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 from the slaughter lines and shift their inspection responsibilities to company employees.  Because these changes would require costly alterations to the lines and potentially increase companies’ food safety liabilities, USDA had to sweeten the pot to entice companies to take advantage of the new system.  So, USDA proposed allowing companies to increase line speeds from an already astounding 90 birds per minute to a dizzying 175 birds per minute, which is predicted to deliver companies added profits of a few pennies per bird.  Of course, in an industry that processes billions of chickens per year, the pennies really add up.

Others have covered the troubling food safety implications of forcing USDA’s remaining inspectors to “inspect” (if you can call it that) 175 birds per minute.

The concern I raised before NACOSH, OSHA’s official advisory committee, is the threats these line speeds pose for the workers who must hang, cut, and trim the birds:

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 ...

Delhi Blues

by Robert Verchick | November 13, 2012
Last weekend my son took part in a set of Boy Scout activities with his local Delhi scout troop. On the grounds of the former residence of the U.S. ambassador, the boys prepared a kabob lunch, practiced fire making, and even built a Medieval-style trebuchet. But all I could think about were the little striped mosquitoes that seemed to follow the kids everywhere—Asian Tiger mosquitoes, to be exact, the kind that carry dengue fever.  In New Delhi, dengue (DEN-gay) has ...

(Puget) Sound Science

by Catherine O'Neill | November 08, 2012
The current debate surrounding Washington State’s sediment cleanup and water quality standards provides another example of regulated industry calling for “sound science” in environmental regulation, yet working to undermine it.  Industry has worked to delay updates to water quality standards based on the most recent scientific studies, despite the fact that the current standards are based on decades-old data  and don’t adequately protect human health.  Most recently, industry has sought to weaken any forthcoming standards by misrepresenting scientific studies of ...

Obama 2.0: Looking Forward, Mindful of the Past

by Rena Steinzor | November 07, 2012
President Obama’s reelection holds the possibility of great progress for public health, safety, and the environment — if, and only if, he recognizes the importance of these issues and stops trying to placate his most implacable opponents. The weeks leading up to the election brought powerful reminders of two of the challenges at hand:  rising sea levels and more severe storms that scientists say we should expect as a result of unchecked climate change, and a meningitis outbreak that sickened ...

The Ugly Side of Interagency Review: Non-Expert Federal Agency Commenters Tried to Tell Expert EPA That Ozone Doesn't Actually Kill People

by James Goodwin | November 05, 2012
Internal EPA emails obtained by CPR though a FOIA request reveals that representatives from one or more of the EPA’s peer agencies second-guessed a critical scientific finding undergirding the EPA’s then-pending draft final rule to tighten the ozone standard, claiming that ozone is not associated with mortality impacts. The EPA’s final proposal rightly disregarded the unsound comments and included information on how reducing ozone pollution saves lives.  The rule, estimated to save thousands of lives, was later blocked by the ...

Obama on Clean Energy: Actions Speak

by Lesley McAllister | November 02, 2012
Cross-posted from Environmental Law Prof Blog. Unlike climate change, clean energy policy has received a fair bit of attention in the presidential campaign. Obama made clear that he supports renewable energy as part of his "all of the above" approach, while Romney would end an important federal subsidy for wind power and otherwise increase reliance on coal, oil and gas. But for those who are disappointed that Obama didn’t say more about our need to transition away from fossil fuel ...

Gotham Gets It: Mayor Bloomberg Calls for Government Action on Climate Change

by Robert Verchick | November 02, 2012
The most solemn commitment borne by an elected official is to promote the public welfare and keep the citizenry safe. As New York City struggles to rebound from one of the fiercest storms in memory, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg rose to that occasion with an urgent call for government at all levels to forcefully address climate change.    Yes, folks, Gotham gets it. In an editorial for Bloomberg View, the mayor wrote: The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New ...

Comments on Five IRIS Assessments Show Industry Clogging up Process with Not Relevant Information

by Ben Somberg | November 01, 2012
One of the biggest challenges for the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), a database for toxicological information and human health effects data that plays a role in many regulatory safeguards, is how slowly it produces chemical assessments. One of the reasons: chemical industry interests have flooded the comments on many IRIS assessments with pages of non-germane information for EPA to wade through. In a letter today to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, CPR President Rena Steinzor and Policy Analysts Wayland ...

