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Sept. 10, 2021 by Daniel Farber

Vacancy

This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The Biden administration is looking to make big regulatory changes, not least regarding climate change. Yet the White House office overseeing regulations is vacant. The obscurely named Office of Regulatory Affairs and Information (OIRA) has to sign off on all significant regulations. Even the dilatory Donald Trump had nominated a permanent administrator by July of his first year. Biden's delay in filling this important office is hard to defend.

The main reason for the delay is probably that Biden doesn't have the OIRA administrator's boss in place, either. Biden's nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had to be withdrawn when her Senate support evaporated. That was on March 2, however, and there's still no new OMB nomination six months later. Maybe the reason is an inability to find a candidate who can win approval across the Democratic Party's spectrum, given wildly divergent attitudes toward government spending. Whatever the reason, that vacancy is regrettable, but it's no reason to leave OIRA vacant, as well.

OIRA does have an acting administrator, but there are limits to how much a temporary office holder can accomplish, particularly when OIRA …

Sept. 9, 2021 by Darya Minovi
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On August 29, Hurricane Ida pummeled Louisiana’s coastline with winds as high as 150 miles per hour and a storm surge of up to nine feet, flooding communities and destroying homes. The Category 4 storm displaced thousands of people and left 1 million without power — all as the coronavirus surge overwhelms hospitals across the state.

Amid this chaos, Louisianans faced yet another hazard — the risk of exposure to toxic pollutants from explosions, flares, and accidental releases at disabled, damaged, or flooded industrial facilities.

A week after the storm made landfall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Response Center (NRC), which collects reports on oil, chemical, radiological, biological, and etiological discharges into the environment, had received more than 170 incident reports related to Ida. Many of these were in Louisiana, and 17 were air releases. Yet little is known about the effects as 13 …

Sept. 8, 2021 by Jennifer Nichols, Allison Stevens
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Soaring rates of voluntary resignations, widespread labor shortages, and the ubiquity of "Help Wanted" signs put the "labor" back in the Labor Day holiday this year, as employers struggle to respond to a jobs market that seems, for once, to have given workers the upper hand.

Story after story blames current labor market conditions on "burnout," an occupational phenomenon the World Health Organization describes as a combination of symptoms that includes emotional exhaustion and reduced personal accomplishment. "Burnout — and opportunity — are driving record wave of quitting," the Deseret (Utah) News declared in August.

But what if the diagnosis — or rather, what we call it — is a symptom of the real problem? Naming the phenomenon for its toll on workers, rather than for the working conditions that drive it, skews our understanding of what's wrong and how to fix it.

The word "burnout" calls to mind …

Sept. 6, 2021 by Minor Sinclair
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New dynamics are shaping the labor market, labor organizing and labor policies

Economists are scratching their heads furiously — why is there a labor shortage amidst high unemployment? Everywhere employers are posting “Help Wanted” signs but still face shortage of workers. Construction projects are stymied, retail shops are half-staffed and produce rots in the fields all because of a lack of workers. There is no fresh supply of “essential workers” who are surging into the job market.

The conservative view, that people don’t want to work and that the unemployment benefits are a disincentive, has been debunked by the evidence. An academic study analyzed the effect of cutting unemployment benefits (done in 26 states which are all but one led by Republican governors). On employment rates, the impact was negligible — only 7 of 8 people who were dropped from unemployment rolls actually gained jobs. But for households …

Sept. 3, 2021 by M. Isabelle Chaudry
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Labor Day got its start in the late 19th Century, when labor activists pushed for a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers make to America’s strength, prosperity, and wellbeing.

In addition to our usual picnics and barbeques, we should spend this day uplifting laborers who work in conditions in dire need of regulation — including those exposed to extreme heat or who work in hot environments.

Physical activity makes it difficult for the body to cool itself down, especially as temperatures and humidity rise. The effects can be dangerous, ranging from dizziness, nausea, cramps, exhaustion, and vomiting to faster heart rates and deadly heatstroke. Exposure to extreme heat can also exacerbate preexisting respiratory and heart conditions.

