OIRA's First Year Under Obama: Deregulatory Stronghold Still Intact

by James Goodwin | January 29, 2010

This post is the seventh and final in a series on the new CPR report Obama’s Regulators: A First-Year Report Card.

The White House can influence the performance of protector agencies by the way it structures the regulatory landscape in which these agencies operate. Specifically, it can adjust the contours of this landscape in ways that either encourage or discourage proactive and effective action by the protector agencies. The manner in which it manages the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)—a small bureau within the Office of Management and Budget that oversees the president’s regulatory policy and reviews individual regulations—is particularly significant in this regard. During the Bush Administration, OIRA operated as a strong deregulatory force. During the first year of the Obama Administration, this obscure but powerful office too often continued on that path.

Under President Obama, OIRA has continued to provide agencies that are themselves major polluters, the Department of Defense, for example, and regulated industries with a venue in which they can attack regulatory agencies and their health, safety, and environmental regulation. As part of its implementation of the regulatory review process, OIRA hosts meetings on rules that it has under review, meetings that are attended by the agency developing the rule and interested stakeholders. So far, the vast majority of these meetings have involved representatives from regulated industries or polluting agencies complaining about proposals under development by the protector agencies. For example, in ...

Where is NHTSA? Toyota Recall and the Missing Regulator

by Sidney Shapiro | January 28, 2010
When my children were growing up, they loved the “Where’s Waldo” book series. Each page had an illustrated picture chock full of people and objects; hidden somewhere among the mass of detail was a small picture of a cartoon character named Waldo. When the Toyota Motor Corporation announced this week that it was stopping the production and sales of several of its car models because of a dangerous problem with unintended acceleration, we had a “Where’s Waldo” scenario. The National ...

The Human Costs of Pander

by Rena Steinzor | January 27, 2010
President Obama’s expected State of the Union announcement that he plans to seek a freeze on non-security discretionary spending is an early warning sign that he and his team have decided to play small ball, abandoning the promise of his newly minted transformative presidency. The President’s decision to borrow this shopworn pander from the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush administrations almost certainly means continued, fatal dysfunction for the five agencies that ensure the quality of the air we breathe and the ...

Congress and Coal Ash: Who are the Constituents?

by Ben Somberg | January 27, 2010
Sue Sturgis has a nifty post at Facing South checking in on the doings of members of congress who represent states or districts that have cases of groundwater pollution from coal ash sites. Writes Sturgis: On July 9, 2007, EPA's Office of Solid Waste published a report titled "Coal Combustion Damage Case Assessments" [pdf] documenting 24 cases of proven environmental damage and 43 cases of potential damage caused by current coal ash disposal practices nationwide. As it turns out, many ...

OSHA's First Year Under Obama: Shaking Off the Cobwebs

by James Goodwin | January 26, 2010
This post is the sixth in a series on the new CPR report Obama’s Regulators: A First-Year Report Card. During the Bush Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) became a regulatory wasteland. Political interference, outdated laws, and chronic underfunding reduced the agency’s regulatory output to a mere trickle. For example, in the last 10 years, OSHA has issued comprehensive regulations for only two chemicals; in total, it has established legally enforceable exposure limits for fewer than 200 of ...

Why You Can't Get Your Day in Court After a Train Disaster and What the Federal Railroad Administration Needs to Do About It

by Thomas McGarity | January 25, 2010
Cross-posted from ACSblog. The citizens of Minot, North Dakota suffered a grave injustice on January 18, 2002 when a train derailment bathed much of that small town in a toxic cloud of poisonous gas that killed one person and injured almost 1,500 others. A detailed investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the derailment was most likely caused by fractures in temporary joints that the railroad had installed to repair the track. When the victims sued the railroad ...

The Future of US Elections and the Environment after Citizens United? Look at Texas and Its Politicized Agencies

by Victor Flatt | January 25, 2010
The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United was not entirely unexpected, but it is appropriately seen as a breathtaking change in the way elections work in this country. The Supreme Court struck down federal campaign finance rules that limit corporate (and general organizational) spending on campaign finance ads to help or defeat candidates. What can we expect now? One need look no further than Texas, which has no campaign restrictions in any statewide races. In Texas, large corporations and individuals ...

NHTSA's First Year Under Obama: Stuck in Neutral

by James Goodwin | January 25, 2010
This post is the fifth in a series on the new CPR report Obama’s Regulators: A First-Year Report Card. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) progress on its statutory mission of reducing traffic fatalities came to a screeching halt in recent years, making it imperative that the Obama Administration work quickly to get this vital protector agency back into gear. Unfortunately, NHTSA coasted through part of the year, when it should have its foot on the gas. While it ...

