Tennessee Coal Ash Disaster Anniversary -- News Roundup

by Ben Somberg | December 22, 2009

One year ago today, about 1 billion gallons of coal ash were spilled when a dyke collapsed at the Tennessee Valley Authority's fossil plant in Kingston, Tennessee.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel has the moment-by-moment account of what happened that night. They report that Roane County real estate and tourism have suffered, and that there are 14 lawsuits pending against TVA in relation to the disaster, which will likely take years to resolve. And they editorialize:

TVA and the EPA have vowed that they will do everything in their power to prevent anything of this kind and this magnitude from ever happening again. We believe they will try — and public oversight and accountability will be the best tools to hold them to their promise.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports a group of local residents speaking up against TVA and state and county authorities.

The Washington Post and the Charleston Gazette look at prospects for EPA action on coal ash regulation. As the Post puts it:

One year later, most of the ash on the land is still there. And the problem of similar coal-ash ponds still sits on the long and fast-expanding to-do list of President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency.

Last week, we noted here that the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has already held 10 meetings with industry representatives on the issue, before any ...

Senator Snowe's Bill on Fisheries Would Open a Wide Loophole

by Rebecca Bratspies | December 21, 2009
On December 9, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced S. 2856, a one paragraph bill that would quietly gut a key portion of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) by dramatically expanding a narrow exception to one of the Act’s central mandates. Were it to pass, the bill would mark a significant step in the wrong direction for United States fisheries policy. The bill, the "International Fisheries Agreement Clarification Act," is co-sponsored by interim Senator Paul Kirk (D-MA). The MSA requires fisheries managers ...

While EPA Delays Decision on Coal Ash, Industry and White House Busy With Backdoor Meetings on Issue, Documents Show

by James Goodwin | December 18, 2009
While the EPA announced Thursday that it was delaying a decision on issuing a proposed rule for coal ash, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has already hosted 10 meetings with industry representatives in recent months on the issue. The 10 meetings -- the most on any topic at OIRA so far in the Obama Administration, according to records on its website -- were completely outside of EPA's rulemaking process. In that process, once a proposed ...

NOAA's Draft Catch Share Policy is Cautious, and That's Good News

by Rebecca Bratspies | December 18, 2009
NOAA issued a draft of its new catch share policy last week. Despite Director Jane Lubchenco’s clear support for the concept, the draft policy stops short of requiring that fisheries managers implement catch shares. This is a good thing. Instead of mandating catch shares, the draft policy focuses on education, cooperation, and transparency. The agency commits itself to “reducing technical barriers and administrative impediments” to implementing catch shares. Those are exactly the roles that NOAA should be playing. Too often, ...

G77 Countries May Ethically Deserve More in Copenhagen, But Chance for This Much Foreign Assistance Unlikely to Come Again Soon

by Victor Flatt | December 17, 2009
As we move into the last days of climate negotiations in Copenhagen, the chances of securing a binding agreement of all countries continues to look less and less likely. The primary culprit, according to the New York Times, is the G77, a group of 130 developing countries that have negotiated as a block since arriving. But as the Times notes, since they have very different needs and incomes, the main thing they have in common is their ability to rail ...

Cap, But no Trade for Bella Center Passes; Meanwhile, Conference's Legacy of Transparency in Danger

by David Hunter | December 16, 2009
Environmental negotiations have long set the standard for transparency and participation. The relationship between environmental organizations (of all kinds) and the negotiators has always been one tempered by a shared vision that the negotiations would succeed (in contrast to negotiations at the WTO or World Bank where “success” for many activists was often defined as the failure of the negotiations). The history of transparency and participation in environmental negotiations is taking a huge hit this week in Copenhagen—not because of ...

Inexorable March to Carbon Markets at Copenhagen

by Victor Flatt | December 16, 2009
There are two separate meetings going on here in Copenhagen, really. The one that everyone is focused on is the official negotiations between the countries to reach a new binding agreement on climate change (or extend Kyoto in some form). The other “meeting” is the interaction of the observer organizations inside and outside of the side event meetings and their informal reports to the official delegations. This second “meeting” is more amorphous, and more subject to chaos (the security clearance ...

Schwarzenegger, in Copenhagen, Gives an Important Reminder of the Role of Subnational Governments. Like, the U.S. States, For Example.

by Ben Somberg | December 16, 2009
In his speech in Copenhagen Tuesday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger applauded international leadership on climate change, but said that national or international agreements alone will not address the issue. He said that the "scientists, the capitalists and the activists" across the world have and will play an important role. And he talked about the job for subnational governments, like his own: While national governments have been fighting over emission targets, subnational governments have been adopting their own targets and laws ...

