Mardi Gras, Check. BP "Trial of the Century" Here We Come.

by Robert Verchick | February 22, 2012

Well, another magnificent Mardi Gras has ended, and at this point, I’d normally be slouched on the sofa sipping a tomato juice (neat) and sorting beads. But not this year.  That’s because next week, squadrons of lawyers, journalists, petroleum engineers, and fisher folk are scheduled to descend on New Orleans, squeeze into a federal courtroom, and begin on Monday what the media have modestly called, “The Trial of the Century,” otherwise known as the BP Oil Spill litigation.

Whatever the rest of the century holds, it seems fair to say that this legal dispute, if it does not settle, will be the most complicated environmental trial anyone has ever seen.  With a thousand plaintiffs, a galaxy of witnesses, and 20,000 exhibits, this spectacular has more moving parts than a Madonna half-time show. As the trial unfolds, I’ll provide you with some occasional shrimp-boots-on-the-ground legal blogging.

First, though, I’ll start with the background of the case (please see also two CPR white papers: Regulatory Blowout: How Regulatory Failures Made the BP Disaster Possible, and How the System Can Be Fixed to Avoid a Recurrence (Oct 2010) and The BP Catastrophe: When Hobbled Law and Hollow Regulation Leave Americans Unprotected (Jan 2011)). Here are some answers to common questions.

Q: Can you remind me what the BP Oil Spill was all about?  I remember “Top Kill” and “I’d like my life back,” but the rest of it is ...

EPA's Standing Argument: A Sleeping Giant in the Tailoring Rule Litigation?

by Kirsten Engel | February 21, 2012
On Feb. 28 and 29, the D.C. Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments on a suite of industry-led challenges to EPA-issued greenhouse gas rules.  While attention has focused on industry’s challenge to EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases (GHGs) endanger the environment, industry’s challenge to the greenhouse gas permitting “tailoring” rule – a rule limiting the CAA’s application to only the largest GHG sources – is just as important, and just as interesting a battle.  At issue is constitutional law’s most ...

Placing a Ceiling on Protection for Public Health

by Daniel Farber | February 20, 2012
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Governor Romney has endorsed an idea called regulatory budgeting, but it really means capping protection for public health. Romney’s position paper explains the concept as follows: To force agencies to limit the costs they are imposing on society, and to provide the certainty that businesses crave, a system of regulatory caps is required. As noted, the federal government has estimated that the existing regulatory burden approaches $1.75 trillion. We cannot afford those costs to go any ...

The Economist Recycles Old Right-Wing Ideas to Gut Public Protections

by Rena Steinzor | February 17, 2012
The Economist’s February 18 edition offers a cover package of five articles on “Over-regulated America” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Our British friends want you to know there’s a problem here in the States that needs fixing: A study for the Small Business Administration, a government body, found that regulations in general add $10,585 in costs per employee. It’s a wonder the jobless rate isn’t even higher than it is. You can almost feel The Economist’s pain: the jobless rate ...

EPA Releases IRIS Assessment of Dioxin Non-Cancer Risks

by Matt Shudtz | February 17, 2012
Today EPA released the first part of its long-awaited reassessment of the human health risks posed by 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, a chemical considered to be the most toxic of the dioxin compounds and the stuff that made Agent Orange so bad for its victims.  It’s bittersweet news: on the one hand, the decades-long stretch between EPA’s first look at dioxin and this document is something we don’t like to see, while on the other, today marks an enormous step forward. The document ...

The Pipeline That Refuses to Die

by Sandra Zellmer | February 16, 2012
Last month, President Obama denied TransCanada’s permit application for the Keystone XL pipeline because a congressionally mandated deadline did not allow enough time to evaluate the project once Nebraska completed its analysis for re-routing of the pipeline around the Sand Hills. A January 26-29 poll from Hart Research Associates found that, after hearing arguments for and against the pipeline, 47% of voters in four Presidential battleground states polled agree with President Obama’s decision while 36% disagree with it.  Yet just this ...

Will Sackett Sock It To EPA Enforcement?

by Joel Mintz | February 15, 2012
Two of my CPR Member Scholar colleagues, Nina Mendelson and Holly Doremus have done a first-rate job of previewing and analyzing the oral argument in Sackett v. EPA – a case now awaiting decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. I fully share Professor Doremus's hope that, even if the case results in a loss for the government,  the Supreme Court's decision in Sackett will not be decided on constitutional grounds and will be limited in its impact to the Clean ...

One Year Later, OSHA's Rule to Protect Workers from Deadly Silica Still in White House Review

by Thomas McGarity | February 14, 2012
Today marks the first anniversary of an event that received little media attention, but marked a major milestone in the progression of a regulation that is of great importance to thousands of Americans whose jobs bring them into contact with dust particles containing the common mineral silica.  Exactly a year ago today the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) completed a proposed rule requiring employers in the mining, manufacturing and construction industries to protect their employees from silica dust particles ...

