. Support gained from the event is part of the broader Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project goal of increasing the number of fully protected parks in the ocean from nine to 15 by 2021.

New Mexico and North Dakota improve rainy day fund rules

Governors of North Dakota and New Mexico modified their states’ stabilization funds with guidance from Pew’s state fiscal health team. In May, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum (R) signed legislation that will deposit oil and gas production tax revenue that exceeds $400 million, up to $475 million, in a given year into the state’s rainy day fund. Also in May, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (R) signed a law that requires oil and gas emergency school tax revenue that exceeds the previous five-year average to go into the reserve fund. These improvements will help minimize revenue volatility and build reserves to soften the impact of future economic downturns.

U.S. government to support new approaches to fight bacteria

In May, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health, announced a grant to support scientists who are researching vaccines and other nontraditional products to treat or prevent bacterial infections. Pew’s antibiotic resistance project identified this type of targeted, milestone-driven research in its Scientific Roadmap for Antibiotic Discovery report released in May 2016, which outlined a concrete approach to overcoming scientific barriers to combating antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Pennsylvania approves pension reform

Governor Tom Wolf (D) signed bipartisan pension legislation in June that will help improve the sustainability and security of Pennsylvania’s public employee retirement system. It ensures that Pennsylvania fulfills promises to state employees by maintaining and extending the commitment to fully fund the pension system and establishes a risk-managed hybrid plan for future public workers. The new plan protects taxpayers by improving cost predictability, preserves and improves retirement security for more workers, and saves the state between $5 billion and $20 billion over the next 30 years. The reform is the result of a multiyear effort by Pew’s pensions team, which worked with legislators on both sides of the aisle, the governor, and business groups across the state. The team’s research shows that this bill is one of the most comprehensive pension reform bills passed by any state.