Cutting EPA's Enforcement Budget: What It Might Mean

by Joel Mintz | April 12, 2012

Last week, members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union at EPA released an internal Agency memo describing the Agency’s proposed plan to cut back on specific areas of enforcement in response to looming budget cuts in FY 2013.  The memo, by Larry Starfield, EPA's Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance lists “Areas of Proposed Budget Adjustment for FY13.”  Federal agencies have an unenviable task: they must plan for budgets that are unpredictable; and at this time we don’t know where next year’s EPA budget will ultimately end up. Nonetheless, the proposals in the Starfield memo are troubling. The contingency plan it sets forth raises concerns about the future of enforcement at EPA.   

Several points regarding proposed budget cuts at EPA seem worth noting. First, even the most draconian cuts to the Agency will do almost nothing to balance the federal budget since EPA appropriations account for less than a tenth of one per cent of total federal expenditures.  Moreover, although cuts across the board are expected for many federal programs, cuts to EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance are particularly unwise because effective enforcement is critical to the integrity and success of EPA’s work—a fact well known to regulated industries and their supporters in Congress.  EPA is already severely underfunded in a number of areas, including enforcement. Regrettably, these proposed cuts will further handicap the Agency’s ability to protect ...

Preserving the Pristine: Why the United States Should Ratify the Antarctic Liability Annex

by John Knox | April 11, 2012
a(broad) perspective Today’s post is second 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. Annex VI on Liability Arising from Environmental Emergencies to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty Adopted and Opened for Signature on June 14, 2005 Entry into Force Pending Signed by the United States ...

Regulatory Opponents Take Note: The Media May Be Catching On!

by Matthew Freeman | April 09, 2012
One of the many ways that the slow and agonizing contraction of the newspaper industry is felt is in the depth of coverage that papers provide their readers. It’s a matter of simple math, really. As newsrooms shrink, reporters are stretched ever thinner. So a newspaper that 15 years ago had separate reporters covering elementary and secondary education is now likely to have just one covering both. Similarly, newspapers have fewer reporters dedicated to the environmental beat, let alone beats ...

The Age of Greed: Regulatory Look-Back In Action -- Speeding Up the Line and Endangering Workers at Poultry Processing Plants

by Rena Steinzor | April 06, 2012
The White House’s Cass Sunstein has found another poster child for his crusade to eliminate costly regulation under President Obama's Executive Order 13563.  The order requires agencies and departments to “look back” at existing requirements in order to kill unnecessary health, safety, and environmental requirements.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), complying dutifully with the order, has dug deep into the garbage can where abandoned deregulatory proposals go to die, producing a despicable plan regarding  poultry processing plants, already among ...

Two Years After Upper Big Branch Disaster, Where Are the Reforms?

by Thomas McGarity | April 05, 2012
Congress usually enacts new public protections following a major crisis or series of crises that focus attention on the failure of existing laws to protect the public or the environment from abuses by companies pursuing economic gain.  Most of the protective regulatory programs of the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Public Interest Era (the period of active government extending roughly from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s) were established after widely publicized tragedies or abuses stirred public opinion to ...

FDA's "Wait and See" Approach to BPA Not Acceptable -- and Not the Only Option

by Aimee Simpson | April 04, 2012
Last Friday, the FDA denied the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) citizen petition requesting that the agency ban Bisphenol A (BPA) as an approved food additive and food contact substance.  The agency took nearly three years to issue this decision, and did so only under a court’s order. The FDA’s denial of the petition was disappointing, because the existing science on BPA is strong enough to warrant restrictions on its use. The announcement was an unsurprising continuation of the federal ...

Member Scholars Write to EPA Concerning Slow Consideration of Citizen Environmental Complaints in NAFTA Countries

by Ben Somberg | April 02, 2012
When the United States signed NAFTA, it also signed the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), which allows, among other things, for citizens to submit complaints to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) with claims that their own governments are failing to enforce environmental laws. That key provision is in danger, a group of CPR Member Scholars say in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The letter was signed by CPR Member Scholars Rebecca Bratspies, Carmen G. Gonzalez, ...

Greenhouse Gas Standards for New Power Plants: Glass Half-Full and Half-Empty

by Alice Kaswan | March 28, 2012
With congressional action on climate change at a standstill, EPA’s new source performance standards (NSPSs) for greenhouse gases (GHGs) from new power plants should be applauded.  As required by the Clean Air Act, the agency is doggedly moving forward to establish emission standards for GHGs, air pollutants that unquestionably endanger human health and welfare. EPA deserves praise for setting a strong standard and proposing it notwithstanding political heat. The glass is half-full. While attention is properly focused on what EPA ...

Court Skeptical of EPA's Section 404 Role Overturns Mine Veto

by Holly Doremus | March 26, 2012
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Regular readers of this blog know that on January 13, 2011, EPA vetoed a Clean Water Act section 404 permit issued by the Corp of Engineers for valley fill at the Spruce No. 1 mountaintop removal mine project in West Virginia. This was only the 13th time EPA had used its veto power, and the first time it had vetoed a permit after it was formally issued. I wrote at the time: “Expect litigation, and expect ...

