The Bush Administration's Last Words on Perchlorate

by Matt Shudtz | January 13, 2009

After years of study and analysis on the public health implications of regulating perchlorate in drinking water, EPA has come to the conclusion that … it needs to do more study and analysis.


In fact, that is the conclusion of two different EPA offices. Within a two-week span, EPA’s Office of Water and its Office of the Inspector General each issued a report suggesting that the agency should refrain from regulating the chemical until more research clarifies various uncertainties.


On December 30, EPA’s Inspector General released a report that faulted both EPA and the National Academy of Sciences for failing to use cumulative risk assessment techniques to derive the reference dose for perchlorate. The Office of the Inspector General hired a contractor to review EPA’s and NAS’s work, and provided this summary:

Based on our scientific analysis documented in our report, perchlorate is only one of many chemicals that stress the thyroid’s ability to uptake iodide. The other NIS [sodium iodide symporter] stressors include thiocyanate, nitrate, and the lack of iodide. All four of these NIS stressors meet EPA’s risk assessment guidance for conducting a cumulative risk assessment using the dose addition method. Our analysis includes a cumulative risk assessment of this public health issue using all four NIS stressors. A cumulative risk assessment approach is required to better characterize the risk to the public from a low total iodide uptake (TIU) during pregnancy and lactation. ...

A Changing Climate for Insurance Companies

by Yee Huang | January 12, 2009
Environmentalists are not usually accustomed to having industry allies in their efforts to address climate change.  However, behind the scenes large private insurance companies have long advocated for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and ultimately threaten these companies’ bottom line.   Recently, reinsurance giant Munich Re attributed significant human and financial losses in 2008 to climate change and increasingly severe weather events.  A deadly cocktail of hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters caused nearly 220,000 ...

The Sunstein Appointment: More Here Than Meets the Eye

by Rena Steinzor | January 09, 2009
Thursday’s big news on the regulatory front was that President-elect Obama plans to nominate Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein to be the head of the White House Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) – the so-called “regulatory czar” of the federal government. The appointment means that those of us expecting a revival of the protector agencies—EPA, FDA, OSHA, CPSC, and NHTSA—have reason to worry that “yes, we can” will become “no, we won’t.”   The ...

More Midnight Regs

by Matthew Freeman | January 08, 2009
The reporters of ProPublica continue their impressive coverage of the Bush Administration’s midnight regulations. Most of the rest of the media behaves as if the nation’s 43rd President is already out of power. But the nonprofit, wave-of-the-future-if-we’re-lucky investigative outfit has built an impressive, and frankly distressing, list of last-minute regulations – in the process driving home the point that even lame ducks can paddle furiously just below the surface.   The most recent entries on ProPublica’s list include efforts to ...

The Economist on Dying Seas

by Matthew Freeman | January 07, 2009
The January 3 issue of The Economist Magazine offers a special report on the challenges confronting the world’s oceans.  The nine-part package of stories covers a range of topics, including global warming, dying coral reefs, bottom trawling, dumping of sewage and trash, oxygen-choking algae blooms resulting from too many nutrients (often from fertilizer runoff), overfishing, and more. It’s a fine compilation of a broad range of ocean issues, well worth a read. ...

Regulators Cozying Up to Regulated Industry

by Rena Steinzor | January 06, 2009
A story in the Washington Post over the holidays offers up a nice case study in how regulated industries and federal agencies charged with regulating them have grown far too cozy. The story drew back the curtain on how the manufacturer of a toxic metal called beryllium managed to defeat efforts by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to establish a reasonable workplace standard, and then succeeded in corrupting an effort by an OSHA staffer to warn workers of the ...

A Tale of Two Cities

by Matt Shudtz | January 05, 2009
Last week, the New York Times ran two stories that present a fascinating dichotomy in people’s response to rising home-heating costs.   On Friday, Elisabeth Rosenthal reported from the central German town of Darmstadt about “passive houses” that employ high-tech designs to provide warm air and hot water using incredibly small amounts of energy – as little as might be used to power a hair dryer.   Rosenthal explains the design briefly: Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, ...

Clean Water Enforcement: Sharp Eyes Reveal Dull Tools

by Yee Huang | January 02, 2009
Chairmen Henry Waxman and James Oberstar have been busy sharpening water protection tools on the Congressional whetstone. In a memorandum to President-elect Obama, Waxman, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Oberstar, chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, detail serious deterioration of Clean Water Act (CWA) enforcement. The investigation found nearly 500 enforcement cases, brought to protect the nation’s waters, that have been negatively affected as a result of a divided 2006 Supreme Court ...

