The Pander Games: Obama Administration Sells Out Kids Doing Dangerous Agricultural Work, Breaks Pledge to Ensure Welfare of Youngest Workers

by Rena Steinzor | April 27, 2012

Yesterday evening, when press coverage had ebbed for the day, the Department of Labor issued a short, four-paragraph press release announcing it was withdrawing a rule on child labor on farms. The withdrawal came after energetic attacks by the American Farm Bureau, Republicans in Congress, Sarah Palin, and—shockingly—Al Franken (D-MN).

Last year, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said: "Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America.” “Ensuring their welfare is a priority of the department, and this proposal is another element of our comprehensive approach."

The Administration pledged to protect young workers in dangerous jobs, and now they’ve thrown that pledge out the window.

Yesterday, the Administration said this:

“The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations. The Obama administration is also deeply committed to listening and responding to what Americans across the country have to say about proposed rules and regulations.  As a result, the Department of Labor is announcing today the withdrawal of the proposed rule dealing with children under the age of 16 who work in agricultural vocations.”

Give that excuse to the families of Alex Pacas (19) and Wyatt Whitebread (14), who were sent into a grain elevator without required safety harnesses to “walk the ...

A Bill to Steamroll the NEPA Process

by Robert Glicksman | April 27, 2012
The irony is palpable, though clearly intentional.  More than forty years ago, Congress kicked off the “environmental decade” by adopting the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  NEPA’s goals are to ensure that federal agencies whose developmental missions often incline them to ignore or place a low priority on environmental protection to consider the possible adverse environmental consequences of major actions before committing to them, and to make the results of that evaluation publicly available.  NEPA sought to assure balanced consideration ...

BP Spill: Perp Walk for Underling Shouldn't Satisfy Anyone

by Rena Steinzor | April 26, 2012
With considerable media flourish, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday the first and so far only criminal charges related to the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe that killed 11 workers, and did profound violence to the Gulf of Mexico and the local economies dependent up on it. One Kurt Mix, 50, an engineer involved in designing the failed “top kill” remedy, was indicted for obstruction of justice. More specifically, he's accused of deleting text messages from his phone that he ...

Applying the Clean Air Act to Greenhouse Gases: What Does It Mean for Traditional Pollutants?

by Alice Kaswan | April 24, 2012
EPA’s March 27 release of a proposed rule to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new fossil-fuel power plants has reignited the long-standing debate over whether the Clean Air Act is an appropriate mechanism for controlling industrial sources. Congressional bills to repeal EPA’s CAA authority have been repeatedly (though unsuccessfully) introduced. Many environmentalists, while welcoming EPA’s initiative in the absence of any alternative, have suggested that new federal climate legislation would be preferable to applying the CAA. In a recently ...

The Good and the Bad in the BP Settlement, and the Main Course Still Ahead

by Robert Verchick | April 23, 2012
I spent last Friday – the second anniversary of the BP Blowout – in the vast basement of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court building, shifting in my metal chair, ignoring the talk-show chatter from the flat screens, and keeping an eye on the red digit counter to know when my number was up. I'd been called for jury duty. Whether I will eventually be deployed is up to the gods, but until then I had resolved to study (with ...

What Progress Looks Like: Washington State's Climate Change Preparedness Strategy

by Catherine O'Neill | April 20, 2012
Earlier this month Washington State’s Department of Ecology released its integrated climate response strategy, Preparing for a Changing Climate.  The strategy again demonstrates that the state is a leader when it comes to preparing for climate change impacts (see also NRDC’s recent report examining climate preparedness in all 50 states). What makes Washington a leader?  Well, the political leadership is willing to address climate change impacts, and the scientific community is active and engaged and generates the information and data ...

Why OSHA Can't Regulate

by Thomas McGarity | April 19, 2012
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report today detailing the challenges that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) faces in writing regulations to protect America’s workers from unsafe and unhealthful workplaces.  The report was released at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), on “Delays in OSHA’s Standard-Setting Process and the Impact on Worker Safety.”  Both the GAO report and testimony presented at the hearing tell a depressing ...

Mitt Romney Struggles to Find an Actual Example of Obama Administration Regulatory Overreach

by Ben Somberg | April 19, 2012
On March 19, in a major economic policy address, Mitt Romney painted a portrait of a real-life "victim" of the Obama Administration’s supposed overregulation: This administration’s burdensome regulations are even invading the freedom of everyday Americans.  Mike and Chantell Sackett run a small business in Idaho.  They saved enough money to buy a piece of property and build a modest home on it. But days after they broke ground, an EPA regulator told them to stop digging. The EPA said ...

