Federal Science Policy, Obama-Style

by Matt Shudtz | March 11, 2009

Monday was a good day for our nation’s science policy.  At the same time he announced that the federal government will abandon misguided restrictions on stem cell research, President Obama unveiled an effort to promote a sea change in the way political appointees will treat the science that informs so many federal policies.


In a memorandum to department heads across the government, President Obama announced that John Holdren, the soon-to-be-confirmed Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), will develop a plan to achieve a goal of “ensuring the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch's involvement with scientific and technological processes.”


The memorandum hints at some very encouraging ideas that reflect a significant change in attitude from the Bush Administration.  For starters, President Obama writes that “science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration.”  President Bush always talked about the importance of science, but it was always “sound science,” which, roughly translated, meant “administration-approved science.”  Hopefully President Obama's focus on the scientific process means that he will let evolving knowledge guide his policy choices, rather than unwavering ideology.


The other exciting prospect outlined in President Obama’s memo is his request that each agency create “procedures to identify and address instances in which the scientific process or the integrity of scientific and technological information may be compromised.”  Several Inspectors General and ...

The Supreme Court's Decision on Standing in Summers vs. Earth Island Institute

by William Buzbee | March 10, 2009
On March 3rd, the Supreme Court issued its much awaited decision in Summers v. Earth Island Institute.  This was the latest in a series of cases dating to the early 1990s where the central question has concerned citizen standing: will the courts allow a citizen to stand before a court to argue that government or private action violates the law?   In Summers, the environmentalists' challenge involved a few layers. The real legal challenge raised by the environmentalists was to ...

The Supreme Court's Decision on Standing in Summers vs. Earth Island Institute, Part Two

by Robert Glicksman | March 10, 2009
(CPR Member Scholar Robert L. Glicksman replies below to CPR Member Scholar William Buzbee’s post on the Summers vs. Earth Island Institute decision.)   The decision in Summers represents the latest salvo in a continuing battle between those Supreme Court Justices who view the function of standing doctrine as ensuring that litigation before the federal courts is capable of being presented in an adversary context suitable for judicial resolution, and those who regard it as a fundamental bulwark against intrusion ...

McGarity columns on Wyeth vs. Levine Preemption Case

by Matthew Freeman | March 09, 2009
CPR Member Scholar Thomas McGarity had op-eds over the weekend in three Texas newspapers -- the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman.  His topic is Wyeth vs. Levine, last week's blockbuster case from the Supreme Court, in which the Court rejected the Bush Administration's multi-year effort to use the federal regulatory process as a backdoor method of shielding manufacturers from lawsuits brought by customers their products injure.   The case was brought by professional musician Diana Levine, who ...

Stand by Your Tap

by Yee Huang | March 09, 2009
  In the decade between 1994 and 2004, the bottled water industry enjoyed a meteoric rise as consumers flocked to their product, paying more per gallon than gasoline and neglecting a virtually free source of water – the tap.  Bottled water drinkers formed fierce allegiances to their favorite brands, elevating bottled water beyond a beverage to a symbol of refinement.   More recently, opposition to bottled water has grown, built around an eclectic mix of advocates including activists, restaurateurs, and ...

The People's Agents: Rescuing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

by Rena Steinzor | March 06, 2009
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the most maligned and least respected federal agency with responsibility for protecting people’s lives. Now that Hilda Solis has been confirmed as Secretary of the Department of Labor, we can only hope that a new OSHA administrator with a strong stomach, an iron will, and a “yes we can” attitude will be chosen to take over this troubled agency.   Workplace injuries and illnesses numbered 4.1 million in private sector workplaces for ...

Bad Endangered Species Act Rules Not Yet Undone

by Holly Doremus | March 05, 2009
The following is cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.   The Bush administration’s last-minute ESA (non)consultation rule is getting almost as much attention now as it did during the comment period. Then, the administration reportedly received more than 300,000 comments, the vast majority of them negative. Those objections were, of course, quickly swept under the proverbial rug so the administration could finalize its rule significantly cutting back on the application and scope of the consultation process. Now, Congress and the ...

Change on the Way for Superfund

by Matthew Freeman | March 04, 2009
After suffering years of neglect at the hands of the Bush Administration and conservatives in Congress, Superfund may be on the verge of springing back to life. That at least is the objective of a new proposal from President Obama, included in his recent budget outline, calling for the reinstatement of a tax on polluting industries to fund toxic waste cleanup efforts.   Congress created Superfund in 1980, responding to national furor over the toxically infamous Love Canal. Its mission ...

