Steinzor in The New York Times: Judgment Day for Reckless Executives

by Brian Gumm | April 08, 2016

On April 6, U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger sentenced former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to one year in jail and a $250,000 fine for conspiring to violate federal health and safety standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. The mine exploded and killed 29 miners in April 2010. 

In an April 7 New York Times op-ed, CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, explained the significance of Blankenship's conviction and sentence and what it portends for other top managers and CEOs: 

"The first C.E.O. ever to be convicted of conspiring to violate industrial safety standards will soon take his place in prison. 

"The sentence is noteworthy, however, not because of the law, but in spite of it. The Mine Safety and Health Act, the statute under which Mr. Blankenship was convicted, treats the worst criminal violations as mere misdemeanors." 

* * *

"The burden successfully shouldered by the prosecutors in this case…should be a salutary warning to other industrial executives. True, the defendant had a habit, unfortunate for him, of recording the bullying instructions he issued to subordinates, and was notorious in coal country for his contempt for government and regulators. But he also had the best defense money could buy and he represented an industry that brought precious jobs to a depressed ...

Unnatural Disasters and Environmental Injustice

by Christine Klein | April 07, 2016
Originally published on OUPblog by CPR Member Scholars Christine A. Klein and Sandra B. Zellmer. The recent tragedy involving toxic, lead-laced tap water in Flint, Michigan highlights the growing gulf between rich and poor, and majority and minority communities. In an ill-fated measure to save costs for the struggling city of Flint, officials stopped using Detroit's water supply system and switched to the Flint River. Although residents complained about the water's foul taste, odor, and color, officials assured them that the water ...

Beware of BPA: New Report Finds Toxic Substance Widespread in Canned Foods

by Mollie Rosenzweig | April 06, 2016
Consumers, take note: Last week, Clean Production Action published a troubling new report, Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA and regrettable substitutes found in the linings of canned food, on the presence of toxic bisphenol-A (BPA) in canned foods. The report, co-written by Breast Cancer Fund, Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Ecology Center, and Mind the Store Campaign, found BPA in the lining of the majority of canned foods sold by major retailers across the United States and Canada. As the Center for ...

Steinzor Reacts to Blankenship Sentencing

by Rena Steinzor | April 06, 2016
Today, U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger sentenced former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for conspiring to violate federal health and safety standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. Upper Big Branch exploded and killed 29 miners in April 2010. CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, issued the following statement: "Although Mr. Blankenship won't spend much time in jail, an outcome determined by a ...

The Next Justice and the Fate of the Clean Water Act

by Daniel Farber | April 05, 2016
Every once in a while, we get reminded of just how much damage the conservative Justices could wreak on environmental law. Last week, Justice Kennedy created shock waves with a casual comment during oral argument. In a case that seemed to involve only a technical issue about administrative procedure, he dropped the suggestion that the Clean Water Act just might be unconstitutionally vague. It didn't seem to faze him that such a ruling would wipe out a statute that has been on ...

Legal Experts: Supreme Court Decision on Mercury Pollution Could Undercut Chemical Reform

by Thomas Cluderay | March 31, 2016
Originally published on EnviroBlog by Thomas Cluderay, general counsel, and Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney, for the Environmental Working Group. You might think you can’t put a price on protecting public health and the environment. But you’d be wrong – especially if we’re talking about the nation's broken and outdated chemicals law, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA. We’ve written a lot about how the House and Senate are working to amend this defective law (here, here and here) through negotiations ...

Steinzor, Panel to Explore What Next Administration Will Mean for Public Protections

by Brian Gumm | March 31, 2016
When it comes to public health, the environment, and social justice, Americans are facing a host of challenges that call out for comprehensive, national solutions. Whether it's climate change, threats to water resources like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, or serious injuries and deaths in the workplace, how we respond as a nation has direct impacts on our everyday lives. Strong standards and effective enforcement of our laws and regulations are key to protecting our health and environment, ...

Center for Progressive Reform Welcomes New Communications Director

by Matthew Freeman | March 29, 2016
NEWS RELEASE: CPR Welcomes New Communications Director Today, the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) announced that Brian Gumm has joined the organization as its communications director. Gumm will serve alongside the group’s staff and Member Scholars in their efforts to protect our health, safety, and environment. “I’m excited to welcome Brian Gumm to our team,” said Matthew Shudtz, executive director of CPR. “CPR’s network of legal experts has incredible insights into the heated national conversations about environmental health, climate change, ...

Green Patches Deep in the Heart of Texas

by Daniel Farber | March 28, 2016
The Texas AG’s office seems to do little else besides battle against EPA, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz is in the vanguard of anti-environmentalism. Yet even in Texas there are some rays of hope. While Texas is attacking the Clean Power Plan, the city of Houston is leading a coalition of cities defending it. Other cities are taking action for non-environmental reasons. The city of Georgetown, Texas, for instance, has announced plans to become 100 percent renewable. Lest there be any misunderstanding, the ...

