New Worker Safety Bill Introduced in House, Protects Whisleblowers, Targets Bad Actors

by Celeste Monforton | July 02, 2010

Cross-posted from The Pump Handle.

Cong. George Miller (D-CA) is a man of tough talk and swift action. Today, along with 15 other House members, he introduced H.R. 5663 a bill to upgrade provisions of our nation's key federal workplace health and safety laws. Every year, tens of thousands of workers are killed or made ill because of on-the-job hazards, and this year the toll of death made headline news. The Deepwater Horizon disaster and the Upper Big Branch mine explosion alone cut short the lives of 40 workers, with their coworkers' and families' lives changed forever.

H.R. 5663 will modernize whistleblower protections for workers who express concerns about safety and health, raise the maximum civil penalty amount that can be proposed by OSHA for serious, willful and repeat violations, and allow for criminal sanctions against employers who knowingly violate safety regulations that contributed to the death of a worker. Deb Koehler-Fergen, whose son Travis Koehler, 26, was killed while working for Boyd Gaming at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas enthusiastically endorsed the bill.

"Employers who put workers lives at risk should be held accountable for their actions, including much stiffer penalties and the possibility of jail time."

The bill includes new authority for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), such as subpeona power during accident investigations, and more stringent requirements for mine operators, such as certifications for management officials, a duty ...

ACC Files DQA RfC on EPA Pthalate CAP

by Matt Shudtz | July 01, 2010
With the strong support of their new Administrator, last year the EPA staff who administer TSCA came up with a novel idea for jump-starting a moribund regulatory program. They started publishing Chemical Action Plans (CAPs) for a selection of chemicals “that pose a concern to the public.” Having selected chemicals that are found in consumer products, produced in large volumes, have particular concerns for children’s health, or meet other criteria, EPA staff published action plans for the chemicals that provide a clear ...

Chesapeake Bay Bill Amended and Passed out of Committee

by Shana Campbell Jones | June 30, 2010
Senator Cardin's bill to reauthorize the Chesapeake Bay program passed a committee vote this morning, though not before significant amendments were made (see Baltimore Sun, E&E). We'll have more on the specifics in the future. But for now it's worth noting that one of the amendments takes away EPA’s authority to write permits for nonpoint sources, a much-needed tool in EPA’s toolbox to bolster accountability if the states fail to address nonpoint source pollution. It’s too bad that, once again, ...

Bingaman-Murkowski Bill on BP Oil Spill Captures Low-Hanging Fruit But Leaves the Environment at Risk

by Alyson Flournoy | June 30, 2010
Senate Bill 3516, introduced by Senators Bingaman and Murkowski in response to the BP oil spill to reform the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), proposes many intelligent and much-needed changes (the Energy & Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the bill today). Among these, the legislation would imposea long-overdue mandate for best available technology for oil exploration and extraction, require that proponents of drilling evaluate the possibility of a well blowout and develop a response plan for a ...

Senator Cardin's Chesapeake Bay Bill Headed to Mark-Up

by Shana Campbell Jones | June 30, 2010
Today the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will discuss Senator Cardin’s Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2009 (S. 1816), along with a suite of other bills to protect the great waterways of the United States.  Critically, the bill codifies the Bay-wide Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), requiring it to be implemented and enforced.  To remedy the pervasive lack of accountability in prior Bay restoration agreements, the bill requires states to submit biennial progress reports and to commit ...

Regulatory Policy on Late Night TV

by Ben Somberg | June 29, 2010
The second segment of last night's Daily Show interview with David Axelrod featured a couple minutes on the broken regulatory system and questions of trust in government competence in the wake of the BP disaster. Axelrod: "I think we've tested the proposition of what no regulation means, and what you get is .. the leak, the mine disaster in West Virginia, and you get an economic crisis." ...

Steinzor-Shapiro Metrics on Display in EPA's June 2010 Strategic Plan

by Wendy Wagner | June 28, 2010
There is plenty of environmental despair right now . . . spreading oil in the Gulf, legislative inaction on climate change and a host of other issues, and the sense that for every step forward, there is a special interest that will take the nation two steps back.  So, in this downward spiral of disappointments, is there any ray of hope? Rena Steinzor and Sidney Shapiro hit upon one promising possibility in their important new book, The People's Agents and the ...

Judge's Injunction Blocking Moratorium on Deepwater Drilling Discounts Statutory Intent

by Rebecca Bratspies | June 25, 2010
Cross-posted from IntLawGrrls. On Thursday Judge Martin Feldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana refused to delay the effect of the preliminary injunction he issued on Tuesday, overturning the U.S. Department of Interior’s May 28, 2010, Temporary Moratorium on deepwater drilling. (Related court documents available here.) Several facets of the June 22 decision are truly astonishing. Nowhere in the decision is there any recognition of the unique, emergency circumstances or the grave threat to the ...

