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Feb. 17, 2010 by James Goodwin

EPA's Cooperative Approach on Coal Ash Nets 'Action Plans' From Industry -- But Here's What EPA Could Really be Doing With Existing Authority

In 2008 alone, coal-fired power plants produced some 136 million tons of coal ash waste – dangerous stuff, because it contains arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and a host of other toxins that are a significant threat to basic human health. Ironically, coal ash has been growing as a problem in recent years in part because better pollution-control devices capture more toxic contaminants before they go up power plant smokestacks. Last year, around 55 percent of the stuff was piled up in rickety “surface impoundments” – that is to say, holes in the ground – and other unstable structures at hundreds of disposal facilities across the country. In December 2008, we got a stern reminder of just how rickety, when a coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee demonstrated the catastrophic consequences that occur when these structures fail. Heavy rain that month combined with a leak in an earthen wall in one such “impoundment” sent 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry sliding across 300 acres of land. The spill’s clean-up costs have spiraled to $1.2 billion—equal to about 10 percent of EPA’s entire budget.

In response to the Kingston disaster and the engineering problems that created it, EPA surveyed 219 …

Feb. 15, 2010 by Ben Somberg
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The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had its latest article on BPA this weekend, this time looking at the role of the December 22 meeting between the industry and OIRA. Writer Meg Kissinger contrasts the forceful EPA statements on BPA from last year with the lack of an EPA action plan on the chemical now. As for the documents presented to OIRA at the meeting,

The Journal Sentinel reviewed the list and found 13 of the 19 papers and presentations cited were paid for by the BPA industry. The funding source for the authors of two other papers could not be determined. Only one was written by a scientist without ties to the industry.

Perhaps it's not surprising. But it bears noting that this is what's going on over there.

Feb. 12, 2010 by Victor Flatt
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The concept of cap and trade took another hit recently with disclosures that hackers had been able to get into the accounts of several holders of carbon emissions allowances in Europe and steal some of the account balance. This, along with the continued snowstorm in Washington, D.C. seems to fill those opposing a federal comprehensive cap and trade plan with glee.

While the issue of record setting snows in D.C. should be addressed with basic scientific education (trends and averages are not the same as one time events; snow often results from warmer temperatures, etc…) the issue of possible fraud in carbon trading systems deserves examination to see if there is such a systemic problem with cap and trade that it is more subject to fraud and manipulation than other markets.

The short answer to this question is “no.” The fraud perpetrated on the E …

Feb. 12, 2010 by Rena Steinzor
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Tomorrow will be the 120th day since the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) began its review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) star-crossed proposal to declare coal ash that is not safely recycled to be a hazardous waste. The number is significant because it marks the end of OIRA’s allotted review period for the proposal, under the Executive Order that governs OIRA.

The date will likely come and go without fanfare. By rights, OIRA ought to either release the proposal for public comment or return it to EPA for rewriting. You’d think OIRA would be eager to get the thing off its plate, since its staff have been compelled to sit through no fewer than 33 separate meetings on the subject in recent months, no fewer than 28 with industry lobbyists opposed to the rule. But I harbor no expectation …

Feb. 11, 2010 by Catherine O'Neill
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In a welcome move, EPA recently took polluters to task for their attempt to downplay the risks to human health and the environment from the Portland Harbor superfund site along the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon (h/t Oregonian for noting the EPA action). As part of the cleanup effort for the site, the polluters, known as the Lower Willamette Group (LWG), had agreed to conduct an assessment of the risks posed by the contaminants there. This risk assessment will serve as the basis for determining vital questions about cleanup at the site, including the degree to which the contaminants will be remediated and the extent to which health risks will actually be reduced. Because the members of the LWG will likely have to foot much of the cleanup bill, it's unsurprising that they sought to lowball the risks to humans and the environment: the lower …

