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March 31, 2015 by Joel Mintz

EPA's Budget Declines Raise Serious Concerns

When it comes to the size of the federal workforce, most of the rhetoric in Washington revolves around how to cut it. That’s particularly true where Republicans are concerned, and perhaps nowhere truer than with the Environmental Protection Agency, a favorite GOP target. What they almost never mention is that cutting staff means making sacrifices in protecting the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, bathe, swim and fish in, and the many individuals—including infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and those who already suffer from illness—whose health can be severely impaired by environmental pollution.

The recent testimony of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy at a hearing of a House Appropriations subcommittee is a case in point. McCarthy informed the panel that EPA’s staffing has now declined to its lowest level since the late 1980s, now “down in the 14,000s.” “I am trying to work our way back up to the 15,000s,” she declared.

In fact, even that would leave staffing well below the agency’s historic high of 18,110 employees in 1999.

The years-long weakening of EPA hasn’t been accompanied by fewer responsibilities, of course. In fact, environmental challenges are …

March 30, 2015 by Frank Ackerman
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There must be a global template for business complaints about regulation, located on some secret right-wing server. Just type in the industry and the name of the regulation: Billions of dollars are at stake, companies will be driven out of the industry and consumers will lose access to low-priced products, if the government dares to impose an ordinary, common-sense rule. Such as, making drug companies responsible for the safety of their products?

Aren’t pharmaceutical companies already responsible for warning their customers of known adverse effects? If you answered “yes, of course,” then you missed the Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling in Pliva v. Mensing. Currently, generic drug companies are required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use exactly the same labels and warnings as the corresponding brand-name drugs. Therefore, the Court ruled in Mensing, the producer of a generic drug cannot be held responsible …

March 26, 2015 by Catherine O'Neill
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The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday heard oral argument in the consolidated cases challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule regulating mercury and other toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants.  These utilities remain by far the largest domestic source of mercury emissions, contributing more than half of the mercury releases nationwide.   Mercury emissions are at the root of widespread methylmercury contamination in the nation’s fish.  Fish consumption is the primary way by which humans are exposed to what is, after all, an “extremely poisonous neurotoxin,” as the attorney for those industries that joined EPA as respondent reminded the justices. (Transcript at 84). The exchange captured by the transcript may not permit a confident prediction as to how the Court is likely to rule (an assessment shared by Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog ).  But it provides a glimpse of precisely how monetized costs and benefits can …

March 25, 2015 by Erin Kesler
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Today, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Michigan v. EPA

CPR Member Scholar and University of Texas School of Law professor Thomas O. McGarity responded to the debate with the following statement:

Following today’s oral arguments, the Supreme Court must decide whether EPA misinterpreted a section in the Clean Air Act requiring it to regulate hazardous emissions from power plants when such regulation is “appropriate and necessary.”  EPA interpreted those words to require the agency to focus on the harm that emissions of hazardous pollutants, like Mercury, can cause to human health and the environment, and not on how much it would cost industry to reduce those emissions.

EPA’s interpretation is fully consistent with the Clean Air Act’s precautionary approach to protecting public health and the environment from toxic emissions. 

History has proved time and again that if EPA must consider costs in …

March 25, 2015 by James Goodwin
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In the run-up to this morning’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court on the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule to limit hazardous air pollutants from fossil-fueled power plants—and indeed throughout the oral arguments themselves—opponents repeatedly pointed out that the benefits of the rule in reducing mercury pollution were “only” between $4 million and $6 million.  Putting aside the ethically problematic question of trying to put a dollars-and-cents value on achieving improved public health and environmental protection, it is worth pondering this number and what it reveals about the significant methodological flaws that are endemic to cost-benefit analysis.  (For the record, this number is supposed to represent the “value” of lost earning potential of children that the rule would protect against IQ point degradations.  Do you see what I mean about ethically problematic?)

Opponents of the rule claim that this $4-million figure is the only …

March 25, 2015 by James Goodwin
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When it comes to public safeguards, industry never wants to talk about keeping people healthy and protecting the environment; they’d much rather have a conversation about how safeguards will cut into their profits — the costs in the cost-benefit equation.  Even on matters where Congress, by statute, has made the discussion of regulatory costs legally irrelevant or a matter of only secondary importance, you can rest assured that industry will still be there talking exclusively about costs.  That is largely what is at issue in Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agencywhich is being argued today before the U.S. Supreme Court—another attempt by polluting industries to inject discussions of costs where they don’t belong.

