New Legislation: How the House of Representatives Would Use Scientific Uncertainty to Stop Environmental Legislation

by Sidney Shapiro | November 20, 2014

The House of Representatives has passed legislation (H.R. 1422) that prohibits academic scientists on EPA’s Scientific Advisory committee from participating in “activities that directly or indirectly involve review of evaluation of their own work,” but allows scientists who work for industry to serve on the Board as long as they reveal their respective conflicts of interest. To understand the House’s real motives, it is necessary to appreciate how industry seeks to use scientific uncertainty as an excuse not to act on environmental problems.  Senator Inhofe’s claim that global climate change is a hoax is a well-known example of this tactic.  Less visible is a decades long public relations, litigation, and advocacy campaign by corporate interests to manufacturer doubt about the science that supports environmental regulation.

A common feature of environmental legislation is legislative authorization to act on the basis of anticipated harm, making scientific uncertainty an unavoidable aspect of regulatory science.  Congress has decided time and time again that we cannot wait for science to be absolutely certain because the human and environmental toll would be too great.  Instead, it has instructed EPA to act when there is a reasonable scientific basis to anticipate that harm will occur.  In order for EPA to evaluate whether there is sufficient, although not conclusive, scientific evidence, it seeks advice from Scientific Advisory Board about existing scientific evidence, but ultimately the agency must make an expert judgment about whether there ...

Obama’s Path to Progress: Protecting Farmworker Kids

by Matt Shudtz | November 19, 2014
Next week in this space, we’ll ask you to think about the food on your Thanksgiving table and what FDA ought to do to keep it safe. Today, I want to focus on how the food gets there—in particular, the work children contribute to the farms where our food and other crops are grown. Many people hold on to the image of children gathering eggs in the yard or dumping a pail of slop in front of an appreciative sow ...

Oral Argument Begins in Farm Lobby’s Misguided Challenge to Bay Pollution Diet

by Anne Havemann | November 18, 2014
Today, the Third Circuit will hear arguments in a case to determine whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overstepped its authority when it established a pollution diet for the Chesapeake Bay. After decades of failed attempts to clean up the Bay, the pollution diet imposes strong, enforceable deadlines for cleanup. Even without distracting and misguided legal challenges from out-of-state lobbying groups, the restoration battle won’t be easy. The plan has been in place since 2010 and still the Bay experienced ...

Obama’s Path to Progress: Protecting Workers from Deadly Silica Dust

by Matt Shudtz | November 17, 2014
In 1997, when OSHA first placed the silica standard on its to-do list, Titanic and Good Will Hunting were hits at the box office and the Hanson Brothers’ “MMMBop” was topping the charts. Pop culture has come a long way since then. OSHA, however, has only made modest progress on the silica rule. It took until 2013—sixteen years—for OSHA to get from saying “we plan to create a new standard” to actually proposing the text. Now the agency is reviewing ...

Why I Wrote This Book: Why Not Jail?

by Rena Steinzor | November 17, 2014
I have spent 38 years in Washington, D.C. as a close observer of the regulatory system, specifically the government’s efforts to protect public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment. The system’s a mess. Regulatory failure has become so acute that we truly are frozen in a paradox. On one hand, people expect the government to ensure that air and water are clean, workers don’t die on the job for avoidable reasons, food is safe, and drugs are efficacious. ...

Blankenship Indictment 'An Example for Every Prosecutor in the Country'

by Rena Steinzor | November 13, 2014
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has set an example for every prosecutor in the country by indicting Don Blankenship, the venal, punitive, flamboyant, and reckless former CEO of Massey Energy. For years, Blankenship demanded updates on coal production every two hours and, the indictment reveals, browbeat senior managers to cut cost and violate crucial safety.  In one handwritten note, he told one such target, “You have a kid to feed.  Do your job.”  When the Upper Big Branch mine exploded, propelling ...

Reports of the Death of the Obama Administration Are Greatly Exaggerated: The US-Chinese Climate Agreement

by James Goodwin | November 12, 2014
The commentary following last week’s elections has largely been a variation on either of two themes:  (1) how strong Republicans are now that they have secured majorities in both houses of Congress or (2) how correspondingly weak the Obama Administration will be for the remainder of its time in office when it comes to advancing its policy goals.  This commentary may be true insofar as it relates to new legislation.  (Even there, nothing will really change as the prospects for ...

Obama’s Path to Progress: Protecting People and the Environment Against Harmful Ozone Pollution

by James Goodwin | November 12, 2014
A few months back, President Obama visited several kids receiving treatment for asthma at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC.  Afterwards, he reflected on the critical importance of environmental safeguards, such as those to limit ozone pollution, saying: [E]very time America has set clear rules and better standards for our air, our water, and our children’s health—the warnings of the cynics have been wrong.  They warned that doing something about the smog choking our cities, and acid rain ...

