Convictions for Violations of the Clean Water Act Continue to Ebb

by William Andreen | October 19, 2010

According to the latest data published by TRAC Reports, the number of federal convictions obtained for violations of the Clean Water Act during fiscal year 2010 has continued to follow a recent downward trajectory. Since reaching a high of nearly 70 in FY 1998, the number of convictions has continued to decline toward what may be its lowest level since the early 1990s. During the first ten months of FY 2010, the Department of Justice reported 23 convictions, a pace that would produce 28 convictions for the entire fiscal year—a decline of  60 percent since FY 1998.

This is a disturbing trend since vigorous enforcement activity is a critical component of any credible environmental protection program. Convictions alone, however, do not necessarily reveal how effective a criminal enforcement program may be. A strategic decision to pursue tougher, higher quality cases rather than run-of-the-mill cases would likely produce fewer convictions in any given year. However, a quick look at some other key statistics reveals that criminal enforcement of the Clean Water Act has been trending downhill since the 1990s. The number of cases opened, defendants charged, and sentences obtained have all been falling as a general rule since 1998. In FY 1998, 636 cases were opened, 350 defendants were charged, and 173 years of prison time were obtained. Compare that with 319 cases opened, 176 defendants charged, and 57 years of prison time obtained in FY 2008. This drop in criminal enforcement activity was mirrored by a 27 ...

MSHA Takes Bold Step to End Black Lung Disease, Proposes Tough New Regulation

by Celeste Monforton | October 14, 2010
Cross-posted from The Pump Handle. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and MSHA asst. secretary Joe Main are proposing new rules to protect U.S. coal mine workers from developing illnesses related to exposure to respirable coal mine dust. The most commonly known adverse health effect is black lung disease, but exposure is also associated with excess risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, progressive massive fibrosis, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. The proposal, scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Oct 19,* ...

A Frank Assessment: EPA Finds Illinois' CAFO Program Inadequate

by Yee Huang | October 14, 2010
The EPA Region 5 recently published a refreshingly blunt report on the state of concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) permitting in Illinois, and the assessment is disturbing. EPA concluded that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program for CAFOs “does not meet minimum thresholds for an adequate program.” Ouch. As in many other states around the country, agriculture in Illinois is one of the state’s leading economic drivers and one of the leading sources ...

The Oil Spill Commission, the White House, and the Next Election

by Rena Steinzor | October 13, 2010
Whatever happens at the polls this November, President Obama will get a chance to turn the electoral tide in 2012, perhaps without the loadstone of recession around his political neck.  And, while the economy and many other issues will continue to occupy the President for the best and most obvious of reasons, it’s fair for everyone in the country to expect him to multi-task. For progressives who care about the environment, I’d suggest one critical criterion for judging the Administration: Can the ...

Boiler MACT Rule Would Have Enormous Health Benefits from Air Pollutant Reductions -- And That's Not Even Accounting for the Reduced Mercury Emissions

by Catherine O'Neill | October 12, 2010
EPA’s proposal to curb emissions from the second largest source of mercury in the United States – industrial boilers and process heaters – has come under fire in recent weeks.  Those industries that would be subject to the “boiler rule” have objected to its costs, and some senators have embraced their claims (see also Lisa Jackson's response). The industry story, however, leaves out important facts. The industry story does not mention that, on balance, the estimated costs of the rule are ...

CRE's Proposed Interactive Public Dockets—Tilting the Regulatory Process Further in Industry's Favor

by James Goodwin | October 08, 2010
Back in the 1970s, when many of the great environmental, health, and safety statutes were adopted, public interest groups shared an overwhelming optimism that greater public participation held the key to maintaining—and even expanding upon—their successes. All they needed was a seat at the  table where decisions are made, and their ideas would ultimately prevail. At first, they were right—public interest groups were able to advance their cause through participation in the regulatory process. But before long, regulated industry discovered that they could ...

Farber LAT Op-Ed on California Climate Law

by Ben Somberg | October 04, 2010
CPR Member Scholar Daniel Farber and Richard Frank, both of BerkeleyLaw, have an op-ed in the LA Times today on Proposition 23, the ballot initiative that would suspsend California's climate law, AB 32. They argue: For California to retreat on the climate issue now would send a defeatist message nationally and worldwide. It's true that other climate measures would remain on the books, but suspending AB 32 would be like benching a football team's quarterback while leaving the other players ...

US OSHA Reviews State Plans

by Ben Somberg | October 01, 2010
Over at The Pump Handle, Celeste Monforton looks at federal OSHA's review, issued this week, of the state worker safety programs. ...

