July 29, 2011 by Amy Sinden

White House Flouts Agency Heads, Rolls Out Backroom Deal on Fuel Economy Standard

This post was written by Member Scholar Amy Sinden and Policy Analyst Lena Pons.

This morning President Obama will make an announcement about upcoming fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2017-2025. The announcement will reference the Administration’s plan to propose a standard to reach 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. These standards will set the pace at which automakers improve the fuel economy of cars for many years to come, and help to determine how quickly advanced technologies – plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles – will be available in showrooms.

But the planned announcement is troubling because the number the President will roll out was the result of raw political wrangling, not the rational policymaking process that the Administration purports to pride itself on. The White House has been haggling with the automakers for the last month, and 54.5 is the magic number that has emerged from that negotiation.

This is not how the process is supposed to work. Under the laws passed by Congress, the agencies are supposed to go through a rational scientific process in order to set the standard at the “maximum feasible …

June 30, 2011 by Amy Sinden

Upon reading the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs’ (OIRA) latest annual Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations, one can be forgiven for wondering momentarily whether the 2008 election was just a dream and whether we’re still in the midst of a Republican administration. OIRA is telling us that the primary goal of government regulation—particularly environmental, health, and safety regulation—is not to protect the environment or public health, but to “promote the goals of economic growth, innovation, competitiveness, and job creation,” and in so doing “to avoid excessive regulation, to eliminate unnecessary burdens, and to choose appropriate responses.”   Is it just me, or does this sound like a line taken directly from the Chamber of Commerce’s script?

Granted, the annual report, released on Friday, is something OIRA is required to do by statute. But it could …

May 26, 2011 by Amy Sinden

Following up on President Obama’s January Executive Order calling for agencies to conduct a regulatory “look-back,” the Administration today released a target list of health, safety, and environmental standards to be reviewed by agencies in the coming months, with an eye toward eliminating or modifying them.

The President’s January announcement was driven by politics, and from all appearances, the process of reviewing these regulations will be as well. In an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, and in a speech today at the American Enterprise Institute – note the conservative venues chosen – “Regulatory Czar” Cass Sunstein, Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, not only unveiled the target list but once again deployed the kind of anti-regulatory rhetoric one might expect from the Chamber of Commerce. Sunstein asserts that "Our goal is to change the regulatory culture of Washington by …

April 18, 2011 by Amy Sinden

In politics, repeating something over and over again can sometimes make it stick, whether it's true or not. From Reagan’s welfare queens, to the specter of “socialized” medicine leading to imminent communist takeover, these sorts of myths often start on the far right but then move surprisingly far to the center. And as the EPA has begun to move forward with regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, we've seen one of these myths begin to take shape. This time it’s the notion that the Clean Air Act is a bad tool for addressing climate change.

At the heart of it is this: a lot of regulated industries and their allies don't want any limits at all on how much carbon dioxide they can release into the atmosphere. But the Clean Air Act says that EPA must regulate any air …

March 29, 2011 by Amy Sinden

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 4, 2011 by Amy Sinden

When it comes to the use of cost-benefit analysis in setting environmental rules, it looks like President Obama's EPA has taken a big swig of industry’s Kool-Aid. We'll know for sure soon: The EPA has a March 14 deadline to issue its proposed Clean Water Act rule on cooling water intake structures at existing power plants and other facilities. But all signs seem to be pointing toward a highly formalized cost-benefit analysis resulting in a weak rule – and a lot of dead fish.

Lisa Jackson has hinted that the rule will create a relatively toothless case-by-case permitting regime rather than simply mandating the more environmentally protective closed-cycle cooling technology that some plants already use. And the agency’s development over the past six months of an elaborate, controversial, and frankly misguided study to try to divine the dollar value members of the public attach …

Dec. 14, 2010 by Amy Sinden

A federal appeals court's decision on Friday refusing to block implementation of EPA’s first limits on carbon pollution from cars, power plants, and factories is good news for inhabitants of planet Earth. A coalition of industry groups, right wing think tanks, and the state of Texas had asked the court to grant a stay blocking EPA’s rules from going into effect while their litigation challenging those rules goes forward.  But a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (including two very conservative republican appointees) wisely rejected that request.

All this started back in 2007, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Bush EPA’s feckless efforts to avoid regulating greenhouse gases as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Nearly four years later, Obama’s EPA has finally taken the first baby steps toward fulfilling its obligations under the Clean …

Aug. 5, 2010 by Amy Sinden

It turns out there’s more than one way an offshore oil rig can kill a fish. Even when they’re not spewing oil into the ocean, oil rigs kill vast numbers of fish and other aquatic organisms in their daily operations by sucking them up into their cooling water intake systems, where they get squashed against screens and otherwise beat up by the mechanism.   Power plants do it too, as does any industrial facility that circulates water for cooling. Congress recognized this problem four decades ago and so put a specific provision in the Clean Water Act directing the EPA to regulate cooling water intake structures. But there’s been a fight raging for years about just how EPA should carry out those responsibilities. 

You may remember that the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on this controversy last year in Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper, largely …

June 21, 2010 by Amy Sinden

With characteristic audacity, the Wall Street Journal editorial page today is arguing against the precautionary approach to environmental policy that undergirds our system of environmental laws, even as the oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico. Instead, they want to shift the burden of proof and only allow regulators to restrain corporate greed when the government can first quantify and monetize the environmental harm that will result and demonstrate that it outweighs the money to be made by taking environmental risks. The problem is, of course, that when you require cost-benefit analysis, the environment loses, because most of the values at stake on that side of the equation—human lives, air you can breathe, water you can swim and fish in—just can’t be measured in dollar terms. 

The editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal lament that the disaster in the Gulf is …

Nov. 5, 2009 by Amy Sinden

Cass Sunstein had barely begun settling in to his new position as Administrator of OMB’s Office of Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in September, when OIRA released a draft of OMB’s 2009 Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations. Today marks the deadline for submitting comments to OMB on the draft, and I joined CPR President Rena Steinzor and Policy Analyst James Goodwin in submitting comments.

We read this year’s report with interest, curious to see how the new administration would approach this annual ritual. While OIRA has in the past been a nerve-center of anti-regulatory ideology and the annual report a ritualized hymn to the virtues of cost-benefit analysis, we hoped Obama’s OIRA would use the annual report as an opportunity to fundamentally re-envision its mission – to perhaps re-invent itself as a resource providing positive and constructive assistance to the …

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