After Sackett: What Next for Administrative Compliance Orders?

by Joel Mintz | March 24, 2012
Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its much-anticipated decision in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency. In a unanimous decision--key features of which are summarized in a thoughtful post by Nina Mendelson--the Court held that the plaintiff landowner had a right to challenge the Clean Water Act administrative compliance order (ACO) which EPA had issued to it under the Administrative Procedure Act. The Court's opinion is narrowly drawn--in some ways, perhaps, an immediate benefit to EPA and other ...

SCOTUS Decision in Sackett v. EPA Weakens Government's Ability to Respond to Urgent Threats to Water Quality

by Nina Mendelson | March 21, 2012
In the Sackett v. EPA decision today, the Supreme Court rejected a broad argument that the Sacketts' constitutional due process rights had been violated when they could not go to court immediately to challenge an EPA order requiring them to remove fill and replant vegetation on their property. But the Court did hold that under the relevant statutes – the Clean Water Act and a broader statute authorizing judicial review of agency action, the Administrative Procedure Act – the Sacketts were ...

Obama Administration's Latest Sop to the Anti-Regulatory Crowd: Buying the Cumulative Burden Pitch

by Rena Steinzor | March 20, 2012
This post was written by CPR President Rena Steinzor and CPR Policy Analyst James Goodwin. Earlier today, OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein released a new memorandum to agencies directing them to consider and account for the “cumulative” costs of their regulations.  Attacking the cumulative costs of regulation has been a favored tactic among regulated industries and their allies in Congress (it's a feature in many anti-regulatory bills, such as the Regulatory Accountability Act).  Rather than responding forcefully to the faulty cumulative ...

Limiting the Rights of Medical Malpractice Victims: House GOP Leaders Make a Bad Idea Worse

by Sidney Shapiro | March 20, 2012
House GOP leaders may vote as early as this week on legislation that would eliminate the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a cost-saving measure that was established as part of the national health care reform Congress passed in 2010.  House leaders have also attached national restrictions on the right of patients to recover damages for medical malpractice (H.R. 5) to the IPAB bill, with the joint bill being called H.R. 5.  The sponsors of the bills allege that the savings ...

The Regulatory Freeze Bill: Cynical Political Posturing That Would Harm the Economy

by Sidney Shapiro | March 19, 2012
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary committee is marking up the Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act (H.R. 4078), which would block virtually any “significant regulatory action”—basically, any step toward promulgating any regulation that has a large economic impact or is otherwise controversial— as long as unemployment is over 6 percent.   Rather than support initiatives that actually help the unemployed, a band of House Republicans prefer another cheap political trick here.  The reality is that a moratorium would leave millions of Americans more ...

Going Beyond the "Design-Basis Event"

by Daniel Farber | March 12, 2012
A conventional approach to safety is based on the concept of design events. A building code might say, for example, that a building should be able to survive a 7.0 earthquake. This approach has been basic to the regulation of nuclear reactors. As the interim report of the post-Fukushima NRC task force explains: [The regulation] also requires that design bases . . . reflect (1) appropriate consideration of the most severe of the natural phenomena that have been historically reported ...

EPA's Clean Water Act Jurisdiction Rulemaking Delayed Indefinitely

by James Goodwin | March 09, 2012
Inside EPA is reporting that yet another critical EPA rulemaking is now being delayed indefinitely.  This time it’s the agency’s rulemaking to codify a draft guidance clarifying whether Clean Water Act protections apply to wetlands and other marginal waters. EPA had projected on its online rulemaking gateway that it expected to issue a proposed rule this month. In the recent  Issue Alert that CPR President Rena Steinzor and I wrote, we were skeptical about this deadline, because the EPA has ...

New CPR Paper Takes on Defensive Medicine Myths and the Unsupported Case for Medical Malpractice 'Reform'

by Sidney Shapiro | March 08, 2012
In 1975, Indiana lawmakers joined a small but growing group of state legislatures passing aggressive medical malpractice “reforms.”  Indiana’s law capped damages that victims of medical malpractice can recover at $500,000 and eliminated damages for pain-and-suffering altogether, Frank Cornelius, a lobbyist for the Insurance Institute of Indiana, played a role in helping pass this legislation.  Twenty years later, Cornelius suffered a tragic series of negligent medical errors that left him wheelchair-bound, dependent on a respirator to breathe, and requiring a ...

A New Twist in the Kiobel Case

by John Knox | March 07, 2012
Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum, the case asking whether corporations can be liable in federal court for violations of international human rights law.  In the decision under review, the Second Circuit – unlike every other circuit court to consider the question – had held that they could never be liable.  So one might think that a logical way for the petitioners to begin their oral argument would be to give an ...

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