CPR Archive for Catherine O'Neill

New EPA Guidance Will Bring Some Needed Scrutiny of Institutional Controls at Toxic Sites, But Still Doesn't Require Checking That People are Actually Protected

by Catherine O'Neill | October 05, 2011

At a growing number of contaminated sites across the nation, “cleanup” means that toxic contaminants are left in place while environmental agencies look to institutional controls (ICs) to limit human contact with these contaminants. Agencies hope that ICs such as deed restrictions or advisory signs will inform people about the continued presence of contaminants at a site and help them steer clear, thus avoiding exposure. Yet agencies have done little to ascertain whether these hopes are well-founded, particularly over the long term. Against this backdrop, EPA released guidance last month that for the first time seeks to systematize its evaluation of ICs. The guidance directs EPA investigators conducting five-year reviews to determine whether ICs called for as part of site cleanups have actually been implemented and maintained. This guidance is a welcome first step. But larger questions remain about agencies’ increased reliance on ICs and other forms of “risk avoidance.”  

Contaminated site cleanup tends to conjure images of so-called engineering measures such as dredging or excavation. These measures actually remove contaminated substances from the site or treat them so that they become less toxic. With toxic contaminants no longer present, risks to humans and the environment are reduced. Institutional controls, by contrast, are administrative or legal measures intended to address those instances in which toxic contaminants have been permitted to linger at a site, such that risks to humans and the environment remain. According to EPA, “ICs typically work by limiting land or resource use and/or by providing ...

EPA's Apparent Effort to Appease Environmentalists over the Boiler MACT Rule Not Very Appeasing

by Catherine O'Neill | June 24, 2011
The EPA has developed an inexplicable penchant for making decisions that please no one. So, it should come as no surprise that its announcement today regarding the ongoing, will-they-won’t-they Boiler MACT saga falls into this category too. The agency traded in the indefinite delay it gave itself last month to “reconsider” the final Boiler MACT standards it issued in February for a firm deadline:  The EPA now promises to complete the reconsidered final standard by the end of April of 2012. Environmentalists responded ...

In Coming Utility MACT, EPA Has Clean Air Act Authority to Make Big Strides in Protecting Americans from Mercury Pollution

by Catherine O'Neill | March 11, 2011
By Wednesday of next week, EPA is due to publish its long-anticipated rule controlling mercury emissions from coal-fired utilities.  This is how we ought to judge the rule: does it follow the mandate of the Clean Air Act (CAA)? For too long, utilities have managed by various means to fend off regulation required by the CAA. Assuming EPA’s rule at long last complies with Congress’s directives, Americans may look forward to a day when they can again eat fish without serving their families ...

EPA's New Boiler Rule Will Deliver Reduced -- But Still Huge -- Health Benefits

by Catherine O'Neill | February 24, 2011
This post was written by CPR Member Scholar Catherine O'Neill and Communications Specialist Ben Somberg. The announcement from EPA Wednesday creating final standards for pollution from industrial boilers is being described by the press as “scale[d] back,” and “half the cost of an earlier proposal.” Those things are true, but the new regulation is no small matter. It will have a significant and positive effect on the health of people across the country and beyond. Says the Sierra Club: "Though the ...

Environmental Regulation, Jobs, and Human Health: Industry Estimates on Boiler Rule Flunk Economics 101

by Catherine O'Neill | November 03, 2010
Economics professors at two major universities just issued their reviews of industry-funded assessments of the costs of EPA’s proposed boiler rule (via NRDC). The professors’ conclusions: “the methodology is fundamentally flawed;” “the resulting estimates of job losses are completely invalid;” “the results reported are useless;” “if I were grading this, I would give it an F.” These strongly-worded indictments should make us sit up and take note.  Professors Charles Kolstad and Jason Shogren were asked to review industry-funded estimates of the costs ...

Boiler MACT Rule Would Have Enormous Health Benefits from Air Pollutant Reductions -- And That's Not Even Accounting for the Reduced Mercury Emissions

by Catherine O'Neill | October 12, 2010
EPA’s proposal to curb emissions from the second largest source of mercury in the United States – industrial boilers and process heaters – has come under fire in recent weeks.  Those industries that would be subject to the “boiler rule” have objected to its costs, and some senators have embraced their claims (see also Lisa Jackson's response). The industry story, however, leaves out important facts. The industry story does not mention that, on balance, the estimated costs of the rule are ...

