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Sept. 30, 2010 by Ben Somberg

New CPR Study Chronicles Series of Regulatory Failures that Produced BP Oil Spill

A new CPR white paper today argues that the BP oil spill and its attendant environmental and economic harm were entirely preventable, and indeed, would have been avoided had government regulators over the years been pushed and empowered by determined leadership and given sufficient resources to enforce the law.

The paper, Regulatory Blowout: How Regulatory Failures Made the BP Disaster Possible, and How the System Can Be Fixed to Avoid a Recurrence (press release), examines the performance of multiple regulatory agencies, most conspicuously, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), since reorganized and rebranded as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE).

Among the recommendations:

  • Congress should amend the OCSLA to overhaul environmental review procedures, require inter-agency consultation, extend deadlines for review, increase penalties, and create incentives for continual safety innovation.
  • The President should request, and Congress should provide, adequate funding for BOEMRE so that it can perform its regulatory functions and hire, train, and retain competent staff. In addition, the reorganization that led to the creation of BOEMRE should be built upon with further organizational reforms, including further separating several of the new agency’s existing programs into separate shops.
  • The CEQ should reinstate the regulatory requirement for …

Sept. 29, 2010 by Lena Pons
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Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) currently has a hold on Jacob Lew’s confirmation to become the next director of the Office of Management and Budget, and says she won't release it until the Obama Administration ends the moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling. She said that while Lew “clearly possesses the expertise necessary to serve…he lacks sufficient concern for the host of economic challenges confronting the Gulf Coast.”

Sen. Landrieu seems to be ignoring the impacts of too hastily allowing oil companies to engage in risky drilling operations – something that came sharply into focus when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 rig workers and spilling an estimated two hundred million gallons of oil into the Gulf. But the impacts of too quickly rushing back into the same inadequate regulatory oversight that contributed to this oil spill don’t seem to factor into …

Sept. 28, 2010 by Celeste Monforton
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Cross-posted from The Pump Handle.

Is anybody else getting tired of hearing Obama Administration officials say "sunlight is the best disinfectant?" It was uttered again on Thursday (9/23) when the President's regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, was speaking at an event hosted by the Small Business Administration. His speech was loaded with all the transparency catch terms: "disclosure," "openness," "sunshine," "open government," "accountability," blah, blah, blah. The rhetoric was annoying to read because I'd been wrestling that week with OIRA's lack of transparency. I've been in the midst of trying to confirm whether representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and other industry lobbyists met recently with the reg czar's staff about a pending OSHA rule. Setting aside that these meetings are outside the normal rulemaking procedures and undermine that process, I'm frustrated hearing a lot of talk …

Sept. 27, 2010 by Matthew Freeman
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In a CPRBlog post on Friday, 9/24, we inadvertantly referred to the Chesapeake Bay Program as the Chesapeake Bay Commission.  The Program is a regional partnership of states and the District of Columbia working together to restore the Bay.  The Commission is a group of 21 elected officials, appointees and citizen representatives conducting research, policymaking and consensus-building on Bay issues.

There's a big difference between the two entitites, their methods, and their work.  It was a simple mistake, but not insignificant.  We regret the error.  We've corrected the post, here.

Sept. 27, 2010 by Douglas Kysar
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This post looks at two recent books by CPR Member Scholars in the context of the BP disaster and other recent regulatory failures:

The People’s Agents and the Battle to Protect the American Public, by Rena Steinzor and Sidney Shapiro

Facing Catastrophe: Environmental Action for a Post-Katrina World, by Robert R. M. Verchick

Does the BP oil spill signify the need for an entirely new conception of the administrative state, one reformulated to meet the global, complex, uncertain, and potentially catastrophic nature of twenty-first century threats to social and ecological well-being?  Or does it simply suggest the need to redouble our commitment to environmental, health, and safety laws that are already on the books and that would have prevented the disaster if they had been vigorously enforced?

Two valuable new books shed light on these questions.  Both were written before the spill, but both will inevitably …

Sept. 24, 2010 by Ben Somberg
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Over at Grist, CPR Member Scholar Frank Ackerman and The Lomborg Deception author Howard Friel debunk Bjorn Lomborg's new tack in their piece "Bjorn Lomborg: same skeptic, different day."

Sept. 24, 2010 by Rena Steinzor
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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 this space this morning, the TMDL is a major step forward. Reading through the draft reinforces my view that there’s good reason to hope that, decades from now, we’ll look back on the issuance of the TMDLs as a watershed moment in the protection of the Bay.  It’s been a very long road to this point, with a couple decades of false starts. And …

Sept. 24, 2010 by Rena Steinzor
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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 summer months.

For 20 years, a moveable feast of bureaucratic in-fighting known as the Chesapeake Bay Program* has bobbed and weaved, making pretend promises to the public and, for as long as they could get away with it, posing the Bay State governors at annual photo ops with their hair blowing in the wind and their eyes misting in response to their …

Sept. 23, 2010 by Ben Somberg
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Two items of note tomorrow in the Chesapeake Bay realm:

  • The EPA will publish the draft Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) – a cap on the total water pollution that can be discharged into the Bay. The TMDL will be open for public comment until November 8, 2010.
  • The states (and DC) in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will open their draft Watershed Implementation Plans to public comment, also until November 8, 2010.

We’ll be keeping an eye on them and have more on these items tomorrow.

Sept. 22, 2010 by Celeste Monforton
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Cross posted from The Pump Handle.

MSHA announced Tuesday that it will be issuing on September 23 an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to improve a practice to prevent coal dust explosions. The rule addresses "rock dusting"--the decades old practice of generously applying pulverized limestone dust throughout a coal mine to dilute the potential power of a coal dust explosion. As NIOSH's Man and Teacoach explain:

"...the rock dust disperses, mixes with the coal dust and prevents flame propagation by acting as a thermal inhibitor or heat sink; i.e., the rock dust reduces the flame temperature to the point where devolatilization of the coal particles can no longer occur; thus, the explosion is inhibited."

Investigators suspect that the deadly blast that killed 29 miners on April 5 at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine may have been fueled by coal dust.

When the Labor …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 30, 2010

New CPR Study Chronicles Series of Regulatory Failures that Produced BP Oil Spill

Sept. 29, 2010

Sen. Landrieu's Counterproductive Hold on the Lew Nomination

Sept. 28, 2010

Obama's Reg Czar Feigns Transparency, Worker Safety Rules in Crosshairs

Sept. 27, 2010

Bad Times for Good Government

Sept. 27, 2010

The Chesapeake Bay Program

Sept. 24, 2010

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

Sept. 24, 2010

Obligatory Lomborg Post