CPR's Michael Patoka Testifies in Support of Maryland Responsible Contracting Bill for Worker Health and Safety

by Erin Kesler | February 27, 2014

Today, Center for Progressive Reform analyst Michael Patoka testified at a Maryland Senate Finance Committee Hearing in support of SB 774, which would require construction companies contracting with the state to be prequalified based on their worker health and safety performance measures.

The widely supported legislation would ensure unscrupulous employers do not receive contracts funded by taxpayer dollars. 

In his testimony Patoka notes: 

Currently, construction firms are screened on a number of factors prior to bidding, but worker-safety considerations are not included. As a result, agencies can easily end up financing companies that operate hazardous worksites and endanger Maryland workers. Indeed, the current system encourages firms to cut corners on worker safety, since by doing so they may be able to offer lower bids than their more responsible competitors and thus have a better chance at winning lucrative contracts.

The construction industry is responsible for a disproportionately high number of fatalities and injuries. From 2008 and 2010, between 25 and 33 percent of all workplace deaths in Maryland were in the construction industry, and each of those years saw between 5,800 and 6,900 construction-related injuries. These incidents impose unbearably high costs on individuals and families in Maryland, as well as burden the local economy. Between 2008 and 2010, construction deaths and injuries cost Maryland $712.8 million in medical services, lost productivity, administrative expenses, and lost quality of life. Public agencies are among the largest purchasers of construction services in ...

The Regulatory Accountability Act: Or How to Defeat the Public Interest in Just 65 Easy Steps

by James Goodwin | February 24, 2014
Cue the majestic fanfare, for this week marks House Republicans’ so-called “Stop Government Abuse Week”—you know they mean business, because they have a clever Twitter hashtag and everything.   So how does one celebrate such an auspicious occasion?  Apparently, by wasting precious House floor time with a series of votes on several extreme anti-regulatory bills that, if enacted, would make it all but impossible for agencies to carry out their congressionally mandated missions of safeguarding the public against corporate abuses.  The ...

A Win for Nebraska: Lancaster District Court Struck Down Governor's Approval of Keystone Pipeline

by Sandra Zellmer | February 20, 2014
A Lancaster County District Court has struck down the governor's decision to approve Keystone XL's pipeline route through the state in Thompson v. Heineman, CI 12-2060 (Feb. 19, 2014).  As described in a previous blog, LB 1161 was passed in 2012 to give Governor Dave Heineman the authority to approve the route rather than having the state's Public Service Commission (PSC) make the decision. The court found that the PSC--not the governor--is constitutionally empowered under Nebraska Constitution Art. IV § ...

North Carolina’s Coal Ash Spills: A Glimpse of the Future under OIRA’s Weak Option

by Rena Steinzor | February 20, 2014
Yesterday, we wrote about OIRA’s role in delaying and diluting the EPA’s long-awaited coal ash rule, in part by introducing and promoting a weak option that would rely on voluntary state implementation and citizen suits, instead of nationwide requirements and federal oversight, to protect the public from dangerous leaks and spills. Anyone who thinks the states can be entrusted with regulating toxic coal ash need only take a passing glance at North Carolina’s track record—a virtual “how to” guide for ...

Mounting Coal Ash Spills Will Be OIRA’s Legacy

by Rena Steinzor | February 19, 2014
Two and a half weeks ago, a Duke Energy ash pond in North Carolina spilled up to 39,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water after a stormwater pipe underneath the pond broke. The spill coated the bottom of the Dan River for 70 miles with gray sludge—five feet thick in some places. Now, investigators have discovered a second pipe underneath the pond that appears to have been leaking contaminated water into the river for a ...

Executive Fiat or Business as Usual? Claims of Presidential Overreach are Just Politics

by Bill Funk | February 17, 2014
In his State of the Union Address President Obama announced that, while he intended to work with Congress to achieve various goals, he will act unilaterally, invoking his “executive authority,” pending congressional action.  There followed a laundry list of initiatives that he said he would take on his own.  Predictably, Republicans have railed against the President’s proposed actions, accusing him of subverting the rule of law.  It’s all just politics. First guilty party: President Obama.  For all his touted exercise ...

CPR Member Scholars file Comments on OSHA’s Silica Proposal

by Thomas McGarity | February 12, 2014
At long last, the comment period on OSHA’s silica proposal has closed and the next phase in this rule’s protracted timeline will commence.  In the four months since OSHA released the proposal, the agency has received hundreds of comments.  They run the gamut, from the expected support of unions and other advocates for working people, to the fear-mongering hyperbole of the major trade associations.  CPR Member Scholars Sid Shapiro and Martha McCluskey joined us in submitting our own comments to ...

CPR Scholars Weigh in on 'Secret Science Reform Act'

by Matthew Freeman | February 11, 2014
A group of eight CPR Member Scholars today submitted a letter to Reps. David Schweikert and Suzanne Bonamici, the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on the Environment. The letter levels a series of powerful criticisms at Schweikert's proposed "Secret Science Reform Act," yet another in a series of bills from House Republicans aimed at gumming up efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to exercise authority granted it by Congress to ...

