Drywall News Roundup

by Ben Somberg | July 02, 2009

A string of recent developments have brought the issue of contaminated drywall back into the headlines (we last wrote about the issue here).

Last week EPA released the results of tests it did on two Chinese drywall samples taken from a Florida home. They found sulfur, as well as two organic compounds associated with acrylic paints (all not usually in drywall). They also found strontium at much higher levels than usual for drywall.

On Thursday, the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee (got that?) held a hearing on drywall. The CPSC's Lori Saltzman tried to assure the Senators that the agency was addressing the problem, and referred the committee to www.cpsc.gov/drywall, but as of Wednesday morning it's a dead URL. The agency does have information for the public here.

Dr. David Krause, of the Florida Department of Health, testified that Florida health officials first received reports of sulfur-like odors in homes in August 2008. He tweaked federal agencies: "Initial hesitation by Federal agencies to fully engage the necessary resources is transforming into a more active partnership."

Krause also gave some information for the public: "The great variability of odors experienced in effected homes suggests that odor is a poor predictor of this problem. However black corrosion of copper on air conditioning coils and other Freon-carrying lines was a consistent visual indicator in homes with ...

Waxman's Food Safety Bill Would Go a Long Way Toward Fixing Regulatory Failures

by Thomas McGarity | July 02, 2009
On Wednesday, Representative Henry Waxman introduced a comprehensive “Food Safety Enhancement Act” (116-page discussion draft) to repair part of a federal food safety protection regime that has been badly broken for several decades. Waxman was joined by Representatives Diana DeGette, John Dingell, Frank Pallone, Bart Stupak, and Betty Sutton; the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the issue on Wednesday, June 3. A key problem with the current system is that it employs regulatory tools developed ...

Pentagon Continues to Press Its Case for Behind-the-Scenes Interference at OMB

by James Goodwin | July 01, 2009
Earlier this month, representatives from the military and a number of defense contractors had a closed-door meeting with officials at OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  The topic under discussion was ostensibly a Safe Drinking Water Act regulation for perchlorate—a highly toxic chemical used in the manufacture of rocket fuel—that the EPA is currently considering.  A closer look at the documents provided to OMB at the meeting suggests that the military officials and defense contractors had an even broader ...

Drywall Summer - An Update

by Ben Somberg | June 30, 2009
The drywall debacle continues. Inez Tenenbaum, President Obama's nominee for head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, got a number of drywall questions from senators at her nomination hearing earlier this month.  They said the government response seemed too slow. Tenenbaum pledged she'd work on the problem, and was subsequently confirmed by a voice vote by the full chamber. The CPSC has posted somewhat more extensive information on its website about identifying possibly contaminated drywall.  Florida's Department of Health had ...

Waxman-Markey Analysis Round-Up

by Ben Somberg | June 29, 2009
Waxman-Markey passed the House.  Was it the right thing to do?  What's the outlook from here?  Here are a few views from around the web. Dan Farber: The concerns about measuring and enforcing offsets are genuine (and increased because of Waxman-Markey’s reliance on USDA to do the job.)  But those problems aren’t insurmountable either.  Instead of complaining about reliance on offsets or the inclusion of USDA, we need to think about how to improve the offset program. Matt Yglesias: When ...

Offsets in the USDA – The Bad, the OK, and the Unknown

by Victor Flatt | June 26, 2009
Wednesday, I explored the various ways that the USDA takeover of bio-sequestration offsets could affect how well the offsets provision of the Waxman-Markey Climate Security Act would work. Today, we have legislative language in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), which fills in some of the details.  While some of the changes may be helpful, others are cause for worry. The amendment gives all offset authority over bio-sequestration and agricultural activities to the USDA – ...

The Peterson Compromises and the Question of

by Bradley Karkkainen | June 26, 2009
The House Agriculture Committee yesterday released the language of an amendment by Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), which Rep. Waxman has agreed to accept as part of the final House climate change bill in order to secure support from Peterson and other farm-state representatives. Peterson represents a large, heavily ag-dependent district in central and western Minnesota, and makes no apologies for his desire to protect the interests of farmers in his district and elsewhere. From that perspective, the Peterson-Waxman ...

Running the Cost-Benefit Analysis on the Metro Crash?

by Ben Somberg | June 25, 2009
What was the cost, in dollar terms, of the nine lives lost in the DC Metro crash on Monday? And how does that compare to what the cost would have been to prevent the accident, or lessen the severity of it? Should we do a cost-benefit analysis to determine the best policy? Edward Tenner's post at the Atlantic looks at the absurdity of the proposition: The disturbing truth is that even at the old, higher number, the loss of 9 ...

