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March 18, 2009 by Yee Huang

Goldilocks of the Beach

Florida’s beaches draw millions of tourists each year, and coastal towns like Palm Beach have a great interest in protecting the beaches against erosion and sea-level rise.  They have experimented with various adaptation and reinforcement techniques, some more successful than others, but none is a permanent solution. 

In an administrative hearing on March 2, Judge Robert Meale rejected a beach renourishment project proposed by Palm Beach, criticizing both its harmful environmental impacts and the “worthless” engineering models that supported the project.  The suit was brought by an alliance of surfers and anglers, united in their interest to protect the dynamic beach ecosystem, offshore reefs, and sea turtle nesting habitat.  The judge’s ruling was notable not only for its harsh criticism of the project but also the clear environmental basis of his decision.

Beach renourishment is one of several techniques to address beach erosion, a naturally occurring process that will accelerate with climate change and sea-level rise.  Renourishment means taking sand from offshore or inland dunes and placing it on the eroded beach to widen the shoreline.  In theory, renourishment is a great solution – just track down the eroded sand and put it back on the beach.

As with …

March 17, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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This item is cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

 

It’s easy for environmentalists to get depressed, given the amount of bad news about climate change, species losses, and the like. But sometimes there is unexpectedly good news. This morning’s New York Times has one of those stories. The Atlantic right whale, which not long ago was thought by many to be a lost cause, appears to be rebounding. Last year brought a record number of calves, and “probably for the first time since the 1600s, not one North Atlantic right whale died at human hands.”

Scientists working on whale recovery credit recent changes in shipping lanes and speed restrictions in coastal waters, which have reduced whale strikes. An expensive but effective monitoring program has made those shipping changes possible by providing new information about key locations for whales. Scientists are optimistic that new restrictions on …

March 17, 2009 by Rena Steinzor
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The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) invited public comments on the design of its new Executive Order on regulatory review, and CPR has now submitted our recommendations.

We urged the Obama Administration to make fundamental changes in how OMB and prospective “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein operate. We're hopeful that the new Administration will convert OMB from a regulatory Siberia into the guarantor of dramatically improved government protection of public health, safety, and the environment.

If we have learned anything from the financial meltdown paralyzing the world’s economy, it is that large industries should never be placed in the position of making money, controlling their own greed, and adopting ethics to protect the public interest all at the same time. Because the government cop was off the beat on too many fronts, strange new “derivatives,” toxic mortgage loans, hedge funds, and Ponzi schemes brought multi-billion …

March 16, 2009 by Dan Rohlf
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The Associated Press reported last week that the Commerce Department’s inspector general is looking into who leaked a draft of the Bush Administration’s plans to prevent federal agencies from considering the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, expressing concern over what he termed “a serious abdication of duty” by the government official or officials who leaked the document to the National Wildlife Federation last summer, called for the investigation. The draft changes to ESA regulations surfaced in August 2008, revealing the outgoing administration’s efforts to weaken the Act’s Section 7 consultation process by allowing agencies to ignore impacts to endangered species “manifested through global processes,” a clear reference to climate change.

The Department of Interior finalized the regulatory revisions just in time for them to go into effect before the new …

March 13, 2009 by Matt Shudtz
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Last week's Supreme Court decision in Wyeth v. Levine protected consumers’ longstanding right to take pharmaceutical companies to court for failing to properly warn patients and their doctors about the risks posed by the drugs they market.  Unfortunately, people injured by faulty medical devices don't have the same right following last year’s Riegel v. Medtronic decision.

Without the protection of the courts, patients with medical devices rely solely on the protections afforded by the FDA approval process.  But last week, the Wall Street Journal's Alicia Mundy gave a glimpse at just how broken that process can be.  

Mundy tracked the FDA approval of Menaflex, a small pad made of cow collagen that can be implanted in a torn meniscus to both patch the tear and promote tissue regrowth.  The manufacturer, ReGen, originally submitted the device for FDA approval under normal procedures for new …

March 12, 2009 by Shana Campbell Jones
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The truth hurts. Some of us accept the truth; some of us ignore it. All too often, industry-sponsored scientists take another approach to the truth: attack.

