A Warning about Water Quality Trading in the Chesapeake

by Matthew Freeman | May 25, 2012

This Memorial Day weekend, boaters, swimmers, fishers and others will flock to the Chesapeake Bay to mark the traditional, if not quite calendrically accurate, beginning of summer.  They'll bring their wallets with them, of course, thus supporting businesses and and jobs up and down the Bay. After a day in, on or near the water, many of them will tuck into a meal of crabcakes, made from blue crabs harvested in the Bay.

Recreation and commerce are two of the most important uses of the Bay, and certainly the best known. But another use, less advertised and far less understood, is as a dumping ground for pollution. Some of that pollution comes from rainwater runoff from roads and other hard surfaces, carrying motor oil and other substances into the Bay. Some comes from overfertilized lawns. And a significant chunk, including 44 percent of the Bay's load of nitrogen and phosphorous, the most worrisome pollutants, comes from agriculture. That includes concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in the region, as well as largely unregulated crop farms whose fertilizer runs off into Bay tributaries.

Despite the huge importance to the region of a healthy Bay, the simple truth is that human activity is endangering it. Already, the Bay experiences "dead zones," as a result. The stop-start, but mostly stopped, effort to clean up the Bay over the last quarter century has accomplished little, and EPA leadership -- at least until 2009 -- was ...

Why We Need Administrative Agencies Like EPA

by Daniel Farber | May 24, 2012
Following is the first of two Dan Farber blog entries reposted today from LegalPlanet. Bureaucrats aren’t very popular.  But consider the alternatives when it comes to dealing with environmental problems.  Basically, bureaucrats are part of the executive branch of government.  For instance, the head of EPA is appointed by the President and can be removed by the President at any time.  (A few agencies such as the SEC enjoy some protection from presidential removal power, but that’s not true for ...

Why the Environment Requires Government Protection: Some Simple Economics

by Daniel Farber | May 24, 2012
The The following is the second of two Dan Farber blog entries reposted today from LegalPlanet. The key to understanding the economics of environmental protection is the concept of externalities.  An externality is simply a cost that one person or firm imposes on another. In general, an externality means that an activity is causing more harm than it should. Of course, a company or individual could decide to voluntarily correct the problem to eliminate the externality.  But if the cost ...

Test Questions I Wish I'd Asked

by Robert Verchick | May 21, 2012
The end of the school year always leaves me wishing that I could have lectured more clearly or somehow covered more in my classes on environmental law and policy. There was really just too much to discuss. How does one do justice to all those doubtful arguments in support of the Keystone XL pipeline? It’s a job creator! A gasoline price cap! A floor wax! Or the continuing saga of how the Obama administration should reorganize the offshore drilling responsibilities ...

EPA's Proposed Chemicals of Concern List Under OIRA Review for Two Years: That Goose is Cooked

by Matt Shudtz | May 11, 2012
Two years ago tomorrow, Saturday, EPA sent a seemingly modest idea over to the White House for a quick review.  The agency wanted to establish a simple list of “chemicals of concern.”  These weren’t chemicals that were necessarily going to be subject to bans or other restrictions, but they present significant enough hazards and are distributed widely enough in the environment to raise some eyebrows among EPA’s toxics staff.  Among the chemicals that were being proposed for inclusion on the ...

New Executive Order Skewed Toward Placating Regulated Industries: Obama Administration Continues Retreat from Protection of Public Health, Worker and Consumer Safety, and the Environment

by Rena Steinzor | May 10, 2012
President Obama issued the latest salvo in the Administration's efforts to placate the business community this morning, in the form of a new Executive Order called “Identifying and Reducing Regulatory Burdens.”   The Order would expand and enhance the unfunded mandate that would require agencies to scour through the rule books, finding “excessive” rules that would save regulated companies big money. As I have written elsewhere in this space, the latest example of such an effort would jeopardize food safety by ...

Administration's Decision to Throw Young Agricultural Workers Under the Bus Fails To Sway Some Critics

by Ben Somberg | May 09, 2012
When the Administration withdrew a rule last month prohibiting young agricultural workers from performing some particularly dangerous tasks, the Department of Labor’s statement didnt't just say it was tabling the proposal, or reconsidering it, or even starting over from scratch. It went an extra step, adding: “To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.” Given that farm accidents are a very real concern, it's hard to read such an unusually vocal commitment ...

The Pander Games: Big Ag, Hispanic Workers, and the Rush to Deregulate

by Rena Steinzor | May 08, 2012
Electoral politics or public policy? Policy or politics? One ripe example of how the White House rides herd on health and safety agencies, thinking about politics, not policy to determine what they should do, is provided by the latest poster child for curbing allegedly “excessive rules”: a U.S. Department of Agriculture proposal to take federal inspectors off the lines at poultry processing plants and substitute inspections by workers who would simultaneously cope with a speed-up on the line from 90 ...

