The Toyota Fiasco: Where Were the Regulators?

by Rena Steinzor | February 22, 2010

Saturday’s Washington Post crystallized a trend of reporting in recent days showing that neither misaligned floor mats nor defective pedals are to blame for all acceleration problems in Toyota cars, at least not in the 2005 model Camry. The car, which has neither piece of offending equipment, does have electronic acceleration controls that are beginning to emerge as a potential cause of the problem. If those computerized systems are at the heart of even a small universe of Toyota’s problems, as long-time auto safety expert Clarence Ditlow told the Post, the problem should raise “a huge red flag.”

Automobile manufacturers have been working for several years to perfect electronic controls in their cars because those systems are much lighter and therefore are important in the effort to improve fuel economy by giving engines less weight to drag around. But you can scour the public record of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in vain to find any mention that federal regulators are focusing on the problems caused by electronic systems, a fact that is a damning indictment of how far the agency sank into lethargy during the Bush years.

NHTSA’s job is to spot trends in auto manufacturing and get out ahead of them, not to react after a sufficient number of deaths and injuries have brought defects to the front pages of newspapers across the country. Investigating “defects” after the fact is not a viable alternative to ...

Congress Says Ask, but Toyota and Fellow Automakers Say Don't Tell: The Story of NHTSA and Industry Secrecy

by Shana Campbell Jones | February 22, 2010
Ten years ago, after NHTSA received reports of numerous deaths and injuries linked to Firestone tires and Ford Explorers, Congress passed the TREAD Act, bolstering the authority of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to identify possible defects in vehicles and tires by collecting information (“early warning data”) from auto and tire manufacturers. The law requires disclosure of data about incidents involving deaths or injuries, injury and property damage claims (including lawsuits), consumer complaints, warranty claims, field reports (problems ...

White House Draft Guidance on Climate Change and Environmental Impact Statements -- A First Look

by Daniel Farber | February 19, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. The Council on Environmental Quality has issued a draft guidance to agencies on treatment of greenhouse gases.  The key point is that emissions exceeding 25,000 tons per year of CO2 will be considered a “significant environmental impact” and require preparation of an environmental impact statement. Overall, of course, this is a huge step forward. One point that does deserve further attention is the discussion of land use. On a fairly quick read, I’m not clear on ...

The Delta: Pumps, Politics, and (Fish) Populations

by Holly Doremus | February 19, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. The past couple of weeks have been crazier than usual on the Bay-Delta. The pumps were first ramped up and then ramped down. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) pandered to the irrigation crowd (or at least a part of it) by proposing to ease endangered species protections in the Delta. And the fall-run chinook salmon population, which supports the commercial fishery, crashed. First, the pumps. Recall that last fall Judge Oliver Wanger ruled that the Bureau of ...

Tennessee Coal Ash Cleanup Update: Where On-Target Is Still Depressing News

by Ben Somberg | February 18, 2010
Just to give you an idea of the scope of the situation in Tennessee: More than 3 million cubic yards of coal ash were released into the waterways in the Kingston coal ash disaster in late 2008. This week comes news from cleanup officials that the removal of that waste is 70 percent complete. The EPA's PowerPoint shows that removal of the coal ash from the river is slightly ahead of forecast (slide 16). So, just a half million cubic ...

EPA's Cooperative Approach on Coal Ash Nets "Action Plans" From Industry -- But Here's What EPA Could Really be Doing With Existing Authority

by James Goodwin | February 17, 2010
In 2008 alone, coal-fired power plants produced some 136 million tons of coal ash waste – dangerous stuff, because it contains arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and a host of other toxins that are a significant threat to basic human health. Ironically, coal ash has been growing as a problem in recent years in part because better pollution-control devices capture more toxic contaminants before they go up power plant smokestacks. Last year, around 55 percent of the stuff was piled up in ...

In OIRA Meeting on BPA, 13 of 19 Studies Presented Funded by Industry

by Ben Somberg | February 15, 2010
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had its latest article on BPA this weekend, this time looking at the role of the December 22 meeting between the industry and OIRA. Writer Meg Kissinger contrasts the forceful EPA statements on BPA from last year with the lack of an EPA action plan on the chemical now. As for the documents presented to OIRA at the meeting, The Journal Sentinel reviewed the list and found 13 of the 19 papers and presentations cited were paid ...

Eye on OIRA: The 121st Day and Coal Ash Still Going to Pits in the Ground

by Rena Steinzor | February 12, 2010
Tomorrow will be the 120th day since the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) began its review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) star-crossed proposal to declare coal ash that is not safely recycled to be a hazardous waste. The number is significant because it marks the end of OIRA’s allotted review period for the proposal, under the Executive Order that governs OIRA. The date will likely come and go without fanfare. By rights, OIRA ought to ...

