One Step Forward, One Step Back
by Matt Shudtz | December 16, 2008
Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an outstanding series on Stephen Johnson’s (or, George Bush’s) EPA. Among many other insightful points, John Shiffman and John Sullivan note that for much of the last eight years EPA has shut environmentalists out of the regulatory process, prompting many national environmental organizations to rethink their advocacy strategies. Some have spent more time working directly with major corporations to accomplish pro-environment goals, instead of trying to leverage EPA’s regulatory powers.
A coalition of environmental advocates, including the Rainforest Action Network and NRDC, recently scored a victory by convincing Bank of America to rethink its investments in companies that rely predominantly on mountaintop removal mining to extract coal. For details and quotes from stakeholders, check out Ken Ward’s Charleston Gazette story here. This development provides an interesting study in contrasts.
On the one hand, we have environmental organizations and a major banking organization agreeing that blowing the tops off mountains and dumping the rubble into nearby valleys and streams is unacceptable.
On the other hand, we have EPA marching lock-step with coal companies that rely on just such destructive mining techniques. The day before Bank of America announced its new policy, EPA announced its support for a rule change that will eliminate a 20-year-old prohibition against mining activities that fill valleys or disturb the 100-foot buffer zone around mountain streams.
When Bank of America policy announced
All last week, USA Today published a series of articles detailing the findings of its investigation into the toxic air pollutants afflicting many of the schools throughout the United States. Using models developed by EPA for tracking toxic chemicals, USA Today investigators evaluated and ranked air quality for some 127,800 schools. In particular, these models were able—through the use of computer simulations—to predict the dispersal of toxic chemicals released by 20,000 industrial polluters during roughly the last decade. By combining these
FDA Pooh-Poohs Mercury-Laden Fish
CPR Member Scholar Catherine O’Neill has posted a blog entry on Marlerblog, discussing the conflict reportedly under way between the FDA and the EPA over whether to stop warning pregnant women against eating mercury-laden tuna. Relying on studies that EPA staff scientists describe as, “scientifically flawed and inadequate,” FDA has forwarded to the White House a draft report arguing that the nutritive value of fish outweigh the dangers from mercury consumption. After noting the shaky science undergirding the
Time for EPA to Ride in the Front Seat
President-elect Barack Obama seems close to naming Lisa Jackson, now head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Jackson, or whoever ends up getting the appointment, will surely get a raft of advice from friends and closet enemies alike. Most of it will have to do with regulations she should cancel, promulgate, or change profoundly. But I have some turf-guarding advice. Of all the body blows that have fallen on EPA in
Alien Invaders Approach the Upper Chesapeake
Although it might not quite be the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster, the tale of the lowly zebra mussel has a critical mass of the ingredients needed for a horror movie – or at least a seriously disturbing documentary. They’re creatures from a different world (that is, ecosystem), they’re amazingly prolific (each female produces 1 million eggs per year), they colonize both non-living and living surfaces (including turtles, crustaceans, other mollusks, and even other members of their own species), they
CPR's Ackerman on the Economics of Climate Change
CPR Member Scholar Frank Ackerman has an interesting piece in the November/December issue of Dollars and Sense magazine. He points out that the opponents of genuine action to prevent climate change have shifted their principal line of argument in an important way. Rather than arguing as they did through much of the 1990s and the first part of this decade that climate change isn’t real, or that it’s overstated, or that it’s a natural phenomenon about which we should not
Kids and Rocket Fuel
by Matt Shudtz | December 10, 2008
Sometime this month, EPA is expected to reach a final determination on regulating perchlorate in Americans’ drinking water. Every indication is that the agency will conclude, despite ample advice to the contrary, that there’s no need for a national standard for the chemical – a component of rocket fuel and munitions. That, even though, by EPA’s own account, millions of Americans are exposed to perchlorate at concentrations that could have a negative impact on our health. (For some background
Building a Better Risk Assessment Process
One of many areas in which the Bush Administration has sought to throw sand in the gears of the regulatory process is by tampering with the methods of risk assessment used by regulatory agencies as part of their process of gauging how much regulation, if any, is needed in a certain area. More specifically, risk assessment in this context is the process by which scientists try to evaluate and quantify risks associated with human or environmental exposure to chemicals
Reporting on the Environment Takes a Back Seat
Shortly before Thanksgiving, a quartet of heavyweight health organizations issued their annual “Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer.” The principal finding of the study from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries is that the incidence of cancer and the rates of death from cancer continue to decline. That’s great news, and it’s even better news that it seems not
REACH-ing for a Better Policy on Toxics
by Matt Shudtz | December 05, 2008
Dan Rosenberg of NRDC has an excellent new post up on Switchboard that lays out some ideas for reforming U.S. chemical policies in the wake of the Bush Administration. The ideas include improving the risk assessment process EPA uses to develop its IRIS database, strengthening chemical security measures, re-invigorating right-to-know policies under the Toxic Release Inventory, stepping up research into risks posed by BPA and nanotech, and reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to follow the European Union’s REACH
The Clean Water Act, Please, and Hold the Fried Fish
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Entergy Corp. v. EPA. The case involves a challenge by electric utilities to new EPA regulations requiring power plants to protect aquatic life by regulating “cooling water intake structures” at existing power plants. Billions of fish, shellfish, and other aquatic organisms are drawn into these cooling intake structures and killed yearly. So basically the Court gets to decide between protecting all those creatures, or signing off on a very
A Game of Inches or a Game of Feet?
