When Hoping for the Best is Official Policy

by Rebecca Bratspies | May 06, 2010

Cross-posted from IntLawGrrls.

Today's New York Times update on the Deepwater Horizon disaster opens with BP’s failed efforts to control the remaining two leaks via concrete, or remote control robots. Strangely, the article makes no mention of the missing remote shut-off valve called an acoustic switch. This $500,000 device might well have prevented this whole catastrophe. But, the United States does not require that deepwater oil rigs install an acoustic switch, and BP and Transocean decided to forego it. The United States considered requiring these switches in 2000, but Bush administration nixed the idea after industry pushback. My guess is that Vice President Cheney's secretive Energy Task Force had a hand in that, but since the Task Force operated entirely behind closed doors, we may never know the truth of how the United States made this ill-considered choice. Apparently, the Times does not consider the fact that this device, which is required in other major off-shore drilling countries, like Norway and Brazil, didn't make the company's cost-benefit cut, to be part of “all the news fit to print”.

With that critical piece of information missing, the Times tells us a tale of plucky engineers trying innovative solutions that, by gosh, just might work. The article is full of solemn quotes like "as so many other response efforts so far have shown, engineering problems that can be solved on the ground can prove perilously stubborn 5,000 feet underwater." ...

The Grand Tradition of Harassing Researchers -- Virginia Edition

by Matt Shudtz | May 06, 2010
Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli II has taken his climate change vendetta to a new low, announcing that he will use Virginia's Fraud Against Taxpayers Act to force officials at UVA to spend months digging through a decade of university records in search of evidence that Dr. Michael Mann "defrauded" the Commonwealth by seeking funds to explore the boundaries of climate science. Tuesday's article in the Washington Post gave the attention-seeking politician all that he needed from the civil investigative demand ...

Perplexed by OSHA's Latest Reg Agenda

by Celeste Monforton | May 05, 2010
Cross-posted from The Pump Handle. Beginning in December 2006, I’ve written five blog post commenting on the content of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) regulatory agenda for worker health and safety rulemakings.  Most of my posts [see links below] have criticized the Labor Secretary and senior OSHA and MSHA staff for failing to offer a bold vision for progressive worker protections.  Now that the Obama & Solis team have been on board for more than a year, I’m not willing to cut them any slack for being ...

Eye on OIRA, Coal Ash Edition: Putting Lipstick on a Not-so-cute Little Pig

by Rena Steinzor | May 04, 2010
  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was in a tough position on coal ash. If you are African American and low-income, you have a 30 percent greater chance of living near a big pit of this toxic brew than a white American, so Jackson correctly decided that such an important environmental justice issue should be at the forefront of the Obama Administration’s agenda. But Jackson was also taking on Big Coal, a special interest historically near and dear to swing voters in Ohio ...

Statement on Coal Ash News

by Ben Somberg | May 04, 2010
CPR President Rena Steinzor has issued this statement on today's coal ash news.  She says: Because EPA is actively considering these two very different approaches, it has not actually proposed anything from a regulatory perspective. The EPA will almost certainly have to go back and get another round of public comment before making a final decision, which is not what Jackson wanted when she walked into OIRA’s door. ... The White House has met with industry representatives on this issue ...

Coal Ash Announcement Today

by Ben Somberg | May 04, 2010
EPA is making an announcement right now. We'll have more soon. Update: EPA's announcement is up. ...

The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman Bill – Was it a Tax too Far?

by Victor Flatt | May 04, 2010
Monday April 26 was supposed to be the day that the much anticipated Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate change bill was to be proposed in the Senate. Hopes had gone up that there could be a legislative solution to putting a price on carbon. The carbon markets themselves had responded, pushing up the price of allocations on RGGI in the hopes that these would be allowed to qualify for the expected federal cap and trade. Then over the preceding weekend, it fell apart. ...

Coal Ash Announcement Now Scheduled for May?

by Ben Somberg | May 03, 2010
The EPA had projected an April announcement on the next step in regulating coal ash. But April came and went. The EPA now lists "05/2010" as the projected time for publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register. ...

The Odds of Failure

by Daniel Farber | May 03, 2010
Cross posted from Legal Planet. A couple of key observations about the oil rig blowout, based on my work on disaster issues. First, “human error” is a cop-out when you’re dealing with major technology.  It’s not like human fallibility is a surprise.  Training, good management, and smart design should be the responses, not whining after the fact that the workers weren’t perfect.  Or, if human error is unavoidable and the outcome would be catastrophic, you’d better rethink the project. Second, ...