Tackling the Issue of "Fraud" in Carbon Trading

by Victor Flatt | February 12, 2010
The concept of cap and trade took another hit recently with disclosures that hackers had been able to get into the accounts of several holders of carbon emissions allowances in Europe and steal some of the account balance. This, along with the continued snowstorm in Washington, D.C. seems to fill those opposing a federal comprehensive cap and trade plan with glee. While the issue of record setting snows in D.C. should be addressed with basic scientific education (trends and averages ...

EPA Chides Polluters for Downplaying Risk From Portland Harbor Superfund Site; Still, Must Honor Fishing Tribes' Rights

by Catherine O'Neill | February 11, 2010
In a welcome move, EPA recently took polluters to task for their attempt to downplay the risks to human health and the environment from the Portland Harbor superfund site along the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon (h/t Oregonian for noting the EPA action). As part of the cleanup effort for the site, the polluters, known as the Lower Willamette Group (LWG), had agreed to conduct an assessment of the risks posed by the contaminants there. This risk assessment will serve ...

Eye on OIRA: Coal Ash Visits by Regulation Foes Up to 28; OIRA’s Open Door Policy Creates Double Standard for Special Interests, Flouting Obama Ethics Initiatives

by Rena Steinzor | February 10, 2010
According to recent statements from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) press office, Administrator Cass Sunstein and staff are adamantly committed to granting an audience with OIRA senior staff to anyone who asks to see them about anything, and most especially pending health and safety rules. So not only are special interests granted second, third, fourth, and fifth audiences with OIRA staff after far more qualified political appointees and technical experts at agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency ...

New CPR Report Examines Regulatory Dysfunction at OSHA

by Ben Somberg | February 09, 2010
CPR today releases the white paper Workers at Risk: Regulatory Dysfunction at OSHA (press release). The report examines an Occupational Safety and Health Administration where Today its enforcement staff is stretched thin and the rulemaking staff struggle to produce health and safety standards that can withstand industry legal challenges. In short, OSHA is a picture of regulatory dysfunction. The new leadership of the agency has ... inherited a resource-starved agency operating under a statute that has been enfeebled by 30 ...

The Toyota Debacle and NHTSA's Role: What Congress Must Investigate

by Ben Somberg | February 09, 2010
In a letter today, CPR President Rena Steinzor and board member Sidney Shapiro recommend to Congress questions it should investigate to get to the bottom of the Toyota accelerator/recall matter that's all over the news. The letter focuses in particular on the role of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and examines the agency's shortcomings in achieving its mission to protect public safety. To be clear, the Toyota case is about much more than engineering failure. It is a ...

Good News for the Pika . . . Or Not

by Holly Doremus | February 08, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has completed its review of the status of the cute little American pika. The verdict is good news for the pika, at least as far as it goes and if FWS is right about the science. FWS has decided that the pika is not endangered or threatened because, according to FWS biologists, the pika is not as vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as has been believed. Unfortunately, the ...

EPA's Lax Confidential Business Information Policy and the Importance of the Hampshire Associates Study

by Wendy Wagner | February 08, 2010
After laying dormant for decades, industries’ abuse of EPA’s permissive confidential business information program (CBI) is finally getting some serious attention. An investigation in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and more recently articles in the Washington Post and Risk Policy Report; a report by the Environmental Working Group; and posts by Richard Denison at EDF, are turning the tide. Those of us at CPR who have spilled ink on various CBI problems over the years (i.e., Mary Lyndon, Tom McGarity, Sid ...

The State of the Cost-Benefit State: What We Can Expect from Sunstein, 'Nudge,' and OMB on Regulatory Impact Analysis

by Douglas Kysar | February 05, 2010
This week the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released its annual report to Congress on the costs and benefits of federal regulatory programs. For the policy wonks among us, the most intriguing part was a section on recommendations for reform of the OMB regulatory review process. Here we find hints of what might result from President Obama’s long-awaited overhaul of the executive order on regulatory impact analysis. Cass Sunstein – an eminent legal scholar and now head ...

Time to Make NOAA Official

by Holly Doremus | February 03, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has existed since 1970, but it has never had the direct imprimatur of Congress. According to Congressional Daily, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), chair of the House Committee on Science and Technology has announced that an organic act for NOAA is one of his committee’s priorities for this year. NOAA authorization has been proposed many times over the past 40 years. Its time to finally get it done. Why does it ...

The Human Costs of Pander, Take 3: Parents Beware the Incredibly Shrunken Consumer Product Safety Commission

by Rena Steinzor | February 02, 2010
Eighty percent of the toys sold in the United States are manufactured abroad, the vast majority in China. Because China has no effective regulatory structure, these imports are notoriously dangerous for children. The most prominent example is toys coated with lead paint, made that way because in China, lead paint is actually cheaper than the safe variety because the Chinese have increased the mining of lead ore by 50 percent since 2001. (Let’s not even imagine what Chinese manufacturers are ...
Recommended Resources:
Climate Change
Time for Real Action on Global Warming

The Center for Progressive Reform

2021 L St NW, #101-330
Washington, DC. 20036
info@progressivereform.org
202.747.0698

© Center for Progressive Reform, 2015