CPR Archive for Rena Steinzor

The Victims of EPA’s Retreat from Enforcement

by Rena Steinzor | April 14, 2014

Since the year began, the Environmental Protection Agency has resolved enforcement actions against 12 different companies in the Chesapeake region for failure to comply with environmental laws.  In one case, EPA found that the U.S. Army had failed to inspect more than a dozen underground tanks at one of its Virginia military bases containing hundreds of thousands of gallons of jet fuel, diesel fuel, and gasoline.  A D.C. hospital was not properly checking for carbon monoxide leaks.  A solvent processing facility in Cockeysville, Maryland, was storing industrial waste in a room with a leaky floor.

The Army paid $41,000; the hospital forked over $15,000; the solvent processing facility was out $80,650.  Collectively, the 12 settlements amounted to nearly $325,000 in penalties.  Compared with the $5.15 billion the Texas oil company Anadarko Petroleum Corp. agreed to pay this month for a massive cleanup involving nuclear fuel, rocket fuel waste and other toxins, these penalties look like mere peanuts.  Yet to the neighbors of the Army base who count on clean groundwater, the patients who went to the D.C. hospital to get better, not poisoned, and the Cockeysville residents who live near the industrial plant, these violations could have serious, even fatal, consequences if left unchecked.

These cases typify the enforcement actions that are at risk under EPA’s newly released FY 2014–2018 Strategic Plan, which prioritizes “the largest, most complex cases that have the ...

Timid Bay Agreement Falls Short

by Rena Steinzor | April 01, 2014
Maryland faces an important deadline in its long-running effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. By 2017, the state is required to implement specific measures to reduce the massive quantities of nutrient pollution that now flow into the Bay from agriculture, sewage treatment plants, power plants, factories, golf courses, and lawns. Gov. Martin O’Malley and the other Bay State governors know we’re going to have to make some demands on polluters to get the job done. But if the new ...

EPA Declares BP a 'Responsible Contractor' Makes It Eligible Again for Federal Contracts in the Gulf

by Rena Steinzor | March 13, 2014
A scant five days before the Department of Interior opens a new round of bids for oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico, the EPA has blinked, pronouncing BP, the incorrigible corporate scofflaw of the new millennium, once again fit to do business with the government. To get right to the point, the federal government’s decision that BP has somehow paid its debt and should once again be eligible for federal contracts is a disgrace. Not only does it let ...

North Carolina’s Coal Ash Spills: A Glimpse of the Future under OIRA’s Weak Option

by Rena Steinzor | February 20, 2014
Yesterday, we wrote about OIRA’s role in delaying and diluting the EPA’s long-awaited coal ash rule, in part by introducing and promoting a weak option that would rely on voluntary state implementation and citizen suits, instead of nationwide requirements and federal oversight, to protect the public from dangerous leaks and spills. Anyone who thinks the states can be entrusted with regulating toxic coal ash need only take a passing glance at North Carolina’s track record—a virtual “how to” guide for ...

Mounting Coal Ash Spills Will Be OIRA’s Legacy

by Rena Steinzor | February 19, 2014
Two and a half weeks ago, a Duke Energy ash pond in North Carolina spilled up to 39,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water after a stormwater pipe underneath the pond broke. The spill coated the bottom of the Dan River for 70 miles with gray sludge—five feet thick in some places. Now, investigators have discovered a second pipe underneath the pond that appears to have been leaking contaminated water into the river for a ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

What’s for Thanksgiving? Hopefully not more crippling pain for poultry workers! Learn more at upcoming webinar

by Rena Steinzor | November 20, 2013
When we all sit down for Thanksgiving dinner next week, we hope that the food we are feeding our families is wholesome and that the workers who produce it are safe.  Thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), ever the mindless booster of corporate profits, that turkey at the center of the table already disappoints both expectations, and if USDA has its way, matters are about to get much worse.  Hiding behind disingenuous promises to “modernize” the food safety ...

