Conservation Deal Just a Sugar Fix?

by Holly Doremus | March 10, 2010

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

When government decides that private economic activity needs to be restricted in order to preserve some part of nature, there are two basic ways to get that result — by demanding cooperation through regulation or by buying it through economic incentives or outright purchase. The second approach is often politically easier, but environmentalists have long been skeptical of relying too heavily on it.  Two major concerns have repeatedly been expressed. First, paying for conservation suffers from obvious fiscal constraints, especially in times of tight government budgets. Second, it may contribute to what economists call “moral hazard” — the tendency of those who anticipate a government bail-out to ignore the extent to which their activity may pose personal or societal risks.

A lengthy story about a conservation deal in the Everglades in Monday's New York Times highlights a third concern: the private side might clean the government’s clock in negotiations. The article focuses on Florida’s plan to buy out US Sugar. The company is both a major landholder in the area between Lake Okechobee and Everglades National Park and, through runoff from its agricultural fields, a major contributor to the phosphorus pollution that is causing the decline of the native sawgrass ecosystem. In 2008, Florida announced a plan to buy out US Sugar over a six-year period. The company was to end its operations and convey 187,000 acres to the state in return for ...

EPA's Coming Announcement on BPA

by Matt Shudtz | March 09, 2010
In response to a question at a National Press Club appearance on Monday, Lisa Jackson said that the EPA would be finalizing an action plan on BPA in the "very near future." As I noted here in January, the EPA had announced in September that it would be releasing action plans on a number of chemicals, including BPA, but when the first group of plans was released in late December, BPA was not among them. I raised a red flag ...

White House Roadmap for Gulf Coast Restoration Released

by Shana Campbell Jones | March 05, 2010
Yesterday, the White House released a plan to restore Mississippi and Louisiana wetlands and barrier islands, which have been disappearing at a rapid clip for decades and continue to do so. Hurricane Katrina brought to the fore what many residents of these states already knew: federal, state, and local authorities were neither coordinated nor prepared to protect the Gulf Coast, its ecosystems, and its people from Mother Nature’s worst. (See CPR's report on Katrina). The White House roadmap is designed ...

OSHA HazCom Hearing Today: What We'll Be Saying

by James Goodwin | March 05, 2010
Imagine opening your medicine cabinet, only to find that the warning and information labels on your over-the-counter medications no longer include dosing information. How would you know how much Benadryl to take or how much aspirin to give to your child? A provision in the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) proposed rule modifying its Hazard Communication (HazCom) Standard threatens to deprive U.S. workers of similar safety information—information they depend upon ever day to protect themselves against the hazardous chemicals ...

Stakeholders Speak, and OSHA Listens

by Matt Shudtz | March 04, 2010
Today the top brass from OSHA opened their doors to the many stakeholders who have something to say about how the agency is doing in its efforts to protect U.S. workers. Of course, they got an earful. The event marks a new path for OSHA, in that the head of the agency and top career staff took the time to sit face-to-face with occupational health experts, workers, worker representatives, and even the families of victims of workplace accidents, not just ...

Science Versus Theology: The BPA Debate Continues

by Ben Somberg | March 03, 2010
This post, by Sarah Vogel, is cross-posted from The Pump Handle. If you thought the scientific debate about bisphenol A was over or even quieting down, you haven’t been reading the latest issues of Toxicological Sciences. (What are you doing with your spare time?) Last month in an editorial piece published in the journal, Richard Sharpe queried: “Is It Time to End Concerns over the Estrogenic Effects of Bisphenol A?”  His answer was an unequivocal ‘yes’, based on the latest ...

The Empire Strikes Back

by Matthew Freeman | March 02, 2010
Ordinarily, if an organization with the word “recycling” in its name said unkind things about the Center for Progressive Reform, I’d worry. But the other week, we got dinged by a newly launched outfit called “Citizens for Recycling First,” and I’m thinking it’s a badge of honor. Before proceeding, let’s dwell for a moment on the mental images the group’s name conjures up. I’m thinking about plastic bins with recycling logos on their sides, filled by conscientious Americans with soup cans, beer ...

Toyota: Should Someone Go to Jail?

by Rena Steinzor | March 01, 2010
The congressional hearings so far on “sudden unintended acceleration” (SUA) in Toyota cars should have made two truths obvious to Washington policymakers. First, the strategy of counting on major manufacturers to voluntarily ensure that their consumer products are safe is unworkable in a competitive market, and second, safety agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) need to walk softly but carry a very large stick. Gone are the days when we could reasonably expect government technical experts to ...

Water on the Front Page

by Ben Somberg | March 01, 2010
Water pollution / water law on the front page of the Times and the Post on the same day?! Yep. NYTimes: Rulings Restrict Clean Water Act, Hampering E.P.A. WashPost: Rising with a bullet among top pollutants: Number Two ...

