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Oct. 30, 2009 by Matthew Freeman

New CPR Papers on Dysfunctional Regulatory Agencies, Costs of Delayed Regulations, and Moving Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis

One of the great political communications successes of the past 30 years has been the right wing’s relentless assault on the American regulatory system. Think of the words and images that have come to be associated with “regulation” in that time: red tape, bureaucrats, green eye shades, piles of paper stretching to the ceiling, and more. And the approach has worked – remarkably well, in fact, given the compelling imagery on the other side of the ledger:  children left to play in unregulated polluted waterways, power plants belching smoke into the air we breathe, foods that poison and drugs that induce heart attacks. Imagine if the producers of campaign commercials decided to dig into that Pandora’s Box of images!

Most of the attention that the regulatory system draws focuses on individual skirmishes – a fight over how and to what extent to regulate mercury, for example. Many of those are important fights, to be sure. But if it were possible to draw the camera back and take a snapshot of the entire regulatory structure in the context of its statutory mandate to protect Americans from health and safety hazards, and to protect the environment from abuse, the dynamic would look …

Oct. 30, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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This guest post is written by Thomas Tolin, Assistant Professor of Economics at West Chester University, and Martin Patwell, Director of the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities at WCU.

In the recently published SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance the authors, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, make the following claim: (p. 138-139)

As we wrote earlier, the law of unintended consequences is among the most potent laws in existence… Consider the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was intended to safeguard disabled workers from discrimination. A noble intention, yes? Absolutely--but the data convincingly show that the net result was fewer jobs for Americans with disabilities. Why? After the ADA became law, employers were so worried they wouldn’t be able to discipline or fire bad workers who had a disability that they avoided hiring such workers …

Oct. 29, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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Today the Consumer Product Safety Comission released three draft reports on its findings so far regarding contaminated Chinese drywall.

Here's how the Sarasota Herald-Tribune puts the development:

In what is sure to inflame lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the federal government issued a report on Thursday about Chinese drywall that stopped short of linking the material to health problems, foul smells or corrosion reported by homeowners.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and others have been analyzing the drywall and said they need more time to complete that work.

Explains CPSC's email update:

Basically, the combined federal task force investigating the issue has found elevated levels of two elements in some Chinese-made drywall: sulfur and strontium. We are conducting additional scientific tests to find the connection between these elevated levels and any reported health symptoms or corrosion effects. The results of …

Oct. 29, 2009 by Daniel Farber
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Both the NY Times and the Washington Post had lead stories Wednesday on the politics of climate change legislation.  The Post’s story centered on the increasing focus of the debate on the economic impact of climate legislation and on the difficulty of establishing the facts:

In anticipation, groups on the left and the right — as well as government outfits such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Congressional Budget Office — have issued a spate of analyses projecting the costs and, sometimes, the benefits of congressional climate legislation. But the fine print in many of these projections reveals that they are based on assumptions that could easily turn out otherwise, meaning lawmakers will have to take a leap of faith about how a cap-and-trade program — which would control pollution by providing economic incentives to reduce emissions — might affect the economy.

It seems to me …

Oct. 27, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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Super Freakonomics, which came out last week, has been critiqued thoroughly (UCS has a good library of their own critiques and links to others) for its embrace of geoengineering as the cheap fix to that problem called global warming, and the book's methods generally have also been critiqued as lacking.

But yesterday brought a new whopper from co-author Steven Levitt, on the Diane Rehm Show:

"Of course, ocean acidification is an import issue. Now, there are ways to deal with ocean acidification, right, it's actually, that's actually, we know exactly how to un-acidifiy the oceans, is to pour a bunch of base into it, so, so if that turns out to be an incredibly big problem, then we can deal with that."

The interview is here; the quote is at 20:15 in the audio. (Update: the specific audio clip is here)

Well, problem …

Oct. 26, 2009 by Catherine O'Neill
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Three recent developments in the saga of efforts to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired utilities are significant. Early last week, Michigan became the twenty-third state to require coal-fired utilities within its jurisdiction to reduce their mercury emissions. Michigan’s regulation requires these sources to cut mercury emissions by 90% by 2015. Then, on Thursday, the EPA reached a settlement with environmental groups who had sued the agency for failing to act to regulate mercury emissions. In the agreement (see NYTimes also), the EPA pledged to set standards for mercury and a number of other toxics by late 2011.