A Great Case for Worst Case Analysis

by Holly Doremus | May 03, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the nation’s look-before-you-leap environmental law, intended to make sure that we understand what environmental problems we might result before we act. To that end, federal agencies must prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) before they take, authorize, or provide funding for actions that may have significant adverse environmental impacts. Useful as NEPA analysis is, the Deepwater Horizon disaster vividly illustrates the need to fix one of its shortcomings. The ...

Recent Obama Administration Open Government Milestone; Tearing the Wall of Separation Between the American People and Their Government Isn't Easy

by James Goodwin | April 28, 2010
As the Obama Administration ought to know by now, open government isn't easy. There are a lot of constituent elements in the wall that separates the American people and their government. Getting open government right requires planning and dedication.  Moreover, resource and legal constraints can thwart even the best-intentioned efforts by government agencies to operate in a more open fashion. Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced a number of new developments related to its Open Government Initiative, suggesting that the Administration ...

The Libertarian Case for Controlling Climate Change

by Daniel Farber | April 27, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Libertarians are, of course, deeply suspicious of government regulation. This may lead to a reflexive rejection of climate change mitigation.   But Jonathan Adler, who provides a refreshingly distinctive view of environmental law from the Right, argues otherwise.  In a forthcoming article (only the abstract is available on SSRN), he contends that libertarians are making a mistake in opposing climate mitigation: [E]ven if anthropogenic climate change is decidedly less than catastrophic – indeed, even if it ...

Inter-American Spotlight on the United States: Louisiana Residents Take Pollution Case to International Court

by Yee Huang | April 26, 2010
This is the April installment of CPRBlog’s series of posts highlighting legal developments in other countries and in international environmental law. Last month the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted a hearing to the residents of Mossville, Louisiana, based on their petition asserting that the U.S. government has violated their rights to privacy and racial equity by failing to address toxic pollution in their community. Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, the legal advocacy ...

Tenaska Deal Signals Sea-Change in Climate Change Regulation, but Itself May be Too Good to be True

by Victor Flatt | April 23, 2010
On Monday, the Environmental Defense Fund announced that it had reached a settlement with Tenaska Inc. to withdraw opposition to that company’s proposed “Trailblazer Energy Center,” a 600 megawatt coal fired power plant in West Texas. In return for dropping its objections, the EDF signed an agreement with Tenaska that the company will sequester 85% of the CO2 it produces, selling much of the gas to companies who will use it for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in the West Texas ...

Tyson Taken to Task: Oklahoma Jury Awards Poultry Growers $7.3 Million

by Yee Huang | April 22, 2010
Earlier this month an Oklahoma jury awarded $7.3 million to current and former poultry growers for fraud, negligence, and violations of a state consumer protection act committed by Tyson Foods, Inc. This verdict is not surprising as Tyson, like other major poultry processors, wields considerable economic clout in its relationship with poultry growers. This imbalanced relationship suggests that the “independent contractor” status of poultry growers that Tyson and other major poultry processors describe is a trick for the companies to ...

EPA's Rule on Lead Paint a Cause for Celebration, but Challenges Remain

by Patrick MacRoy | April 22, 2010
Guest blogger Patrick MacRoy is Director of Community-Based Initiatives and RRP Training Program Manager for the National Center for Healthy Housing. He launched the first “train-the-trainer” program to help increase the supply of accredited RRP training providers and has been working on related policy issues. Today marks a major milestone in the century-long battle against childhood lead poisoning in the United States: the EPA will be officially implementing the Renovation, Repair, and Painting rule. Known as the RRP rule, the ...

Christopher Schroeder Confirmed to DOJ Post

by Ben Somberg | April 21, 2010
Former CPR Member Scholar Christopher Schroeder was confirmed today by the Senate for his position as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy. Schroeder, most recently a professor at Duke University School of Law, was nominated for the post in May 2009. ...

Eye on OIRA: Sunstein Brings Behavioral Economics to NHTSA Tire Fuel Efficiency Program

by James Goodwin | April 21, 2010
On March 19, OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein issued the office's first Review Letter of the Obama Administration, telling the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to redo their studies on how to design the labels for the agency’s new “Tire Fuel Efficiency Consumer Information Program.” (For background on Review Letters and the other types of OIRA letters, see here.) Those new studies will delay implementation of the tire efficiency regulation by at least half a year, and likely longer. Under ...
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