But, for the EPA’s rule to limit mercury and other toxic pollutants from fossil-fueled power plants, the subject of the case, perhaps the most critical issue is the regulatory benefits …

March 24, 2015 by Erin Kesler
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In the United States, a handful of large corporations including Perdue and Tyson direct and oversee nearly every step in the poultry production process, essentially serving as overlords to the tens of thousands of small farmers with whom they contract to raise their chickens for slaughter. While deriving the lion’s share of the profit, these corporations have so far managed to avoid all responsibility for the pollution their chickens produce. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state agencies have been largely afraid to tackle the issue because of the well-heeled and politically powerful farm lobby. A new CPR Issue Alert urges government to hold these bad actors accountable and explains how to do so under existing law.

These companies, known as “integrators,” own virtually all aspects of poultry production—from hatching the chicks, to processing and retailing them, even transporting poultry products to grocery stores and …

March 23, 2015 by Erin Kesler
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Last Friday marked the 10 year anniversary of the BP Texas City Refinery explosion that killed 15 people and injured 170 others.

In an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle, CPR President Rena Steinzor describes the systemic failures which led to the explosion and the regulatory gaps that remain. She calls for criminal investigations, "everytime refinery operations kill, maim, or threaten public health."

She notes:

BP executive Ross Pillari blamed low-level workers for not "doing their jobs." Yet some of the men stationed at the tower had worked 12-hour shifts for 29 consecutive days, as required by BP policy. The company fired six of them, in effect reinforcing the perception that human error, as opposed to systemic mismanagement, was to blame. This spin was refuted by the evidence.

Several weeks before the explosion, Texas City plant manager Don Parus prepared a PowerPoint containing pictures of men killed …

March 20, 2015 by Matt Shudtz
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Last week, workers’ advocates at the Southern Poverty Law Center and Nebraska Appleseed got the official word that OSHA will not develop new regulations to protect the men and women who do the dirty work of turning clucking chickens into boneless cutlets. It’s an industry where vulnerable workers—mostly women, immigrants, and folks geographically isolated from other job opportunities—face great hazards from the strains of repetitive motion. Some of the plants process tens of thousands of birds on every shift, and a recent NIOSH review of one facility uncovered evidence of chronic musculoskeletal injuries in more than 40 percent of the workers who took part in the evaluation. The industry has a problem.

Lobbyists from the Chicken Council will proudly proclaim that the industry’s injury and illness rates have been dropping for years. But those numbers simply cannot be trusted. The chronic pain that …

March 18, 2015 by Erin Kesler
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Today, CPR Senior Policy Analyst James Goodwin will testify as an expert witness on the regulatory process for a House Committee on Small Business Hearing, "Tangled in Red Tape: New Challenges for Small Manufacturers.

Goodwin's testimony highlights the economic as well as public health and safety benefits of regulations in relation to small businesses. He notes:

Over the past four decades, U.S. regulatory agencies have achieved remarkable success in establishing safeguards that protect people and the environment against unreasonable risks. During the 1960s and 1970s, rivers caught fire, cars exploded on rear impact, workers breathing benzene contracted liver cancer, and chemical haze settled over the industrial zones of the nation's cities and towns. But today, the most visible manifestations of these threats are under control, millions of people have been protected from death and debilitating injury, and environmental degradation has been slowed and even …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
March 31, 2015

EPA's Budget Declines Raise Serious Concerns

March 30, 2015

The sky is not falling: FDA proposes common-sense treatment of generic drugs

March 26, 2015

Monetization, Myopia, and MATS

March 25, 2015

Carry the Zero: The Polluters' Flawed Arithmetic in the EPA's Hazardous Air Pollution Rule

March 25, 2015

Today at the U.S. Supreme Court: Industry Tries to Shove a Cost-Shaped Peg Into a Benefit-Shaped Hole

March 25, 2015

CPR's Tom McGarity Responds to Supreme Court's Examination of Costs Associated with Rule-making in Michigan v. EPA

March 24, 2015

Issue Alert: How to Hold Big Chicken Responsible for Pollution