The coal ash rule rises like the phoenix: Judge Reggie Walton orders EPA to get the rule back on track within 60 days, congratulations to Earthjustice and its clients

by Rena Steinzor | October 29, 2013
Congratulations to our friends at Earthjustice and their clients for a tremendous victory in federal district court today. Judge Reggie Walton (a George W. Bush appointee) ordered the Obama Administration to provide a schedule for regulating coal ash within the next 60 days.   This epic battle now shifts back to the White House and Congress where nearly hysterical electric utilities that depend on coal-fired power plants will sweep in, aided by some very twisted economics from strong regulation’s staunch nemesis, the ...

Cook That Chicken Because You’re on Your Own

by Rena Steinzor | October 17, 2013
Salmonella outbreak reveals we need more, not fewer, cops on the food safety beat.  Some 317 victims of salmonella poisoning from Foster Farms chicken sold in 20 states have learned firsthand why we need government.   Who knows how much faster the threat would have been contained if Centers for Disease Control (CDC) experts had been walking their usual beat, coordinating state investigators and working frantically to discover the origins of the virulent strain of salmonella that has already hospitalized 42 ...

The End of Centralized White House Regulatory Review: Don’t Tweak EO 12,866, Repeal It

by Rena Steinzor | October 04, 2013
A series of catastrophic regulatory failures have focused attention on the weakened condition of regulatory agencies assigned to protect public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment. The destructive convergence of funding shortfalls, political attacks, and outmoded legal authority have set the stage for ineffective enforcement, unsupervised industry self-regulation, and a slew of devastating and preventable catastrophes.  From the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico to the worst mining disaster in 40 years at the Upper Big ...

Energy Efficiency is Too Important for Political Stasis

by Rena Steinzor | September 12, 2013
Late last month, the Department of Energy proposed long overdue energy efficiency standards for commercial refrigeration units and published them for public comment yesterday. The rules, which had been held up at OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for almost two years will resultin savings of over $28 billion for businesses over the next 30 years and reductions in carbon emissions of 350 million tons over the same period. As we’ve discussed numerous times, rules are required by ...

Obama Deregulatory Proposal on Poultry Gets Slammed by GAO: Food Safety in Jeopardy and Workers Ignored

by Rena Steinzor | September 04, 2013
We’ve often written in this space about the Obama Administration’s very bad idea to take federal inspectors of the line at poultry processing plants, leaving the discovery of blood, guts, and feathers on the carcasses to overworked and underpaid line workers forced to process as many as 70 birds per minute at the average plant. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the architect of this proposal to “modernize” the food safety system without requiring a single additional test to make ...

BP Flouts the Rule of Law (Yet Again)

by Rena Steinzor | August 19, 2013
Like no other mammoth corporation that did very bad things—not Enron, not WorldCom, not Exxon, and not even HSBC (which, after all, laundered money for the Mexican drug cartel and was allowed to pay a fine without pleading guilty!)—BP has not lost its arrogant swagger. In a fit of high dudgeon it filed a lawsuit last week challenging the one step the federal government has taken that could actually hurt the company over the long run: the long-overdue debarment of this ...

The Obama Worker Safety and Health Legacy: The Fifth Inning and the Possibility of a Shutout; A Big Challenge for Tom Perez

by Rena Steinzor | July 22, 2013
The Senate’s grudging confirmation of Tom Perez as Secretary of Labor was the first piece of good news working people have had out of the federal government for quite some time. I know Perez--as a neighbor, a law school colleague, Maryland’s labor secretary, and a civil rights prosecutor. He’s a fearless, smart, and hard-driving public servant—exactly the qualities that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his caucus deplore in Obama appointees. With luck, Perez will be successful in direct proportion to the unprecedented vitriol ...

Frank Lautenberg: New Jersey and the Senate Lose a Leader

by Rena Steinzor | June 18, 2013
Later in this space, we plan to discuss the many and varied failings of a proposal in the Senate to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act. Unfortunately, the proposal is the joint work product of conservative Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and liberal Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who died two weeks ago and therefore won’t have the chance to fix the legislation that is so unworthy of his name. But before we take on that misguided proposal, we wanted to pay ...

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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