CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor reacted to today's announcement of a settlement between General Motors and the Justice Department over charges stemming from the company's failure to disclose a deadly ignition defect it millions of its cars. Steinzor said:
This settlement is shamefully weak. GM and its executives knew for years that they had a big problem with the ignition switch, which caused cars to stall at high speeds, depriving drivers of power steering, brakes, and airbags. The company’s dysfunctional culture convened committees to palaver about it, while nothing was done, a culture described by Mary Barra, GM’s CEO, as “the GM nod.” But daunted by the company’s size and prestige, U.S. attorney Preet Bharara blinked, collecting $900 million as a cost of doing business, but excusing GM from admitting its criminal wrongdoing. This kind of sweetheart deal shows that justice in America is anything but blind.
Steinzor is the author of Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.Full text
Today, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is holding a Hearing on legislation focused on the regulatory system entitled, "A Review of Regulatory Reform Proposals."
CPR Vice-President and Wake Forest University School of Law professor Sidney Shapiro will be testifying.Full text
At long last, the Food and Drug Administration has promulgated two critical regulations implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA). The regulations flesh out the statute’s requirements for facilities that process human food and animal feed. Of the regulations that FDA has proposed in order to implement the FSMA, these are perhaps the least controversial. Indeed, they have won praise from everyone from the Grocery Manufacturers Association to the food safety director of the Pew Charitable Trusts. This blog post focuses exclusively on the regulations governing human food.Full text
Marking a victory for workers, on August 27, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a highly anticipated decision in the case of Browning-Ferris Industries, updating its overly restrictive standard for determining “joint employer” status for purposes of collective bargaining. The decision responds to the increasing reliance on contingent work arrangements that often involve multiple employers, and reflects the Board’s recognition that its application of labor law must be adjusted to address the realities of today’s economy.
Much of the news coverage of the decision has focused on what it could mean for fast-food establishments, like McDonald’s, whose joint employer status — as a big corporate franchisor exercising control over employees of its local franchisees — is currently pending review before the NLRB. Yet it’s also worth exploring what the new joint employer standard means, if anything, for college football players seeking to collectively bargain.Full text
The answer will surprise you.
What parts of the country benefit most from the series of new EPA rules addressing pollution from coal-fired power plants? The answer is not what you think.
EPA does a thorough cost-benefit analysis of its regulations but the costs and benefits are aggregated at the national level. In a new paper, David Spence and David Adelman from the University of Texas break down these figures on a regional basis. What they found may surprise you. In fact, the areas benefitting the most are the very ones that rely most on coal. The reason is simple. Much of the benefit from reducing the use of coal comes in the form of health improvements — fewer heart attacks and deaths from respiratory disease, fewer asthma attacks. These health improvements are mostly in the vicinity of the power plants. So the same places that will have to pay the costs of reducing their coal use are the very ones who will reap many of the benefits. As is the case nationally, the benefits are much greater than the costs on a regional basis.Full text
The Bay Journal published another interesting story this week by Rona Kobell about the perseverance it took by some residents and officials of rural Caroline County, Maryland, to finally address the failing septic systems plaguing their community. The story even highlights how some local officials, after decades of trying to find a resolution, died waiting for it. In addition to the residents of Goldsboro, Greensboro, and other towns near the headwaters of the Choptank River, another long-suffering character in the story is Lake Bonnie. The article shares the fond memories of one older resident who used to swim in the lake as a child, which was closed decades ago due in large part to the problems caused by nearby septic systems.Full text
The essence of the argument that a new energy and environmental politics is needed is based on the idea that our traditional energy path (as well as its underlying assumptions) has outlived its useful life; the traditional energy narrative is stale. Cheap, but dirty, fossil fuel energy has played a significant role in contributing to economic growth and to the political authority of the United States for most of the 20th century. By the end of the century, however, the fundamental economic assumption of traditional energy policy has proven to be seriously flawed. Fortunately, a new narrative about a more democratic energy and environmental future can be constructed that can empower us to critically assess traditional policies as well as re-evaluate existing legal and political structures.
How, though, does a politics of a clean power future connect with democracy? The central democratic principle is to promote greater participation and voices in institutions both political and economic. With that quick definition, a new, more democratic energy and environmental paradigm affects the production and delivery of energy; its consumption and control; its regulation and enforcement; and, its governance and legal institutions.Full text
Every year, the federal government awards private firms billions of dollars in federal contracts. The contracts are supposed to go to “responsible” companies, but that isn’t always the case. According to the Government Accountability Office, between 2005 and 2009, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division issued 25 of its 50 largest fines against 20 federal contractors who later received over $9 billion in contracts in 2009. Over the same period, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued 8 of its top 50 fines against 7 federal contractors who went on to receive almost $180 million in contracts in 2009.Full text
CPR’s Unnatural Disaster report pointed out that current energy policies favoring fossil fuels made it “more likely that there will be disasters like Katrina in the future.” It explained that global climate disruption increases temperatures thereby causing sea level rise, a big threat to the Gulf Coast, and that climate disruption models suggest a shift toward extreme weather events.
Since Katrina, we have certainly seen lots of extreme weather. Perhaps most reminiscent of Katrina, on October 30, 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit much of the east coast, causing widespread flooding, especially in New York and New Jersey. On February 5-6, 2010, an unusually severe snowstorm, labeled “smowmaggedon” buried Washington, D.C. Looking beyond our shores, super-typhoon Haiyan, one of the largest typhoons on record, devastated the Philippines in November of 2013.
 See Adam Sobel, Storm Surge: Hurricane Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the Past and Future (2014).
Natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, and the typhoon that devastated Fukushima, as well as technical weaknesses that caused the Northeast blackout in October 2003, and regulatory failures that ended California electric industry restructuring efforts share two commonalities. First, they all affect the energy system at enormous costs in economic losses and in disrupted lives. Indeed, severe weather events are the leading source of electricity grid disturbances in the US with 679 widespread power outages between 2003 in 2012. Those outages have been estimated to cost the US economy between $18 and $33 billion each year during that decade. Second, the economic and social costs of such disasters are so significant because the centralized structure of electricity generation and distribution guarantees concentrated losses upon such occurrences.Full text