Jane Lubchenco's Legacy at NOAA

by Holly Doremus | December 14, 2012

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco has announced that she will leave her post at the end of February. Her letter to NOAA employees, reprinted in the Washington Post, cites the difficulty of maintaining a bi-coastal family life. Dr. Lubchenco, a distinguished marine biologist, has put in four years at the helm of NOAA, as much time as reasonably could be expected.

She was one of President Obama’s earliest nominees, named before his inauguration as part of a “dream team” of distinguished research scientists he brought into high-level government service in partial fulfillment of his inaugural promise to restore science to its rightful place. While that promise remains, in my view, unfulfilled, it hasn’t been for lack of trying on Lubchenco’s part. Of NOAA’s accomplishments during her tenure, the one I attribute most directly to her influence is adoption of a strong scientific integrity policy. The White House mandated that federal agencies develop scientific integrity policies, but provided precious little guidance or leadership. Most agencies simply imported research misconduct policies, essentially putting the entire onus of ensuring scientific integrity in the regulatory arena on career scientific staff. As I’ve explained in some detail in this article, that approach misses the point. The so-called scientific integrity problem has a lot more to do with the relationship between political appointees and the career scientists they oversee than with deliberate falsification by those scientists. If ...

Mayans! Apocalypse! Climate Change!

by Daniel Farber | December 13, 2012
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Mayan apocalypse: panic spreads as December 21 nears Fears that the end of the world is nigh have spread across the world with only days until the end of the Mayan calendar, with doomsday-mongers predicting a cataclysmic end to the history of Earth. That’s from a British newspaper, the Telegraph, but you only have to Google “Mayan Calendar” to find lots of similar items. There seems to be no basis at all for the idea that ...

Moving Forward on Public Health and Safety with Just the Stroke of the Pen? Yes, Obama Can

by Rena Steinzor | December 10, 2012
After the last of the applause lines has been delivered, and while the crowd that gathered for his historic second inauguration is still filing out of town, President Obama will once again sit at his desk in the Oval Office and begin the tough policy work that will define his second term in office and shape the legacy he will leave behind. Among the many challenges he'll face over the next four years will be an urgent agenda of addressing ...

An Incident Almost Every Day: Louisiana Bucket Brigade Reports on 2011 Refinery Accidents

by Elizabeth Grossman | December 07, 2012
Cross-posted from The Pump Handle. The good news is that in 2011 there were 53 fewer reported refinery accidents in Louisiana than there were in 2010. The bad news is that the 301 refinery accidents reported to the state in 2011 released nearly 50,000 pounds more air pollutants and nearly 1 million gallons more contaminants to soil and water than did the 354 accidents reported in 2010 – this according to a new report released Monday by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and ...

FDA's Excuses to Court on Food Safety Rule Delays Are Unconvincing

by Thomas McGarity | December 05, 2012
The saga of the missing FDA food safety regulations continues with a new government filing in a lawsuit challenging FDA’s failure to promulgate regulations implementing three critical programs that Congress established in the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011.  As I noted in a previous posting, the three sets of regulations are currently bottled up in the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), where they have gathered dust for a year.  Well before the statutory deadlines, FDA ...

World Bank Risks Weakening Environmental and Social Standards

by David Hunter | December 04, 2012
The World Bank has started a process that appears likely to weaken its environmental and social safeguard policies.  Although the Bank has repeatedly stated there will be no “dilution” of the policies, the Bank’s scoping paper released in October and its ongoing consultations clearly reveal a desire to replace clear standards with discretion and deference to its developing country borrowers.  The Bank, whose environmental and social safeguard policies have long provided important minimum standards for protecting communities affected by international ...

A Conversation about the Public Trust in India: Public Participation, Climate Adaptation, and India's 2G Network

by Robert Verchick | December 03, 2012
Property lawyers in the United States love the Public Trust Doctrine (PTD). There’s such a rich history. The doctrine, which holds that important resources must be held “in trust” for public use, originated in Roman law. Centuries later it was forced on King John through the Magna Carta. During America’s industrial revolution, our Supreme Court invoked the doctrine to defend Chicago’s shoreline from hungry rail barons (the case is called Illinois Central Railroad), and we’ve had it ever since. The ...

What to Expect in the Logging Roads Case

by Holly Doremus | November 30, 2012
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. This coming Monday, Dec. 3, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the logging roads case. The case involves two consolidated petitions, Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center and Georgia Pacific v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center , both challenging the same decision of the Ninth Circuit, Northwest Environmental Defense Center v. Brown, 640 F.3d 1063 (9th Cir. 2011). (Decker is brought on behalf of the state of Oregon, which owns the land and roads ...

