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July 29, 2020 by Katie Tracy

Empowering Workers to Sue Employers for Dangerous Working Conditions

Workers presently have no right to bring a lawsuit against employers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) for failing to provide safe and healthy working conditions. If an employer exposes workers to toxic chemicals or fails to guard a dangerous machine, for example, they must rely on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to inspect, find a violation, and issue a citation. This omission in the 1970 statute is especially troubling in the context of COVID-19, as workers across the United States continue to face a massive workplace health crisis without any meaningful support from OSHA or most of its state and territorial counterparts.

OSHA has so far declined to adopt an emergency standard to address COVID-19, despite repeated calls by unions, workers, and advocates to do so. Moreover, rather than enforcing existing standards or holding employers accountable for violating their general duty to provide safe and healthy working conditions, the agency is sitting on the sidelines, watching the crisis unfold.. OSHA's state and territorial counterparts aren't doing much better – California has an existing standard, and only Virginia and Oregon's occupational safety and health programs have taken action to institute an emergency standard. Elsewhere, workers are …

July 29, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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In an article headlined, "Dozens of facilities skipping out on EPA pollution monitoring have prior offenses," The Hill reports the following today:

More than 50 facilities across the country that have faced enforcement actions for alleged Clean Water Act violations are among those taking advantage of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy that lets companies forgo pollution monitoring during the pandemic, an analysis by The Hill found. The temporary EPA policy, announced in March, says industrial, municipal and other facilities do not have to report pollution discharges if they can demonstrate their ability to do so has been limited by the coronavirus. The Hill first reported that 352 facilities have skipped water pollution monitoring requirements under the policy, which applies to air pollution as well. Of those facilities, 55 have faced formal enforcement actions in the past five years from either the EPA or state …

July 28, 2020 by James Goodwin
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Today, a group of 136 law professors from across the United States, including 31 Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) Member Scholars, will send a letter to congressional leaders urging them to “ensure that our courthouse doors remain open to all Americans for injuries they suffer from negligence during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The letter, spearheaded by CPR Member Scholars Dan Farber and Michael Duff, comes in response to a push by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate special interests to include a “federal liability shield” in the next COVID relief bill, which is now being negotiated in Congress. This shield would prevent ordinary Americans from holding corporations accountable in the civil courts when their unreasonably dangerous actions cause people to become sick with the virus.

As the letter explains, the federal liability shield would violate clear principles of federalism by intruding upon the traditional rights …

July 22, 2020 by James Goodwin
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Donald Trump is no stranger to leaving things worse off than he found them, and this is precisely what his administration now aims to do with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), not just one of the most successful government institutions in the history of the United States, but indeed the world. Having worked quickly, if not sloppily, to dismantle every vestige of the Obama administration's efforts to promote cleaner air and water, the Trump EPA is now heading down a path of self-destruction. The agency's proposed "benefits-busting" rule, released early last month, is a big part of this campaign.

The benefits-busting rule is nominally about overhauling how the EPA does cost-benefit analysis for its Clean Air Act rules, but make no mistake: This action is really about putting that foundational law into concrete boots and shoving it into the nearest body of water. Future efforts to fulfill …

July 21, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) recently issued a general discharge permit that covers pollution from most livestock farms, including concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), across the state through July 2025. Unfortunately, the permit, which went into effect on July 8th, will likely jeopardize the 2025 nitrogen reduction goals under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL) and does not align with Maryland’s Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) commitments.

Roughly 95 percent of Maryland’s animal farms are located within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, so it is important that they are adequately regulated under the general permit – both so that local water quality can be protected and so the state can meet its pollution reduction goals under the Bay TMDL.

Circumstances under which Animal Feeding Operations Require Permit Coverage

These types of general permits serve two primary purposes: (1) they satisfy the requirement …

July 21, 2020 by Alexandra Klass
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Reprinted by permission of MinnPost.

Minnesota has a proud history of holding bad corporate actors accountable — from tobacco companies to opioid manufacturers — when they knowingly conceal damaging information about their products from regulators and the public. This is particularly true when that secrecy results in harm to public health, private property, and public resources.

In late June, Attorney General Keith Ellison acted in Minnesota’s tradition of guarding the public interest when he filed a consumer protection lawsuit against three of the nation’s largest fossil fuel entities — ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute (API). In the lawsuit, he seeks to recover civil penalties and restitution for the harm to Minnesotans caused by these companies’ decades-long efforts to intentionally mislead the public about the relationship between fossil fuels, the climate crisis, and the resulting harm to public health, agriculture, infrastructure, and the environment.

Described ‘potentially …

July 13, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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Nine months ago, residents of the Chicago suburb of Willowbrook, Illinois, scored a major victory in their fight to prevent emissions of a dangerous gas, ethylene oxide, into the air they breathe. In fact, their victory appeared to have ripple effects in other communities. But like so many other aspects of life in the midst of a pandemic, things changed in a hurry.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified ethylene oxide, or EtO, as a human carcinogen in December 2016. According to the agency, exposure via inhalation increases the likelihood of developing certain cancers and other respiratory and neurological ailments. EPA has not established a reference dose, or maximum acceptable dose, for EtO, but the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s (ATSDR) Cancer Risk Evaluation Guide (CREG) estimates concentrations of a carcinogen at which there is an elevated risk of one …

July 2, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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Workers' compensation was created as a means to an end and not an end in itself. It addressed the outrageous frequency of workplace injury and death caused by railroads in the late 19th/early 20th century. The unholy trinity of employers' affirmative tort defenses – assumption of the risk, contributory negligence, and the fellow servant rule – meant that workers or their survivors were not being compensated adequately or, in many cases, not at all.

For this reason, expert American investigators were dispatched to Europe between 1909 and 1911 to study the existing workers' compensation systems there. Those experts' work set American workers' compensation baselines. The oddity is that while Europeans moved on to universal benefit systems, we continue to use their 19th century work-injury system. (I write about these developments here). Additionally, the United States briefly flirted …

July 1, 2020 by Alice Kaswan
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When California adopted its first-in-the-nation regulations requiring truck electrification on June 25, the state took a step (or drove a mile) toward reducing pollution in the nation's most vulnerable communities. The new regulation exemplifies a key feature of California's approach: its integration of climate goals, clean air goals, and, at least in this case, environmental justice goals.

According to the press release from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), trucks in California contribute 80 percent of the state's diesel pollution and 70 percent of its smog-causing pollution while constituting less than 7 percent of registered vehicles. The rule's environmental assessment explains that particulate matter from diesel engines is responsible "for approximately 60 percent of the current estimated cancer risk for background ambient air." These risks are highest near freight hubs, including "ports, rail yards and distribution centers." And these areas, in turn, are often in …

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CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
July 29, 2020

Empowering Workers to Sue Employers for Dangerous Working Conditions

July 29, 2020

Who Could Possibly Have Guessed?

July 28, 2020

CPR Leads Legal Academics in Ensuring Citizen Access to Justice in the Wake of COVID-19

July 22, 2020

EPA's 'Benefit-Busting' Proposal Would Add to Trump's Anti-Safeguard Legacy

July 21, 2020

A Missed Opportunity for the Bay TMDL: Maryland’s 2020 General Permit for Livestock Farms

July 21, 2020

Ellison extends a proud history: Holding ExxonMobil and Koch accountable

July 13, 2020

The Peril of Ethylene Oxide: Replacing One Public Health Crisis with Another