MSHA's Band-Aid Approach Turns Deadly

by Celeste Monforton | April 12, 2010

Cross-posted from The Pump Handle.

Last month, the US Dept of Labor (DOL) and MSHA were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act.  Their proclamations said:

“…this law represents a watershed moment in the improvement of occupational health and safety in the United States. It was the precursor to the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, which created MSHA, and it was the basis of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970.  The Coal Act forever transformed occupational safety and health in the United States.”

Now, I’m reading news story after news story with these same officials asserting the Mine Act is weak and doesn’t provide MSHA the tools it needs to shut down dangerous workplaces.  The spin machine is kicking into high gear. 

The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. reports that federal inspectors issued closure orders at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine more than 60 times in 2009 and 2010.  The mine was repeatedly cited for allowing potentially explosive coal dust to accumulate and for flagrant violations of its very own ventilation plan. (When a mine operator deviates even slightly from its approved plan for ensuring proper airflow in an underground mine, the consequences can be devastating.   Sadly, very sadly, that’s likely a contributing factor in Monday’s explosion that killed 25 coal miners and possibly the four workers who have not yet been found.)  Ward also reports on “talking points” developed by senior DOL officials ...

Justice Stevens: Architect of Modern Environmental Law Doctrine

by Daniel Farber | April 09, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. When I sat down to write this blog posting, I started by going through my environmental law casebook and noting down the cases in which Justice Stevens had written the majority opinion or a major dissent.   When I got done, I was startled by the central role Justice Stevens had played in creating modern environmental law. I’ll explain that central role in a minute, but first, why I was startled?  Two reasons.  First, Justice Stevens still ...

Putting the Attack on the Maryland Law School Environmental Clinic in Context

by Ben Somberg | April 09, 2010
CPR President Rena Steinzor (former director of the University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Clinic) and Robert Kuehn, president of the Clinical Legal Education Association, have a post over at ACSBlog putting the recent attack on the independence of the Maryland clinic into the context of other such moves across the country. The Maryland legislature recently stepped back from an earlier threat to withhold funding to the clinic if it did not turn over private client information to the state. The ...

What Maryland Stakeholders Told Us About the State's Clean Water Act Enforcement Program

by Yee Huang | April 09, 2010
In preparing CPR’s recent white paper, Failing the Bay: Clean Water Act Enforcement in Maryland Falling Short, we conducted interviews with sixteen stakeholders across Maryland to assess MDE’s enforcement program as it operates on the ground. Collectively the stakeholders have decades of experience with enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as from environmental and industry perspectives. A full summary of the interviews can be found in the report, but a handful of surprising comments stood out. ...

We Have a First Drywall Ruling

by Ben Somberg | April 08, 2010
AP: A New Orleans federal judge on Thursday awarded seven Virginia families $2.6 million in damages for homes ruined by sulfur-emitting drywall made in China, a decision that could affect how lawsuits by thousands of other homeowners are settled. It remains to be seen how the plaintiffs can collect from Chinese companies that do not have to respond to U.S courts, although some have talked about getting orders to seize U.S.-bound ships and cargoes from the drywall companies. The ruling ...

New CPR Report Finds Maryland Failing to Enforce Clean Water Act

by Yee Huang | April 08, 2010
Today CPR releases a new report, Failing the Bay: Clean Water Act Enforcement in Maryland Falling Short. The report, which CPR Member Scholar Robert Glicksman and I co-authored, details the results of an investigation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) enforcement program at the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). CPR provided a copy of this report to MDE, and its response (and CPR’s follow-up) is included as an appendix to the report. Overall, we found that state of Maryland ...

Group of AGs Urge Kerry-Graham-Lieberman to Not Preempt State Authorities on Climate

by Ben Somberg | April 07, 2010
Seven state attorneys general have written a letter this week, released today, urging senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman to retain key state authorities on combating climate change in their upcoming bill (The Hill, National Journal). The letter, from the AGs of California, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, follows two recent letters (see ClimateWire, subs. required) from 14 senators and from 14 state environmental protection agencies that called for some similar steps. (Update: And here's an April 7 ...

Eye on OIRA: President Defied by President's Men; Sunstein and Orszag Violate Obama's Own Directive

by Rena Steinzor | April 07, 2010
The system of checks and balances devised by the Framers of the Constitution 220 years ago was all about the sharing of power. In practice, it makes for a messy flow chart, and lends itself to lots of inside-the-Beltway conversation about who’s in, who’s out, who’s winning and who’s losing. But as messy as the how-a-bill-really-becomes-a-law flow chart is, the structure within the White House itself usually features one constant: When the President says jump, staffers ask how high. Every ...

