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March 30, 2011 by Sidney Shapiro

Key OSHA Health and Safety Initiative Potentially Delayed Months by OMB Nitpicking

Last week, the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) approved a survey to be conducted for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as part of the agency's efforts to develop an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) standard. Surveys, like this one, have to be approved by OIRA according to the Paperwork Reduction Act, and the lengthy approval may stall development of the I2P2 standard for four or more months for no apparently good reason. OIRA made only minor changes to the draft documents.

The I2P2 standard is OSHA’s signature regulatory initiative, and it comes in the nick of time. With its small and dwindling staff, a result of Congress putting it on a starvation diet of resources, OSHA has found it difficult to update its safety and health standards to protect workers, or to adopt new ones to address hazards that are not yet covered, leaving thousands of workers with inadequate protection. To fill this gap, Dr. David Michaels, OSHA’s administrator, and a public health expert, has proposed I2P2, a standard that would require employers to establish a management program in which employers and employees work together to identify and address …

March 29, 2011 by Amy Sinden
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Around 6pm ET last night, after most reporters had wrapped up, EPA issued its long-awaited proposed cooling water rule. Under the Clean Water Act, this rule is supposed to protect the billions of fish and other aquatic organisms that are killed each day when they are squashed against intake screens or sucked up into cooling water systems at existing power plants and other industrial facilities. Unfortunately, the rule seems aimed more at protecting industry profits than fish. And in justifying the rule, EPA has taken a page right out of industry’s playbook, purporting to rely on cost-benefit analysis, even though no one can agree on how to attach a dollar value to a fish or an ecosystem.

Rather than requiring plants to use the sensible closed cycle cooling option, which reduces intake flows (and dead fish) by 95-98% by simply recycling the cooling water, EPA’s …

March 29, 2011 by Ben Somberg
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CPR Member Scholar Robert Glicksman testifies at a hearing this afternoon on "Raising the Agencies' Grades – Protecting the Economy, Assuring Regulatory Quality and Improving Assessments of Regulatory Need." The hearing will be held by the Courts, Commercial and Administrate Law subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.

The hearing will feature two witnesses from the Mercatus Center, who will argue that federal agencies produce flawed regulations, and need to engage in more rigorous regulatory analysis to provide better justifications of the need for and content of regulations.

This misses the reality, Glicksman argues in his testimony:

while the current regulatory process is indeed flawed, the problems for the most part are not the result of agencies adopting regulations without justification or regulations whose social costs exceed their benefits.   Instead, the primary problem is regulatory dysfunction resulting from providing agencies with inadequate resources to fulfill their statutory responsibilities, not …

March 25, 2011 by Matthew Freeman
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One hundred years ago today, 146 people perished in one of the nation’s worst workplace tragedies – the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in the heart of New York City. The story is gruesome, and each detail of exactly how so many people were trapped in a burning building was, and remains, a reminder of what can happen when worker safety is sacrificed in the name of profit.

Here’s the barest sketch. The Triangle Waist Factory in lower Manhattan relied on cheap, exploitable labor to produce women’s blouses – shirtwaists, as they were known. The factory occupied the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of a building at 29 Washington Place, and its employees were mostly young immigrant women, some as young as 14. They’d come to the United States for a better life, and found themselves working more than 50 hours a week …

March 24, 2011 by Lesley McAllister
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Cross-posted from Environmental Law Prof Blog.

Energy efficiency policy is one of the few areas where we might still expect some progress at the federal level toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the next few years.  Predictably, energy efficiency has become the target of criticism. Republican senators argue that phasing out inefficient incandescent light bulbs is anti-consumer even though it would save consumers money on their energy bills.  And in a New York Times article, John Tierney took aim at energy efficiency standards by implying that energy efficiency improvements don’t actually save energy on account of the “rebound effect.”    The rebound effect expresses the idea that energy efficiency improvements result in a reduction in the price content of energy in the final consumer product or service, and consumers may respond to this cost savings by consuming more of that product or service (the direct rebound effect …

March 24, 2011 by Douglas Kysar
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A report yesterday from Inside EPA offered a fascinating overview of the agency’s struggle to update the way it assigns dollar values to the suffering and premature death that its regulations prevent. Seriously, as far as economic esoterica goes, this stuff is riveting. What’s more, your life may depend on it.

