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 plant inspected since 1991?” he declared.   “I am entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the books to protect the health and safety of the American people.  Someone ought to be held accountable here.”

Consistency, of course, is the hobgoblin of small minds and, unfortunately, no member of the media thought to ask Speaker Boehner whether sequestration and other merciless budget cuts might have something to do with the lack of inspections.  Or, to put the issue more bluntly: Why won’t anyone in the press ask the Speaker and his ilk whether we get the government we pay for and whether, these days, we aren’t paying—or getting—enough?  But fair is fair: John Boehner isn’t the president, and this latest catastrophe happened on President Obama’s watch, along with a string of other, disturbingly similar episodes.  ...

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 ...

Going dark on the farm: Farm Bill could cloak big ag in even more secrecy

by Anne Havemann | January 14, 2014
As congressional negotiators reconcile the House- and Senate-passed Farm Bills, they are considering two provisions that would cut off access to information about federally subsidized farm programs and threaten public health and safety. The Farm Bill will provide farmers with billions of dollars in federal subsidies, crop insurance, conservation payments, and other grants.  The vast majority of the farms that qualify for these federal dollars are incorporated businesses that turn a profit by working the land.  Yet, by conjuring up ...

The clean energy wager

by Joseph Tomain | January 08, 2014
In his 2013 book, The Bet, Yale historian Paul Sabin uses Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon as foils to explain today’s dysfunctional and polarized politics surrounding energy development and environmental protection. In 1980, Ehrlich and Simon bet each other on the price of five minerals (chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten.) Ehrlich, a neo-Malthusian, and father of Zero Population Growth, believed that thoughtless and unconstrained consumption of natural resources by an ever-expanding human population would literally doom the planet.  Ehrlich posited ...

Secrecy protects only laggards: why the FDA should disclose which drug companies volunteer for its “judicious use” policy for livestock antibiotics

by Lisa Heinzerling | January 06, 2014
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently recommitted itself to its lame proposal to address the profligate use of antibiotics in livestock by enlisting the voluntary participation of the drug companies that make the antibiotics.  Two documents issued last month reveal the details of the agency’s current plans.   The first is a final guidance document describing the FDA’s process for handling drug sponsors’ voluntary efforts to phase out “production uses” of antibiotics in animal feed and water and to bring ...

Carbon responsibility - producers versus consumers

by Daniel Farber | January 02, 2014
Has the U.S. "exported" its carbon emissions to China by relying on China to manufacture so many of our goods?  There seems to be growing support for the idea that carbon emissions should be tied to consumption of goods rather than their manufacture, as the NY Times reported recently.  There is a grain of truth to the idea.  But consumer responsibility should be considered secondary.  The primary responsibility rests with producers. Most of the debate has been about climate change.  But ...

Roll Call: The good science scam and an undemocratic provision

by Wendy Wagner | December 30, 2013
Some members of Congress apparently do not want agencies to regulate powerful agricultural and pharmaceutical interests in order to protect the public from dangerous risks. Yet, rather than say that — and be held accountable to the electorate for the consequences — they have developed what has become a standard, indeed almost boilerplate pretext to hide their endgame. Specifically, they have drafted a provision snuck in as a rider to a farm bill that requires agencies to develop elaborate “high ...

Climate deniers in the dark

by Erin Kesler | December 23, 2013
Climate change and pollution affects everyone. Global warming-induced hurricanes pummel our coasts and droughts ravage our farmland. Our neighbors, friends, and children develop asthma and heart attacks because of air pollution and our favorite parks and hunting grounds are withering away. The science is conclusive and polls reflect the concern of many Americans about global warming and its related pollution. So what can account for the lack of government action on the issue? The answer has a lot to do with our ...

Democratic Senators eager to screw African-American and Hispanic poultry workers

by Celeste Monforton | December 19, 2013
Many Senate Democrats try to paint themselves as defenders of working people. They rail against their colleagues who are “in the pockets of corporations and the rich.”  But what they say, and what they do are two different things. This time, seven Democratic Senators are ready to screw poultry workers to please the owners of the poultry companies. We’ve been writing for nearly two years on the USDA’s plan to “modernize poultry inspection” (e.g., here, here, here, here). It’s a plan that will give ...

Anti-science and anti-democratic: House Republicans’ farm bill rider seeks to tie up critical safeguards indefinitely

by James Goodwin | December 19, 2013
It’s like a Russian nesting doll of bad policy:  House Republicans have contrived to take one of the most anti-science bills in memory and then place it inside one of the most anti-democratic legislative vehicles available.  It’s part of an attempt to ram through into law new rulemaking requirements that would benefit the already-healthy bottom lines of their corporate benefactors at the devastating expense of the health, safety, pocketbooks, and perhaps even lives of the American public.  That’s what is ...

ACUS’s final statement on OIRA Is weak tea and wide of the mark

by Rena Steinzor | December 17, 2013
Recently, the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) adopted a statement on how to improve the “timeliness” of rule reviews by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). As regular readers know, OIRA has time and again delayed the release of crucial health, safety, and environmental regulations, leaving the public exposed to unnecessary dangers while these rules gather dust on OIRA’s desk—like the proposed rule on silica exposure that was delayed for over two and a ...

Learning from the FDA's Plan B fiasco

by Lisa Heinzerling | December 12, 2013
In  2001, a group of private citizens, public health groups, and medical organizations petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve nonprescription status for the emergency contraceptive Plan B and its generic cousins.  Under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the FDA’s decision was supposed to turn on whether these drugs could be taken safely and efficaciously without the assistance of a licensed health professional.  Instead, an investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and fact-finding by the district court handling litigation over the controversy made clear ...

EPA’s ability to regulate cross-state pollution unnecessarily at stake: SCOTUS should uphold transport rule

by Victor Flatt | December 12, 2013
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in EME Homer City Generation v. EPA.  At issue in the case was the ability of EPA to regulate cross-state pollution, or pollution generated in some states that is carried over to others downwind. Eight “downwind” states, primarily in the Northeast, filed a brief in support of the Court’s review of a previous decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down the rule EPA implemented to regulate cross-state ...

Fiddling while rome burns: 64 dead, 741 sick, and Cass Sunstein’s dangerous love affair with cost-benefit analysis

by Rena Steinzor | December 10, 2013
Former (de)regulatory czar Cass Sunstein is back, full of advice on how to run the government from his perch as a Harvard law professor.  In a “View” column for Bloomberg News entitled “Left and Right Are Both Wrong About Regulation,” Sunstein urges his former allies and enemies to redouble their efforts to “look back” at old rules. He claims that forcing agencies to rummage through their closets in search of bad rules has already saved “billions of dollars,” although the ...

CPR's Tom McGarity in today's NY Times: President's inequality speech left out regulation

by Erin Kesler | December 09, 2013
Today, Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar and University of Texas law professor Thomas O. McGarity published an op-ed in the New York Times entitled,"What Obama Left Out of His Inequality Speech: Reguation."  In a speech last week, the President highlighted the problems associated with extreme socio-economic disparity. But, as McGarity notes in his piece: [T]here’s a crucial dimension the president left out: the revival, since the mid-1970s, of the laissez-faire ideology that prevailed in the Gilded Age, roughly the ...

What could MDE do with an extra $400,000?

by Anne Havemann | December 05, 2013
Late last month, the Center for Progressive Reform revealed that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) waives pollution permit application fees for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in the state, and that the agency is far behind in processing such applications. Now we're able to put a number on MDE's decision: MDE is waiving $400,000 in application fees this year alone. And what might it do with that money it's choosing to leave on the table for some reason? ...
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