The Problem with Saccharin

by Rena Steinzor | January 18, 2011

President Obama’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning touted EPA’s “deregulation” of the artificial sweetener saccharin as a positive development for America. Inadvertently, the president made EPA look silly for having regulated the stuff in the first place. The use of this example was also unfortunate because EPA’s decision to deregulate had little consequence. Here’s the back story.

Beginning in the 1970s, scientists discovered that if you feed large quantities of saccharin to rats, they develop cancer. As a result, products containing saccharin were required to carry a warning label, and saccharin went on the lists of “hazardous substances” potentially subject to the Superfund toxic waste cleanup and hazardous waste regulations, as did all carcinogens. This result seemed counter-intuitive and industry lobbyists working against Superfund’s renewal in 1984-87 ridiculed EPA with the question: “If I spill a truckload of Tab, do I create a Superfund site?” Of course the answer was no. EPA did not have the time, the money, or grotesque lack of judgment to even consider pursuing such idiosyncratic problems, even if they had occurred.

Meanwhile, saccharin got a lot of bad publicity, and manufacturers of saccharin hustled to perform studies showing that in the amounts consumed by humans, the sweetener was safe. But saccharin, apparently through some administrative oversight of the Bush EPA, remained on the Superfund list. In the fall of 2010, Obama’s EPA delisted it, in response to a petition from the Calorie Control Council. 

The listing had no significant ...

President Obama Moves to the Right on Regulation; Appeasing Business Has Real Life Costs

by Rena Steinzor | January 18, 2011
Sixteen months ago, President Obama stood in the well of Congress and issued a ringing call for a progressive vision of government. Working to persuade Members of Congress to adopt health care reform, he said that “large-heartedness…is part of the American character.  Our ability to stand in other people's shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand.” Many took comfort from that vision, the ...

The REINS Act: The Latest Conservative Plan to Gum Up the Regulatory Works

by Sidney Shapiro | January 14, 2011
Republican legislators have been scheming for years about ways that they can slow down, if not stop, needed health, safety and environmental regulations. But their latest effort, though creative, is perhaps their most ill-conceived. They’re calling it   “The REINS Act” (in the last Congress, H.R. 3765 sponsored by Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY), S. 3826 sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)), and, if adopted,  no new "economically significant" regulations would take effect unless affirmatively approved by Congress, by means of a joint congressional resolution of approval, ...

EPA Vetoes Mountaintop Removal Mining Permit

by Holly Doremus | January 13, 2011
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. If EPA is afraid of the new Congress, you wouldn’t know it from today’s news.  Assistant Administrator Peter Silva issued the Obama administration’s first veto of a Clean Water Act section 404 permit. This veto, which has been working its way through the cumbersome process for more than a year (see here, here, here, and here), is only the 13th in agency history, the second since 1989, and the first to be issued after a permit ...

Missing the Lessons of the BP Spill

by Alexandra Klass | January 13, 2011
The report of the President’s Gulf Oil Spill Commission answered some questions and raised others. But one thing still puzzles: Why didn’t the Gulf Oil Spill start a national conversation about our dependence on oil development and the need for renewable energy? At first, it appeared it might, but the focus quickly turned to reforming the regulatory agency with oversight for the spill and fixing the technical failures that caused the well blowout in the first place. Both were important ...

Deepwater Horizon Spill Commission Waivers on Self-Regulation, Endorses Wrong-Headed British 'Safety Cases' System

by Rena Steinzor | January 11, 2011
Despite its strong condemnation of the industry-wide problems that caused last year’s BP Oil Spill, the report today from the President’s commission waivered on a crucial subject: it significantly embraced the essentially self-regulatory British "Safety Case" model of regulation that industry and its consultants have been promoting. So while the commission has done some terrific work, one of its key recommendations is very disturbing.  The safety case approach ultimately leaves to the oil companies, rather than regulators, the difficult but crucial work ...

Six Myths About Climate Change and the Clean Air Act

by Daniel Farber | January 10, 2011
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. It’s often said that the Clean Air Act is an inappropriate way to address climate change.  It would undoubtedly be desirable for Congress to pass new legislation on the subject, but the Clean Air Act is a more appropriate vehicle than many people seem to realize.  There are six common misconceptions about the statute that have led to confusion: Myth #1:  EPA has made a power grab by trying to use the Clean Air Act. Not ...

Texas is Arguing that EPA Acted Faster than It's Allowed in Air Permitting Move. Texas is Wrong.

by Victor Flatt | January 06, 2011
On Dec. 30, the EPA announced that it was partially disapproving the Texas State Implementation Plan (SIP) that would not allow it to issue PSD permits for greenhouse gases that were now “subject to regulation.” Continuing its resistance to all things EPA, Texas filed a request for an emergency stay of the disapproval in the DC Circuit. This follows Texas’s request for an emergency stay on the rulemaking which declared GHGs subject to regulation under PSD in the DC Circuit, and later ...