New CPR Study Chronicles Series of Regulatory Failures that Produced BP Oil Spill

by Ben Somberg | September 30, 2010
A new CPR white paper today argues that the BP oil spill and its attendant environmental and economic harm were entirely preventable, and indeed, would have been avoided had government regulators over the years been pushed and empowered by determined leadership and given sufficient resources to enforce the law. The paper, Regulatory Blowout: How Regulatory Failures Made the BP Disaster Possible, and How the System Can Be Fixed to Avoid a Recurrence (press release), examines the performance of multiple regulatory agencies, ...

Sen. Landrieu's Counterproductive Hold on the Lew Nomination

by Lena Pons | September 29, 2010
Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) currently has a hold on Jacob Lew’s confirmation to become the next director of the Office of Management and Budget, and says she won't release it until the Obama Administration ends the moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling. She said that while Lew “clearly possesses the expertise necessary to serve…he lacks sufficient concern for the host of economic challenges confronting the Gulf Coast.” Sen. Landrieu seems to be ignoring the impacts of too hastily allowing ...

Obama's Reg Czar Feigns Transparency, Worker Safety Rules in Crosshairs

by Celeste Monforton | September 28, 2010
Cross-posted from The Pump Handle. Is anybody else getting tired of hearing Obama Administration officials say "sunlight is the best disinfectant?" It was uttered again on Thursday (9/23) when the President's regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, was speaking at an event hosted by the Small Business Administration. His speech was loaded with all the transparency catch terms: "disclosure," "openness," "sunshine," "open government," "accountability," blah, blah, blah. The rhetoric was annoying to read because I'd been wrestling that week with OIRA's lack ...

The Chesapeake Bay Program

by Matthew Freeman | September 27, 2010
In a CPRBlog post on Friday, 9/24, we inadvertantly referred to the Chesapeake Bay Program as the Chesapeake Bay Commission.  The Program is a regional partnership of states and the District of Columbia working together to restore the Bay.  The Commission is a group of 21 elected officials, appointees and citizen representatives conducting research, policymaking and consensus-building on Bay issues. There's a big difference between the two entitites, their methods, and their work.  It was a simple mistake, but not ...

Bad Times for Good Government

by Douglas Kysar | September 27, 2010
This post looks at two recent books by CPR Member Scholars in the context of the BP disaster and other recent regulatory failures: The People’s Agents and the Battle to Protect the American Public, by Rena Steinzor and Sidney Shapiro Facing Catastrophe: Environmental Action for a Post-Katrina World, by Robert R. M. Verchick Does the BP oil spill signify the need for an entirely new conception of the administrative state, one reformulated to meet the global, complex, uncertain, and potentially ...

EPA Delivers on TMDL, Raps Chesapeake Bay States

by Rena Steinzor | September 24, 2010
As expected, the Environmental Protect Agency issued its draft Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay this afternoon – essentially a cap on total pollution in the Bay, as well as caps on each of 92 separate segments of the Bay. EPA also issued assessments of each of the affected states’ Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), evaluating proposals for implementing the TMDL from Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. As I said in ...

Rescuing the Chesapeake by Anchoring the Goal Posts and Making Rules for the Game

by Rena Steinzor | September 24, 2010
With more than 7,000 miles of coastline and thousands of stream and river miles and lake acres, the Chesapeake Bay is the crown jewel of the region’s natural resource heritage. And its value to the region's economy is immense--$1 trillion according to one frequently cited estimate.  But the ecological health of the Bay is tenuous.  Primary pollutants are nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment. These nutrients have accumulated in the Bay to unsustainable levels, contributing to algal blooms and dead zones during the ...

Obligatory Lomborg Post

by Ben Somberg | September 24, 2010
Over at Grist, CPR Member Scholar Frank Ackerman and The Lomborg Deception author Howard Friel debunk Bjorn Lomborg's new tack in their piece "Bjorn Lomborg: same skeptic, different day." ...

Chesapeake Bay Announcement Coming Tomorrow

by Ben Somberg | September 23, 2010
Two items of note tomorrow in the Chesapeake Bay realm: The EPA will publish the draft Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) – a cap on the total water pollution that can be discharged into the Bay. The TMDL will be open for public comment until November 8, 2010. The states (and DC) in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will open their draft Watershed Implementation Plans to public comment, also until November 8, 2010. We’ll be keeping an eye on ...

MSHA Issues Emergency Rule to Prevent Coal Dust Explosions

by Celeste Monforton | September 22, 2010
Cross posted from The Pump Handle. MSHA announced Tuesday that it will be issuing on September 23 an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to improve a practice to prevent coal dust explosions. The rule addresses "rock dusting"--the decades old practice of generously applying pulverized limestone dust throughout a coal mine to dilute the potential power of a coal dust explosion. As NIOSH's Man and Teacoach explain: "...the rock dust disperses, mixes with the coal dust and prevents flame propagation by acting ...

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