Pressing the Button

by Matthew Freeman | November 10, 2009

New in movie theaters this past weekend was a horror flick called, “The Box,” starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a couple given a disturbing choice. They are presented with a mysterious box, equipped with a button. If they press the button, they’ll get $1 million, but someone they do not know will die.

The premise is striking, but it’s not quite so fictional as we’d like to think. Every day in the United States and across the globe, manufacturers produce products that cause unnecessary injury and death. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but there it is. Our lives are full of products that increase our risk of cancer or other deadly diseases – not just cigarettes, the harm from which is widely known and understood, but other products, including certain nonstick cookware, some kinds of paint, discarded computers and more. Manufacturers use production methods that pollute the air and water, doing violence to the environment and causing a broad range of public health problems. And then there’s the big one: carbon emissions from power plants and automobiles that are causing global climate change that will cause a variety of harms across the globe.

We countenance all these things for a complex set of reasons. We like our cancer-causing products, and because the risk to any one of us is small, each of us imagines we’ll beat the odds. Also, it’s difficult to trace diseases like cancer ...

Administration Releases Draft Chesapeake Bay Strategy

by Shana Campbell Jones | November 09, 2009
Today the Administration released its draft strategy for the Chesapeake Bay. Public comment runs through January 8, and the final strategy is due in May. There's a lot to read. But here's one point off the bat that's of note: Regulatory authority will be expanded to increase accountability for pollution and strengthen permits for animal agriculture, urban/suburban stormwater and new sources. . . . EPA will also initiate rulemaking to increase coverage and raise standards for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations ...

Climate Change Adaptation Still Being Given Short Shrift in Local, State, and Federal Government

by Alejandro Camacho | November 09, 2009
Though few agencies or legislatures have begun to actually develop programs for cultivating adaptation to climate change, at least discussions on climate change adaptation are starting to take place. Unfortunately, as I detail in a forthcoming article, adaptation is still being given short shrift at local, state and federal levels of government, and those who are considering it lack the information and tools to engage in proactive adaptation. Some of the key developments on adaptation in the past few weeks ...

Looking at the California Water Bills

by Ben Somberg | November 06, 2009
For an analysis of the news from California this week -- where the legislature passed a group of bills Wednesday on water protection -- do check out Richard Frank on Legal Planet, who looks at the good and the less-than-good. It commits substantial public funding and commitment to  desperately needed Delta ecosystem restoration. The bill package fundamentally re-organizes the state governance system that will oversee Delta regulatory, planning and restoration efforts. And it reflects long-overdue and necessary steps to address ...

The Senate's Refinements to Climate Change Legislation: Tailoring the Clean Air Act for Greenhouse Gases

by Alice Kaswan | November 05, 2009
The latest version of the Senate climate bill, released by Senator Boxer on Friday, October 30, retains EPA’s authority to establish meaningful facility regulations under the Clean Air Act (CAA) while freeing EPA of the obligation to implement CAA provisions that are ill-suited to controlling greenhouse gases (GHG). (Section 128(g): Amendments Clarifying Regulation of Greenhouse Gases under Clean Air Act (at page 867). The Friday version of the bill is available by E&E subscription here.) The Senate bill’s continuing preservation ...

CPR's Comments on OMB's Draft Report on Costs and Benefits of Regulations: Why More of the Same?

by Amy Sinden | November 05, 2009
Cass Sunstein had barely begun settling in to his new position as Administrator of OMB’s Office of Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in September, when OIRA released a draft of OMB’s 2009 Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations. Today marks the deadline for submitting comments to OMB on the draft, and I joined CPR President Rena Steinzor and Policy Analyst James Goodwin in submitting comments. We read this year’s report with interest, curious to see how the ...

But Will There Be Any Fish Left Tomorrow?

by Ben Somberg | November 04, 2009
CPR Member Scholar Rebecca Bratspies has a piece on the Atlantic's food website today -- "Saving Seafood From Extinction" -- on how the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is making a last-ditch effort to overhaul the nation's devastated fisheries. The agency's new regulations -- including lower catch limites -- have faced some opposition, but the choice is clear, writes Bratspies: Allowing this overfishing to continue means abandoning all hope of either stock recovery or a healthy fishery. Such a tactic doesn't ...

NRC Report on Hidden Costs of Energy Production and Use is Admirable, but Limited

by James Goodwin | November 04, 2009
Last month the National Research Council (NRC) released Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use. Properly understood, the NRC report is an admirable attempt to bring the consequences of energy use into sharp focus by putting those consequences into terms that are readily understandable by the general public. The NRC recognizes that the report is limited because it was unable to quantify and monetize all the impacts of energy production and use, thereby significantly understating their ...

