The First 100 Days: A Positive Beginning on the Freedom of Information Act

by Bill Funk | April 28, 2009

There are few areas where the difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is more stark than that of the Freedom of Information Act. The FOIA, of course, requires agencies to provide copies of their records to any person upon request unless the record fits within one of nine specific exemptions. Among the most important of these are the exemption for classified information, inter-agency or intra-agency communications containing advice or recommendations, information compiled for law enforcement purposes, and private commercial information. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the FOIA is a disclosure statute; nothing in the FOIA requires an agency to withhold records even if they fall within an exemption, although it is possible that some other statute might.

In 1977, the Attorney General under President Jimmy Carter issued a memorandum to heads of departments and agencies announcing that henceforth the Justice Department would not defend FOIA denials by agencies, even if the records were within a FOIA exemption, unless the agency made an additional finding that release of the records would be contrary to the public interest. This was done both in the spirit of openness and to reduce the litigation backlog at Justice. As a result, agencies were more likely to release information. In 1981, the Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan rescinded this memorandum, indicating that Justice would defend agencies whenever a FOIA exemption applied. Then, in 1994, Attorney General Reno, under President Bill ...

Proposed Amendments to Waxman-Markey Could Diminish Integrity of Offset Provisions

by Victor Flatt | April 27, 2009
Two weeks ago, Representatives Waxman and Markey put forth a 648-page legislative draft for dealing with climate change. That draft had proposals for the use of offsets, some good and some not so good (see my earlier post). Moderate and conservative Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee have now put forward suggested changes (as reported by ClimateWire) that they say are necessary to make the proposed bill less onerous. In general, these provisions would more or less weaken the ...

Obama Speaks at NAS Annual Meeting - and White House Solicits Public Comment on Scientific Integrity

by Matt Shudtz | April 27, 2009
President Obama addressed the National Academy of Sciences this morning at the group's annual meeting. Not since John F. Kennedy addressed NAS in 1963 has a president found the time to directly engage with the people whose ingenuity and hard work is directly responsible for many of the greatest improvements in our daily lives. And he did it within his first 100 days. He told a packed house that “the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are ...

I'll Have a Water... With a Splash of Warfarin

by Yee Huang | April 24, 2009
Never mind the unusual wave of intersex fish or the mutant frogs appearing in a waterway near you. Earlier this week the Associated Press published the results of an investigation of pharmaceuticals in the nation’s waters.  The reporters found that U.S. drug companies have legally released at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals into waterways, including compounds such as: lithium, used to treat bipolar disorder; warfarin, a blood thinner also used as a rodenticide and pesticide; and tetracycline hydrochloride, an ...

A Day at the Waxman-Markey Hearings

by Frank Ackerman | April 23, 2009
It must be worthwhile; at least, I keep doing it. Wednesday was the third time in the last eight months that I’ve testified before a House committee about the costs of inaction on climate change, a topic I study at the Stockholm Environment Institute-US Center, a research institute affiliated with Tufts University in Boston. The Energy and Commerce Committee launched a week of hearings on the Waxman-Markey bill, the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009”; by one account, ...

What's new on the Delta?

by Holly Doremus | April 22, 2009
This item is cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet. Quite a bit, and most of the news is bad. American Rivers has declared the Sacramento-San Joaquin the most endangered river in the United States. The longfin smelt has been listed as threatened by the state, but it is not going to be federally listed, at least not yet. Commercial salmon fishing off the California coast is one step closer to being formally closed for 2009. And while late rains have ...

Climate Change Legislation: Is the Train (Finally) Leaving the Station?

by Daniel Farber | April 21, 2009
On Sunday, John Boehner, the House Republican leader, explained his view of climate changeto George Stephanopoulos: “George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen, that it’s harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, uh, well, you know when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide.” My first thought was that this was completely idiotic, making a childish argument that even George W. Bush ...

Poisoned Waters: A Frontline Presentation You Don't Want to Miss

by Shana Campbell Jones | April 20, 2009
Tomorrow, Tuesday, Frontline will air Poisoned Waters, a two-hour documentary on the continuing pollution of American waterways (9pm on many PBS stations; check your local listings). Having seen part of the program, I recommend it. Watching a bulldozer move chicken manure – much of which will end up in the Chesapeake Bay – and seeing filthy stormwater drains pouring into Puget Sound serve as stark reminders for why fighting for clean water matters. Six-legged frogs swim in the Potomac River. ...