Currently, EPA values each statistical human life saved by its rules at $7.9 million. This number is derived from so-called “wage-risk premium” studies that examine large data sets on employment and occupational risk. The idea is that, if you control for education, job sector, geographic region, and other relevant factors, then you should be able to come up with a number representing the portion of an employee’s wage that compensates for higher on-the-job health or safety risks. Depending on how a worker values health and safety compared to other goods, he – and …

March 23, 2011 by Ben Somberg
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CPR Member Scholar Joel Mintz has an op-ed in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel taking a look at the House's continuing resolution for the FY 2011 budget and what it would do to the EPA. Writes Mintz:

House leaders would have us believe they're cutting fat from the budget. In fact, they're taking dead aim at nerves, muscles, and vital organs. EPA's existing regulations — and their enforcement — provide vital protections against emissions of toxic air and water pollutants, contamination of public water supplies, the abuse of dangerous pesticides, exposure of school children to asbestos, releases of poisonous chemicals from abandoned hazardous waste dumps, and the destruction of fish, shellfish, and other aquatic life.

If the House-proposed EPA budget cuts — or anything anywhere close to them — are enacted into law, EPA's ability to implement all of those protections (along with other important facets of …

March 22, 2011 by John Knox
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Friday, the first traces of the plume of radioactive gas from the damaged Japanese reactors were reported to reach California. The cornerstone of international environmental law is often said to be the “prevention principle,” which says that states have “the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States.”  Does that mean that the transboundary radiation has put Japan in violation of international law? 

In a word, No.

Although the quoted language, from the 1992 Rio Declaration, sounds as if any transboundary damage would violate international law, almost no one interprets the prevention principle so strictly. To be an obligation under customary international law, the principle would have to reflect states’ customary practice, and states don’t prevent all transboundary pollution. Last year, in a case between Argentina and Uruguay, the International Court of Justice characterized …

March 21, 2011 by Rebecca Bratspies
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The twin natural disasters that struck Japan this month, earthquake and tsunami, left a trail of devastation in their path. Entire villages were lost. The death toll currently stands at more than 8,000 but is expected to rise much higher (more than 13,000 are missing). Even as survivors struggle for shelter, warmth and food, the natural disasters are being rapidly overshadowed by the unfolding nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The key difference is that the nuclear disaster didn’t have to happen. 

The earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear meltdown are all wrapped up together right now as one big human tragedy. But it is important not to blur the lines between risks that are inherent to living on planet earth, and risks that we have created for ourselves. Natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes or tsunamis are woven into the very …

March 18, 2011 by Robert Adler
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A decision issued on March 15 by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated portions of EPA’s Clean Water Act (CWA) regulations, issued most recently in 2008, governing water pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations, or “CAFOs”. In National Pork Producers Council, et al. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Fifth Circuit panel vacated those portions of EPA’s rule that required CAFOs to apply for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits based on a potential to discharge rather than an existing discharge, and that imposed liability for failure to apply for a permit. (The Court upheld other aspects of EPA’s CAFO rule.) The Fifth Circuit ruling represents a particular setback for EPA’s efforts to regulate CAFO pollution because it follows a 2005 decision by the Second Circuit (Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc. v. United States Environmental …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
March 30, 2011

Key OSHA Health and Safety Initiative Potentially Delayed Months by OMB Nitpicking

March 29, 2011

Robert Glicksman Testifies at House Hearing on Agency Rulemaking Process

March 29, 2011

EPA Punts on Cooling Water Rule; Despite Facts on the Ground, Decides Technology That Would Prevent Massive Fish Kills no Longer Feasible

March 25, 2011

Echoes of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in Today's Debate over Regulation

March 24, 2011

As the VSL Turns...: In Value of a Statistical Life Debate at EPA, Moral Decisions Hide Behind Technical Jargon

March 24, 2011

Energy Efficiency on the Rebound?

March 23, 2011

Mintz Op-ed Looks at the Real Consequences of Proposed EPA Budget Cuts