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, most conspicuously, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), since reorganized and rebranded as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE).

Among the recommendations:

  • Congress should amend the OCSLA to overhaul environmental review procedures, require inter-agency consultation, extend deadlines for review, increase penalties, and create incentives for continual safety innovation.
  • The President should request, and Congress should provide, adequate funding for BOEMRE so that it can perform its regulatory functions and hire, train, and retain competent staff. In addition, the reorganization that led to the creation of BOEMRE should be built upon with further organizational reforms, including further separating several of the new agency’s existing programs into separate shops.
  • The CEQ should reinstate the regulatory requirement for worst-case analysis planning.
  • With respect to the ESA, the Services should revise their regulations to ensure better assessment of low probability risks of harm to listed species, and to account for the aggregate impacts of low probability risks of serious ...

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 ...

NYT Checks in on Drywall Situation, Finds Mess

by Ben Somberg | September 20, 2010
The toxic drywall issue has been relatively quiet in the press for some time now. Some guy in Manatee County FL looks to be trying to flip a few contaminated houses (unclear how much he's repairing them). Habitat for Humanity had a drywall problem in New Orleans. No real big announcements from CPSC of late. The Times came back to the drywall issue on Saturday, though, and found that the situation remains fairly bleak for many affected homeowners: But so ...

OMB Nominee Jacob Lew, Meet Broken Regulatory State

by Rena Steinzor | September 16, 2010
Today Jacob Lew heads to the hill for two Senate hearings on his nomination to be the new director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget. He is expected to be confirmed. The hearings will likely focus on budgetary issues, but no less important is another division of OMB: the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the office charged with coordinating regulatory policy. The policy context is this: from salmonella-laced eggs to the BP oil spill, we ...

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 ...

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 ...

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