Egg Industry's Effort to Push Salmonella Problem as Consumers' Fault A Worrying Example of "Risk Avoidance" Policy Approaches to Health and Safety Regulation

by Catherine O'Neill | September 01, 2010
According to the egg industry, the thousands of people sickened by eggs contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis have only themselves to blame. As USA Today reported: "Consumers that were sickened reportedly all ate eggs that were not properly or thoroughly cooked. Eggs need to be cooked so that the whites and yolks are firm (not runny) which should kill any bacteria," says Mitch Head, spokesperson for the United Egg Producers. "Some people may not think of an egg as you would ground ...

EPA's New Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice in Rulemaking a Welcome First Step

by Catherine O'Neill | July 27, 2010
The EPA released a guidance document on Monday that promises to integrate environmental justice considerations into the fabric of its rulemaking efforts. Titled the Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action, EPA’s Guidance sets forth concrete steps meant to flag those instances in which its rules or similar actions raise environmental justice concerns. Specifically, the Guidance directs agency staff involved in rulemaking to “meaningfully engage with and consider the impacts on” communities of color, low-income communities, indigenous ...

EPA Chides Polluters for Downplaying Risk From Portland Harbor Superfund Site; Still, Must Honor Fishing Tribes' Rights

by Catherine O'Neill | February 11, 2010
In a welcome move, EPA recently took polluters to task for their attempt to downplay the risks to human health and the environment from the Portland Harbor superfund site along the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon (h/t Oregonian for noting the EPA action). As part of the cleanup effort for the site, the polluters, known as the Lower Willamette Group (LWG), had agreed to conduct an assessment of the risks posed by the contaminants there. This risk assessment will serve ...

Reducing Mercury Emissions From Coal-Fired Power Plants: Yes We Can (And Could Have, Years Ago)

by Catherine O'Neill | October 26, 2009
Three recent developments in the saga of efforts to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired utilities are significant. Early last week, Michigan became the twenty-third state to require coal-fired utilities within its jurisdiction to reduce their mercury emissions. Michigan’s regulation requires these sources to cut mercury emissions by 90% by 2015. Then, on Thursday, the EPA reached a settlement with environmental groups who had sued the agency for failing to act to regulate mercury emissions. In the agreement (see NYTimes also), ...

EPA Touts Remedy That Leaves Fish Off LA Coast Contaminated with DDT and PCBs for Years

by Catherine O'Neill | October 16, 2009
With some fanfare, the EPA announced last week that it has selected a cleanup strategy for the Palos Verdes Shelf (PVS) Superfund Site off the coast of southern California – an area that has been termed “ the world’s largest DDT dump.” The EPA touts its plan as “a major milestone” that puts the site “on the road to remediation.” Nowhere, however, does EPA mention that this road is longer and more tortuous than it could or should have been. ...

USGS's Study on Mercury in Fish: Trouble in the Water

by Catherine O'Neill | August 20, 2009
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) issued a report today finding widespread mercury contamination in U.S. streams. The USGS found methylmercury in every fish that it sampled – an extraordinary indictment of the health of our nation’s waters. The USGS reported that the fish at 27% of the sites contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of humans who consume an average amount of fish, as established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But EPA’s criterion grossly ...

New Fish Consumption Advisory in California Another Lesson in the Problems with 'Risk Avoidance' Approach

by Catherine O'Neill | July 02, 2009
California has expanded its fish consumption advisory, warning people to curtail or eliminate entirely their consumption of nineteen species of fish caught off the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles County.  Among the new advisory’s recommendations is that humans should avoid eating white croaker, topsmelt, or barred sand bass caught in an area extending more than 30 miles from the Santa Monica pier south to the Seal Beach pier, and that, additionally, women and children should avoid barracuda or black ...

Fish Tales from West Virginia

by Catherine O'Neill | May 26, 2009
Here's some slippery regulatory logic: West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection says it is justified in setting less stringent levels for mercury in the state's waters than recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Why? Because, according to the WVDEP, a recent study shows that people in West Virginia eat less fish than the "average American" assumed by EPA. And if people consume less fish, they will be exposed to lower quantities of the toxic pollutants in those fish -- ...

Also from Catherine O'Neill

Catherine A. O'Neill is Professor of Law at Seattle University School of Law, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Indian Law and Policy, and a former member of the board of directors of the Center for Progressive Reform.

Monetization, Myopia, and MATS

O'Neill | Mar 26, 2015 | Environmental Policy

Give Them an Inch … And They’ll Take Twenty Years

O'Neill | Jul 14, 2014 | Good Government

Justice Delayed

O'Neill | Feb 22, 2013 | Environmental Policy

(Puget) Sound Science

O'Neill | Nov 08, 2012 | Good Government

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