Massey's Don Blankenship is No Average Global Warming Denier; He's Also Operating an Unsafe Coal Mine

by Matthew Freeman | April 07, 2010
About a year ago in this space, I wrote a piece taking the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to task for its unhinged reaction to the Environmental Protection Agency’s then-nascent efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. As an example of the bombast, I included a link to a speech made by Chamber board member Don Blankenship, head of Massey Energy, in which he denied climate change, compared those who disagree with him with Osama Bin Laden and called them communists and atheists, ...

West Virginia Coal Mine Disaster

by Ben Somberg | April 06, 2010
Twenty-five people have been killed in the coal mine disaster in West Virginia. At ABC News, Matthew Mosk and Asa Eslocker report on the safety history of the Upper Big Branch mine: The West Virginia coal mine where an explosion killed 25 workers and left another four unaccounted for in the worst mining disaster since 1984 had amassed scores of citations from mining safety officials, including 57 infractions just last month for violations that included repeatedly failing to develop and ...

Eye on OIRA: Coal Ash Meetings Up to 42, or More Than Half of All OIRA Meetings on EPA Rules

by James Goodwin | April 05, 2010
Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have long celebrated the number 42 as the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.” Now, the number 42 also happens to be the number of meetings that OIRA has hosted regarding EPA’s pending coal ash rule, as it works toward developing the Obama Administration’s answer to the ultimate question of how to regulate the disposal of this toxic waste. ________________________________________ OIRA Meetings on Coal Ash, as of ...

CPSC and HUD: Defnitely Remove that Drywall. And Wiring, and Gas Pipes, and...

by Ben Somberg | April 02, 2010
The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Housing and Urban Development released "interim remediation guidance" today for those affected by contaminated drywall (release, full guidance). CPSC had also recently released new lab test results showing high sulfur emissions from certain drywall samples. The agencies conclude: Based on scientific study of the problem to date, HUD and CPSC recommend consumers remove all possible problem drywall from their homes, and replace electrical components and wiring, gas service piping, fire suppression ...

EPA Drops the Hammer on Mountaintop Removal

by Holly Doremus | April 01, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Last week, I reported on EPA’s proposed veto of a Clean Water Act section 404 permit for a major mountaintop removal coal mining project in West Virginia. My view at the time was something along the lines of two-and-a-half cheers. I wrote that it was very good news, but didn’t articulate principals for distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable mountaintop removal. Setting the proposed veto next to approval of the Hobet 45 project in January, EPA had ...

Climate Legislation Federalism Choices: Reflections After Murkowski, Brown and in Anticipation of the Forthcoming Kerry-Graham-Lieberman Bill

by William Buzbee | April 01, 2010
Federalism battles over state roles under federal climate legislation may have appeared settled, but they are once again under debate. The previous leading bills–the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House, and the Boxer-Kerry bill passed out of a committee in the Senate–lost momentum several months ago. After several months of legislative inaction, Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman have been working on a new piece of climate legislation. After the senators’ comments indicated that this bill might broadly undercut state and ...

Big Chicken Plays Chicken Little in Maryland While Assaulting Academic Freedom and Access to Justice in the Meantime

by Shana Campbell Jones | March 31, 2010
The proverbial poop has hit the fan in Maryland this month after two environmental groups – the Assateague Coastal Trust and the Waterkeeper Alliance – sued Perdue Farms, Inc. and Hudson Farm, a Perdue-contract chicken factory farm in Berlin, Maryland, for violating the Clean Water Act. Water sampling from ditches next to Hudson Farm found high levels of fecal coliform and E. coli. Phosphorus and nitrogen – nutrients killing the Chesapeake Bay – were also found. The two environmental groups ...

50 OIRAs? Another State (New Jersey) Drinks the Regulatory Review Kool-Aid

by James Goodwin | March 29, 2010
It’s official: Centralized regulatory review is trickling down to the states. Last month, in one of his very first actions as the newly elected Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie issued a pair of sweeping executive orders (no. 1 and no. 2) mandating centralized review of all state agency regulations to ensure that they are justified by cost-benefit analysis (CBA). The orders’ provisions mirror those of a controversial executive order issued by New York Governor David Paterson last August (for ...

EPA Proposes to Veto Mountaintop Removal Project

by Holly Doremus | March 26, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. EPA’s seesaw on mountaintop removal mining continues. Last time I wrote about this topic it was to note EPA’s approval of the Hobet 45 project. Today, EPA announced that it is proposing to veto the Spruce No. 1 project, as it had threatened last fall. Should EPA follow through on its proposal, this would be its first veto of a Clean Water Act section 404 permit since 1990. Publication of the proposal in the Federal Register ...

If Not at Yucca Mountain, then Where?

by Holly Doremus | March 26, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Last August, Dan announced “The Death of Yucca Mountain,” pointing to a news story in which Senator Harry Reid ( D – Nev.) declared that he had dealt a fatal blow to plans to store high-level radioactive waste in a repository there. The Department of Energy sought to pull the plug on the project once and for all early this month, when it filed a motion to withdraw its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for ...
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