Shining a Light on CFLs

by Matthew Freeman | December 31, 2008
The Environmental Working Group is out with a new guide to Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs), and they warn that not all CFLs are environmentally equal.   CFLs offer huge energy-consumption and length-of-use advantages over traditional incandescent bulbs, but they introduce one noteworthy environmental problem: each CFL has a tiny amount of mercury inside the glass. It’s not much – about what would fit on the tip of ballpoint pen – but if the bulb breaks, the mercury can be ...

Do Lost Statistical Lives Really Count?

by Matthew Freeman | December 30, 2008
The Fresno Bee’s Mark Grossi ran a piece this weekend about local deaths caused by air pollution. It must have left readers shaking their heads; indeed, that seems to have been the point. Here’s the lede: The more than 800 people who died prematurely this year from breathing dirty San Joaquin Valley air are worth $6.63 million each, economists say. Relatives don't collect a dime, but society is willing to pay someone this price. Confused? You're not alone. The story ...

Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Effort Takes Its Lumps

by Matthew Freeman | December 29, 2008
David Fahrenthold had a powerful article in Saturday's Washington Post on the failures of Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts. The lede: Government administrators in charge of an almost $6 billion cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay tried to conceal for years that their effort was failing -- even issuing reports overstating their progress -- to preserve the flow of federal and state money to the project, former officials say. Devising accountability mechanisms to safeguard against just such problems with the Chesapeake Bay ...

Mercatus and Midnight Regs

by Matthew Freeman | December 24, 2008
The Mercatus Center is out with a new report focused on midnight regulations -- the last-minute regs pushed through by Presidents even as their successor’s inaugural parade reviewing stand is being constructed on the front stoop of the White House. President Bush and his political appointees at regulatory agencies are making considerable use of their midnight hour, working to adopt new regs that would weaken the Endangered Species Act, make it harder for women to get reproductive care, keep truckers ...

Obama Speaks Up for Science

by Matthew Freeman | December 23, 2008
It breaks no new ground to observe that the Bush Administration’s record on respecting science and scientists is dismal. Three examples tell the tale: The President’s 2001 decision to severely restrict federal support for stem cell research; The President’s embrace of Intelligent Design – the latest ruse for insinuating the religious doctrine of Creationism into public school biology classes alongside evolution; and, The one for which future generations may best remember George W. Bush: his active opposition to meaningful action ...

Unsafe Toys Lay Bare CPSC's Problems

by Matthew Freeman | December 22, 2008
Last year at about this time, the toy giant Mattel was up to its ears in recalled toys - more than 20 million of them to be specific. Not a good posture for a toy company right before Christmas.   Nevertheless, there’s an argument to be made that Mattel caught something of a PR break out of the incident – or more accurately the series of incidents. I haven’t seen Mattel’s polling on it, but my hunch is that if ...

And Green Jobs Justice for All

by James Goodwin | December 19, 2008
The past few weeks, Congress has been working on an economic stimulus bill intended to jolt the U.S. economy back to life.  Earlier in the week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi projected that the bill will combine roughly $400 billion in infrastructure spending with roughly $200 billion of targeted tax cuts.   According to its proponents, one of the big goals of the stimulus plan is to create 2.5 million jobs over the next few years.  A growing chorus of ...

Pregnancy Don'ts: Drinking, Smoking . . . and Breathing?

by Margaret Clune Giblin | December 18, 2008
From a developmental standpoint, the 280 or so days between conception and birth are among the most important in a person’s entire life. During this period, pregnant women are cautioned to avoid a wide variety of exposures that can inhibit fetal organ development and growth. However, a recent report highlights the risk posed by one type of exposure against which women can’t realistically protect themselves—pollution in the air they breathe. The list of pregnancy “don’ts” is lengthy, and with good ...

A Weather Forecast for Climate Change Governance

by Shana Campbell Jones | December 17, 2008
Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by rendering them my supreme delight. But the enormities of the times in which I have lived have forced me to take a part in resisting them, and to commit myself on the boisterous ocean of political passions.                                                            -- Thomas Jefferson   Last week, I attended the National Conference on Climate Governance at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.  Given the politicization of climate change ...

Tomain on Obama Energy/Environment Team

by Joseph Tomain | December 16, 2008
President-elect Obama’s announcement of his energy team clearly signals a dramatic change from the energy policy of all past presidents not only from the past administration. This team will oversee a new direction for future energy policy, especially pertaining to climate change.   With these appointments and in his remarks, the President-elect identifies several strong themes for future energy and environmental policy including: (1) A commitment to expanding the economy while protecting the environment; (2) creating a government office merging ...

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