WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg
Oct. 30, 2013 by Sidney Shapiro

Senate Republicans against DC Circuit Court nominees: talking through their hats

This week, it was reported that Senate Democrats plan to force a vote to confirm one judicial nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals if Republican Senators continue to block the nominee’s confirmation. Patricia Ann Millett, who has worked for Democratic and Republican administrations in the past, is the contested candidate.  Although the circuit court has three vacancies, the Republicans oppose a vote because they say the D.C. Court of Appeals has too many judges. Senator Jefferson Sessions, for example, is quoted as saying about the court, "They have, by far, the lowest caseload per judge. They take the summers off." Other than this political rhetoric, there is nothing to back up this claim. The Republican’s true objection is that, after the President fills the vacancies, the court will have more judges that will have been appointed by presidents who were Democrats than Republicans. But this is our constitutional system. If a party wins the presidency, the President gets to fill judicial vacancies and the Senate concurs unless the person nominated is not competent. 

From the time the President announced his nominations to the Court back in June, Republicans have kept up a steady stream …

Oct. 29, 2013 by Rena Steinzor
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

Congratulations to our friends at Earthjustice and their clients for a tremendous victory in federal district court today. Judge Reggie Walton (a George W. Bush appointee) ordered the Obama Administration to provide a schedule for regulating coal ash within the next 60 days.   This epic battle now shifts back to the White House and Congress where nearly hysterical electric utilities that depend on coal-fired power plants will sweep in, aided by some very twisted economics from strong regulation’s staunch nemesis, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).

The coal ash crisis burst onto the national scene shortly before Christmas day, 2008, when the contents of an enormous impoundment containing coal-ash slurry from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant poured into the Emory River. The proximate cause of the spill was the bursting of a poorly reinforced dike holding back a pit …

Oct. 28, 2013 by Sidney Shapiro
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

In the United States, the framework for safeguarding people and the environment against the dangers of toxic chemicals comprises three mutually reinforcing legal systems: federal regulation, state and federal civil justice systems, and state regulation. Each part of the framework however, has been substantially weakened — the civil justice systems by years of tort "reform," and federal and state regulatory systems by outdated laws and an ongoing campaign by industry and its allies against protective regulation. 

Congress is now considering competing bills to fix one part of this framework—the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the principal statute governing federal regulation of toxic chemicals.  The two bills—the more protective Safer Chemical Act (SCA) and the industry-backed Chemical Safety Improvements Act (CSIA)—both fall short of what is needed to fix TSCA, albeit to a widely varying degree—while weakening the civil justice systems and state regulation even …

Oct. 25, 2013 by Michael Patoka
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

Last Friday, the FDA posted the revisions the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) made to two food safety rules drafted by the agency two years ago. The proposed rules were issued under the Food Safety and Modernization Act, which Congress passed in the wake of widespread food safety disasters.

As we’ve mentioned in this space before, OIRA is the regulatory review body within the White House that frequently holds onto agency rules for longer than the 120-day limit set by Executive Order 12866, often mangling and weakening the protections developed by agencies at the behest of regulated industries. For one of these rules, on the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP), OIRA didn’t loosen its grip for a year and eight months, giving it plenty of time to tinker around with the FDA’s proposal behind closed doors.

According to a memo …

Oct. 24, 2013 by Matt Shudtz
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

Today OSHA announced two new web-based resources designed to help employers eliminate chemical hazards in the workplace. Both the toolkit for identifying less-hazardous substitutes and the annotated exposure limits table are useful informational resources designed to promote voluntary action by conscientious employers and informed demands by workers and their advocates. But OSHA has to deal with both the “high road” and the “low road” employers, so using these new tools in enforcement proceedings is a necessary adjunct to voluntary employer efforts. With some enterprising work by enforcement officials and strong support from the Solicitor of Labor the tools could be the basis for a new wave of enforcement under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause.

As OSHA freely admits, the Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) found in current regulations are out-of-date and inadequately protective. Employers may expose workers to chemicals up to those limits without incurring fines …

Oct. 23, 2013 by Matt Shudtz
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

SBA’s Office of Advocacy has added its voice to the chorus of business interests who want OSHA to delay publication of a new rule that would protect workers from the deadly effects of silica exposure. In a letter to OSHA chief David Michaels, the top lawyers from the Office of Advocacy claim that it will be “nearly impossible” for small business representatives to review OSHA’s proposal and prepare the comments and testimony due in early December.

