Regulatory Highs and Lows of 2009: OSHA and Toxics

Matt Shudtz

Dec. 30, 2009

CPRBlog asked some of our regular bloggers to give us some suggestions for the high and low points of the regulatory year. We began by taking the Bush Administration’s “midnight regulations” off the table, so that we could focus in on the Obama Administration’s impact to date. CPR Policy Analyst Matt Shudtz offers up a number of items, below, focusing on the positive:

At OSHA, several high points: 

The leadership of David Michaels (as Assistant Secretary, the head of OSHA) and Jordan Barab (as Deputy Assistant Secretary), both of whom seem intent on putting OSHA back on task – protecting workers – after years of agency wheel-spinning.

OSHA’s enforcement sweep of construction sites in Texas, in which the agency brought inspectors from other regions to conduct unannounced inspections. Actual enforcement of the laws! Texas earned the honor because it has the highest rate of construction fatalities in the nation.

Assessing meaningful fines. OSHA proposed the largest fine in its history this year. Under the proposal, BP would pay $87.4 million for safety violations and its failure to correct hazards at the Texas City refinery, where an explosion killed 15 workers and injured 170 in 2005.

At EPA, and specifically in the area of toxics, several high points: 

Overhauling the process for vetting Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) database entries. Although the new process still allows other agencies special opportunities to apply pressure – including the Department of Defense, which is nation’s largest source of toxic waste, and therefore has a parochial interest – the revisions are a giant leap forward from the Bush approach, particularly in terms of transparency.

Abandoning the Bush Administration’s ChAMP program, a chemical testing program that served to justify inaction on toxic chemicals whenever scientific evidence of their harms was unclear.

Proposing more protective risk assessment guidelines for pesticides on non-food crops and with respect to mutagenic substances, so as to protect children.

In the second week of January, CPR will issue a report card evaluating the regulatory efforts of the “protector agencies” during the Obama Administration’s first year in office. Watch this space for more.

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