Obama's Frank Talk on Climate at the U.N.: More Please

by Amy Sinden | September 22, 2009

Imagine if the end of the world were coming and everyone was just too polite to talk about it. That’s been the eerie feeling I've gotten over the past eight months listening to the President talk about energy policy. Not wanting to be a downer, he couches his energy talk in positive spin: We’re going to invest in the new clean green economy, create jobs, sell American ingenuity and know-how around the world, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Missing is any mention of the reason we’re going to all the trouble of undertaking a vast and expensive transformation of our well-entrenched carbon economy in the first place: all those coal plants and gas guzzling cars threaten to end life as we know it on this planet (not my words – NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen’s). Just a minor detail – but one worth mentioning, perhaps?

It was refreshing, then, to hear President Obama acknowledge the real issue – that pesky little end-of-the-world problem – at a speech before the United Nations today. He talked about the stuff that’s been keeping climate scientists up at night for decades now: rising seas, storms and floods, drought and crop failure, families fleeing and becoming climate refugees, and the implications of all this for political stability and security around the world.

But then, he knew his audience. He was talking to a bunch of U.N. policy wonks to whom none of ...

9th Circuit's Strong Words for EPA's Office of Civil Rights

by Ben Somberg | September 21, 2009
As first reported by Law 360 on Thursday: In a decision reversing a ruling in favor of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a federal appeals court has chastised the agency's Office of Civil Rights for what the court said was its apparent failure to consider alleged civil rights violations in a timely manner. “What the district court initially classified as an 'isolated instance of untimeliness' has since bloomed into a consistent pattern of delay by the EPA,” wrote Judge A. ...

Interior's Initiative on Adaptation Will Need to Overcome a Legacy of Inaction

by Alejandro Camacho | September 18, 2009
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed a secretarial order on Monday establishing a new department-wide strategy for gathering data and developing management options to help managers cope with the effects of climate change on resources governed by the Interior Department. The order seeks to initiate three components: A “Climate Change Response Council” to coordinate and develop the Department’s strategy for responding to the effects of climate change, advancing methods for geologic and biologic carbon sequestration, and estimating and reducing ...

The Poop on Manure in the Water: We're Sick of It

by Shana Campbell Jones | September 18, 2009
Today’s New York Times article about excess manure in the water is a stark reminder of what can happen when an environmental problem isn’t addressed: people get really sick. While the article is shocking -- it describes how families in Wisconsin living close to dairy farms suffered from chronic diarrhea, stomach problems, and severe ear infections from parasites and bacteria that seeped into the drinking water -- it restates what a lot of people have known for a long time. ...

Administrative Delay in Implementing a Cap-and-Trade Program: A Compelling Reason to Auction All Allowances

by David Driesen | September 17, 2009
Cap-and-trade legislation making its way through Congress has become enormously complex, embodying a host of arcane political deals governing the distribution of the vast majority of emissions allowances being given away for free, with crucial details being left to EPA. This complexity threatens to hinder the effort to address climate disruption (see my article Capping Carbon). It would lead to long delays and weak implementation, just like other laws delegating a lot of controversial and litigable decisions to administrative agencies. ...

One More Point on the N.Y. Times Water Article -- the Problem of Nonpoint Source Pollution

by William Andreen | September 16, 2009
Sunday’s New York Times article about the neglect of our clean water laws included a shocking example of how a regulatory gap in the Clean Water Act can harm public health. For example, the article referred to water supplies in parts of the Farm Belt that are contaminated by dangerous levels of pesticides, which originate with agricultural runoff and cannot be corrected by enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Although the Act provides a comprehensive regulatory program for point source ...

It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

by Daniel Farber | September 16, 2009
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Since opponents can’t seem to come up with any new arguments against climate change legislation, they seem determined to recycle the old, discredited ones. Here’s Tuesday’s example, straight from the GOP press release: Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, today urged the Environmental Protection Agency to include several relevant studies in its decision-making record for a major finding on climate policy after it was made public that a senior EPA official suppressed the ...

N.Y. Times Article on Water Pollution: A Timely Reminder of the Role of Enforcement

by William Andreen | September 15, 2009
Sunday’s New York Times article about the neglect of our clean water laws came as a timely reminder that, no matter how well articulated our environmental laws may be, it takes consistent, vigorous enforcement to ensure compliance with these statutory regimes. Unfortunately, as the article illustrates, state and federal enforcement of the Clean Water Act has languished during the past decade. Not only have governmental resources been inadequate, but all too often the will to enforce the law has been ...

New Research on Radioactive Granite, and OSHA's Response

by Matt Shudtz | September 14, 2009
Granite, like most natural stones, contains radioactive material. While this isn’t much of a concern for a person who spends a few hours in a kitchen with granite countertops every day, new research by David Bernhardt, Linda Kincaid, and Al Gerhart suggests that the workers who fabricate those countertops might have reason to worry. When they cut granite slabs to fit a room and to have nice edges, corners, and cut-outs for sinks and appliances, workers’ saws can create a ...

