One Step Forward and Two Steps Back on Toxic Chemicals

by Rena Steinzor | May 24, 2016

Within the next few days, Congress is likely to enact the first update of a major environmental statute in many years. Widely hailed as a bipartisan compromise, legislation to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA, pronounced like the opera Tosca) was made possible by the steely and relentless determination of the U.S. chemical industry. The deal places burdens on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will undermine public health and environmental protections for many years to come. 

A well-funded, politically empowered EPA that employed the best and the brightest of American scientists might be able to make lemonade out of the lemons scattered throughout this unfortunate legislation. But it's far more likely that the agency we have today will soon become mired in "paralysis-by-analysis" before it takes action and a flood of litigation after it – only occasionally – acts. 

Toxic chemical exposures are so loosely regulated that the Government Accountability Office, the top-flight auditor of the federal government, has placed EPA's regulatory efforts on its select list of "high risk" programs that are vulnerable to mismanagement and ineffectiveness. In contrast to what many Americans believe, new chemicals are not required to undergo any testing before they are sold in large volumes in the marketplace unless EPA puts its foot down and are rarely subject to regulatory controls until some entity or person throws them out. The old TSCA, enacted in 1976 and never amended, was too ...

CPR's Buzbee to Set the Record Straight on WOTUS at Senate Hearing

by James Goodwin | May 24, 2016
This afternoon, the Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will convene a hearing on a topic that is fast becoming the congressional conservative equivalent of talking about the weather: the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Water Rule.  With the provocative title of "Erosion of Exemptions and Expansion of Federal Control – Implementation of the Definition of Waters of the United States," the hearing is unlikely to provide a sober or thoughtful forum for ...

Steinzor in The Environmental Forum: Vital to Prosecute Corporate Bad Actors

by Brian Gumm | May 20, 2016
With the congressional majority continuing to gut enforcement budgets, forcing federal environmental and workplace safety agencies to cut staff, criminal prosecution of corporate bad actors is more important than ever. That's the thrust of Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar Rena Steinzor's commentary in the May/June issue of The Environmental Forum, the policy journal of the Environmental Law Institute.  As Steinzor notes in the piece:  The BP [oil spill] and Volkswagen [emissions cheating] scan­dals, by their size and audacity, should ...

The Silica Standard: A Case Study of Inequality in Worker Health and Safety Standards

by Katie Weatherford | May 19, 2016
Back in March, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized its long-awaited silica standard, requiring employers to reduce workers' exposure to the toxic, cancer-causing dust so common to construction and fracking sites, among other workplaces. OSHA estimates that the new standard will prevent more than 600 deaths and 900 new cases of silicosis annually. That is certainly commendable, but the kudos would be more heartfelt if the new standard had been adopted decades earlier and if it fully addressed ...

Renewed Public Investment in Water Infrastructure Promotes Equality

by Evan Isaacson | May 18, 2016
Clean water: We can't take it for granted, as the people of Flint, Michigan, can attest. And they're not alone. In too many communities across the nation, drinking water fails to meet minimum safety standards, forcing consumers to buy bottled water and avoid the stuff coming out of their taps. We cannot say that we didn't see this coming. Part of the problem is that, as a society, we have always undervalued clean water. Municipal water rates only pass along ...

Want to Address Economic Inequality? Strengthen the Regulatory System

by James Goodwin | May 17, 2016
The growing problem of economic inequality in the United States continues to draw significant attention – and for good reason. By 2011, America's top 1 percent owned more than 40 percent of the nation's wealth, and ours ranks as one of the most unequal economies among developed countries. Meanwhile, the median wage rate for workers has remained largely unchanged in real terms over the last 40 years – even as worker productivity has grown at a steady clip – contributing ...

We Need to Get Back to Work

by Rena Steinzor | May 13, 2016
Originally published on RegBlog by CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor. Rulemaking has slowed to a crawl throughout the executive branch. If an agency does not have a statutory mandate to undertake such a brutal and resource-intensive process, the choice to accomplish its mission through any other means will be tempting. Of course, if the policy issues are controversial, no pathway to their redress—rule, adjudication, guidance, or bully pulpit—will be problem-free. The opposition party made clear, almost as soon as President Barack Obama ...

Feds Open Criminal Investigation of Dole Listeria Outbreak

by Mollie Rosenzweig | May 12, 2016
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently launched a criminal investigation of Dole Food Company, continuing a trend of criminal enforcement against those responsible for deadly food safety lapses. The investigation stems from a Listeria outbreak in bagged salad that sickened 33 people, four of whom died.  Between September 2015 and January 2016, 33 people in the U.S. and Canada became infected with Listeria from bagged lettuce processed at Dole's Springfield, Ohio plant. At first, investigators struggled to trace the ...