Perhaps no other consequence of global climate change kindles the public’s fears like the prospect of catastrophic sea-level rise. For years now, climate scientists have recognized the potential for increasing global surface temperatures to produce certain kinds of feedback loops that would accelerate the collapse of massive ice shelves in Greenland and Antarctica, leading to a rise in sea level in the range of 6 to 20 feet by the end of the century. Such a development would wipe entire
The Chesapeake Bay Dead Zone Needs a Ref
Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Chief Justice Earl Warren once said he always turned to the sports section of the newspaper first. “The sports page records people’s accomplishments,” he explained. “The front page has nothing but man's failures.” The Chesapeake Bay has been in the news a lot lately, and its fans aren’t cheering. When it comes to Bay cleanup efforts, front-page failure – not a jolt of inspiration – is the order of the day. Despite 25-plus years of study
High Noon for the Last Surviving Land Disposal Law?
The “land disposal” laws line up on the pages of U.S. history books, reminders of a bygone era when the government of a young nation was striving to find ways to encourage people to move west by giving away public lands at bargain-basement prices. The Homestead Act of 1862, for example, gave settlers title to 160-acre plots of land for just the cost of filing fees, so long as the settlers lived on the land for five years and cultivated
Tom McGarity on preemption in November 28 Austin American Statesman
CPR's Tom McGarity has an op-ed this morning in the Austin American Statesman on Wyeth vs. Levine, the Supreme Court case testing an assertion by pharmaceutical manufacturer Wyeth that FDA approval of its proposed drug label shields the company from tort litigation over harm that drug subsequently causes. The Court heard oral arguments on the case on November 3, and a ruling is expected later this term. The case arose out of one of those medical disaster stories we
Thanks for the Invitation, Chevron, But I Will...Aim Higher
If you’re a Washington, D.C., commuter, it’s hard these days to miss the series of transit ads from Chevron on subway walls, bus shelter windows, and even the exteriors of subway cars. “I will finally get a programmable thermostat,” says one, over the picture of a concerned woman. “I will at least consider a hybrid,” says another, over the face of a perplexed looking man. Other ads in the “Will You Join Us” series, commit “I” to taking “my” golf
The BLM Goes Back to the Future
by Matt Shudtz | November 25, 2008
Every time energy prices spike, oil companies (and their allies in Washington) start talking up oil shale. It happened just before World War I, it happened after the 1973 oil embargo, and it’s happening again now. Oil shale, the hucksters tell us, is the answer to America’s energy problems. Huge deposits of the stuff lie just below the surface of empty federal lands. It has the potential to provide us hundreds of billions of barrels of homegrown oil. It’s readily
Midnight Changes to Cost-Benefit Analysis?
Much is being made of the outgoing Bush Administration’s “midnight regulations,” and with good reason, too. Many of them roll back crucial protections for public health, safety, and the environment. So far, they include relaxed requirements for building filthy coal plants near national parks and the elimination of a requirement mandating that federal agencies consult with independent scientists prior to taking actions that might impact endangered species. The fact is, however, that the Bush Administration has been surreptitiously weakening