Would Passing Climate Legislation Reduce Our Dependence on Oil?

by Frank Ackerman | June 24, 2010
Is the Gulf of Mexico disaster a reason to pass climate legislation – or is that legislation largely irrelevant to curbing our oil use? A Greenwire article Tuesday quoted a number of economists arguing that the leading proposals in Congress wouldn’t do much to change our dependence on petroleum. The only reasonable response is “yes, of course.” Climate proposals such as Kerry-Lieberman, Cantwell-Collins, or Waxman-Markey will have limited effects on oil consumption for two reasons: first, they are market mechanisms; ...

Cranes and Derricks Rule Clears OIRA Review

by Ben Somberg | June 23, 2010
OSHA’s pending rule on construction crane and derrick safety cleared OIRA review yesterday. The cranes rule has been a long, long time in the making and was featured as a case study in our white paper last year on the Costs of Regulatory Delay. It’s good news that this life-saving rule is finally almost set. Update: Celeste Monforton has more on this at The Pump Handle: First, OIRA has completed its review of OSHA's final rule on cranes and derricks. ...

The Curse of Fossils: 13 Million Barrels of Oil Haunt the Niger Delta

by Yee Huang | June 23, 2010
a(broad) perspective Across the Atlantic Ocean is another catastrophic, persistent, and pervasive oil disaster, ongoing for the past fifty years with no end in sight. The oil fields in the Niger Delta, occupying the southern tip of Nigeria, are rich with petroleum reserves, natural gas, and other natural resources. What should be a source of immense economic wealth for Nigeria instead turned into a poisonous cocktail of corruption and violence with disastrous consequences for the environment and human rights. The BP Oil Spill ...

Hydraulic Fracturing in the News

by Ben Somberg | June 22, 2010
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is getting more and more attention. Here's some of the reporting out this week. The documentary Gasland premiered Monday on HBO. Here's the Daily Show interview and the Science Friday interview. Vanity Fair: A Colossal Fracking Mess Scranton Times-Tribune: Little oversight, looming problems for Pa. gas industry, Impact of natural gas drilling environmental woes could linger, More than an eighth of Lackawanna County land leased to drilling companies, more wells likely, Hazards posed by natural gas drilling not ...

Eye on OIRA: Regulation Goes Opaque

by Rena Steinzor | June 22, 2010
Across the full spectrum of outside cognoscenti who are focused on the reality that a small office at the White House has final authority over the agencies charged with preventing catastrophes like the BP oil spill and the Big Branch mine disaster, one threshold assumption is sacrosanct. This tiny Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, now headed by former Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein, ought to operate in bright sunshine, disclosing fully its communications with the agencies so the public can ...

Wall Street Journal Editorial Revives the Sport of Precaution Bashing

by Amy Sinden | June 21, 2010
With characteristic audacity, the Wall Street Journal editorial page today is arguing against the precautionary approach to environmental policy that undergirds our system of environmental laws, even as the oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico. Instead, they want to shift the burden of proof and only allow regulators to restrain corporate greed when the government can first quantify and monetize the environmental harm that will result and demonstrate that it outweighs the money to be made by taking ...

Report: Several Companies Were Aware of Drywall Problems in 2006

by Ben Somberg | June 18, 2010
The latest from ProPublica and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune: At least a half-dozen homebuilders, installers and environmental consultants knew as early as 2006 that foul smells were coming from drywall imported from China – but they didn’t share their early concerns with the public, even when homeowners began complaining about the drywall in 2008.   ...

The People's Agents: Steinzor Op-Ed on Regulatory Reform in Baltimore Sun

by Matthew Freeman | June 18, 2010
CPR President Rena Steinzor has an op-ed in this morning's Baltimore Sun on the various regulatory failures at work in the BP oil spill. She writes that important questions need to be answered "about how the federal regulatory system allowed BP and other oil companies to drill in waters so deep without effective fail-safes," and continues: In truth, this is just the last in a string of profit-driven tragedies that have horrified us recently. Consider the 29 workers smothered in a West ...

In Stop the Beach Renourishment Ruling, Conservatives Come up One Vote Short in Quest to Remake Property Rights Law

by John Echeverria | June 17, 2010
If further proof were needed that appointments to the Supreme Court matter, it was provided today by the Court’s decision in Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The so-called conservative wing of the Court came one vote short of issuing a decision that would have revolutionized the law of property rights in the United States. The case involved the facially implausible claim by several coastal property owners along Florida’s panhandle that they suffered a “taking” ...

Farber on NewsHour: BP Liability

by Matthew Freeman | June 16, 2010
CPR Member Scholar Dan Farber was on the PBS NewsHour on June 14 discussing the Obama Administration's plan to force BP to establish an escrow fund to compensate victims of its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  You can see the entire interview with Ray Suarez, on the NewsHour site.  Here's a snip of the transcript: RAY SUAREZ: Daniel Farber, you're familiar with what's in that federal oil protection act. Is there a mechanism in there for the government to ...
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