Reacting to Cass Sunstein's Nomination

by Rena Steinzor | April 20, 2009
According to media accounts, President Obama today nominated Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein to be the director of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs -- the so-called "regulatory czar."  CPR President Rena Steinzor reacts to the news: I welcome Cass Sunstein’s nomination to be the Obama Administration’s regulatory czar. His past support for cost-benefit analysis as a method of regulatory impact analysis – even as practiced by the Bush Administration – raises a host of questions about the direction ...

Climate Change and Environmental Impact Statements

by Daniel Farber | April 17, 2009
As ClimateWire reported (available via the other week, government agencies are struggling with how to fit climate change into the process of environmental review (such as for licensing energy facilities or expanding offshore oil drilling). At one level, this is a no-brainer. Greenhouse gases contribute to climate change, and climate change is the biggest environmental impact of all. But as always, the devil is in the details. The direct use of fossil fuels resulting from a project should usually ...

A Long-Overdue Step: EPA Adresses Climate Change

by Daniel Farber | April 17, 2009
Today, EPA gave notice that it intends to regulate greenhouse gases under the federal Clean Air Act. Technically, the notice is a proposed finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health. When it becomes final after EPA has had a chance to consider public comments, this finding will trigger other regulatory requirements that will move the U.S. in the right direction. EPA's announcement is an important landmark, because it is an unambiguous acknowledgment -- finally -- that the federal government must ...

An Attack on Waxman-Markey That's a False Alarm

by Nina Mendelson | April 16, 2009
On Friday, the Washington Times went A1 above-the-fold with "Climate bill could trigger lawsuit landslide." Environmentalists say the measure was narrowly crafted to give citizens the unusual standing to sue the U.S. government as a way to force action on curbing emissions. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sees a new cottage industry for lawyers. "You could be spawning lawsuits at almost any place [climate-change modeling] computers place at harm's risk," said Bill Kovacs, energy lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber ...

New CPR Paper: Regulatory Preemption and Its Impact on Public Health

by Matt Shudtz | April 15, 2009
Avery DeGroh, a three-year old from Illinois, had a defibrillator implanted in her heart to deal with a congenital condition called “long QT syndrome.” It was a brand-new model with a specially designed wire (or “lead”) that is thinner and easier for doctors to install. Unfortunately, due to a problem with the new lead, one day the defibrillator shocked Avery unnecessarily nine times, sending jolts of electricity through her young heart. She was rushed to the hospital and had the ...

The People's Agents: Rewarding Polluters with a Plaque on the Wall

by Rena Steinzor | April 14, 2009
Say you live in an urban neighborhood where crime is worrisome but not overwhelming. The police are chronically understaffed, with no money to walk the beat, and instead depend on what we might call a “deterrence-based enforcement system” – making high-profile arrests, prosecuting the worst violators, and relying on the resulting publicity to frighten others from taking up a life of crime. Now suppose a group of trade associations representing local “businesses,” that is to say drug dealers and thieves, ...

Water Buffaloes Ready to Charge... Over the Rain?

by Yee Huang | April 13, 2009
A recent article in the Los Angeles Times described the latest absurdity in the never-ending search to quench the thirst for water: ownership of rainwater and, more precisely, the illegality of rainwater harvesting.  Residents and communities in parts of Colorado are turning to this ancient practice of collecting and storing rain to fulfill their domestic water needs, including flushing toilets and watering lawns.  Using this “grey” water, as it is called, relieves pressure on water resources and can be extremely ...

Waxman-Markey: Federalism Battles

by William Buzbee | April 10, 2009
On Tuesday, March 31, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) released a "discussion draft" of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 -- a climate change bill that will serve as the starting point for long-delayed congressional action on the world's most pressing environmental program. CPRBlog asked several Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholars to examine different aspects of the 648-page Waxman-Markey bill. This entry, by William Buzbee, examines if ...

Climate Change: Endangering Our Future, Destroying Our Past

by James Goodwin | April 08, 2009
The large earthquake that struck central Italy on Monday is devastating not only for the immense human suffering—people killed and injured, and communities disrupted—but also for the priceless losses of Italian cultural heritage.  The Italian Ministry of culture has reported that the earthquake damaged a number of buildings of immeasurable historical significance, including the Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio—the site of a papal coronation in 1294—and  an archway built in the 16th century to honor Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. ...

Waxman-Markey: Adaptation

by Ben Somberg | April 07, 2009
On Tuesday, March 31, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) released a "discussion draft" of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 -- a climate change bill that will serve as the starting point for long-delayed congressional action on the world's most pressing environmental program. CPRBlog asked several Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholars to examine different aspects of the 648-page Waxman-Markey bill. This entry, by Alex Camacho and Holly ...
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