Over the past few years, as levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have continued to rise, natural disasters in the United States and around the world have become ever-more frequent. In the U.S., in fact, extreme weather-related events, including severe droughts, floods, wildfires, windstorms and other disasters are now very often reported in the news media. The clear consensus among climate scientists is that—even though no single extreme event can be said to be directly caused by climate change—global climate disruption has already begun; and this human-created phenomenon is ultimately responsible for an increased incidence of extreme weather.Full text
Imagine a government warning on tobacco products that gave nearly equal prominence to both the pleasures and pains of using tobacco products. The "warning" would tell citizens that whether they should use tobacco products or not was – despite the government's long practice of recommending against such use – actually a pretty close case. Tobacco use is just so pleasurable, it turns out, that its risks – of bad health, of early death – might be worth it.Or imagine a parent saying the same thing to her child: here are the risks of using tobacco products, she'd say, but here on the other side are the wonderful pleasures. You make the call; it's too close for me to judge.
Despite its strangeness, this is exactly the kind of statement the White House and the Food and Drug Administration have collaborated in propounding in the
context of a proposed rule deeming certain tobacco products subject to FDA regulation under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Economists from the FDA and the White House's Office of Management and Budget published a study purporting to estimate the amount by which the health benefits of tobacco use reduction are offset by a loss of the pleasure of using such products. When the FDA's proposed rule on tobacco products went to the White House for review, White House economists, rather than placing this study in the dustbin where it belonged, doubled down on its strange analysis. Indeed, they ended up increasing the FDA's estimate of the extent to which the "lost pleasure" associated with reducing tobacco use offsets the health benefits to be gained.Full text
In a press call today, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the poultry slaughter “modernization” rule is final and effective immediately.
CPR President Rena Steinzor reacted to the rule's finalization:
The rule is a travesty from the perspective of every child who has chicken nuggets for lunch and every low-wage worker who stands in a fetid, overcrowded room cutting chicken carcasses thousands of times a day.
The new inspection system will allow plants to operate their slaughtering and evisceration lines at speeds that have proven hazardous for workers. It will pull federal inspectors off the processing line, ensuring that carcasses caked in blood, guts, and feathers whir by at the rate of 2.3 bird per second.
The Government Accountability Office has written two scathing reports on the scant data used in promulgating the rule and the Southern Poverty Law Center has released reports documenting the already harrowing musculoskeletal injuries poultry workers are subjected to.
We’re disappointed that the Obama administration has turned its back on workers and left consumers at the mercy of Big Chicken.Full text
Today, Roll Call published a piece by CPR President Rena Steinzor in support of the "Hide no Harm" bill.
According to the piece:
The “Hide No Harm Act” includes a definition of the “responsible corporate officer” against whom such cases could be brought, clarifying an existing legal doctrine by saying higher-level executives have the “responsibility and authority, by reason of his or her position in the business entity . . . to acquire knowledge of any serious danger.” The key is that the person could or should have known, not that he or she admits to having known.
The Department of Justice is undoubtedly negotiating fervently with company lawyers to reach a corporate settlement. But the prospect of allowing GM to buy its way out of having caused at least 13 deaths without even admitting criminal liability, casts a shadow over the proceedings. Why should the responsible parties at GM escape prosecution because the corporate “person” that employs them can afford to pay a hefty monetary penalty, giving federal prosecutors brief bragging rights without deterring other bad actors? Why not jail is now the most pressing question.
To read the piece in full, click here.Full text
We’ve received the bad news from impeccable sources that the much-criticized USDA poultry processing rule has passed White House review at record speed—20 days, count ‘em!—and will be released late this afternoon. As usual, the process of OIRA review was shrouded in secrecy, with affected stakeholders filing in and out of the White House to talk about a rule they had never seen to taciturn OIRA officials who had long since cut a deal with USDA. Of course, the late afternoon release is designed to forestall criticism in the same news cycle that will report the White House spin on the rule. But we know enough about it to make some basic observations.
Our sources informed us that the rule will allow companies to have processing lines that run at the speed of 140 birds per minute—that’s 2.3 chickens every single second, although it’s also the current USDA maximum, allowing USDA to claim that the new rule doesn’t make matters any worse.
OSHA, which was deeply involved in negotiations with USDA, clearly views this outcome as a great victory because it reduces by 35 birds/minute the original and outlandish USDA proposal that line speeds increase to 175 birds/minute. But saving workers from the furthest reach of bad conditions without beginning to address their documented daily misery is incremental change, not victory. The plain truth is that study after study, including a recent NIOSH report, have documented severe ergonomic injuries at line speeds significantly below 140 birds/minute. OSHA didn’t review those studies dispassionately in a rulemaking that would honor its mission of protecting workers from harm. Instead, it played a numbers game with USDA under the watchful eye of White House staffers, leaving an already bad working situation to fester.Full text
It must be something of a game for them. That’s really the only explanation I can come up with for why the antiregulatory members of Congress seem so intent on competing with each other to see who can introduce the most outlandish, over-the-top anti-EPA bill. If it is a game, then its best competitors would have to include Senators John Barasso (R-WY) and David Vitter (R-LA) who earlier this month introduced S. 2613, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014.
If this bill sounds familiar, that’s because it is identical to one that was introduced in the House in February by Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ). At the time, a group of CPR Member Scholars sent a letter to the Subcommittee on the Environment of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, of which Representative Schweikert is chair, to explain their concerns in anticipation of the subcommittee’s legislative hearing on the bill. The bill, which the House Science Committee approved along party lines and now awaits full floor consideration, purports to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from taking any action that is informed by scientific or technical information—including issuing new regulations—unless the EPA affirmatively makes all of that scientific or technical information fully available to the public. Since the EPA’s mission is necessarily science-driven, this bill would pretty much cover everything the agency does.Full text
As I noted here last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that delivered a scathing review of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy. The GAO report’s general objective was to assess whether and to what extent the SBA Office of Advocacy is fulfilling its core mission of serving as a “voice for small businesses within the federal government,” and accordingly looked at two of its most important activities for carrying out that core mission: sponsoring small business-centered economic research and participating in individual rulemakings that have a significant impact on small business interests.