Wyeth Ruling a Victory for Consumers

by Nina Mendelson | March 04, 2009
This morning the Supreme handed down its ruling in Wyeth v. Levine. In its majority opinion, the Court rejected the argument of pharmaceutical giant Wyeth that the FDA’s approval of its label for Phenergan effectively “preempted” a tort suit brought against it by a patient claiming that the manufacturer failed to provide adequate warning about the dangers of the drug. The patient, Diana Levine, had the drug administered as part of treatment for a migraine, and ended up having her ...

Oil Shale Update: Small Potatoes

by Matt Shudtz | March 03, 2009
Last Wednesday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Bureau of Land Management is going to "review and reconsider" the oil shale leases proposed in the waning days of the Bush Administration.  The Bush proposal would have potentially opened 1.9 million acres of land in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming for oil shale development and would have locked in a paltry royalty rate.  The Obama Administration is going to take 90 days of public comment on the shortcomings of ...

Industry Lobbyists Suiting Up for Climate Change Battle

by Shana Campbell Jones | March 02, 2009
The Center for Public Integrity released a report last week finding that the number of lobbyists seeking to influence federal policy on climate change has expanded more than 300 percent in five years. The report also finds that special interest industry lobbyists outnumber public interest environmental advocates 8-to-1.   That’s right. The most important environmental legislation in our lifetime is likely to come before Congress this year, and the overwhelming majority of meetings that Members of Congress have with advocates will ...

OMB Seeks Public Input on New Executive Order on Regulatory Review

by Rena Steinzor | February 27, 2009
Late last week, I sent a letter to Peter Orszag, Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget that, among other things, called on OMB to allow for public participation in the design of its new Executive Order governing federal regulatory review. I’m happy to see that OMB has decided to do just that, with its announcement in Thursday’s Federal Register that it would “invite public comments on how to improve the process and principles governing regulation.”   ...

Another Twist in the Mercury Air Pollution Saga

by James Goodwin | February 26, 2009
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not be accepting an appeal of a case involving the Bush Administration’s regulatory plan for reducing air mercury emissions from power plants.  For the last two decades, the regulation of mercury air pollution has been caught up in a long and winding journey reminiscent of Homer’s Odyssey.   With the Supreme Court’s announcement, however, it appears that the mercury air pollution saga may soon be reaching its long-awaited conclusion.   This story ...

Midnight Regulations: Congress Lends a Hand

by Christopher Schroeder | February 25, 2009
The following is cross-posted by permission from Executive Watch, a blog maintained by the Duke Law School Public Law Program.   Every time the presidency has changed parties in recent years, the outgoing president has issued regulations in the final months of his presidency implementing policies at odds with the policies of the incoming president.  The critics of these regulations invariably deride them as “midnight regulations”  that have been rushed through the regulatory process.  Propublica is monitoring the Bush midnight ...

Time Magazine on Cass Sunstein/Cost-Benefit

by Matthew Freeman | February 24, 2009
Time Magazine has a piece this week on Cass Sunstein’s likely nomination to be the Obama Administration’s “regulatory czar” (director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs) and the debate over the use of cost-benefit analysis it has touched off. Despite Professor Sunstein's progressive views on most issues, progressives are concerned that his methods of regulatory analysis, if and when he’s confirmed, may not differ significantly from those used during the Bush years. The Time story, here, captures the ...

Water Footprints - Silently Splashing Along

by Yee Huang | February 24, 2009
Walk into any grocery store and you’ll find a barrage of labels on every product that proudly and loudly proclaims its ecofriendly pedigree: Organic!  Fair trade and shade-grown!  Local!  An article last week in the Wall Street Journal posits two of the latest entries into the fray: virtual water and water footprint.      Relatively new additions to the enviro-lexicon, “virtual water” is the volume of water required for producing a commodity, and “water footprint” measures “the total volume of freshwater ...

Milwaukee Reporters Earn Journalism Award for BPA Reporting

by Matthew Freeman | February 23, 2009
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporters Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger are about to pick up some well deserved hardware for their series on bisphenol A (BPA) – a plastic hardener that leaches from plastic when microwaved. The substance causes neurological and developmental hazards, but it is ubiquitous in food storage containers, including water bottles and baby bottles. Rust and Kissinger’s 2007-08 reporting on the problem, and the FDA’s eagerness to overlook it, ignited public controversy, causing FDA to reconsider a decision to ...

The Backdoor Discrimination of Cost-Benefit Analysis

by James Goodwin | February 20, 2009
In recent weeks, an unusual convergence of events has served to elevate somewhat the public profile of cost-benefit analysis (CBA).  Before then, CBA was an obscure and highly complex tool of policy analysis—the kind of thing that hardcore policy wonks would wonk about when the subjects of their usual policy wonkery weren’t wonkish enough.  Foreseeable future events suggest that the public profile of CBA will continue to rise.   The process began in early January when word emerged from the ...
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