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Jan. 9, 2009 by Rena Steinzor

The Sunstein Appointment: More Here Than Meets the Eye

Thursday’s big news on the regulatory front was that President-elect Obama plans to nominate Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein to be the head of the White House Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) – the so-called “regulatory czar” of the federal government. The appointment means that those of us expecting a revival of the protector agencies—EPA, FDA, OSHA, CPSC, and NHTSA—have reason to worry that “yes, we can” will become “no, we won’t.”

 

The reason for the pre-Russian Revolution appellation is that over the past quarter century, OIRA has become a choke point for federal regulation. Since Ronald Reagan, regulations with any significant impact have had to pass through OIRA’s doors, and while there, many a protective regulation has come to grief. During the Bush years, now a mere 11 days away from ending, OIRA ably accomplished the objective that the Administration plainly had in mind for it: watering down protective regulations or drowning them altogether. In fact, many wise observers came to think of OIRA as the true architect of the Administration’s policy on public health protections, drug safety, workplace safety, consumer product safety, and the preservation of …

Jan. 8, 2009 by Matthew Freeman
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The reporters of ProPublica continue their impressive coverage of the Bush Administration’s midnight regulations. Most of the rest of the media behaves as if the nation’s 43rd President is already out of power. But the nonprofit, wave-of-the-future-if-we’re-lucky investigative outfit has built an impressive, and frankly distressing, list of last-minute regulations – in the process driving home the point that even lame ducks can paddle furiously just below the surface.

 

The most recent entries on ProPublica’s list include efforts to remove the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf from the endangered species list, weaken protections against “fugitive emissions,” pull back on restrictions on the use of the antimicrobial drug cephalosporin in livestock bound for dinner tables, and eliminate a rule requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to obtain written consent from patients before testing them for HIV and then to provide pre- and post-test counseling. Read …

Jan. 7, 2009 by Matthew Freeman
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The January 3 issue of The Economist Magazine offers a special report on the challenges confronting the world’s oceans.  The nine-part package of stories covers a range of topics, including global warming, dying coral reefs, bottom trawling, dumping of sewage and trash, oxygen-choking algae blooms resulting from too many nutrients (often from fertilizer runoff), overfishing, and more. It’s a fine compilation of a broad range of ocean issues, well worth a read.

Jan. 6, 2009 by Rena Steinzor
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A story in the Washington Post over the holidays offers up a nice case study in how regulated industries and federal agencies charged with regulating them have grown far too cozy. The story drew back the curtain on how the manufacturer of a toxic metal called beryllium managed to defeat efforts by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to establish a reasonable workplace standard, and then succeeded in corrupting an effort by an OSHA staffer to warn workers of the harms to which they were being exposed.

 

First some explanation. More than half a century ago, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration established a workplace standard for beryllium. Lighter than aluminum but stronger than steel, the metal is used in weapons production and for a variety of other purposes, including the manufacture of alloys used to fill cavities in teeth. Unfortunately, in every production process involving beryllium …

Jan. 5, 2009 by Matt Shudtz
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Last week, the New York Times ran two stories that present a fascinating dichotomy in people’s response to rising home-heating costs.

 

On Friday, Elisabeth Rosenthal reported from the central German town of Darmstadt about “passive houses” that employ high-tech designs to provide warm air and hot water using incredibly small amounts of energy – as little as might be used to power a hair dryer.

 

Rosenthal explains the design briefly:

Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants’ bodies.

The next day, Rosenthal’s colleagues, Tom Zeller, Jr. and Stefan Milkowski, reported on an entirely different trend that is developing here …

Jan. 2, 2009 by Yee Huang
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Chairmen Henry Waxman and James Oberstar have been busy sharpening water protection tools on the Congressional whetstone. In a memorandum to President-elect Obama, Waxman, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Oberstar, chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, detail serious deterioration of Clean Water Act (CWA) enforcement. The investigation found nearly 500 enforcement cases, brought to protect the nation’s waters, that have been negatively affected as a result of a divided 2006 Supreme Court ruling and subsequent Bush administration guidance. The memo is here.

Among key findings, the memo concluded that:

  • The Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Rapanos v. United States and resulting EPA guidance for regional EPA offices to implement the decision have caused a decline in enforcing hundreds of CWA violations, contrary to sworn statements made by Bush Administration officials that the effects on CWA were “slight …

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Cass Sunstein and OIRA