May 25, 2010 by Joel Mintz

Assessing the Federal Response to the Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe

The recent horrific events in the Gulf of Mexico have presented immense challenges to the Obama administration and many of the federal career officials who are responsible for regulating the safety of offshore oil extraction and responding to spills like the one that continues to gush from the remains of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig at great volume. To their credit, a number of presidential appointees and career officials with duties regarding spill countermeasures have been working very hard to oversee the intense and complex efforts now underway to cap and contain the spill—efforts which have been greatly complicated by the depth and inaccessibility to human beings of the point of discharge. Undoubtedly, their response to this emergency has been far more robust than the G.W. Bush administration’s confused and tepid reaction to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Nonetheless, thus far the federal response to the emerging environmental disaster in the Gulf raises a number of significant questions and concerns.

One basic question is why the Obama administration was so quick to reverse the president’s campaign promise to oppose the expansion of offshore oil drilling—and why it is now so adamant in its insistence …

Nov. 20, 2009 by Joel Mintz

As it nears the close of its first year in office, the Obama Administration has thus far failed to name half of the regional administrators for its ten regional offices of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and it was only on November 5th that it named those five officials. The reason for the lengthy delay in making appointments to these posts is not immediately apparent. Perhaps the Administration is anxious to avoid stirring up any political controversies regarding particular appointees, whose designation may create discontent among elements of the president’s political coalition or fodder for partisan Republican attacks. Alternatively, the Administration—which has been quite slow to fill other high posts at EPA and some other federal agencies—may simply be way behind in “vetting” all candidates for federal appointments. Yet another possibility is that Administration officials may now be too preoccupied with other …

July 15, 2009 by Joel Mintz

In a memo sent to EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance on July 2nd, Lisa Jackson, the Agency’s Administrator, observed that “the level of significant non-compliance with Clean Water Act permitting requirements is unacceptably high and the level of enforcement activity is unacceptably low.” She directed Agency officials to develop a new plan for improving Clean Water Act enforcement at the federal and state levels.

Although the details of such a plan are yet to emerge, Administrator Jackson’s memo is certainly welcome news. States have varied considerably in their approaches to environmental enforcement. Some states have put considerable emphasis on deterring environmental violations by taking timely, appropriate enforcement actions when significant instances of non-compliance come to their attention. In contrast, other states have relied upon informal, “cooperative” enforcement practices that have often proven ineffective in coaxing industries and municipalities to meet their environmental …

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