To be sure, the rulemaking docket is voluminous and the issues are complex. But the bottom line is that each day of delay in publishing the new rule means another day when millions of workers will be exposed to elevated levels of a deadly dust. By OSHA’s estimates, hundreds of workers die each year from silica exposures that are perfectly legal under current standards; thousands of other workers …

Oct. 23, 2013 by Holly Doremus
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

Court rules that EPA must decide if new water quality standards are needed to protect the Gulf of Mexico

A US District Court in Louisiana recently ruled, in Gulf Restoration Network v. Jackson, that EPA must decide whether it has to impose new water quality standards for nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River watershed. Although that might seem far afield from the Supreme Court’s greenhouse gas emissions decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, in fact it’s a direct descendant. 

The Administrative Procedure Act allows any interested person to petition any federal agency to make, change, or repeal regulations. The APA doesn’t specifically say how courts should review agency responses to petitions, and in general the courts have been quite deferential to petition denials.

Massachusetts v. EPA is best known for holding that states have standing in federal court to challenge actions that contribute to climate …

Oct. 21, 2013 by Celeste Monforton
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

“Es ridículo,” was the reaction of a poultry plant worker when he heard of the USDA’s proposal to “modernize” poultry slaughter. The agency’s January 2012 proposal (77 Fed Reg 4408) would allow companies to increase assembly line speeds from about 90 to 175 birds per minute, and remove most USDA inspectors from the poultry processing line.

The Obama Administration should have heard the loud and clear opposition from civil rights, food safety, public health and the workers’ safety communities to the USDA’s proposal.  When the public comment period closed in May 2012, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Nebraska Appleseed, the American Public Health Association and other groups were on record urging the Administration to withdraw the proposed rule.  The National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the U.S., put it bluntly: 

“this proposed rule runs counter to …

Oct. 17, 2013 by Matt Shudtz
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

OSHA’s proposed new silica standards promise to improve the health and safety of more than two million workers across the U.S. By reducing exposures to respirable silica dust, the standards are expected to save 700 workers’ lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis every year. Of course, these impressive benefits come at a cost to employers and those costs will be a major talking point for the business community as OSHA’s proposal moves through the rulemaking process. One argument that we’re sure to hear from the Chamber of Commerce and its allies is that the costs of complying with the new standards will fall disproportionately on small businesses.  The plight of small business owners somehow always seems to pull at the heartstrings of the big businesses owners when federal agencies propose new public health and environmental protections – in stark contrast to …

Oct. 17, 2013 by Rena Steinzor
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

Salmonella outbreak reveals we need more, not fewer, cops on the food safety beat. 

Some 317 victims of salmonella poisoning from Foster Farms chicken sold in 20 states have learned firsthand why we need government.   Who knows how much faster the threat would have been contained if Centers for Disease Control (CDC) experts had been walking their usual beat, coordinating state investigators and working frantically to discover the origins of the virulent strain of salmonella that has already hospitalized 42 percent of the 317 victims?  

Instead, the investigators were sent home on furlough, and only recalled to work after the scandal hit the media.  

CDC investigators are a vital link in the chain of public protection because they are the people who “trace back” illness to its source. Obviously, knowing someone has salmonella poisoning is not enough: we also need to know which food, from what company …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Oct. 30, 2013

Senate Republicans against DC Circuit Court nominees: talking through their hats

Oct. 29, 2013

The coal ash rule rises like the phoenix: Judge Reggie Walton orders EPA to get the rule back on track within 60 days, congratulations to Earthjustice and its clients

Oct. 28, 2013

New CPR Issue Alert on toxics: reform must help, not hinder states and victims' rights

Oct. 25, 2013

White House changes to food import rule weaken consumer protections

Oct. 24, 2013

OSHA's new tools for addressing chemical hazards could bolster enforcement

Oct. 23, 2013

SBA's Office of Advocacy wants even more time to review OSHA's silica proposal

Oct. 23, 2013

Mass. v. EPA bears fruit for environmental petitioners