Ensuring Accountability and Public Participation in Stormwater Permitting

by Katrina Miller | March 25, 2016
As spring rains approach, the need for more stringent stormwater controls comes into sharper focus. Rain is a life-giver, of course, but in our ever more paved environment, it’s also a conveyance for water pollution. Stormwater runoff in urban areas travels across rooftops, roads, sidewalks and eventually into a municipal storm sewer system, all the while accumulating a cocktail of various pollutants that includes oil residue from roads, pesticides and excess fertilizer from lawns and farms, and more. These pollutants ...

OSHA's New Silica Rule: CPR's Matt Shudtz Reacts

by Matt Shudtz | March 24, 2016
Decades in the making, OSHA’s new silica rule will better protect millions of workers from a highly toxic, cancer-causing substance that has killed thousands while the rule slowly worked its way through the regulatory gauntlet, administration after administration. Today, in quarries, foundries, building sites, and kitchen rehab jobs across the country, workers can look forward to breathing cleaner air. But today’s announcement is far from the end of the story. Next comes the inevitable litigation. Following their tired playbook, special ...

When On-the-Job Deaths & Injuries Warrant Prosecution

by Matthew Freeman | March 24, 2016
NEWS RELEASE: New Manual Helps Workplace-Safety Activists Push for Criminal Charges in On-the-Job Tragedies Washington, DC ----- Every year, thousands of workers across the United States are killed on the job — 4,679 in 2014 alone. Thousands more are seriously injured. Many of these deaths and injuries are entirely preventable when employers put in place basic safety measures. Some even result from company policies and practices that encourage and reward behavior that creates unacceptably risky conditions. Ignoring workplace safety requirements is against the ...

Cuba Libre: The Link Between Freedom and Environmental Health

by Robert Verchick | March 23, 2016
Earlier this week in Havana’s Gran Teatro, President Obama urged Cubans in this new century to keep their eyes on the prize of “sustainable prosperity.” His remarks focused on the foundational role of political freedom, but not before underlining the importance of environmental protection too. That’s no surprise. Economic growth in Cuba will depend heavily on the natural systems that keep the island’s 11 million people fed, sheltered, and buffered from storms. Indeed, the U.S. State Department’s negotiations with Cuba ...

USDA Official Throws OSHA Under the Bus

by Matt Shudtz | March 22, 2016
Partisan efforts in Congress to roll back health and safety rules are common fodder on this blog. But last week, we saw a new twist, with a high-level Obama Administration official giving cover to a right-wing attempt to weaken protections for hundreds of thousands of workers in the poultry industry. The workers in question are at the center of the highly industrialized process of turning live chickens into shrink-wrapped skinless parts. That puts them at a critical juncture in the ...

A Sea Change in Climate Politics?

by Daniel Farber | March 21, 2016
There was a surprise question about climate change at the last Republican debate. What was surprising wasn’t the question itself. Instead, it was the source of the question: Tomás Regalado, the Republican mayor of Miami. It turns out that this wasn’t a fluke. Regalado and the Republican mayor of Miami Beach have spoken out in an op-ed about climate change: “The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the rising sea levels are caused by the planet warming, that the burning of ...

Trading, Manure, and the Free Market

by Evan Isaacson | March 18, 2016
Recently, I have been noticing a number of connections between the environmental policies or issues that I’ve been studying and modern economic doctrine. I’m not sure if the number or strength of these connections are enough to claim that we’re seeing a rise in “laissez faire environmentalism” in the Chesapeake Bay region, but the implications are interesting to consider nevertheless. Nutrient trading is the best example. There is little question that the notion of pollution trading stems directly from economic ...

State Court Deals Major Setback to Effort to Reform and Modernize Maryland Stormwater Permits

by Evan Isaacson | March 17, 2016
Maryland’s high court ruled last week in favor of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in a challenge by several advocacy groups against five municipal stormwater (“MS4”) permits issued by MDE. While reading the lengthy opinion on my computer, I felt at times like a raving sports fan yelling at the TV in frustration. My frustration was borne not of the court’s specific arguments, or even of concerns over any far-reaching legal implications of the decision. Rather, to understand ...

18th Straight OMB Annual Report in a Row Finds Total Regulatory Net Benefits

by James Goodwin | March 15, 2016
Over the weekend, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the final draft of its annual report on the costs and benefits of federal regulation, which purports to provide a reasonably complete picture of the total impact that federal regulations have on the U.S. economy. This year’s final report finds that federal regulations generated total benefits in the range of $216 billion to $812 billion (in 2001 dollars; in 2010 dollars, the range recalculates to $261 billion ...

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