Obama’s Path to Progress: Reducing Climate Disrupting Emissions from Power Plants

by James Goodwin | November 10, 2014
Last week brought a string of bad news as far as global climate disruption goes.  The bummer parade began Sunday with the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Synthesis report, which painted the direst picture yet of the looming global climate disruption threat, finding that “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people ...

President Obama’s Home Stretch: Saving Lives, Conserving Natural Resources, and Securing His Legacy

by Rena Steinzor | November 07, 2014
Last Sunday, the New York Times ran the best of dozens of stories about how President Obama will behave in the last quarter of his eight years in office. Veteran political reporters Peter Baker and Michael Shear wrote: “As the President’s advisers map out the next two years, they have focused on three broad categories: agenda items he can advance without Congress, legislation that might emerge from a newfound spirit of compromise with Republicans, and issues that Mr. Obama can ...

The President’s Path to Progress: Get Serious About Regulating

by Rena Steinzor | November 05, 2014
One curse of being a two-term president is that in your last two years, you must endure a conversation about whether you’re still relevant. For Barack Obama, that conversation is about to go kick into high gear. The pundits will observe, correctly, that his legislative agenda has little chance of moving through the new Congress, although that’s been true since 2011, of course. So what is the path to progress for Barack Obama in these last two years of his ...

Big OSHA Fine for Wayne Farms Poultry Processor a Win for Workers

by Matt Shudtz | October 29, 2014
Today, brave workers at a Wayne Farms poultry slaughterhouse have a reason to celebrate a milestone in their struggle for justice. With help from lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center, they filed a complaint with OSHA in April. They blew the whistle on conditions that included dangerous work speeds that caused serious injuries, as well as denying subsequent medical treatment, and the firing of workers who reported their concerns. The agency released some results from its inspection, proposing significant fines against ...

EPA Sends Coal Ash Rule to OIRA

by Rena Steinzor | October 28, 2014
After ringing its hands for nigh on four years, EPA has at last coughed up a final coal ash rule.  Of course, no one but the White House staff will know what it says until the White House releases it in absolutely final form.  Nevertheless, the staff will now engage in the charade of hosting multiple appearances by various interest groups that want to tell the President’s people about those concerns without really knowing what they should be talking about. ...

CPR Submits Comments on Proposed Permit for Maryland’s Industrial Animal Farms

by Anne Havemann | October 23, 2014
This week, CPR President Rena Steinzor and I joined with the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition to submit comments to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) urging the state to strengthen the permit that regulates Maryland’s nearly 600 industrial animal farms. MDE is in the process of renewing the General Discharge Permit, a one-size-fits-all permit that covers Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and Maryland Animal Feeding Operations (MAFOs) within the state (collectively known as Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs)). These farms ...

For Attorney General, A Tough Prosecutor

by Matthew Freeman | October 14, 2014
In an op-ed published in The Hill on Friday, CPR President Rena Steinzor makes the case that in appointing a successor to Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama needs to find a prosecutor tough enough to go after corporate malfeasance with more than a series of comparatively weak deferred prosecution agreements. She writes, Of course, prosecutors can’t send corporations to jail — they are inanimate paper entities. But forcing them to acknowledge that they broke criminal laws is more than ...

A Mass-Based Cap for Power Plants

by David Driesen | October 13, 2014
EPA’s proposed new rule for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants gets a lot of things right. For one thing, it recognizes that electric utilities can employ a variety of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They can switch to natural gas or even renewable energy sources. They can fund end-use efficiency improvements—such as energy efficient windows, better insulation, and light bulbs that burn brightly even while they conserve electricity. All of these techniques reduce power plant emissions. So, EPA ...

Statement of CPR Executive Director Matt Shudtz on OSHA's Call for Dialogue on Chemical Exposure

by Erin Kesler | October 09, 2014
Today, OSHA announced that it is seeking new ideas from stakeholders about preventing workplace injuries caused by exposure to harmful chemicals. The agency wants to identify new ways to develop Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs), the basic standards for reducing air contaminants.   CPR's Executive Director Matthew Shudtz responded to the development: It’s great that Dr. Michaels is continuing to seek new ways to eliminate or manage chemical hazards in the workplace.  OSHA has been relying on outdated standards for too long. But rulemaking is not ...

Lessons From an Epidemic

by Daniel Farber | October 08, 2014
Ebola’s natural reservoirs are animals, if only because human hosts die to too quickly. Outbreaks tend to occur in locations where changes in landscapes have brought animals and humans into closer contact.  Thus, there is considerable speculation about whether ecological factors might be related to the current outbreak. (See here).  At this point, at least, we don’t really know.  Still, it’s clear that outbreaks of diseases like ebola strengthen the case for forest conservation.  Which is also, obviously good for the environment. ...
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