A Vigorous Global Response To a Systemic Issue (Why is Climate Change so Different?)

by Daniel Farber | September 15, 2010

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Imagine a problem: it’s global; it stems from an extremely complex, interconnected system; it has major economic implications.  Sounds like climate change, or in other words, like the kind of problem that the world can’t seem to address effectively.  But no, it’s not Global Climate Change, it’s Global Economic Change.  And the world seems to be coalescing without much fuss around major regulatory initiatives.

From the NY Times, a story about how the major governments came together and adopted tough rules to deal with potential global crises:

BASEL, Switzerland — The world’s top bank regulators agreed Sunday on far-reaching new rules intended to strengthen the global banking industry and shield it against future financial disasters.

The new requirements more than tripled the amount of capital banks must hold in reserve, an effort to bolster their financial strength and provide a cushion against potential losses. They come two years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers set off a worldwide banking crisis that required billions in government bailouts. But the rules could also reduce bank profits, strain weaker institutions and raise the cost of borrowing for businesses and consumers.

I’m struck by how different this picture is than climate change.  We don’t see any Recession Denialists arguing that the economy is actually in great shape, or accusing economists of colluding to cook the data to make it look like we ...

BP Disaster Shows Challenges in Federal Decision-Making Structure on Safety Policies for Cleanup Workers, CPR Report Says

by Ben Somberg | September 14, 2010
Today CPR releases a new white paper, From Ship to Shore: Reforming the National Contingency Plan to Improve Protections for Oil Spill Cleanup Workers (press release), a look at how decisions were made about safety protections for cleanup workers in the aftermath of the BP oil spill -- and the lessons for the future. The federal government's pre-disaster planning on worker safety issues didn't adequately consult the safety experts, and that meant the decision-making in the immediate wake of the ...

Scientific Uncertainty About BPA Is the Inevitable Result of a Broken TSCA

by Matt Shudtz | September 08, 2010
In Tuesday's New York Times story, “In a Feast of Data on BPA Plastic, No Final Answer,” Denise Grady characterizes the continued development of new studies about the endocrine disrupting chemical as yet another dispute between environmentalists and chemical manufacturers over a ubiquitous chemical with uncertain health effects. While her assessment of the state of the science is accurate, she expends thousands of words parsing the uncertainty and profiling the scientists who’ve made it their work to reduce the uncertainty without ...

Programming Note: Shapiro on Leslie Marshall Radio Show This Evening

by Ben Somberg | September 03, 2010
CPR Member Scholar Sidney Shapiro will be on the Leslie Marshall Show at 7:20ET this evening discussing regulatory failures, from the BP oil spill to the Katrina disaster of five years ago, and the lessons learned. The program is syndicated on TalkUSA and streams live. ...

Painting by Numbers: A Recipe for Disaster

by Alyson Flournoy | September 03, 2010
Five years after Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill offers a chance to learn a lesson that we should have learned five years ago.  Certainly, the two events differ in important ways – the hurricane itself was a force of nature, and the oil well blowout although powered by nature, was clearly the result of human activity. But the hurricane was not just a natural disaster. Its impact resulted from a series of human decisions and actions that exacerbated the hurricane’s ...

For the Price of a Speeding Ticket: Raw Sewage in a River Near You

by Yee Huang | September 02, 2010
The Capital of Annapolis reported recently on the alarmingly low penalties assessed by the Maryland Department of Environment for massive spills of raw sewage—containing a mix of untreated human, residential, agricultural, and industrial wastewater—into the state's waters. This article supports one of the key findings from CPR’s report, Failing the Bay: Clean Water Act Enforcement in Maryland Falling Short, released earlier this year. These low penalties, sometimes “about the same as a speeding ticket,” do not and cannot serve as the basis ...

Egg Industry's Effort to Push Salmonella Problem as Consumers' Fault A Worrying Example of "Risk Avoidance" Policy Approaches to Health and Safety Regulation

by Catherine O'Neill | September 01, 2010
According to the egg industry, the thousands of people sickened by eggs contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis have only themselves to blame. As USA Today reported: "Consumers that were sickened reportedly all ate eggs that were not properly or thoroughly cooked. Eggs need to be cooked so that the whites and yolks are firm (not runny) which should kill any bacteria," says Mitch Head, spokesperson for the United Egg Producers. "Some people may not think of an egg as you would ground ...

The Costs of Regulatory Delay: Could We Have Stopped 1,470 From Being Sickened by Salmonella-Laced Eggs?

by James Goodwin | September 01, 2010
On July 9, 2010, following more than 10 years of interference and delay, the Food and Drug Administration’s rule to prevent salmonella contamination in eggs finally went into effect. FDA officials have argued that this rule—which, among other things, requires farms to test eggs and facilities for salmonella, protect feed and water from contamination, and buy chicks and young hens from suppliers that monitor for salmonella—would have likely prevented the massive salmonella outbreak that has sickened 1,470 individuals and resulted in ...