Should We Revive an Extinct Galapagos Tortoise?

by Holly Doremus | November 29, 2012
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. The Washington Post reported this week that scientists think they can resurrect the Pinta Island subspecies of Galapagos tortoise whose last remaining member, “Lonesome George," died this summer. Scientists at Ecuador’s Galapagos National Park say they have found enough Pinta Island genetic material in tortoise on another nearby island that an intensive breeding program over 100 to 150 years could regenerate the pure Pinta Island subspecies. It’s all very cool and sci-fi to think we might ...

Too Big to Obey: Whether BP Is De-barred Up to DOD and (Hopefully) the White House

by Rena Steinzor | November 28, 2012
For a potentially earth-shattering move against one of the most notorious corporate environmental scofflaws in history, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sure hid its light under a bushel this morning. The agency’s scant three-paragraph press release announced simply: “BP Temporarily Suspended from New Contracts with the Federal Government,” adding that “EPA is taking this action due to BP’s lack of business integrity as demonstrated by the company’s conduct with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, oil spill and response.” As ...

One Easy Agenda Item on Climate: OMB Should Release DOE Energy Efficiency Rules

by Wayland Radin | November 28, 2012
Action on climate change should be one of the first things President Obama takes on in his second term. There are countless steps the President might take, but perhaps one of the easiest things for him to do on that front is to instruct the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to release eight Department of Energy (DOE) rules regarding energy efficiency currently under OMB’s review. Regular readers will know that OMB is a kind of regulatory purgatory where rules ...

Noah Sachs Op-Ed: Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act Would Further Politicize Rulemaking

by Ben Somberg | November 26, 2012
CPR Member Scholar Noah Sachs published an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this morning critiquing the Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act. That bill would allow the White House to review rules proposed by independent federal agencies. Writes Sachs: Imagine if important government agencies, purposely designed by Congress to be insulated from political pressure, suddenly had to bend to White House wishes. Campaign contributors might then try to influence Nuclear Regulatory Commission decisions on safety standards for aging nuclear plants. Big ...

Critical Food Safety Rules Still in Regulatory Limbo, Now Stuck at White House for a Full Year

by Thomas McGarity | November 21, 2012
One of the crowning legislative achievements of the Obama Administration’s first term was the enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act.  Like any safety statute, however, the new law will have no practical bite until the implementing rules are issued. In this case, that’s until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) promulgates regulations fleshing out the obligations of growers, producers and importers of food.  Unfortunately, after almost two years, the regulations for the three most critical programs enacted by the ...

More on BP's Guilty Plea: It's Not Just About the Money

by Holly Doremus | November 20, 2012
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. As already noted by Rick and Megan, last week BP pleaded guilty to 14 criminal counts arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Megan provided a good basic overview of the terms of the agreement. Here is the plea agreement itself. The amount of money BP has agreed to pay, in criminal fines and additional payments, has been the focus of most of the news coverage so far. The terms of BP’s ...

U.S. Climate Disaster in Global Perspective

by Robert Adler | November 16, 2012
For those who have not been following the news lately, a recent article reported the following: A large tropical storm attributed to “unseasonable rainfall” slammed into the coast and moved inland, leaving many dead or missing, tens of thousands of residents evacuated or homeless, and government disaster response agencies struggling to provide food, shelter, and other critical services. According to the article, “[d]isaster response teams helped to move people to higher ground in rubber boats and nearly 100 shelters were ...

DOL and HHS Secretaries Should Press USDA to Put Brakes on Poultry Rule that Would Harm Workers' Safety

by Matt Shudtz | November 15, 2012
In January, USDA issued a proposed rule that would allow poultry slaughter facilities to increase the speed of their slaughter and evisceration lines as part of an effort to “modernize” the slaughtering process.  Today, I attended a meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) and asked for the committee’s help in stopping the rule, given its threats to workers’ health and safety. The gist of the rule is that it would remove most USDA inspectors ...

The Nuclear Option: Debar BP, End $2 Billion Fuel Sales Now

by Rena Steinzor | November 15, 2012
This post is based on an article I wrote with Anne Havemann entitled “Too Big to Obey: Why BP Should Be Debarred,” published in the William & Mary Environmental Law & Policy Review. Attorney General Eric Holder and his lead prosecutor, Lanny Breuer, are deservedly running a victory lap in the immediate aftermath of their criminal settlement with BP.  The amount of money paid to settle the charges, $4.5 billion—is considerably larger than anything paid by past bad actors, although ...

Help Wanted: Regulatory Czar with Commitment to Protecting Public Health, Worker and Consumer Safety, and the Environment

by Rena Steinzor | November 14, 2012
Judging from President Obama’s first term, the job of White House “regulatory czar” could prove of out-sized importance these next four years, with the head of an office few know exists ending up with the power to trump the authority of Cabinet members throughout the government.  Cass Sunstein, the former occupant of the position, was perhaps the most influential overseer of the regulatory process ever, and it's not hard to imagine that his replacement will be equally powerful.  But I'd ...

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