 

A recent spat over a study finding that perchlorate blocks iodine in breast milk is an object lesson in what CPR Member Scholar Tom McGarity calls “attack science.”

 

In October, I blogged about this study, which was the first to ask whether perchlorate inhibits iodine transport to breast milk. Perchlorate is a component of rocket fuel and munitions. It’s known to cause thyroid problems by inhibiting how iodine is absorbed by the body. Iodine is essential to proper fetal and infant neurological development. According to the EPA, perchlorate has contaminated the drinking water of 16.6 million Americans to unsafe levels. The study’s question is important because though we knew that perchlorate inhibits babies' thyroids when they ingest it …

March 11, 2009 by Matt Shudtz
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Monday was a good day for our nation’s science policy.  At the same time he announced that the federal government will abandon misguided restrictions on stem cell research, President Obama unveiled an effort to promote a sea change in the way political appointees will treat the science that informs so many federal policies.

 

In a memorandum to department heads across the government, President Obama announced that John Holdren, the soon-to-be-confirmed Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), will develop a plan to achieve a goal of “ensuring the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch's involvement with scientific and technological processes.”

 

The memorandum hints at some very encouraging ideas that reflect a significant change in attitude from the Bush Administration.  For starters, President Obama writes that “science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions …

March 10, 2009 by Robert Glicksman
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(CPR Member Scholar Robert L. Glicksman replies below to CPR Member Scholar William Buzbee’s post on the Summers vs. Earth Island Institute decision.)

 

The decision in Summers represents the latest salvo in a continuing battle between those Supreme Court Justices who view the function of standing doctrine as ensuring that litigation before the federal courts is capable of being presented in an adversary context suitable for judicial resolution, and those who regard it as a fundamental bulwark against intrusion by the judicial branch on the prerogatives of the legislative and executive branches. As late as 1968, the Court remarked in a case called Flast v. Cohen that standing law “does not by its own force raise separation of powers problems related to improper judicial interference in areas committed to other branches of the Federal Government.” Justice Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion in Summers as well …

March 10, 2009 by William Buzbee
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On March 3rd, the Supreme Court issued its much awaited decision in Summers v. Earth Island Institute.  This was the latest in a series of cases dating to the early 1990s where the central question has concerned citizen standing: will the courts allow a citizen to stand before a court to argue that government or private action violates the law?

 

In Summers, the environmentalists' challenge involved a few layers. The real legal challenge raised by the environmentalists was to regulations issued by the US Forest Service that largely eliminated opportunities for utilization of a notice, comment, and appeal process for actions designated by the Forest Service as small in size and therefore categorically exempt from these regulatory challenges ordinarily available for larger scale projects. The challengers asserted that these regulations violated statutory requirements. The challengers used a particular project, the Burnt Ridge Project in the Sequoia Forest …

March 9, 2009 by Yee Huang
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In the decade between 1994 and 2004, the bottled water industry enjoyed a meteoric rise as consumers flocked to their product, paying more per gallon than gasoline and neglecting a virtually free source of water – the tap.  Bottled water drinkers formed fierce allegiances to their favorite brands, elevating bottled water beyond a beverage to a symbol of refinement.

 

More recently, opposition to bottled water has grown, built around an eclectic mix of advocates including activists, restaurateurs, and religious leaders.  Proposals for bottled water operations evoke vocal protests in local communities.  Production of bottled water requires large quantities of energy and generates tons of waste with long-term environmental impacts.  Some cities have responded by taxing bottled water, as in Chicago, and by banning bottled water from official city functions, as in San FranciscoToronto not only banned the sale and distribution of bottled water on city premises but …

CPR HOMEPAGE
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March 24, 2009

Steinzor and Wagner in Austin American-Statesman and Cleveland Plain Dealer

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