Déjà Vu all Over Again: OSHA's Inability to Stop Serial Violators on Display in New Hampshire Foundry

by Sidney Shapiro | December 15, 2009
The Concord Monitor has identified a New Hampshire factory (Franklin Non-Ferrous Foundry) that has been the subject of previous OSHA investigations and fines, yet continues to expose its workers to dangerous conditions. OSHA’s most recent fine, $250,000, came after the agency found that a worker had high levels of lead in his blood. The newspaper obtained OSHA documents that revealed a pattern of violations by the company. The New Hampshire case is a troubling reminder of how weak OSHA is ...

In Copenhagen, Progress on Financial Pledges Limited; Draft Document Punts Details to COP-16

by David Hunter | December 15, 2009
Although virtually all of the attention regarding Copenhagen in the United States focuses on mitigation targets, in the developing world a primary focus of any environmental agreement is on the scale, sources and governance of any financial resources being made available. This is particularly true in Copenhagen, where the Global South has demanded upwards of a trillion dollars in development assistance over the next decades. That number is almost certainly out of reach, but with only a few days left ...

Forgive the Obvious, But: Not All Hydraulic Fracturing is Created Equal

by Ben Somberg | December 14, 2009
In this morning's "Underused Drilling Practices Could Avoid Pollution," ProPublica has more important reporting on hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting chemicals at high pressure under deep rock to extract natural gas. Reports Abrahm Lustgarten: Energy companies have figured out how to drill wells with fewer toxic chemicals, enclose wastewater so it can't contaminate streams and groundwater, and sharply curb emissions from everything from truck traffic to leaky gas well valves. ... Yet these environmental safeguards are used only intermittently ...

(Re)Defining Success at Copenhagen: Here's What I'll be Looking For

by David Hunter | December 11, 2009
As the first week of formal negotiations at the Copenhagen Climate Summit comes to a close, the United States and China are exchanging barbs and little progress is being made … but behind the scene many negotiators remain confident that at least some form of a political agreement can be reached that will move global climate governance significantly forward. Beginning on Sunday I will join fellow CPR Member Victor Flatt (see his preview on offsets and adaptation) as a credentialed ...

Sunstein Watch: What Progressives Expect from OIRA: An Open Letter to Cass Sunstein

by Rena Steinzor | December 11, 2009
Dear Cass: As you know, we picked a spat with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) last week over Randy Lutter’s supposedly temporary detail appointment to your office. It’s not the first time we’ve criticized the workings of OIRA, and almost certainly won’t be the last.  I’ve spoken to a number of people in the media and elsewhere who have expressed surprise that progressive organizations like CPR are such relentless critics of a progressive Administration. I’m sure Administration officials ...

Good News, Bad News in Solis' Regulatory Agenda

by Ben Somberg | December 10, 2009
The below item is written by Celeste Monforton and cross-posted from The Pump Handle. The first regulatory agenda under OIRA chief Cass Sunstein was published [Monday] in the Federal Register (link to its 237 pages.)  The document includes a narrative of Labor Secretary Solis’ vision for worker health and safety, mentioning these specific hazards: crystalline silica, beryllium, coal dust, airborne infectious agents, diacetyl, cranes and dams for mine waste.   The document purports to “demonstrate a renewed commitment to worker health,” yet ...

Chinese Drywall Update: Residents Say They're Still Waiting for Answers

by Ben Somberg | December 09, 2009
A few notes on the Chinese drywall issue from the past weeks: The CPSC announced that it was expanding its investigation to include some American-made drywall, following some reports of similar problems -- bad odors and pipe corrosion. But meanwhile, the Bradenton Herald asked "Is scope of Chinese drywall problem exaggerated?" Reporter Duane Marsteller notes that "100,000" has become an often-repeated number for how many homes are affected, but that in fact it's quite unclear. About 300 people rallied in ...

The Other Shoe Drops: EPA Finally Issues Endangerment Finding

by Daniel Farber | December 07, 2009
Today, EPA made its long-expected official finding: climate change is real, and we human beings are the cause. More than two years after the Supreme Court ordered EPA to address the issue, EPA has now formally ruled that greenhouse gases cause climate change that endangers human health or welfare. EPA also found that motor vehicles contribute significantly to levels of greenhouse gases. These findings trigger regulation under the Clean Air Act for motor vehicles. Similar findings are likely in the ...

Copenhagen: What Progress on Offsets and Adaptation?

by Victor Flatt | December 07, 2009
Today, the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opens in Copenhagen. I will be a credentialed observer from non-governmental academic and research organizations including the Center for Progressive Reform and the Center for Law, Environment, Adaptation, and Resources (CLEAR) at the University of North Carolina School of Law. In this space I have particularly focused on the carbon trading market and the use of offsets in the context of domestic ...

We'll be Blogging from Copenhagen

by Ben Somberg | December 04, 2009
CPR Member Scholars Victor Flatt and David Hunter, along with several guest contributors, will be writing for CPRBlog from the climate talks in Copenhagen. Stay tuned. ...

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