Rena Steinzor on CPRBlog {Bio}
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EPA's Long-Delayed Ozone Proposal

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CPR is Hiring a Chesapeake Bay Policy Analyst

CPR is on the hunt for an energetic, organized, and dedicated advocate to join our staff as a Policy Analyst. The focus of this position is restoring the Chesapeake Bay through strong implementation of the Bay TMDL. We are especially interested in candidates who have a background in the legal and policy issues related to both clean water and climate change adaptation. Expertise in GIS and other mapping software is a plus. For a full job description, please see our website.

We are anxious to fill this position quickly, so the deadline for applications is midnight on December 21, 2014. Please submit a cover letter, resume, and brief writing sample to chesbayanalystjob@progressivereform.org.

CPR Policy Analysts work closely with our network of more than 60 Member Scholars to promote strong regulation and progressive policies that will protect public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment. This position also presents an exciting opportunity to work with our allies in the Chesapeake Bay who are advocating for improved enforcement of the laws and regulations already on the books.

Please consider applying and share this announcement with colleagues who might be interested

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Why I Wrote This Book: Why Not Jail?

I have spent 38 years in Washington, D.C. as a close observer of the regulatory system, specifically the government’s efforts to protect public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment. The system’s a mess. Regulatory failure has become so acute that we truly are frozen in a paradox. On one hand, people expect the government to ensure that air and water are clean, workers don’t die on the job for avoidable reasons, food is safe, and drugs are efficacious. On the other, these expectations are trashed with alarming frequency. I wrote this book because I have lost near-term hope of reviving the agencies assigned these crucial tasks in a globalized economy. Instead, I argue that the most viable way to staunch the bleeding is to mount an aggressive, relentless effort to prosecute corporate managers for preventable accidents that take lives, inflict grave injury, and squander irreplaceable natural resources.

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Blankenship Indictment 'An Example for Every Prosecutor in the Country'

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has set an example for every prosecutor in the country by indicting Don Blankenship, the venal, punitive, flamboyant, and reckless former CEO of Massey Energy. For years, Blankenship demanded updates on coal production every two hours and, the indictment reveals, browbeat senior managers to cut cost and violate crucial safety.  In one handwritten note, he told one such target, “You have a kid to feed.  Do your job.”  When the Upper Big Branch mine exploded, propelling flames at a speed of 1,000 feet/second in all directions from the point of ignition as far as two miles underground, Massey was directly responsible for the root causes of the tragedy.  The families of the 29 men who died can take some solace that this courageous prosecution, by a prosecutor from coal country, takes the strongest possible stand to protect miners from the most reprehensible kind of greed. 

Steinzor is the author of the new book, Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction, published by Cambridge University Press.

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President Obama’s Home Stretch: Saving Lives, Conserving Natural Resources, and Securing His Legacy

Last Sunday, the New York Times ran the best of dozens of stories about how President Obama will behave in the last quarter of his eight years in office. Veteran political reporters Peter Baker and Michael Shear wrote: “As the President’s advisers map out the next two years, they have focused on three broad categories: agenda items he can advance without Congress, legislation that might emerge from a newfound spirit of compromise with Republicans, and issues that Mr. Obama can promote even without hope of passage as a way to frame the party’s core beliefs heading into 2016.” Spinning this message with his usual pungency, long-time adviser David Axelrod declared: “What he can’t do and won’t do is put his feet up on the desk and cross days off the calendar.”

The world is unlikely to leave the President any space for malingering, and his most vehement congressional critics are likely to attack him with such fervor that the faint path toward legislative compromise vanishes. Given these harsh realities, what the President can and should do to build an affirmative legacy is to accomplish well-organized executive actions that would protect public health, ensure the safety of workers and consumers, and preserve the environment.

His harshest congressional critics are only marginally relevant to such an initiative. They’ll keep screeching about the outrage of the Obama Imperial Presidency, and may even get their act together to pass appropriations riders to kill executive actions they intensely dislike. With his veto pen at the ready, though, the President has the power to drive right through such obstacles, earning applause from every quarter except the regulated industries that already treat him with disdain.

Today, CPR is releasing a comprehensive new Issue Alert that sets out an affirmative agenda of the 13 essential regulatory actions the Obama Administration could and should accomplish with the active participation of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, DOL Secretary Thomas Perez, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, and under the leadership of a specially appointed senior White House point person. The Issue Alert, entitled Barack Obama’s Path to Progress in 2015-16: Thirteen Essential Regulatory Actions, explains how President Obama could save tens of thousands of lives lost annually as a result of harmful air pollution, avoid crippling diseases from asthma to severe food poisoning, protect children as young as twelve from tobacco poisoning, clear the lungs of hundreds of thousands of workers who needlessly inhale sharp particles of silica dust, and restore America’s great waters now plagued by ruinous dead zones.

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The President’s Path to Progress: Get Serious About Regulating

One curse of being a two-term president is that in your last two years, you must endure a conversation about whether you’re still relevant. For Barack Obama, that conversation is about to go kick into high gear. The pundits will observe, correctly, that his legislative agenda has little chance of moving through the new Congress, although that’s been true since 2011, of course.