Eye on OIRA: King Coal

by Rena Steinzor | February 26, 2010
Thirty-eight years ago today, the dam holding back a massive coal-slurry impoundment (government-speak for a big pit filled with sludge) located in the middle of Buffalo Creek gave way, spilling 131 million gallons of black wastewater down the steep hills of West Virginia. The black waters eventually crested at 30 feet, washing away people, their houses, and their possessions. By the end of the catastrophe, 125 people were dead, 1,121 were injured, and more than 4,000 were left homeless. Interviewed ...

Eye on OIRA: Meddling with IRIS Again, Now on Arsenic

by Matt Shudtz | February 25, 2010
Add arsenic to the list of carcinogenic chemicals that will see delayed regulation from EPA as a result of OMB’s meddling. Last week, after almost seven years’ work, EPA released a draft assessment of the bladder and lung cancer risks posed by arsenic in drinking water. But the release of the final arsenic risk assessment is being delayed while EPA’s Science Advisory Board is asked to take yet another look at agency scientists’ work. As Jonathan Strong wrote in InsideEPA ...

Saving Our Fisheries

by Rebecca Bratspies | February 24, 2010
A few thousand fishermen and women are making port in Washington, D.C. today to rally against the best hope for the future of fishing. They don’t see it that way, of course, but a look at the evidence leaves no other conclusion. The simple truth is that American waters have been overfished for years. When boats take out more fish than nature can replace, fish populations shrink. If fishing efforts doesn’t decrease to match the smaller fish population, the resulting ...

CPR Eye on OIRA: Transparency and Scrutiny for OIRA

by Matthew Freeman | February 23, 2010
The Obama Administration struck a blow for transparency last week with the launch of an online dashboard allowing users to keep track of what the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is working on. Good for OIRA for making such information so readily available. CPR plans to put it to good use.  This month we began an initiative of our own, CPR’s Eye on OIRA project. As the name suggests, we plan to keep careful tabs on what OIRA’s doing, what ...

Waxman and Stupak Release Documents on Eve of Toyota / NHTSA Hearing

by Ben Somberg | February 22, 2010
Representatives Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak have released a batch of documents this afternoon on the day before their committee hearing on the Toyota debacle. Their focus is largely on the issue of the possible role of electronic failures as a cause of sudden unintended acceleration cases. They criticized Toyota's response to the reports of electronic problems, and in their letter to transportaiton secretary Ray LaHood, say: Our preliminary review of the documents and the information learned from the meetings with NHTSA officials raises two ...

The Toyota Fiasco: Where Were the Regulators?

by Rena Steinzor | February 22, 2010
Saturday’s Washington Post crystallized a trend of reporting in recent days showing that neither misaligned floor mats nor defective pedals are to blame for all acceleration problems in Toyota cars, at least not in the 2005 model Camry. The car, which has neither piece of offending equipment, does have electronic acceleration controls that are beginning to emerge as a potential cause of the problem. If those computerized systems are at the heart of even a small universe of Toyota’s problems, ...

Congress Says Ask, but Toyota and Fellow Automakers Say Don't Tell: The Story of NHTSA and Industry Secrecy

by Shana Campbell Jones | February 22, 2010
Ten years ago, after NHTSA received reports of numerous deaths and injuries linked to Firestone tires and Ford Explorers, Congress passed the TREAD Act, bolstering the authority of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to identify possible defects in vehicles and tires by collecting information (“early warning data”) from auto and tire manufacturers. The law requires disclosure of data about incidents involving deaths or injuries, injury and property damage claims (including lawsuits), consumer complaints, warranty claims, field reports (problems ...

White House Draft Guidance on Climate Change and Environmental Impact Statements -- A First Look

by Daniel Farber | February 19, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. The Council on Environmental Quality has issued a draft guidance to agencies on treatment of greenhouse gases.  The key point is that emissions exceeding 25,000 tons per year of CO2 will be considered a “significant environmental impact” and require preparation of an environmental impact statement. Overall, of course, this is a huge step forward. One point that does deserve further attention is the discussion of land use. On a fairly quick read, I’m not clear on ...

The Delta: Pumps, Politics, and (Fish) Populations

by Holly Doremus | February 19, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. The past couple of weeks have been crazier than usual on the Bay-Delta. The pumps were first ramped up and then ramped down. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) pandered to the irrigation crowd (or at least a part of it) by proposing to ease endangered species protections in the Delta. And the fall-run chinook salmon population, which supports the commercial fishery, crashed. First, the pumps. Recall that last fall Judge Oliver Wanger ruled that the Bureau of ...

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