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 and the third in the House. (A mistake on a technicality—Senate failure to follow an arcane procedure that allows everyone to pretend the bill it just passed originated in the House, where all tax legislation is required by the Constitution to begin its journey into law.)

Many people deserve credit for this December miracle, although my hat is especially doffed for Representatives John Dingell (D-MI) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) in the House and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL). Dingell, the longest serving member of the House, had taken to calling the legislation “my bill” as in “where’s my damn bill?” growled with warm ferocity to his staff whenever the matter arose in his mind during the long months of waiting for the Senate to take action. 

The new law covers the 80 percent of the American diet—everything but beef and poultry—that is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The old law it replaces was ...

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 ...

False Choices: Senator Warner's Plan to Adopt a Regulation, Drop a Regulation

by Sidney Shapiro | December 14, 2010
A particularly revealing story in The Washington Post this weekend reported on a sordid tale of regulatory failure that may have helped contribute to this spring and summer’s outbreak of outbreak of egg-borne salmonella that sickened more than 1,900 people and led to the largest recall of eggs in U.S. history. In an agonizing case of closing the chicken coop door after the tainted eggs had escaped, FDA finally adopted a long-delayed regulation in July – two months after the outbreak ...

EPA Carbon Regulations Clear First Hoop in D.C. Circuit

by Amy Sinden | December 14, 2010
A federal appeals court's decision on Friday refusing to block implementation of EPA’s first limits on carbon pollution from cars, power plants, and factories is good news for inhabitants of planet Earth. A coalition of industry groups, right wing think tanks, and the state of Texas had asked the court to grant a stay blocking EPA’s rules from going into effect while their litigation challenging those rules goes forward.  But a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (including ...

Full Speed Ahead!

by Daniel Farber | December 13, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. On Friday the D.C. Circuit rejected efforts to stay EPA’s pending greenhouse gas regulations until the court decides the merits of the appeals.  It could well take a year or more for the merits to be decided, so in the meantime EPA can move forward. The court order does not indicate any view on the merits of the cases, but the court clearly rejected the doomsday scenario painted by industry and the state of Texas: Petitioners ...

The "State Sovereignty Wildlife Management Act" is as Ridiculous as it Sounds

by Dan Rohlf | December 07, 2010
Apparently feeling their oats after the Republicans captured control of the U.S. House in November’s elections, several GOP representatives from western states are already galloping out of the gates to attempt to roll back species protections in the West. They’ve initially set their sights on gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains, which were returned to the Endangered Species Act’s protected list by a court decision in August. A leader of the anti-wolf posse is Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, ...

AEP v. Connecticut: Will the Supreme Court Shut the Door Again?

by Alice Kaswan | December 06, 2010
The environmental blogosphere is already abuzz over the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in AEP v. Connecticut. The case is of critical importance in determining whether the courts have a role to play in adjudicating climate change. Few believe that the courts are a good venue for developing climate policy. But for the foreseeable future, the question is whether the traditional common law can fill in for Congress’ failure to take more comprehensive action. In AEP, Connecticut, along with several other states and ...

SCOTUS Grants Cert in AEP v. Connecticut; Why the Threat of Tort Liability Should Remain as Part of the Balance of Powers

by Douglas Kysar | December 06, 2010
The Supreme Court this morning granted certiorari in the case of American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, a common law nuisance suit seeking an order compelling large electric utility companies to reduce their contributions to global climate change. At issue will be a variety of doctrines – such as standing and political question – that nominally originate from constitutional limitations on the role of the judicial branch, but that judges have, over the years, expanded well beyond the text and structure ...

Links: The EPA at 40

by Ben Somberg | December 06, 2010
With the 40th anniversary of EPA last week, there's been some useful writing on the big picture of the history. I wanted to highlight: Steve Cochran at EDF has the first in a series on the Clean Air Act and its record of protecting us from pollutants. Post one: the acid rain program. Ruth Greenspan Bell at World Resources Institute takes us through some of the history to show that for EPA regulations, cost predictions are overstated. Lisa Jackson outlined her ...

Maryland Submits Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan; Here's A First Look

by Yee Huang | December 03, 2010
Maryland submitted its final Phase I Watershed Implementation Plan for Chesapeake Bay restoration this afternoon. It's the strongest blueprint of any of the states, and if implemented and funded sufficiently would allow Maryland to achieve its needed share of pollutant reductions. Maryland has pledged to implement, by 2017, the pollutant controls necessary to achieve 70% of its needed reductions, and to an accelerated timeline by implementing all necessary pollutant controls by 2020. The plan has the most promise of any ...

Double Duty: Will the Montreal Protocol Some Day be Used to Combat Climate Change?

by Yee Huang | December 02, 2010
a(broad) perspective In 1974, atmospheric scientists discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were causing the alarming depletion of the protective ozone layer that shields all life on Earth from the harmful ultra-violet radiation from the sun. These CFCs were present as propellants in aerosol cans and also used as refrigerants. The global scientific consensus and the severity of ozone depletion motivated the international community to establish the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol), one of the most successful international ...

Procedural Maze Continues for Vehicle Efficiency Regulation

by Lena Pons | December 01, 2010
Update: EPA and NHTSA have issued the Supplemental Notice of Intent. The regulatory process is often complex: agencies must balance opportunities for public comment, complex scientific information, and economic analysis, all while trying to craft a program that fulfills a legal mandate. But when it comes to crafting proposals for vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards, the process has become an administrative nightmare. In May, President Obama announced plans for the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to ...

Most Chesapeake Bay Watershed States Submit Cleanup Plans; A First Look at Virginia's

by Yee Huang | November 30, 2010
Yesterday was the deadline for Bay states and the District of Columbia to submit their final Phase I Watershed Implementation Plans (WIP). These WIPs are roadmaps that describe how Bay jurisdictions will meet their pollutant reduction obligations under the Bay TMDL. Delaware, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia submitted their plans by the deadline, while Maryland expects to submit in the coming days. New York, which has taken a position essentially in opposition to the Bay TMDL, has not said ...

FWS' Critical Habitat Area Designation for Polar Bears is Good News, but How Much Difference Will it Make?

by Dan Rohlf | November 30, 2010
First the good news: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) last week designated a huge expanse of barrier islands, denning areas, and sea ice in the Arctic as “critical habitat” for polar bears under the federal Endangered Species Act. The largest such protected area in the ESA’s history, the new critical habitat covers an area larger than the states of Oregon and Washington combined. FWS listed polar bears as “threatened” in 2008, after a petition from environmental organizations and ...
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