States Go to Bat for Improving Climate Change Legislation

by Kirsten Engel | September 11, 2009
Five State Attorneys General sent a letter to the Senate leadership on August 31st urging the Senate to enact strong climate legislation. The AGs letter is unusual in that states directly lobbying Congress on the details of federal legislation is a fairly infrequent phenomenon in and of itself. The AGs from California, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey are asking Congress to strengthen the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), despite several important ways in which ACES would ...

Mountaintop Removal Update: EPA May Grow a Spine

by Holly Doremus | September 11, 2009
This item cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet. EPA today announced that it would review 79 pending applications for Clean Water Act section 404 permits for surface coal mining projects in Appalachia (hat tip: Coal Tattoo). This review is good news, and an indication that EPA may be developing a backbone with respect to the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the region’s waterways. It remains to be seen how firm that spine will be, that is, how much EPA ...

Newly Confirmed Regulatory Czar Needs to Close OIRA’s Backdoor for Special Interests

by Rena Steinzor | September 10, 2009
After weeks of sustained attack from the right-wing on issues that are marginal to the job the President asked him to do, Cass Sunstein has emerged from the nomination process bloody but apparently unbowed (here's this afternoon's roll call). He is now the nation’s “regulatory czar,” Director of the White House OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.  Although Professor Sunstein has been sitting in the Old Executive Office Building for months, he has undoubtedly been preoccupied with his nomination battle. Having ...

EWG: Mandatory Controls on Agriculture Needed to Restore Chesapeake Bay

by Yee Huang | September 10, 2009
On Tuesday the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report on the status of state and federal agriculture policies for five Chesapeake Bay watershed states: Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia.  The report focuses on agriculture policies that impact water quality and highlights a gaping hole in the regulation of animal-based operations. Past and ongoing efforts to improve the water quality in the Bay have focused on agriculture, where pollution control measures are fairly cost-effective (compared to wastewater treatment ...

EPA's Chesapeake Bay Reports: A First Look

by Shana Campbell Jones | September 10, 2009
Today at 12:30pm the Federal Leadership Committee released, pursuant to President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order, seven draft reports to improve Bay restoration. Each report is about 50 pages, so there’s a lot of information to take in – from strengthening water quality to strengthening storm water management to assessing the impacts of climate change. After a quick look, here are my initial thoughts: 1. EPA Special Advisor Chuck Fox’s diligence and energy is impressive. Not only ...

Pennsylvania Watershed Restoration: Reason for Optimism?

by Yee Huang | September 09, 2009
A feature article Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer, by Sandy Bauers, describes the impressive restoration of the Lititz Run, a stream located in the Lower Susquehanna Watershed in Pennsylvania.  Lititz Run flows into the Susquehanna River, which contributes about 40 percent of the nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as a significant amount of phosphorous and sediment. Efforts to curb runoff, change agriculture practices, and upgrade sewer treatment plants by the local community changed the run from a fetid, ...

New FDA Database on Food Safety Has Good Potential. The Proof Will be in the Pudding

by Thomas McGarity | September 09, 2009
Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration implemented a 2007 food safety statute by promulgating a rule requiring food manufacturers to report instances of foodborne diseases to an electronic database that the agency has just established (the Reportable Food Registry). This long-awaited database will help epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control, state health agencies and academia identify "clusters" of illnesses that should contribute to a better assessment of the extent and magnitude of the foodborne disease problem in this country. ...

Cass Sunstein Nomination Clears Cloture Vote in Senate

by Ben Somberg | September 09, 2009
Late this afternoon the Senate ended debate, in a 63-35 cloture vote, on the nomination of Cass Sunstein for Administrator of the Office of Information and Reuglatory Affairs (OIRA). Here's a quick look back at what CPR scholars have said about the Sunstein nomination and the role of OIRA in regulatory policy: CPR Member Scholars' Jan 2009 report, Reinvigorating Protection of Health, Safety, and the Environment: The Choices Facing Cass Sunstein Rena Steinzor: Some troubling words at Sunstein's confirmation hearing, ...

Rohlf in Oregonian on Mercury Fight in Oregon

by Matthew Freeman | September 06, 2009
CPR's Dan Rohlf had an op-ed in The Oregonian on Friday, taking the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to task.  Faced with news that the nation's largest emitter of mercury pollution is a cement plant in the state, DEQ moved quickly to...defend the polluter.  Rohlf writes: The biggest mercury polluter in the entire United States is a cement factory in eastern Oregon. This fact has not escaped notice of the state's environmental watchdog, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.  The ...

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