Murkowski Proposal Shutters the Only Game in Town: The Clean Air Act

by Alice Kaswan | January 22, 2010
Senator Murkowski’s proposal to disapprove EPA’s scientifically and legally justified finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare would strip the federal government of its primary legal mechanism for addressing catastrophic climate change. If Congress does not think the Clean Air Act (CAA) is the best mechanism for regulating greenhouse gases, it should pass legislation providing a better alternative, not gut the only law that currently applies to still-uncontrolled emissions. As the Supreme Court found in Massachusetts v. ...

Next Up on BPA: EPA's Chemical Action Plan?

by Matt Shudtz | January 22, 2010
FDA scientists have had a chance to develop an assessment of the risks of BPA in food contact applications using a fuller body of low-dose studies and concluded last week that there’s some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children (for a helpful analysis of the context of FDA’s decision, see Sarah Vogel’s post at The Pump Handle). Now, it’s time to look at what EPA is doing ...

FDA's First Year Under Obama: Miles Ahead, Yet Miles to Go

by James Goodwin | January 22, 2010
This post is the fourth in a series on the new CPR report Obama’s Regulators: A First-Year Report Card. During the Bush Administration, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) simply fell further and further behind in terms of achieving its regulatory mission of protecting people from unsafe drugs, medical devices and food. A series of high profile mistakes made it clear that the American people could no longer lightly assume that the food they were eating and the drugs they ...

Of the Corporations, By the Corporations, For the Corporations? The Meaning of the Citizens United Decision

by Daniel Farber | January 21, 2010
Today’s decision in Citizens United was something of a foregone conclusion. Still, it was a bit breathtaking. The Court was obviously poised to strike down the latest Congressional restrictions on corporate political expenditures. But the Court went further and struck down even restrictions that had been upheld thirty years ago. Seldom has a majority been so eager to reach out, address a question that wasn’t presented by the parties and overrule a bevy of prior decisions. The term “judicial activism” ...

EPA Makes a Good Move on Chemical Secrecy

by Ben Somberg | January 21, 2010
The EPA announced yesterday that they’re changing the way they treat manufacturers’ claims that certain information about toxic chemicals should be kept secret. Richard Denison of EDF has a useful explanation and analysis of this good news. Rena Steinzor and Matt Shudtz explored the dangers of secrecy in chemical science in a 2007 CPR white paper, Sequestered Science: Secrets Threatening Public Health. ...

EPA's First Year Under Obama: Reenergized, But Still Too Cautious

by James Goodwin | January 21, 2010
This post is the third in a series on the new CPR report Obama’s Regulators: A First-Year Report Card. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the biggest and most powerful of the protector agencies. Consequently, it has also become the agency that was most decimated by regulatory opponents in recent decades. Thus, when President Obama assumed office in January of 2009, he inherited an EPA with its confidence severely dented, but otherwise eager to get back to the important work ...

Coal Ash First Real Test of Obama Commitment to Health and Safety Regulation

by Rena Steinzor | January 20, 2010
A critical test of the Obama Administration’s commitment to reviving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is teeing up behind closed doors at the White House. Once again, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is cast in the role of regulation killer, supported by a slew of state and other federal agencies that are polluters in this scenario. Other players include a nearly hysterical segment of the electric utility industry, which argues that labeling coal ash as a hazardous waste ...

NYT Editorializes on Coal Ash Debate

by Ben Somberg | January 20, 2010
The New York Times editorial page weighed in on coal ash today, saying: The [EPA’s] recommendations, which have not been made public, are now the focus of a huge dispute inside the Obama administration, with industry lobbying hard for changes that would essentially preserve the status quo. The dispute should be resolved in favor of the environment and public safety. ... This debate is being conducted behind closed doors, mainly at the Office of Management and Budget, where industry usually ...

Bjorn Lomborg Misreads Climate Change Economics in Washington Post Op-Ed

by Frank Ackerman | January 19, 2010
Bjorn Lomborg has seen the future of climate policy, and it doesn’t work. In his opinion, featured Friday in the Washington Post, a binding treaty to reduce carbon emissions – the goal that was pursued unsuccessfully at the Copenhagen conference in December – would have done more harm than good. Reducing emissions enough to stabilize the temperature would have astronomical costs, according to Lomborg, while the benefits would be small. This is par for the course for Lomborg, a Danish ...

Coal Ash Odds and Ends

by Ben Somberg | January 19, 2010
Two developments to note on coal ash from recent days: OIRA extended its review of EPA's not-yet-publicly-proposed regulation on coal ash. That gives it an additional 30-days from the previous Jan 14 deadline. Matthew Madia explains at The Fine Print. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson mentioned coal ash in an appearance Thursday, saying, "There has been a lot of hullabaloo over coal ash, and I'm disappointed that some of the folks, especially on the industry side, haven't taken the time to ...

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