The Bay-Wide TMDL is None of Alaska’s Business

by Anne Havemann | February 07, 2014
Anchorage, Alaska is more than 4,000 miles away from the Chesapeake Bay, yet Alaska joined 20 other states on Monday in asking a federal appeals court to overturn the EPA-led plan to restore the Bay, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). While Alaska’s interest in the Bay-wide TMDL is murky, the history of the lawsuit is straightforward. In 2009, the Obama administration issued Executive Order 13,508, directing EPA to take a leadership role in cleaning up the Bay. ...

Chemical Industry takes Aim at Citizen Suits with 'Reform' Bill

by Sidney Shapiro | February 07, 2014
The recent chemical spill disaster in West Virginia has brought into sharp focus the weak measures we have in place for safeguarding people and the environment against exposures to harmful chemicals.  State and civil justice systems have helped to fill the resulting void by providing individuals who have suffered harmful exposures with an opportunity to hold accountable any people or corporations responsible for the chemical by seeking reasonable compensation for their injuries.  It’s often difficult to win these cases, and ...

EPA's Enforcement Retreat will Harm the Chesapeake

by Anne Havemann | February 04, 2014
Every day, we are presented with more evidence of the need to inspect for environmental violations and enforce the nation’s laws.  The evidence is stark in the Chesapeake Bay region where, in 2012 alone, just 17 large point sources reported illegal discharges of nitrogen totaling nearly 700,000 pounds.  These violations put the watershed states behind in their efforts to restore the estuary and meet the 2025 goals of the Bay pollution diet.  The problem cries out for stronger enforcement of ...

Two House Hearings, One Bad Theme

by Matt Shudtz | February 04, 2014
Today, separate House committees will hold hearings that address two federal agencies’ efforts to regulate toxic chemicals.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy will hold its fifth hearing on issues arising out of ongoing efforts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Simultaneously, the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections will hold a hearing addressing, among other things, OSHA’s recent attempts to spur better protections for workers who face chemical ...

A Turning of the Tide? More Belief in Government, Less Blind Faith in Markets

by Sidney Shapiro | January 30, 2014
Suddenly politics in this country appears to have taken a turn toward democracy and away from markets. As we develop in a book just published by Oxford University Press, discussing economic inequality. Regulation of Wall Street proceeds apace after the investment banks and mortgage lenders sank the American economy with their recklessness as they now write multi-billion dollar checks for their malfeasance. If indeed the tide has turned, the country is emerging from a cycle deemphasizing government that dates back ...

US Chamber of Commerce: More of the Same

by Joseph Tomain | January 27, 2014
Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report entitled Energy Works for US: Solutions for America’s Energy Future.  The data and references in the report are largely accurate, as far as they go, and the report promotes energy efficiency, which is a welcome step.  Ultimately, though, the report is unreliable because it has too narrow a vision of the energy future.  It inaccurately characterizes government regulation and neglects the environmental consequences surrounding the production, use, consumption, and disposal of ...

The Obama legacy: will West Virginia toxic spill join the queue of episodes showing that “government”—and whatever it means to the President—broke on his watch?

by Rena Steinzor | January 22, 2014
As people across the country and around the world watched the tableau of 300,000 West Virginians give up their drinking, cooking and bath water for days on end because an untested toxic chemical was spilled by a company that was co-founded by a twice-convicted felon, the ever-present John Boehner (R-Ohio) had pungent advice for President Barack Obama.  “We have enough regulations on the books.  And what the administration ought to be doing is actually doing their jobs.  Why wasn't this ...

Has OIRA really improved the timeliness of its reviews? Nope, it just has a new scheme for delaying safeguards and defeating transparency

by James Goodwin | January 22, 2014
It’s time to put to bed an unfortunate myth that’s been floating around the last few weeks.  The myth goes something like this:  The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)—the opaque bureau within the White House charged with approving agencies’ draft regulations before they can be released to the public—has succeeded in improving the timeliness of its reviews during the last few months.  OIRA has long been a roadblock to the successful implementation of critical safeguards, so if true, ...

Fixing Virginia’s toxic chemical problem

by Noah M Sachs | January 20, 2014
In the wake of the toxic chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia that contaminated the city’s water supply, citizens across the country are wondering if it could happen to them. Given gaps in our environmental and chemical regulation regime, the answer is a resounding yes.   For the past year, I’ve been investigating problems of chemical storage and contamination in Virginia, and this week, the University of Richmond School of Law released a new report authored by me and law student ...

The age of greed: Mitch McConnell goes to bat for Big Coal after West Virginia catastrophe

by Rena Steinzor | January 17, 2014
For the past week, 300,000 people in and around Charleston, West Virginia, have been unable to drink the water that came from their taps, because of the toxic byproduct of feeble regulation and non-existent enforcement. Thousands of gallons of a coal-cleaning agent seeped into the local water supply after it oozed out of an antiquated storage tank and then overflowed a surrounding containment area just a mile upriver from the local water plant. Significantly, inspectors had not visited the facility ...

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