Darrell Issa Struggling to Get his Anti-Regulatory Message Straight

by Ben Somberg | January 05, 2011
Representative Darrell Issa, the incoming chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has made his views on regulations fairly clear. Earlier this week, for example, he scored headlines when his office gave out a document publicizing the issues his committee will take up. From the document: "The committee will examine how overregulation has hurt job creation..." No surprise; that's about the line we'd expect from Issa. But someone in Issa's office must have recognized a problem: Won't the ...

David Driesen Takes a Bite out of the REINS Act in Post-Standard Op-Ed

by Matthew Freeman | January 05, 2011
One of the top agenda items for the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives will be pressing an anti-regulatory bill they're calling the REINS Act. The bill would subject newly minted regulations protecting health, safety, the environment and more to a requirement that  Congress adopt resolutions of approval within 90 days of the date that the regulatory agency finishes its work.  It's a miserable idea for a number of reasons, many of which CPR Member Scholar David Driesen details ...

What to Expect This Year in Terms of Climate Action

by Daniel Farber | January 04, 2011
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Although there will be many flashing lights and loud noises, 2011 will primarily be a year in which various events that are already in play evolve toward major developments in 2012. Litigation. The one exceptional major development in 2011 will be American Electric Power (AEP) v. Connecticut, the climate nuisance case that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear.  The odds are good that the Court will throw out the case, the interesting question being what ...

An Environmentally Disastrous Year

by Yee Huang | December 30, 2010
a(broad) perspective In 2010, natural (and unnatural) environmental disasters around the world killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions more, and caused significant air and water pollution as well as human health catastrophes. Insurance giant Swiss Re estimated that these disasters caused an estimated $222 billion in losses. Disasters are overwhelming to begin with, but for countries with limited infrastructure and capacity to respond, these disasters also show that the human rights consequences of an environmental disaster can be severe. Despite the ...

EPA's TMDL for the Chesapeake: One Giant Step Toward a Restored Bay

by Yee Huang | December 29, 2010
Today EPA released the final Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which is a cap or limit on the total amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment that can enter the Bay from the District of Columbia and the six Bay Watershed states: Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Bay TMDL culminates years of cooperation between EPA and these Bay jurisdictions in working toward a new plan to restore the Bay, a vital economic, recreational, and aesthetic ...

EPA to Issue Bay TMDL Wednesday, 12/29

by Yee Huang | December 28, 2010
Tomorrow, the Environmental Protection Agency will issue its final Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay, setting a pollution cap for the Bay that is comprised of 92 individual caps for each of the tributary segments that flow into the Bay.  The Bay TMDL represents another important milestone in the long-running effort to clean up the Bay, the largest estuary in North America, and return it to health.  Part of EPA’s release will include its response to the ...

The 111th Congress and the Chesapeake Bay

by Yee Huang | December 28, 2010
The 111th Congress saw two attempts to provide legislative impetus to restore the Chesapeake Bay.  Now that the lame duck session has ended, the results are in: The Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Protection Act, S. 1816.  Introduced in October 2009 by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the bill would have reiterated EPA’s authority to establish a Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).  This TMDL, which EPA is promulgating on schedule as required by consent decrees and an Executive Order ...

EPA Marches On: Regulating Stationary Source GHG Emissions under the Clean Air Act

by Alice Kaswan | December 24, 2010
Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE The environment received an early Christmas present from the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday, with EPA’s announcement that it would propose New Source Performance Standards (NSPSs) for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants and refineries in 2011, and then finalize the regulations in 2012.  The decision resolves a lawsuit brought by states, local governments, and environmental groups. EPA’s initiative will impose cost-effective controls on stationary sources of GHGs, and complement the agency’s ...

Food Safety Gets a Chance

by Rena Steinzor | December 23, 2010
Salmonella in eggs, peanuts, tomatoes, and spinach; and melamine in pet food and candy imported from China… With a regularity that has become downright terrifying, the food safety system in the United States has given us ample evidence that it has broken down completely. And so, in a small miracle of legislative activism, Democrats in Congress finally mustered the will and the votes to act, passing H.R. 2751 yesterday, not for the first time, but for the second time in the Senate ...

Two Years After Tennessee Disaster, U.S. Effort to Prevent the Next Coal Ash Catastrophe Faces Uncertain Future

by Ben Somberg | December 23, 2010
Two years ago this week, an earthen wall holding back a giant coal ash impoundment failed in Kingston, Tennessee, sending more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry over nearby land and into the Emory River. The ash had chemicals including arsenic, lead, and mercury. Clean up costs could be as much as $1.2 billion. The coal ash issue is not "new" -- toxic chemicals from unlined coal ash pits have been leaching into the ground for a long ...

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