Redeeming FEMA: How the Agency has Been Strengthened Since Katrina

by Daniel Farber | October 31, 2012
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Today’s FEMA is a lot different from the organization that flubbed the Katrina response. There have been a number of positive changes, mostly during the past four years. First, as the Washington Post explains, FEMA’s authority has expanded: Congress has broadened FEMA’s authority so that the agency can respond in advance of major storms, instead of waiting for governors to request federal aid after a disaster strikes. The measures earned plaudits from then-Gov. Haley Barbour (R) ...

Romney's Opposition to Federal Emergency Assistance in Disasters

by Daniel Farber | October 29, 2012
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. The federal role in disaster response dates back to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, when General Funston sent troops from the Presidio to deal with the city’s desperate emergency. Governor Romney seems dubious about this century-old federal role. During one of the GOP primary debates, Governor Romney was asked what he thought about the idea of transferring FEMA’s responsibilities to the states. This is what he said: Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take ...

A Climate-Ready City for India?

by Robert Verchick | October 26, 2012
If you like sparkling diamonds and saffron saris, you will love Surat, India’s bustling, no-nonsense city, some 250 kilometers north of Mumbai, near the Arabian Sea. If you’re wearing a new diamond, there’s an 80% chance its was shaped by Surati hands (and laser beams too). And nearly every Indian has something in the closet from Surat—which is what you’d expect from a city whose clattering looms churn out 30 million meters of raw fabric a day. But Surat, with ...

It's Time to Regulate Energy Drinks

by Thomas McGarity | October 25, 2012
In the week before Christmas last year, 14-year-old Anais Fournier went to Valley Mall in Hagerstown, Maryland with some friends.  While there she purchased and consumed a 24-ounce can of an energy drink manufactured by the Monster Beverage Corporation.  She returned to the mall the next day and consumed another Monster energy drink.  Later that evening, while she was watching a movie at home with her boyfriend, she went into cardiac arrest. She died four days later on the day ...

The Bizarre Story of the Phantom Job Gains from Romney's Deregulation Plan

by Daniel Farber | October 24, 2012
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Deregulation is one of Mitt Romney’s five steps in his plan to add jobs.  But how do we supposedly know that deregulation will add jobs?  It’s a fascinating story, featuring a Nobel laureate’s economic model.  The model is very fancy, lots of complex math, but it’s justified on the basis of a discredited study. The story begins with a new white paper from the Romney campaign. Four leading economists attempt to provide an explanation of the ...

Clean Water Act at 40, Roundup Edition

by Ben Somberg | October 19, 2012
Here’s a final compilation of our posts on the Clean Water Act at 40: William Andreen: The Clean Water Act at 40: Finishing a Task Well Begun Dan Tarlock: Forty Years Later, Time to Turn in the CWA Clunker for Something Suited for the 21st Century Robin Kundis Craig: The Clean Water Act at 40: Up to the Challenge of the Climate Change Era? Robert Adler: The Clean Water Act at 40: Can We Renew the Vision? Robert Glicksman and ...

Why the Entergy Decision Shouldn't Hobble the Clean Water Act's Future

by Amy Sinden | October 18, 2012
The Clean Water Act turns 40 today.   One of the remarkable things about those four decades is the extent to which the Act has largely withstood repeated attempts by industry to water down its technology-based standard-setting provisions with cost-benefit analysis.   Just three years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper, environmentalists largely lost one skirmish in this ongoing war, but the legacy of that opinion may actually be less harmful to the statute’s ability to protect ...

ACUS Must Ensure Neutrality and Cease Close Alliances with Industry Groups, Member Scholars Say in Letter

by Michael Patoka | October 18, 2012
CPR President Rena Steinzor and Member Scholar Thomas McGarity sent a letter this morning to Paul Verkuil, Chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), taking the independent federal agency to task for its increasingly apparent bias toward the views of industry groups and its troubling alliance with current and former officials at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  By repeatedly partnering with groups engaged in destructive battles with the agencies that write protective ...

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