So what is the path to progress for Barack Obama in these last two years of his administration? By what means can he add to his legacy, one that includes monumental health care reform, saving the economy, salvaging the automobile industry, subjecting the financial sector to some much needed regulation, and more? And how can anything of use be accomplished with a Congress dead-set against cooperation?

Actually, it’s quite straightforward, and we’ve been urging it on him for a couple years now. The President needs to follow up on his oft-uttered commitment to use executive power to do the people’s business. He doesn’t need to strain the boundaries of his authority one bit. He simply needs to send the clear message to the various departments of government, particularly those engaged in regulation, to get moving. And he needs to make sure that his own White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs contributes to the effort.

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EPA Sends Coal Ash Rule to OIRA

After ringing its hands for nigh on four years, EPA has at last coughed up a final coal ash rule.  Of course, no one but the White House staff will know what it says until the White House releases it in absolutely final form.  Nevertheless, the staff will now engage in the charade of hosting multiple appearances by various interest groups that want to tell the President’s people about those concerns without really knowing what they should be talking about.

EPA is due in court on December 19 to explain to a judge what rule it has written.  We can only hope that it is not the pale alternative crafted by the White House and put out for comment.  That pitiful compromise would perpetuate the status quo, with the states left to continue to do a bad job at overseeing these huge pits in the ground that will inevitably burst, spilling toxic sludge across the landscape.

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The Real Price of Chicken Nuggets: Obama Administration Turns Its Back on Poultry Processing Workers; Crippled (Literally) by a Thousand Cuts

Only in Washington, D.C. is nothing portrayed as something.  Out in the nation, not so much.  And so it was late last week that the Obama Administration took a victory lap for not making life even more miserable for some of the most abused workers in America. Yup, despite the best efforts of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is supposed to watch out for workers’ well-being, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the life-long booster for corporate agriculture, gave a swift kick in the pants to all those low-wage people of color who make the chicken nuggets and chick filets that now dominate what’s for dinner. 

Up until last Thursday, USDA was claiming loudly to anyone who would listen that it doesn’t “do” worker protection.  Then the agency did a full 180 in the middle of the road, and now claims it has addressed workers’ concerns with the help of its new best friends at OSHA. Those workers are the folks who toil at workplaces so miserable that many states make it a crime to film inside them. 

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Tweaks to Bad Chicken Processing Rule Leave Workers and Consumers in the Lurch; Rule Hurtles Out of the White House Door at Record Speed

We’ve received the bad news from impeccable sources that the much-criticized USDA poultry processing rule has passed White House review at record speed—20 days, count ‘em!—and will be released late this afternoon.  As usual, the process of OIRA review was shrouded in secrecy, with affected stakeholders filing in and out of the White House to talk about a rule they had never seen to taciturn OIRA officials who had long since cut a deal with USDA.  Of course, the late afternoon release is designed to forestall criticism in the same news cycle that will report the White House spin on the rule.  But we know enough about it to make some basic observations.

Our sources informed us that the rule will allow companies to have processing lines that run at the speed of 140 birds per minute—that’s 2.3 chickens every single second, although it’s also the current USDA maximum, allowing USDA to claim that the new rule doesn’t make matters any worse. 

OSHA, which was deeply involved in negotiations with USDA, clearly views this outcome as a great victory because it reduces by 35 birds/minute the original and outlandish USDA proposal that line speeds increase to 175 birds/minute.  But saving workers from the furthest reach of bad conditions without beginning to address their documented daily misery is incremental change, not victory. The plain truth is that study after study, including a recent NIOSH report, have documented severe ergonomic injuries at line speeds significantly below 140 birds/minute.  OSHA didn’t review those studies dispassionately in a rulemaking that would honor its mission of protecting workers from harm.  Instead, it played a numbers game with USDA under the watchful eye of White House staffers, leaving an already bad working situation to fester. 

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Silly “Secret Science” Scheme Slithers to the Senate

It must be something of a game for them.  That’s really the only explanation I can come up with for why the antiregulatory members of Congress seem so intent on competing with each other to see who can introduce the most outlandish, over-the-top anti-EPA bill.  If it is a game, then its best competitors would have to include Senators John Barasso (R-WY) and David Vitter (R-LA) who earlier this month introduced S. 2613, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014.

If this bill sounds familiar, that’s because it is identical to one that was introduced in the House in February by Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ).  At the time, a group of CPR Member Scholars sent a letter to the Subcommittee on the Environment of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, of which Representative Schweikert is chair, to explain their concerns in anticipation of the subcommittee’s legislative hearing on the bill.  The bill, which the House Science Committee approved along party lines and now awaits full floor consideration, purports to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from taking any action that is informed by scientific or technical information—including issuing new regulations—unless the EPA affirmatively makes all of that scientific or technical information fully available to the public.  Since the EPA’s mission is necessarily science-driven, this bill would pretty much cover everything the agency does.

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