Thoughts About the Future of Nuclear Power

by Daniel Farber | November 03, 2009
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Apparently, substantially safer designs for nuclear reactors are now available. But the safe storage and disposal of nuclear waste is a significant challenge and a yet unresolved problem. Presently, waste is stored at over a hundred facilities across the country, within seventy-five miles of the homes of 161 million people. The major problem is the longevity of the waste – plutonium will be dangerous for 250,000 years. Although we may be able to model the geologic ...

'Bending Science' Wins Prestigious Award

by Matthew Freeman | November 02, 2009
A little bragging is in order this morning. Last week, CPR Member Scholars Tom McGarity and Wendy Wagner won the University of Texas’s Hamilton Book Author Award for their book, Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research. The award is given to the author(s) of what is judged the best book by University of Texas faculty in the previous year. Published by Harvard University Press, Bending Science takes a hard look at the ways and extent to which scientific data ...

New CPR Papers on Dysfunctional Regulatory Agencies, Costs of Delayed Regulations, and Moving Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis

by Matthew Freeman | October 30, 2009
One of the great political communications successes of the past 30 years has been the right wing’s relentless assault on the American regulatory system. Think of the words and images that have come to be associated with “regulation” in that time: red tape, bureaucrats, green eye shades, piles of paper stretching to the ceiling, and more. And the approach has worked – remarkably well, in fact, given the compelling imagery on the other side of the ledger:  children left to play in unregulated ...

SuperFreakonomics and Superficial Facts: A Defense of the ADA

by Ben Somberg | October 30, 2009
This guest post is written by Thomas Tolin, Assistant Professor of Economics at West Chester University, and Martin Patwell, Director of the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities at WCU. In the recently published SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance the authors, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, make the following claim: (p. 138-139) As we wrote earlier, the law of unintended consequences is among the most potent laws in existence… ...

CPSC Releases Three Draft Reports on Drywall

by Ben Somberg | October 29, 2009
Today the Consumer Product Safety Comission released three draft reports on its findings so far regarding contaminated Chinese drywall. Here's how the Sarasota Herald-Tribune puts the development: In what is sure to inflame lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the federal government issued a report on Thursday about Chinese drywall that stopped short of linking the material to health problems, foul smells or corrosion reported by homeowners. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and others have been analyzing ...

News on the Political Front

by Daniel Farber | October 29, 2009
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Both the NY Times and the Washington Post had lead stories [Wednesday] on the politics of climate change legislation.  The Post’s story centered on the increasing focus of the debate on the economic impact of climate legislation and on the difficulty of establishing the facts: In anticipation, groups on the left and the right — as well as government outfits such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Congressional Budget Office — have issued a spate of ...

Super Freakonomics Co-Author on Ocean Acidification: "Pour a Bunch of Base Into It"

by Ben Somberg | October 27, 2009
Super Freakonomics, which came out last week, has been critiqued thoroughly (UCS has a good library of their own critiques and links to others) for its embrace of geoengineering as the cheap fix to that problem called global warming, and the book's methods generally have also been critiqued as lacking. But yesterday brought a new whopper from co-author Steven Levitt, on the Diane Rehm Show: "Of course, ocean acidification is an import issue. Now, there are ways to deal with ...

Reducing Mercury Emissions From Coal-Fired Power Plants: Yes We Can (And Could Have, Years Ago)

by Catherine O'Neill | October 26, 2009
Three recent developments in the saga of efforts to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired utilities are significant. Early last week, Michigan became the twenty-third state to require coal-fired utilities within its jurisdiction to reduce their mercury emissions. Michigan’s regulation requires these sources to cut mercury emissions by 90% by 2015. Then, on Thursday, the EPA reached a settlement with environmental groups who had sued the agency for failing to act to regulate mercury emissions. In the agreement (see NYTimes also), ...

CPR Scholarship Roundup: Legal and Policy Implications of Regulating Carbon, from Cap-and-Trade to Coal Sequestration

by Shana Campbell Jones | October 23, 2009
As climate change legislation awaits action in the Senate, serious and complicated legal and policy questions about the tools designed to reduce carbon emissions remain. Truly, the climate change debate operates in two distinct worlds. The first is becoming increasingly hysterical, consisting of sensational and camera-ready protests and attacks underwritten by groups such as the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers. The second rages below the media waterline, in the wonky weeds of policy and legal scholarship. ...

CPR Scholars' Letter on OMB Intervention in EPA Science Programs

by Ben Somberg | October 22, 2009
CPR President Rena Steinzor and board member Robert Glicksman sent a letter today to White House Science Adviser John Holdren and OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein regarding OMB's role in EPA science decisions. The letter concerns two recent episodes involving OMB that we wrote about this week: one regarding the EPA's Endocrine Disrputor Screening Program (EDSP) and the other regarding the agency's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). From the letter: Both of these episodes pre-date Professor Sunstein’s confirmation and may well ...
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