New Oxfam Report: Poultry Industry Denies Worker Requests for Bathroom Breaks

by Katie Weatherford | May 11, 2016
Can you imagine working for a boss who refuses you the dignity of taking a bathroom break? According to a revealing new report published today by Oxfam America, denial of bathroom breaks is a very real practice at poultry plants across the country, and line workers at these plants often "wait inordinately long times (an hour or more), then race to accomplish the task within a certain timeframe (e.g., ten minutes) or risk discipline."  If you've never worked on an ...

Trading Away the Benefits of Green Infrastructure

by Evan Isaacson | May 10, 2016
In the world of watershed restoration, there are multiple tools and tactics that government agencies, private landowners, and industry can use to reduce pollution and clean up our waterways. In Maryland, two of those approaches seem destined to collide. On the first track is nutrient trading, a least-cost pollution control concept predicated on the idea that if some distant entity can reduce the same amount of pollution at a lower cost than a facility with a water pollution control permit, ...

New Study Brings 'Trickle Down' Illogic to Regulatory 'Costs' Estimates

by James Goodwin | May 09, 2016
These days, it seems a week doesn't go by without some conservative advocacy group releasing a new study that purports to measure the total annual costs of federal regulation. In this case, it's literally true. Last week, the reliably anti-regulatory Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) put out its annual tally, provocatively titled "Ten Thousand Commandments," which this year finds a total cost of $1.885 trillion for 2015. And the week before that, the just-as-reliably anti-regulatory Mercatus Center published a report that ...

The Surprising Evolution of Federal Stream Protections

by Dave Owen | May 05, 2016
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog by CPR Member Scholar Dave Owen. Right now, the United States' second-most-heated environmental controversy—behind only the Clean Power Plan—involves the Clean Water Rule, which seeks to clarify the scope of federal regulatory jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. According to its many opponents, the rule is one big power grab. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, according to the standard rhetoric, are unfurling their regulatory tentacles across the landscape like some monstrous kraken, with ...

New Paper: Americans Hurt By Forced Arbitration Agreements with Big Banks, Credit Card Companies

by Brian Gumm | May 04, 2016
NEWS RELEASE: New Paper Shows Americans Hurt By Forced Arbitration Agreements with Big Banks, Credit Card Companies Forthcoming Rule from Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Offers Some Solutions, but More Can Be Done to Protect Consumers Opening a checking account or using a credit card is an essential, everyday activity for many Americans, but most financial services are governed by pages of fine print, much of which is difficult to navigate and understand. As a new paper from the Center for ...

The Misleading Argument Against Delegation

by Daniel Farber | May 03, 2016
It's commonplace to say that agencies engage in lawmaking when they issue rules. Conservatives denounce this as a violation of the constitutional scheme; liberals celebrate it as an instrument of modern government. Both sides agree that in reality, though not in legal form, Congress has delegated its lawmaking power to agencies. But this is mistaking an analogy for an identity. It's true, of course, that Congress has given agencies the authority to make rules, which is one aspect of legislative ...

How Conservatives Sell Off the Federal Budget, Bit by Bit, to the Highest Bidder

by James Goodwin | May 02, 2016
Once upon a time, congressional conservatives pretended to care about the appearance, if not the reality, of corruption afflicting the federal budgeting process. Strangely, they chose to act on their sanctimonious outrage by banning earmarks – or legislative instructions that direct federal agencies to spend appropriated funds on certain specified projects – while leaving the much greater problem of "limitations riders" intact. These riders essentially function as the reverse of earmarks by prohibiting federal agencies from spending appropriated funds on certain specified ...

Climate Change Increases Need for Reform of Nonpoint Source Pollution and Stream Flow Approaches

by William Andreen | April 29, 2016
The Clean Water Act has been a success in many ways. The discharge of pollutants from both industrial and municipal point sources has plummeted, the loss of wetlands has been cut decisively, and water quality has improved broadly across the entire nation. Despite all of that progress, many of our waters remain impaired. The primary reason for this lies in the failure of the Clean Water Act to effectively tackle two significant sources of water pollution: nonpoint source pollution (diffuse ...

Reflections on Workers' Memorial Day

by Matt Shudtz | April 28, 2016
Today, a lot of numbers will be thrown around – the staggering number of workers who died gruesome deaths on the job last year, the paltry fines that employers responsible for those deaths paid, the months and years we've waited for Congress to revisit the Occupational Safety and Health Act to make it more relevant to our modern workforce. There's good reason to reflect on those numbers. They tell us something important about our society and our relationship to work. ...

CPR's Mintz Outlines Flaws of House Bill That Would Undercut SEPs

by James Goodwin | April 28, 2016
Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar Joel Mintz submitted written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law ahead of its hearing this morning on yet another ill-advised bill, the misleadingly named "Stop Settlement Funds Slush Funds Act of 2016." The bill would place arbitrary limits on how the federal government can use funds it obtains through settlement agreements that arise from enforcement actions brought against companies that have violated federal laws and the ...

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