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 areas of inquiry, but the focus on oversight failures and technological quick fixes allowed us to avoid more fundamental questions that had to do with our failure to make the investments necessary to create a future grounded in renewable energy.

We know from history that a larger policy conversation might well have been triggered. In the mid-1970s, Love Canal triggered such a national reexamination, and indeed the name remains a household term today, emblematic of a transformative moment in environmental law and in the nation’s attitude toward chemicals and waste.

So think about the scale of Love Canal versus the scale of the BP oil spill. Love Canal involved 36 square blocks, 21,000 tons of toxic waste, and a few hundred homes. It’s not clear whether any deaths were specifically caused by the toxic waste, although it’s certainly likely that some illnesses or deaths were, and that similar waste dumping elsewhere took lives.

Without minimizing that tragedy, there’s really no ...

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 ...

Environmental Health News Roundup

by Ben Somberg | December 21, 2010
A few stories from the last week that I thought deserved noting: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrapped up a rather impressive 8-day series Sunday on air pollution in 14 counties of southwestern Pennsylvania. Ultimately, the paper found that "14,636 more people died from heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer in the region from 2000 through 2008 than national mortality rates for those diseases would predict. Those diseases have been linked to air pollution exposure. After adjusting for slightly higher smoking ...

New CPR White Paper Proposes 47 Priority Chemicals for EPA's IRIS Toxic Chemical Database

by Lena Pons | December 20, 2010
In October, EPA requested nominations for substances that it should evaluate under the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). Today CPR releases Setting Priorities for IRIS: 47 Chemicals that Should Move to the Head of the Risk-Assessment Line -- a paper that we've submitted to EPA as our nominations for priority chemicals. Following up on our recent IRIS reform white paper, which made recommendations for how to improve the IRIS process and complete more reviews of basic toxicology information, CPR has completed ...

The White House's New Science Integrity Policy: A First Assessment

by Wendy Wagner | December 17, 2010
The Obama Administration’s newly released science policy memo is an important and largely positive development in the effort to protect science and scientists from politics. In particular, the policy takes aim at many of the abuses of science and scientists that defined the Bush era. It’s particularly encouraging, for example, that the policy calls on political appointees to take a hands-off approach to science. That said, in several areas, the policy could have, and should have, gone farther. The tension between science ...

The (Somewhat Puzzling) Trajectory of CERCLA Litigation

by Daniel Farber | December 15, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. I thought it might be interesting to see the general trajectory of CERCLA litigation over the years.  The figures for reported court decisions are readily available on Westlaw. (I searched for CERCLA or Superfund by year.) Part of the trajectory makes sense, but part is puzzling. There’s a clear pattern up through 2002 that’s fairly easy to understand.  CERCLA cases began slowly, with one in 1981 and 11 in 1982.  The number of cases per year ...

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