CPR Archive for Rena Steinzor

Obama’s Path Forward: Impart a Sense of Urgency to Regulatory Agencies Protecting Health, Safety and the Environment

by Rena Steinzor | November 04, 2010

There’s a lot of punditry left to be committed about whether and how the GOP majority in the House and the enhanced GOP minority in the Senate will work with the Obama Administration. I’m not optimistic. But even if the President and House Republicans are able to find some small patch of common ground, the hard reality that progressives need to swallow is that whatever major progressive legislation will bear Barack Obama’s signature has already become law, at least for his first term.

The same is not true, however, for what Barack Obama might accomplish simply by infusing the health and safety  agencies in his Administration—from EPA to OSHA to FDA—with a sense of urgency, clearing away barriers to regulatory progress within his own White House, and insisting that the agencies enforce existing laws with newfound vigor. A string of catastrophes have shown that we need proactive government at least as much in these areas as we need cops on the beat in neighborhoods and airport security, even as Americans claim to hate government in a larger sense.

Resurrection of these agencies was a low priority for the President during his first two years. He made great appointments, but then left the agencies to cope with budget shortfalls and inadequate legal authority. As just one especially shocking example, FDA cannot order a recall of salmonella-poisoned food but instead must depend on the producer’s cooperation to get the food off the ...

The Oil Spill Commission, the White House, and the Next Election

by Rena Steinzor | October 13, 2010
Whatever happens at the polls this November, President Obama will get a chance to turn the electoral tide in 2012, perhaps without the loadstone of recession around his political neck.  And, while the economy and many other issues will continue to occupy the President for the best and most obvious of reasons, it’s fair for everyone in the country to expect him to multi-task. For progressives who care about the environment, I’d suggest one critical criterion for judging the Administration: Can the ...

EPA Delivers on TMDL, Raps Chesapeake Bay States

by Rena Steinzor | September 24, 2010
As expected, the Environmental Protect Agency issued its draft Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay this afternoon – essentially a cap on total pollution in the Bay, as well as caps on each of 92 separate segments of the Bay. EPA also issued assessments of each of the affected states’ Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), evaluating proposals for implementing the TMDL from Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. As I said in ...

Rescuing the Chesapeake by Anchoring the Goal Posts and Making Rules for the Game

by Rena Steinzor | September 24, 2010
With more than 7,000 miles of coastline and thousands of stream and river miles and lake acres, the Chesapeake Bay is the crown jewel of the region’s natural resource heritage. And its value to the region's economy is immense--$1 trillion according to one frequently cited estimate.  But the ecological health of the Bay is tenuous.  Primary pollutants are nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment. These nutrients have accumulated in the Bay to unsustainable levels, contributing to algal blooms and dead zones during the ...

OMB Nominee Jacob Lew, Meet Broken Regulatory State

by Rena Steinzor | September 16, 2010
Today Jacob Lew heads to the hill for two Senate hearings on his nomination to be the new director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget. He is expected to be confirmed. The hearings will likely focus on budgetary issues, but no less important is another division of OMB: the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the office charged with coordinating regulatory policy. The policy context is this: from salmonella-laced eggs to the BP oil spill, we ...

At Coal Ash Hearing, Poisoned Waters and the "Stigma Effect" on the Agenda

by Rena Steinzor | August 30, 2010
The below is testimony (PDF) given today by CPR President Rena Steinzor at the EPA's public hearing on coal ash regulation. The hearing, in Arlington, VA, is the first of seven; the public comment period has been extended to November 19. See CPR on Twitter for updates from the hearing. We are all familiar with the psychological studies that have become a cottage industry at American universities. Consider this one. A presumably dead cockroach is “medically sterilized”—and I honestly do not know ...

OIRA's Fuzzy Math on Coal Ash: A Billion Here, a Billion There

by Rena Steinzor | July 13, 2010
This post was written by CPR President Rena Steinzor and Michael Patoka, a student at the University of Maryland School of Law and research assistant to Steinzor. Last October, the EPA proposed to regulate, for the first time, the toxic coal ash that sits in massive landfills and ponds next to coal-fired power plants across the nation. The 140 million tons of ash generated every year threaten to contaminate groundwater and cause catastrophic spills, like the 1-billion-gallon release that devastated ...

Out of the Scrum, a Bad Deal for the Chesapeake Bay

by Rena Steinzor | July 06, 2010
Desperate to move a funding bill for Chesapeake Bay restoration out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, progressive Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) went into the scrum with one of the body’s most conservative members, James Inhofe (R-OK). After a struggle of uncertain intensity and duration, the two emerged, with Inhofe, who openly ridicules the idea of global climate change, firmly in control of the ball.  Cardin agreed to put his name on a dispiriting proposal that misses a crucial ...

Eye on OIRA: Regulation Goes Opaque

by Rena Steinzor | June 22, 2010
Across the full spectrum of outside cognoscenti who are focused on the reality that a small office at the White House has final authority over the agencies charged with preventing catastrophes like the BP oil spill and the Big Branch mine disaster, one threshold assumption is sacrosanct. This tiny Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, now headed by former Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein, ought to operate in bright sunshine, disclosing fully its communications with the agencies so the public can ...

