The Human Costs of Pander, Take 2: Obama Budget Shortchanges FDA and Food Safety

by Rena Steinzor | February 01, 2010

As we feared, in an effort to save pitiably small amounts of money in the discretionary (non-military) portion of the budget, President Obama’s FY 2011 budget, announced today, shortchanges very real threats to public health. Case in point: the Food and Drug Administration’s ongoing struggle to improve the safety of the American food supply. (FDA regulates 80 percent of it; USDA regulates the 20 percent that is meat and poultry, and that is, if you’ll pardon, its own kettle of fish) Each year in the United States, food-borne illnesses cause 5,000 deaths, hospitalize 325,000, and sicken 1 million, and no realistic observer of the FDA’s efforts thinks they are remotely adequate. Yet the Obama budget increases total spending for the FDA’s food and drug missions by a paltry $80 million, barely a rounding error in the funds dispersed for the bank bailout.

Counting the fees the agency already collect for new drug approvals, $450 million in fees on tobacco companies, and $250 million in fees on food producers that are not yet approved by Congress, where the Senate has repeatedly stalled its consideration of food safety legislation, the FDA budget would be $3.7 billion. Even this seemingly impressive figure does not come close to getting the job done.

The Wall Street Journal quotes Bill Hubbard, a former FDA associate commissioner, saying it's "basically a flat budget" when inflation is considered. Hubbard heads the Coalition to Save the ...

Toyota Says It Has Found Fix; LAT and NYT Articles Raise More Questions

by Ben Somberg | February 01, 2010
Toyota is on the media offensive this morning, announcing that it has found the problem (sticking pedals, it says) and is fixing it. Some articles indicated NHTSA has signed off or given "clearance" for the plan, but Toyota specifically noted that while NHTSA had reviewed its plan, it has not "signed off" on it, as it doesn't have the power to do so. Two articles in particular have raised further questions. The LATimes published its investigation over the weekend, questioning ...

EPA's New NO2 Rule: A Tale of OMB Interference

by Rena Steinzor | January 29, 2010
The EPA issued a new rule recently on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) -- but not before it was weakened by OMB. The consequences for the public health are real. The possibility of OMB interference in the rule was first raised by Matt Madia of OMB Watch. He noted that EPA's draft final rule -- sent to OIRA for review on December 18 -- required all metropolitan areas with a population of 350,000 people or more to install a monitoring station for ...

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 ...

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 ...

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