People who work in hot conditions are in special danger. Indeed, heat killed 815 workers on the job between 1992 and 2017 and seriously injured 70,000 more, according …

Sept. 3, 2021 by Robert Verchick
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This op-ed was originally published in the Washington Post.

Ask just about any New Orleanian to name the most exasperating thing about the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, and you’ll get the same answer. It isn’t the floodwater. Or the roof damage. It’s something more familiar but equally as threatening to life, health and property: power failure.

This week, Entergy, Louisiana’s largest power company, warned customers to brace for several days or even weeks without power. That means no light, no microwave oven, no refrigerator — and getting by on candles and canned food. It means no air conditioning amid an often-triple-digit heat index, no computer and no Internet, unless you can get online with a smartphone — which you don’t have power to charge. Gas stations are closed because electric pumps can’t pump. In some neighborhoods, toilets don’t flush because sewage …

Sept. 2, 2021 by James Goodwin, Robert Verchick
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This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

A few weeks ago, the Army Corps of Engineers made a startling announcement: It would give Sharon Lavigne and her neighbors in St. James Parish, La., a chance to tell their stories. The fact one of the world’s largest chemical companies has fought for years to keep Lavigne quiet tells you how commanding her stories are. Those stories may stop this particular company from building a multi-billion dollar chemical plant surrounding her neighborhood.

For this, we can thank a simple law, signed by President Nixon in 1970, called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Unlike other environmental laws, NEPA doesn’t tell agencies what choices they must make — like where to erect a levee or whether to permit a plastics plant. But it does insist their choices be informed. So, before the Army Corps can approve a company …

Sept. 2, 2021 by Allison Stevens
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This op-ed was originally published in The Virginia Mercury.

The U.S. Senate faces a long to-do list when it reconvenes next month.

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Fairfax,  wants to be sure an important but fairly obscure environmental health bill makes the list. 

It passed the House in July, thanks in part to Democratic members of our congressional delegation, and now awaits action in the upper chamber. “The Senate must take action,” Connolly told me by email.

The legislation would regulate and clean up per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of toxins linked to cancer, infertility and other serious health problems. One such problem is compromised immunity, which may reduce the effectiveness of COVID vaccines — just as the delta variant surges across the state.

This bill is urgently needed in Northern Virginia — a reported PFAS “hot spot.”

Used in tape, nonstick pans and other everyday …

Aug. 30, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt, Darya Minovi
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Virginia is home to thousands of unregulated and aging aboveground hazardous chemical storage tanks, which, when exposed to storms or floods, may be at greater risk of failing or spills. This risk — and the threat it poses to our health and safety — is rising as our climate changes.

Since these tanks are not regulated by the state or federal government, we know very little about their number, condition, age, or contents. If storage tanks are improperly constructed or maintained, they are more likely to fail under stress, and could release any number of toxic chemicals into nearby communities.

In addition to threatening community health and safety, the spills may also exacerbate existing disparities. In Virginia, industrial facilities vulnerable to flooding are disproportionately concentrated in socially vulnerable areas, according to a 2019 report by our colleague, David Flores.

Virginia is no stranger to failing tanks. In 2008, an …

Aug. 30, 2021 by Joel Mintz
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This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

Scientific concerns about the impacts and risks of global climate change are scarcely new. In 1988, those concerns became sufficiently widespread in the scientific community that the United Nations established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a committee that included hundreds of the world’s most distinguished climate scientists, to study the emerging climate problem and its implications. Since its creation, this panel has issued five full extensive reports. These assessments were soundly criticized by some independent climate scientists as understating the significance and dangers of climate change. However, earlier this month, the IPCC seems to have rectified that purported problem.

In the first segment of its Sixth Assessment, issued earlier this month, the IPCC report states that it "provides a full and comprehensive assessment of the physical science basis of climate change that builds upon the previous …

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