Sending Don Blankenship to Jail: A Legal Argument

by Rena Steinzor | May 20, 2010
Today, the Senate appropriations subcommittee chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) will discuss "Investing in Mine Safety: Preventing Another Disaster" and hear testimony from the notorious Don Blankenship, chief executive officer of Massey Energy, owner of the Upper Big Branch disaster where 29 miners lost their lives on April 5.  Workers safety and health advocates have posted calls over the past months to “send Blankenship to jail,” perhaps under federal racketeering laws, and the FBI opened an inquiry into potential ...

Eye on OIRA: Government Releases Before-and-After Docs on Coal Ash Rule; Lisa Jackson, Public Face of Environmental Protection, Meet Nameless White House Economist

by Rena Steinzor | May 07, 2010
This post is written by CPR President Rena Steinzor and CPR Policy Analyst James Goodwin. President Obama appointed Lisa Jackson to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on December 15, 2008. Confirmed by the Senate on January 22, 2009, she is a Cabinet-rank member of the Administration and the first African American to serve as the public face of environmental protection for any administration. Whether she wears an EPA baseball cap and windbreaker to tour the waterfront of her native ...

Wishful Thinking on the Right: Reviving the Information Quality Act?

by Rena Steinzor | May 07, 2010
Our loyal opposition at the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness has engaged in some very creative reading of legal opinions in order to breathe new life into a discredited anti-regulatory tool of the George W. Bush era: the Information Quality Act. This pesky little statute instructs the Office of Management and Budget to “provide policy and procedural guidance to Federal agencies for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated by Federal Agencies.”  Enacted as ...

Eye on OIRA, Coal Ash Edition: Putting Lipstick on a Not-so-cute Little Pig

by Rena Steinzor | May 04, 2010
  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was in a tough position on coal ash. If you are African American and low-income, you have a 30 percent greater chance of living near a big pit of this toxic brew than a white American, so Jackson correctly decided that such an important environmental justice issue should be at the forefront of the Obama Administration’s agenda. But Jackson was also taking on Big Coal, a special interest historically near and dear to swing voters in Ohio ...

Eye on OIRA: President Defied by President's Men; Sunstein and Orszag Violate Obama's Own Directive

by Rena Steinzor | April 07, 2010
The system of checks and balances devised by the Framers of the Constitution 220 years ago was all about the sharing of power. In practice, it makes for a messy flow chart, and lends itself to lots of inside-the-Beltway conversation about who’s in, who’s out, who’s winning and who’s losing. But as messy as the how-a-bill-really-becomes-a-law flow chart is, the structure within the White House itself usually features one constant: When the President says jump, staffers ask how high. Every ...

Eye on OIRA: Sunstein Says Ambitious Efforts to Revamp Regulatory Review Tabled for the Time Being. What Does It Mean? Not Much. Just Ask Oscar the Grouch.

by Rena Steinzor | March 12, 2010
In a rare public appearance at the Brookings Institute Wednesday, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) Administrator Cass Sunstein is quoted by BNA’s Daily Report for Executives saying that his ambitious plans for revamping Executive Order 12,866 – the document that governs much of the process of regulating, and particularly OIRA’s role in it –have been tabled for the time being as he and his staff study the lengthy comments presented by a broad range of industry and public ...

Toyota: Should Someone Go to Jail?

by Rena Steinzor | March 01, 2010
The congressional hearings so far on “sudden unintended acceleration” (SUA) in Toyota cars should have made two truths obvious to Washington policymakers. First, the strategy of counting on major manufacturers to voluntarily ensure that their consumer products are safe is unworkable in a competitive market, and second, safety agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) need to walk softly but carry a very large stick. Gone are the days when we could reasonably expect government technical experts to ...

Eye on OIRA: King Coal

by Rena Steinzor | February 26, 2010
Thirty-eight years ago today, the dam holding back a massive coal-slurry impoundment (government-speak for a big pit filled with sludge) located in the middle of Buffalo Creek gave way, spilling 131 million gallons of black wastewater down the steep hills of West Virginia. The black waters eventually crested at 30 feet, washing away people, their houses, and their possessions. By the end of the catastrophe, 125 people were dead, 1,121 were injured, and more than 4,000 were left homeless. Interviewed ...

The Toyota Fiasco: Where Were the Regulators?

by Rena Steinzor | February 22, 2010
Saturday’s Washington Post crystallized a trend of reporting in recent days showing that neither misaligned floor mats nor defective pedals are to blame for all acceleration problems in Toyota cars, at least not in the 2005 model Camry. The car, which has neither piece of offending equipment, does have electronic acceleration controls that are beginning to emerge as a potential cause of the problem. If those computerized systems are at the heart of even a small universe of Toyota’s problems, ...

Also from Rena Steinzor

Rena Steinzor is a Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, and a past president of the Center for Progressive Reform. She is the author of Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.

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