Feb. 10, 2010 by Rena Steinzor
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According to recent statements from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) press office, Administrator Cass Sunstein and staff are adamantly committed to granting an audience with OIRA senior staff to anyone who asks to see them about anything, and most especially pending health and safety rules. So not only are special interests granted second, third, fourth, and fifth audiences with OIRA staff after far more qualified political appointees and technical experts at agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration have considered but refused to acquiesce to their demands, OIRA imposes no limits on how many times the same interest group—and even the same individual lobbyist—comes to the White House to whine. The most blatant example of this pseudo-transparency-turned-lobbyist-free-for-all is the uncontrolled swarming of special interests with respect to the pending EPA proposal to treat coal ash as a …

Feb. 10, 2010 by Ben Somberg
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According to recent statements from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) press office, Administrator Cass Sunstein and staff are adamantly committed to granting an audience with OIRA senior staff to anyone who asks to see them about anything, and most especially pending health and safety rules. So not only are special interests granted second, third, fourth, and fifth audiences with OIRA staff after far more qualified political appointees and technical experts at agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration have considered but refused to acquiesce to their demands, OIRA imposes no limits on how many times the same interest group—and even the same individual lobbyist—comes to the White House to whine. The most blatant example of this pseudo-transparency-turned-lobbyist-free-for-all is the uncontrolled swarming of special interests with respect to the pending EPA proposal to treat coal ash as a …

Feb. 9, 2010 by Ben Somberg
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CPR today releases the white paper Workers at Risk: Regulatory Dysfunction at OSHA (press release).

The report examines an Occupational Safety and Health Administration where

Today its enforcement staff is stretched thin and the rulemaking staff struggle to produce health and safety standards that can withstand industry legal challenges. In short, OSHA is a picture of regulatory dysfunction.

The new leadership of the agency has

... inherited a resource-starved agency operating under a statute that has been enfeebled by 30 years of troubling appellate court decisions and White House initiatives that substantially increase the time and effort needed to implement a proactive regulatory agenda.

The CPR scholars propose remedies including:

  • End the practice of regularly discounting penalties before they’re even proposed.
  • Publish all negotiated settlement proposals for public comment.
  • Conduct a rigorous analysis of what resources would be required to make the OSHA inspection program a credible …

Feb. 9, 2010 by Ben Somberg
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In a letter today, CPR President Rena Steinzor and board member Sidney Shapiro recommend to Congress questions it should investigate to get to the bottom of the Toyota accelerator/recall matter that's all over the news. The letter focuses in particular on the role of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and examines the agency's shortcomings in achieving its mission to protect public safety.

To be clear, the Toyota case is about much more than engineering failure. It is a massive regulatory failure. One challenge confronting Congress is to determine how and why NHTSA failed to contain this problem after reports of safety failures began to surface several years ago. Did NHTSA lack sufficient statutory authority? Are its procedures too cumbersome to allow it to protect consumers in such instances?

The letter was sent to Rep. Edolphus Towns, chair of the House Committee on …

Feb. 8, 2010 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has completed its review of the status of the cute little American pika. The verdict is good news for the pika, at least as far as it goes and if FWS is right about the science. FWS has decided that the pika is not endangered or threatened because, according to FWS biologists, the pika is not as vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as has been believed. Unfortunately, the explanation FWS offers is not very persuasive.

Global warming threatens the pika in two different ways. Pikas are prone to overheating; they can die if exposed to temperatures as mild as 77°F (25°C) for several hours. Hiding under and between the rocks in a talus field helps them keep cool, but if air temperatures get too hot, even those refuges won’t be cool enough …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Feb. 26, 2010

Eye on OIRA: King Coal

Feb. 25, 2010

Eye on OIRA: Meddling with IRIS Again, Now on Arsenic

Feb. 24, 2010

Saving Our Fisheries

Feb. 23, 2010

CPR Eye on OIRA: Transparency and Scrutiny for OIRA

Feb. 22, 2010

Waxman and Stupak Release Documents on Eve of Toyota / NHTSA Hearing

Feb. 22, 2010

Congress Says Ask, but Toyota and Fellow Automakers Say Don't Tell: The Story of NHTSA and Industry Secrecy

Feb. 22, 2010

The Toyota Fiasco: Where Were the Regulators?