EPA Releases Inventory of Legal Authorities to Advance Environmental Justice

by Robert Verchick | February 13, 2012
Last fall, in a speech I gave at an environmental justice event in Los Angeles, I ruffled some feathers with an impromptu line that went something like this:  “Believe it or not, federal environmental statutes say nothing directly about environmental justice.” During the “Q & A” I was challenged by an environmental activist and lawyer who listed various ways that advocates had successfully used federal environmental statutes to address inequalities in many of California’s minority and low-income communities. I saw ...

Bureaucracy Bashing, Obama Style

by Rena Steinzor | February 09, 2012
Political scientists have coined the term “bureaucracy bashing” to connote the temptation now rife among national politicians to beat up on the civil service for reasons that have nothing to do with reality.  Ronald Reagan pioneered this art form of disrespecting bureaucrats in the name of downsizing government, even as federal deficit spending on government programs he favored grew to epic proportions.  Ironically, President Obama has lifted the same hammer in an altogether unsuccessful effort to placate the conservative critics ...

The Age of Greed: Children on Motorcycles Chasing Goats

by Rena Steinzor | February 07, 2012
The debate over whether the government protects people exposed to industrial hazards enough—or whether it engages in ruinous “overregulation”—is only occasionally coherent. Sometimes it’s downright bizarre, and never is it for the faint of heart. Consider the case of kids working on farms. Following a series of gruesome accidents involving teenagers as young as 14 who were smothered in grain elevators or lost legs to giant augers used to shovel crops into storage silos, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced a ...

Holding Maryland Accountable for Its Chesapeake Bay Clean-Up Obligations

by Matthew Freeman | February 06, 2012
In an article in the most recent issue of The Abell Report, the newsletter of The Abell Foundation, CPR President Rena Steinzor and CPR Policy Analysts Aimee Simpson and Yee Huang take a look at what ails the Chesapeake Bay (Spoiler Alert: it involves years of inaction on pollution), and offer up a number of practical steps the state of Maryland could take to make good on its commitments to clean up this most precious of natural resources. The article ...

White House Declines to Put Anti-Regulation Measures in "Startup America" Legislative Agenda

by Rena Steinzor | February 03, 2012
The White House announced Tuesday a legislative agenda it is sending Congress as part of its Startup America initiative to foster the growth of new businesses. The White House was under some pressure to do wrong here: the President’s “Jobs Council” – a group mostly of CEOs – issued a report last month that included a perhaps unsurprising pile of old anti-regulatory proposals. And Senators Mark Warner and Jerry Moran were pushing the White House to endorse their bill, the ...

New Frontiers in OIRA Transparency

by James Goodwin | February 02, 2012
In its public meeting records, the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) frequently misspells the names or affiliations of the attendees. Senator Jon Kyl was once listed as “Sen. Rul.”  And John Ikerd, affiliated with the University of Missouri (MO) and the Sierra Club, was listed as “John Ikend, University of MD/Siemen Club.” Sometimes the misspelled names or affiliations are easy to figure out; other times they aren’t (see page 77 of our OIRA white paper from ...

New CPR White Paper: What FDA, EPA, and OSHA Should do about BPA

by Aimee Simpson | January 26, 2012
Today CPR releases Protecting the Public from BPA: An Action Plan for Federal Agencies (press release), outlining steps the FDA, EPA, and OSHA can take to use existing authorities to warn the public about the dangers of the chemical, and prepare longer-term regulatory controls. The paper was written by CPR Member Scholars Tom McGarity, Noah Sachs, and Rena Steinzor, and Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz and myself. Bisphenol A (BPA) makes me want to cry.  Not in the sad or ...

The Age of Greed: Science Drowned by Politics

by Rena Steinzor | January 25, 2012
Last week, a reporter asked me, “How’s science doing these days?,” “Science” is an impossibly big category, of course, but the answer was easy: “Badly,” I said. Exhibit number one is climate change. The frightening truth is that no fewer than 84 percent of scientists in this country surveyed by Pew say that the earth is warming because of human activity; 70 percent describe the problem as “very serious.” Although much is made of the supposed “dissenters” on the issue, no ...

Three Chirps for Risk Reduction

by Catherine O'Neill | January 24, 2012
A new study underscores the wisdom of reducing the risks of mercury and other pollutants rather than relying on risk avoidance measures such as fish consumption advisories.  Mercury’s adverse effects are not limited to human health; its harms are felt throughout our ecosystems.  According to this most recent study, released today by the Biodiversity Research Institute, mercury harms a broader swath of wildlife than previously recognized, including many bird species that are not piscivorous.  This finding echoes those of studies ...

Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership

by John Knox | January 20, 2012
For more than a century, the United States took the lead in organizing responses to international environmental problems.  The long list of environmental agreements spearheaded by the United States extends from early treaties with Canada and Mexico on boundary waters and migratory birds to global agreements restricting trade in endangered species and protecting against ozone depletion.  In the last two decades, however, U.S. environmental leadership has faltered.  The best-known example is the lack of an effective response to climate change, ...

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