Coal Ash Comments Submitted: Get Serious, Please

by Ben Somberg | November 19, 2010

"In order for CBA [cost benefit analysis] to be workable, regulators need to have a relatively restricted range of possibilities." That's what OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein wrote in a 2007 book. So how about from $82 billion to negative $251 billion, a third of a trillion dollars – is that a relatively restricted range?

Those are the estimated net benefit figures, over 50 years, in the Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) for EPA's "strong" coal ash regulation proposal. Do those numbers actually mean much? No. Yet there they are, trumpeted as if they have meaning. They don't.

As regular readers know, the regulation of coal ash has been quite the journey. We take the next step in the trek today, when the public comment period ends on EPA's current proposals. CPR President Rena Steinzor submitted comments on the coal ash rulemaking this morning (press release).

Let me step back a minute to explain the comments and the context. The Kingston, Tennessee, coal ash spill disaster in 2008 spurred the EPA to action; it said it would announce a specific regulatory proposal by the end of 2009. The agency submitted its proposal (which we now know was strong) to the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in October. By Executive Order, OIRA has no more than 120 days to review proposed regulations, but the office went beyond its allowed limit, delaying action while it hosted some ...

OIRA's Fuzzy Math on Coal Ash: A Billion Here, a Billion There

by Rena Steinzor | July 13, 2010
This post was written by CPR President Rena Steinzor and Michael Patoka, a student at the University of Maryland School of Law and research assistant to Steinzor. Last October, the EPA proposed to regulate, for the first time, the toxic coal ash that sits in massive landfills and ponds next to coal-fired power plants across the nation. The 140 million tons of ash generated every year threaten to contaminate groundwater and cause catastrophic spills, like the 1-billion-gallon release that devastated ...

Eye on OIRA: No Room for a More Compassionate CBA in EPA's Coal Ash Rule

by James Goodwin | May 24, 2010
“Although the 1976 RCRA [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act] statute does not require benefit-cost justification of RCRA regulations, this RIA [regulatory impact analysis] presents a qualitative benefit analysis for compliance with OMB’s 2003 ‘Circular A-4: Regulatory Analysis’ best practices guidance.” This statement comes from the executive summary to the cost-benefit analysis (CBA) that EPA sent to OIRA last October with its original proposed rule for regulating coal ash waste, and it is without a doubt the most important sentence in the ...

Eye on OIRA: Coal Ash Meetings Up to 42, or More Than Half of All OIRA Meetings on EPA Rules

by James Goodwin | April 05, 2010
Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have long celebrated the number 42 as the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.” Now, the number 42 also happens to be the number of meetings that OIRA has hosted regarding EPA’s pending coal ash rule, as it works toward developing the Obama Administration’s answer to the ultimate question of how to regulate the disposal of this toxic waste. ________________________________________ OIRA Meetings on Coal Ash, as of ...

Eye on OIRA: King Coal

by Rena Steinzor | February 26, 2010
Thirty-eight years ago today, the dam holding back a massive coal-slurry impoundment (government-speak for a big pit filled with sludge) located in the middle of Buffalo Creek gave way, spilling 131 million gallons of black wastewater down the steep hills of West Virginia. The black waters eventually crested at 30 feet, washing away people, their houses, and their possessions. By the end of the catastrophe, 125 people were dead, 1,121 were injured, and more than 4,000 were left homeless. Interviewed ...

Eye on OIRA: The 121st Day and Coal Ash Still Going to Pits in the Ground

by Rena Steinzor | February 12, 2010
Tomorrow will be the 120th day since the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) began its review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) star-crossed proposal to declare coal ash that is not safely recycled to be a hazardous waste. The number is significant because it marks the end of OIRA’s allotted review period for the proposal, under the Executive Order that governs OIRA. The date will likely come and go without fanfare. By rights, OIRA ought to ...

Coal Ash First Real Test of Obama Commitment to Health and Safety Regulation

by Rena Steinzor | January 20, 2010
A critical test of the Obama Administration’s commitment to reviving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is teeing up behind closed doors at the White House. Once again, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is cast in the role of regulation killer, supported by a slew of state and other federal agencies that are polluters in this scenario. Other players include a nearly hysterical segment of the electric utility industry, which argues that labeling coal ash as a hazardous waste ...

Back to the Future: OMB Intervention in Coal Ash Rule Replicates the Bush Administration's Way of Doing Business

by Sidney Shapiro | January 11, 2010
As reported in a post Saturday, OMB has become the epicenter for industry efforts to head off an EPA regulation concerning coal ash. There have been 17 meetings between industry interests and OMB officials. When questioned about the large number of meetings, an OMB spokesman said, "This has been a very regular, very normal deliberative process on a very complex rule.” For progressives who had hoped that OMB in the Obama administration would not replicate OMB in the Bush administration, ...

WSJ Says White House and EPA at Odds on Coal Ash; Industry Meetings with OIRA on Issue at 17 and Counting

by James Goodwin | January 09, 2010
"White House, EPA at Odds Over Coal-Waste Rules" reads a headline in Saturday's Wall Street Journal. It's worth a look. The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has in fact continued to host meetings with outside groups regarding EPA’s work on a rule for controlling the disposal of hazardous coal ash waste. Since my last post on this topic, OIRA has hosted 10 more meetings on this topic. (These latest meetings were held between December 9 and ...

While EPA Delays Decision on Coal Ash, Industry and White House Busy With Backdoor Meetings on Issue, Documents Show

by James Goodwin | December 18, 2009
While the EPA announced Thursday that it was delaying a decision on issuing a proposed rule for coal ash, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has already hosted 10 meetings with industry representatives in recent months on the issue. The 10 meetings -- the most on any topic at OIRA so far in the Obama Administration, according to records on its website -- were completely outside of EPA's rulemaking process. In that process, once a proposed ...

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