The EPA and Michigan announcements come on the heels of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released early this month indicating that coal-fired power plants across the nation have achieved substantial reductions in emissions of this toxic air pollutant. The GAO report, Clean Air Act: Mercury Control Technologies at …

Oct. 23, 2009 by Shana Campbell Jones
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As climate change legislation awaits action in the Senate, serious and complicated legal and policy questions about the tools designed to reduce carbon emissions remain. Truly, the climate change debate operates in two distinct worlds. The first is becoming increasingly hysterical, consisting of sensational and camera-ready protests and attacks underwritten by groups such as the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers. The second rages below the media waterline, in the wonky weeds of policy and legal scholarship. The pitchforks aren’t out in the second realm, but issues debated are crucial nevertheless.

CPR Member Scholars Bill Funk, Lesley McAllister, and Victor Flatt have recently published articles discussing several important aspects of both existing and emerging efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Oct. 22, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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CPR President Rena Steinzor and board member Robert Glicksman sent a letter today to White House Science Adviser John Holdren and OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein regarding OMB's role in EPA science decisions. The letter concerns two recent episodes involving OMB that we wrote about this week: one regarding the EPA's Endocrine Disrputor Screening Program (EDSP) and the other regarding the agency's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). From the letter:

Both of these episodes pre-date Professor Sunstein’s confirmation and may well be the product of staff steeped in the culture of OMB regulatory review under the Bush Administration. The episodes represent a direct assault on scientific integrity because they involve attempts to reverse conclusions by agency experts at the behest of regulated industries whose central objections were rooted in concerns about potential future compliance costs, not the accuracy of EPA’s science. Compounding the …

Oct. 22, 2009 by Matt Shudtz
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In Wednesday's Federal Register, EPA unveiled a new, streamlined process through which agency scientists will systematically review old chemical profiles in the IRIS database and update them with the latest toxicological information. With everything from Clean Air Act residual risk determinations about hazardous air pollutants to Superfund site cleanup standards to Safe Drinking Water Act regulations turning on the toxicological profiles housed in the IRIS database, it is a huge step in the right direction for EPA to be proactively screening old profiles to make sure they are up-to-date.

In 2003, the Eastern Research Group conducted a literature review to determine which chemicals in the IRIS database had been the subject of new toxicity or carcinogenicity studies since their last significant IRIS update. The researchers identified new health effects information for 169 chemicals (37% of those reviewed) that, if evaluated in detail, could possibly result in …

Oct. 21, 2009 by Christine Klein
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As the recession grinds on, financial news continues to grab front-page headlines. The national deficit is a central flashpoint for controversy, triggering debate on the appropriate balance between spending today and increasing our children’s growing mountain of debt. In the midst of this battle, it is easy to overlook another looming problem: the growth of the environmental deficit. Overall, we are spending down the planet’s “natural capital” at unsustainable rates. As the nation’s most thoughtful minds address our economic woes, their wisdom provides three important lessons for environmental sustainability. The moment is particularly ripe for such analysis as the international community struggles with the overwhelming issue of climate change, certainly a key to achieving any sort of sustainable environmental future.

Re-regulation to promote responsibility: Even as taxpayers bailed out financial institutions deemed too big to fail, executives received huge bonuses. Growing outrage has prompted …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Oct. 30, 2009

New CPR Papers on Dysfunctional Regulatory Agencies, Costs of Delayed Regulations, and Moving Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis

Oct. 30, 2009

SuperFreakonomics and Superficial Facts: A Defense of the ADA

Oct. 29, 2009

News on the Political Front

Oct. 29, 2009

CPSC Releases Three Draft Reports on Drywall

Oct. 27, 2009

Super Freakonomics Co-Author on Ocean Acidification: 'Pour a Bunch of Base Into It'

Oct. 26, 2009

Reducing Mercury Emissions From Coal-Fired Power Plants: Yes We Can (And Could Have, Years Ago)

Oct. 23, 2009

CPR Scholarship Roundup: Legal and Policy Implications of Regulating Carbon, from Cap-and-Trade to Coal Sequestration