To Protect the Public, FDA Should Go Beyond Industry's Petition on BPA

by Aimee Simpson | April 18, 2012
CPR Member Scholar Noah Sachs and I submitted comments yesterday to FDA regarding the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) petition to the agency on BPA. In September, the ACC petitioned FDA to remove approval for the use of BPA in “infant feeding bottles and certain spill-proof cups” (Rena Steinzor and I explained at the time the story behind the seemingly counter-intuitive move). In our comments this week, we advocate for FDA to utilize its full rulemaking authority and take broader regulatory ...

Cutting EPA's Enforcement Budget: What It Might Mean

by Joel Mintz | April 12, 2012
Last week, members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union at EPA released an internal Agency memo describing the Agency’s proposed plan to cut back on specific areas of enforcement in response to looming budget cuts in FY 2013.  The memo, by Larry Starfield, EPA's Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance lists “Areas of Proposed Budget Adjustment for FY13.”  Federal agencies have an unenviable task: they must plan for budgets that are unpredictable; ...

Preserving the Pristine: Why the United States Should Ratify the Antarctic Liability Annex

by John Knox | April 11, 2012
a(broad) perspective Today’s post is second in a series on a recent CPR white paper, Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership: Why the United States Should Ratify Ten Pending Environmental Treaties.  Each month, this series will discuss one of these ten treaties.  Previous posts are here. Annex VI on Liability Arising from Environmental Emergencies to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty Adopted and Opened for Signature on June 14, 2005 Entry into Force Pending Signed by the United States ...

Regulatory Opponents Take Note: The Media May Be Catching On!

by Matthew Freeman | April 09, 2012
One of the many ways that the slow and agonizing contraction of the newspaper industry is felt is in the depth of coverage that papers provide their readers. It’s a matter of simple math, really. As newsrooms shrink, reporters are stretched ever thinner. So a newspaper that 15 years ago had separate reporters covering elementary and secondary education is now likely to have just one covering both. Similarly, newspapers have fewer reporters dedicated to the environmental beat, let alone beats ...

The Age of Greed: Regulatory Look-Back In Action -- Speeding Up the Line and Endangering Workers at Poultry Processing Plants

by Rena Steinzor | April 06, 2012
The White House’s Cass Sunstein has found another poster child for his crusade to eliminate costly regulation under President Obama's Executive Order 13563.  The order requires agencies and departments to “look back” at existing requirements in order to kill unnecessary health, safety, and environmental requirements.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), complying dutifully with the order, has dug deep into the garbage can where abandoned deregulatory proposals go to die, producing a despicable plan regarding  poultry processing plants, already among ...

Two Years After Upper Big Branch Disaster, Where Are the Reforms?

by Thomas McGarity | April 05, 2012
Congress usually enacts new public protections following a major crisis or series of crises that focus attention on the failure of existing laws to protect the public or the environment from abuses by companies pursuing economic gain.  Most of the protective regulatory programs of the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Public Interest Era (the period of active government extending roughly from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s) were established after widely publicized tragedies or abuses stirred public opinion to ...

FDA's "Wait and See" Approach to BPA Not Acceptable -- and Not the Only Option

by Aimee Simpson | April 04, 2012
Last Friday, the FDA denied the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) citizen petition requesting that the agency ban Bisphenol A (BPA) as an approved food additive and food contact substance.  The agency took nearly three years to issue this decision, and did so only under a court’s order. The FDA’s denial of the petition was disappointing, because the existing science on BPA is strong enough to warrant restrictions on its use. The announcement was an unsurprising continuation of the federal ...

Member Scholars Write to EPA Concerning Slow Consideration of Citizen Environmental Complaints in NAFTA Countries

by Ben Somberg | April 02, 2012
When the United States signed NAFTA, it also signed the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), which allows, among other things, for citizens to submit complaints to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) with claims that their own governments are failing to enforce environmental laws. That key provision is in danger, a group of CPR Member Scholars say in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The letter was signed by CPR Member Scholars Rebecca Bratspies, Carmen G. Gonzalez, ...

Greenhouse Gas Standards for New Power Plants: Glass Half-Full and Half-Empty

by Alice Kaswan | March 28, 2012
With congressional action on climate change at a standstill, EPA’s new source performance standards (NSPSs) for greenhouse gases (GHGs) from new power plants should be applauded.  As required by the Clean Air Act, the agency is doggedly moving forward to establish emission standards for GHGs, air pollutants that unquestionably endanger human health and welfare. EPA deserves praise for setting a strong standard and proposing it notwithstanding political heat. The glass is half-full. While attention is properly focused on what EPA ...

Court Skeptical of EPA's Section 404 Role Overturns Mine Veto

by Holly Doremus | March 26, 2012
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Regular readers of this blog know that on January 13, 2011, EPA vetoed a Clean Water Act section 404 permit issued by the Corp of Engineers for valley fill at the Spruce No. 1 mountaintop removal mine project in West Virginia. This was only the 13th time EPA had used its veto power, and the first time it had vetoed a permit after it was formally issued. I wrote at the time: “Expect litigation, and expect ...

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