Handing Primary Control of Offsets to USDA: What this Might Mean

by Victor Flatt | June 24, 2009
Last night, House Energy and Commerce Chair Henry Waxman announced that he had agreed with Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson that the USDA could have jurisdiction over agricultural offsets in the massive American Clean Energy and Security Act, which the House may vote on this Friday. In agreeing to what had been one of the major sticking points to bringing farm Democrats on board, Waxman appears to believe that any concerns over USDA’s role are outweighed by the other good ...

Supreme Court Decides Coeur Alaska

by Daniel Farber | June 23, 2009
Cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet. In an opinion by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court decided two issues in this case, over a dissent by Justice Ginsburg.  The first was whether the Clean Air Act gives authority to the United States Army Corps of Engineers, or instead to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to issue a permit for the discharge of mining slurry. The second question was whether the Corps acted lawfully in issuing the permit. The Court held that ...

The Roberts Court Gets Reckless with Administrative Law in Coeur Alaska: Problems Now, Problems Later

by Victor Flatt | June 23, 2009
Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled in Coeur Alaska, Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council that the United States EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers could interpret the Clean Water Act to exempt water pollution sources from pollution control requirements if the pollution was accompanied by fill material. This legal feat was accomplished because the Clean Water Act divides jurisdiction between the Corps for “fill” material and the EPA for pollutants. This division ostensibly gives each agency control of its ...

Medical Device Safety: FDA Can't Do It Alone

by Matt Shudtz | June 22, 2009
While his colleagues (and former colleagues) jockey for the healthcare reform limelight, Rep. Frank Pallone is quietly busy making sure that, regardless of who pays for healthcare, the sick and injured will have safe and effective solutions to their problems. Last Thursday, Rep. Pallone held a hearing to assess FDA’s ability to properly oversee the medical device industry. The testimony outlined a troubling picture. GAO has been closely monitoring FDA’s medical device program for years. On Thursday, Marcia Crosse, the ...

The Heartland Institute's Shifting Statements

by Ben Somberg | June 19, 2009
Andrew Freedman of washingtonpost.com's Capital Weather Gang has a nifty catch: the Heartland Institute, the people cluttering up my newspaper this week with climate-change-denying ads, have officially changed tack on their lobbying policy. Back in March, the group told Freedman: "Our purpose is to bring scientists, economists, and policy experts together to address issues overlooked or ignored by the IPCC [the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] .... If we really wanted to influence policy we would have held ...

The End of the Exxon Valdez Legal Saga?

by Holly Doremus | June 19, 2009
Cross posted by permission from Legal Planet. Rick earlier posted about the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. This week, the Ninth Circuit may finally have brought the litigation that followed that spill to a close. You may recall that last year the U.S. Supreme Court heard Exxon’s challenge to the punitive damages award against it, which had been set by the Ninth Circuit (after two remands to the trial court) at $2.5 billion. An equally divided Court ...

Saving the Chesapeake Bay: Time to Hold the States Accountable

by Ben Somberg | June 18, 2009
Today CPR releases Reauthorizing the Chesapeake Bay Program: Exchanging Promises for Results (press release, full report). For years, the jurisdictions within the Chesapeake Bay watershed (the states and Washington D.C.) have essentially not faced consequences for failing to meet pollution-reduction targets. It's not surprising that the Chesapeake Bay has languished. What the new CPR report recommends is almost an obvious next step: the states should face consequences for not meeting goals. The report calls on Congress to empower the EPA ...

The Waxman-Markey Bill's Federal-State Partnership

by Alice Kaswan | June 17, 2009
The Waxman-Markey bill, in its current form, continues the nation’s wise respect for the complementary roles of the federal government and the states. By establishing a national cap and a national trading program, the bill would draw all states into the essential task of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But, like the federal environmental laws before it, the bill simultaneously provides states with the power to achieve more stringent reductions. Although industry may resist the prospect of state control, Congress ...

What Does the CBO Report on Waxman-Markey Actually Tell Us? (Not Much).

by Daniel Farber | June 16, 2009
The Congressional Budget Office recently issued its report on the Waxman-Markey bill. The Washington Times soon trumpeted: “CBO puts hefty price tag on emissions plan: Obama's cap-and-trade system seen costing $846 billion.” This is quite misleading. Actually, the CBO report tells us virtually nothing about the economic costs of the bill or how much consumers will lose out of pocket. In fact, the way most people understand the idea of a budget deficit, it doesn’t really say much about that ...

A Frackin' Mess!

by Yee Huang | June 15, 2009
It’s a frackin’ mess out there in the world of natural gas extraction – exploding houses and water wells, dying cattle, and curious rashes.  The Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources of the House Natural Resources Committee recently held a hearing to explore the risks of hydraulic fracturing, or fracing (sometimes spelled, “fracking”), which is currently exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), and Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced a bill to ...

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