In contrast to most GAO reports—which are conspicuous for avoiding controversy and their dry, moderate tone—this one offered some uncharacteristically strong criticisms of the SBA Office of Advocacy. For example, after rejecting the SBA Office of Advocacy’s feeble excuses for not taking any steps to verify the quality of information contained in a series of controversial studies on regulatory costs that the agency had sponsored, the GAO report opined, “We acknowledge that these reports may not necessarily be representative of all Advocacy’s research efforts, but not substantiating the quality of the information in even one study could call into question the credibility of Advocacy’s research program.” (See page 15.) Elsewhere, the GAO report took the SBA Office of Advocacy to task for its complete failure to document their roundtable discussions, noting that this failure made it “difficult to determine the extent to which small businesses and related entities were represented at these events.” (See page 18.)
If the GAO seems frustrated, it’s for good reason. Their review of the SBA Office of Advocacy’s activities produced the following 15 disturbing revelations:Full text
Earlier today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a scathing report, criticizing the regulatory work and research conducted by the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy. For the past several years, CPR has worked to bring much-needed attention from policymakers, the press, and the public interest community to the SBA Office of Advocacy, which has long leveraged its powerful position in the rulemaking process to oppose stronger safeguards necessary for protecting people and the environment. Critically, as CPR’s work reveals, the beneficiaries of the SBA Office of Advocacy’s interventions have been large corporations and trade groups, to the detriment of the small businesses they are actually supposed to be helping.
The report, Office of Advocacy Needs to Improve Controls over Research, Regulatory, and Workforce Planning Activities, was conducted in response to a request for a review of “Advocacy’s activities” from the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government within the Senate Committee on Appropriations. The report notes that the subcommittee’s request was made because “[q]uestions have recently been raised about Advocacy's efforts to represent small businesses in regulatory activities and some of its research on small business issues.”Full text
New legislation introduced by Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) and co-sponsored by Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) would ensure that corporate executives who knowingly market life-threatening products or continue unsafe business practices are held criminally responsible when people die or are injured.
Under the Hide No Harm Act, key corporate managers will be required by law to report serious dangers to relevant government agencies, employees and affected members of the public.
CPR Member Scholars wrote in support of the bill to Senators in a letter last month.
According to the letter:
The recent General Motors (GM) ignition switch scandal vividly illustrates the catastrophic consequences that can result when corporations fail to disclose the known dangers associated with their harmful business activities. The now highly profitable auto manufacturer—$3.8 billion last year alone—determined that the estimated $2.3-million-fix for the problem ($0.90 fix for 2.6 million cars total) was just too costly to undertake. Instead, GM concealed the problem for more than a decade as part a concerted campaign that included repeatedly lying to its customers, the media, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency charged with overseeing car safety. All the while, GM’s customers continued to climb into cars that the company knew were not safe. GM admits that 13 people died in crashes caused by the faulty switch.
Similar to GM, other companies appear to have prioritized profits ahead of public wellbeing in this manner. The available evidence indicates that in 2007 and 2008 Peanut Corporation of America knew its peanut paste had tested positive for salmonella, but shipped it out anyway, ultimately killing 9 and sickening 714. Similarly, government-led investigations suggest that the New England Compounding Center—the compounding pharmacy that sold fungal-contaminated medication leading to the 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people and sickened at least 751 others in 20 states—knew that it was not taking adequate precautions to ensure that the drugs it produced and packaged were safe.
It is within Congress’s power to ensure that corporations are properly held accountable for putting the public at unnecessary risk by failing to disclose the dangers of the business activities. As morally reprehensible as this behavior is, corporations face strong economic incentives to leave their customers and workers in the dark. Too many corporations will continue to act according to those incentives, unless Congress enacts some form of legislation that makes the costs of not warning the public too great to ignore.
The letter concludes:
If enacted, this bill would strongly discourage most companies from taking unreasonable risks with the lives and safety of their customers and workers. For those scofflaw companies who decide to keep the public in the dark anyway, the bill would provide a critical avenue for obtaining some measure of justice for those who harmed or killed as a result of those companies’ failure to warn.
We urge that you make it a top priority to enact legislation that would address the ongoing crisis of corporations failing to disclose to the public the dangers associated with their business activities, and in particular consider Senator Blumenthal’s Hide No Harm Act.Full text
I will never look at a construction site the same way again.
Certain types of pollution—mostly sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus—run into the Chesapeake Bay and fuel algal blooms, creating dead zones where crabs, oysters and other Bay life cannot survive. Indeed, the Chesapeake is on track to have an above-average dead zone this year.
Construction sites are a major source of sediment runoff. When mud washes from a single construction site, it can damage three miles of downstream waters. Recovery can take up to a century. Maryland has rules that construction companies are supposed to follow to minimize runoff. These rules pay off: For every dollar spent keeping mud onsite, taxpayers save $100 or more in damages avoided.
That’s why I spent last Wednesday driving around Baltimore with four others checking to see whether constructions sites were following the rules.
I learned that the most effective measure to prevent runoff is to quickly get disturbed soil under a dense blanket of straw mulch, then grass. Other measures, like the black fences you see at most construction sites, can't keep enough mud on the site to prevent pollution. Simply put, exposed soil equals pollution. Whenever you see exposed soil on a construction site, pollution will occur come the next rain.Full text