Not Carbon Offsets, but Carbon Upsets

by Ben Somberg | August 31, 2010
CPR Member Scholar Douglas Kysar has an opinion piece in the Guardian making the case for Carbon Upsets. Upsets, you ask? That is: Rather than award credits based on development that moves us toward a cleaner but still very dirty future, why not award credits to legal and political actions that have more dramatic impact? For instance, rather than bribe fossil fuel companies to stop flaring natural gas, why not reward indigenous groups that entirely block new exploration activities? Rather ...

Boehner's Attack on Regulation Runs Afoul of Lessons From BP and Katrina

by Sidney Shapiro | August 31, 2010
Cross-posted from the Huffington Post. Eager to blame the state of the economy on the Administration, House Minority Leader John Boehner recently tried to argue that the Administration's regulatory agenda is standing in the way of recovery. Sadly for Boehner, he tried to make that case shortly before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and while the smell of the BP oil spill still lingers in the Gulf. By any reasonable measure those two incidents are among the costliest and ...

At Coal Ash Hearing, Poisoned Waters and the "Stigma Effect" on the Agenda

by Rena Steinzor | August 30, 2010
The below is testimony (PDF) given today by CPR President Rena Steinzor at the EPA's public hearing on coal ash regulation. The hearing, in Arlington, VA, is the first of seven; the public comment period has been extended to November 19. See CPR on Twitter for updates from the hearing. We are all familiar with the psychological studies that have become a cottage industry at American universities. Consider this one. A presumably dead cockroach is “medically sterilized”—and I honestly do not know ...

The Atrazine Debate in Perspective

by Ben Somberg | August 30, 2010
CPR Member Scholar Frank Ackerman had an op-ed in the Des Moines Register the other day, "Atrazine ban would not ruin the Corn Belt." The chemical in question is a weed-killer, and also a known endocrine disruptor. The Bush Administration's EPA determined that atrazine does not cause negative effects to human health. The Obama Administration's EPA is currently conducting a review of that assessment (stay tuned). Ackerman responds to arguments that banning atrazine would cause huge economic harm, writing: How ...

Some Encouraging News About Everglades Restoration

by Joel Mintz | August 26, 2010
The past year has certainly had disappointments for people who care about protecting the environment. A major international conference on global climate change yielded no sweeping agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. The United States Senate declined to pass comprehensive climate change legislation, and residents of Louisiana and other states bordering the Gulf of Mexico suffered the ill effects of a long-running, disastrous offshore oil spill. One recent—far more sanguine—development development should not be overlooked, however: the decision of a special ...

A Look at the UN's Resolution on Water as a Human Right

by Yee Huang | August 23, 2010
a(broad) perspective No single substance is more necessary to humans than water. For people in developed countries, clean, potable water arrives with the simple turn of a faucet knob. For much of the world’s population, however, getting access to clean water is much more complex, if not impossible, and not having clean water leads to a host of diseases and conflict and is intimately tied to poverty. In late July, the 192-member General Assembly of the United Nations adopted, without ...

Scholarship Round-Up: New Directions in Environmental Law

by Shana Campbell Jones | August 19, 2010
Last week, the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy published New Directions in Environmental Law, a symposium issue featuring articles from six CPR Member Scholars.   The articles explore how lessons learned from first generation environmental statutes should be applied to future legislation in order to accomplish the original goals of the environmental movement. Dan Tarlock, in Environmental Law: Then and Now, describes how the symposium was organized to analyze first generation environmental statutes to raise provocative questions about the ...

A MRSA Story: The FDA, CAFOs, and Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

by Yee Huang | August 18, 2010
In June, the Food and Drug Administration issued Draft Guidance on the Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobials in Food-Producing Animals. The FDA recognizes in the guidance that the “overall weight of evidence available… supports the conclusion that using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production or growth enhancing purposes… in food-producing animals is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health.” The public health concern arises where bacteria in these animals develop resistance to the drugs and then are ...

New NEPA Procedures for Offshore Drilling

by Holly Doremus | August 17, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. On Monday the White House Council on Environmental Quality issued a report on the NEPA analysis that preceded exploratory drilling at the ill-fated Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, together with recommendations for improving NEPA analysis in the future. According to CEQ, the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (successor to the disgraced Minerals Management Service) has already agreed to implement the recommendations. The report offers a detailed look at the chaotic and uncoordinated NEPA ...

ABA Makes a Positive Step with Resolution on Agency Preemption

by Bill Funk | August 13, 2010
In November 2008, with Riegel v. Medtronic recently decided, bills introduced into Congress to overturn its effect, and Wyeth v. Levine about to be argued in the Supreme Court, the President of the American Bar Association created a task force to review ABA policies regarding preemption of state tort law. The composition of the task force was equally split between those who generally favor preemption and those who generally oppose it and included both private practitioners and academics (I was one ...

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