40 Years Hasn't Taught Some Agencies Much About NEPA

by Holly Doremus | May 07, 2012
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. You would think that by now federal agencies would have the NEPA process pretty well down. After all, it’s been the law since 1970, requiring that every federal agency prepare an environmental impact statement before committing itself to environmentally harmful actions. And it’s not that hard to do. Agencies just have to describe the action, alternatives to it, and their effects on the environment relative to not taking the action. Pretty straightforward, really, but a new ...

Member Scholars Urge U.S. Trade Representative to Protect the Environment in Trade Agreements

by Chris Wold | May 04, 2012
In the nearly 20 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) entered into force, the linkages between trade and environmental harm have become clearer than ever.  Trade agreements can lead to significant adverse environmental impacts, particularly when countries do not have sufficient environmental laws, policies, and institutions—and trade alone will not increase the demand for higher environmental standards.  Instead, free trade agreements (FTAs) may lead to significant increases in pollution and serious adverse impacts from certain economic sectors.  ...

White House Letter Focusing Debate on Regulatory Costs -- and Not Benefits -- Frustrated EPA Officials, Emails Reveal

by Rena Steinzor | May 03, 2012
By CPR President Rena Steinzor and Media Manager Ben Somberg Internal EPA emails obtained by CPR through a FOIA request reveal EPA officials’ frustration regarding the White House’s efforts to triangulate House Republicans’ ferocious attacks on regulations. A White House letter last year emphasizing regulatory costs but barely describing the lives saved and injuries avoided by strong protections angered environmental and public health advocates.  The newly released emails show that top EPA officials – who were not even consulted – ...

Executive Order Embraces International Regulatory Race to the Bottom as Official Administration Policy

by David Hunter | May 02, 2012
On one level, President Obama’s Executive Order issued Tuesday, “Promoting International Regulatory Cooperation,” seems benign enough.  After all, who would be against international cooperation and a desire to “reduce, eliminate or prevent unnecessary differences in regulatory requirements”?  Moreover, the Order on its face does little more than set out priorities and procedures for enhancing international regulatory cooperation. Unfortunately, this Order is a one-way regulatory ratchet that leads only to deregulatory changes in the United States that at best will provide ...

Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Ratifying the Basel Convention on Transboundary Waste

by Noah M Sachs | May 01, 2012
a(broad) perspective Today’s post is third in a series on a recent CPR white paper, Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership: Why the United States Should Ratify Ten Pending Environmental Treaties.  Each month, this series will discuss one of these ten treaties.  Previous posts are here. Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal Adopted and Opened for Signature on March 22, 1989 Entered into Force on May 5, 1992 Signed by the United States on ...

Administrative Conference of the United States Teams Up with Chamber of Commerce on Regulations

by Ben Somberg | April 30, 2012
In its own words, the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) is “an independent federal agency dedicated to improving the administrative process through consensus-driven applied research, providing nonpartisan expert advice and recommendations for improvement of federal agency procedures.” On Tuesday afternoon, ACUS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are jointly sponsoring an event at the Chamber, “Next Steps & Implementation of ACUS Recommendations on: Incorporation by Reference & International Regulatory Cooperation.” That’s over the line, particularly given the agenda ...

Bloomberg News Serves up an Echo-Chamber-Ready Take on Regulation

by Matthew Freeman | April 30, 2012
Last week, Bloomberg News ran a curious story conflating a range of issues under the banner of regulatory rollbacks. The piece keys off of the ongoing GOP push to deregulate America. That effort has been going on for decades, of course, but in the wake of the recession (made possible, not coincidentally, by deregulation in the economic sector), GOP leaders and their business allies and funders have rebranded it, and now argue that that "burdensome" economic, health, safety and environmental regulations ...

The Pander Games: Obama Administration Sells Out Kids Doing Dangerous Agricultural Work, Breaks Pledge to Ensure Welfare of Youngest Workers

by Rena Steinzor | April 27, 2012
Yesterday evening, when press coverage had ebbed for the day, the Department of Labor issued a short, four-paragraph press release announcing it was withdrawing a rule on child labor on farms. The withdrawal came after energetic attacks by the American Farm Bureau, Republicans in Congress, Sarah Palin, and—shockingly—Al Franken (D-MN). Last year, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said: "Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America.” “Ensuring their welfare is a priority of the department, ...

A Bill to Steamroll the NEPA Process

by Robert Glicksman | April 27, 2012
The irony is palpable, though clearly intentional.  More than forty years ago, Congress kicked off the “environmental decade” by adopting the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  NEPA’s goals are to ensure that federal agencies whose developmental missions often incline them to ignore or place a low priority on environmental protection to consider the possible adverse environmental consequences of major actions before committing to them, and to make the results of that evaluation publicly available.  NEPA sought to assure balanced consideration ...

BP Spill: Perp Walk for Underling Shouldn't Satisfy Anyone

by Rena Steinzor | April 26, 2012
With considerable media flourish, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday the first and so far only criminal charges related to the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe that killed 11 workers, and did profound violence to the Gulf of Mexico and the local economies dependent up on it. One Kurt Mix, 50, an engineer involved in designing the failed “top kill” remedy, was indicted for obstruction of justice. More specifically, he's accused of deleting text messages from his phone that he ...

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