A year ago this month, CPR published a white paper that laid out a two-phased action plan for federal agencies to take some critical steps toward protecting the public from Bisphenol-A (BPA). The report provided both short-term and long-term action items for the EPA, FDA, and OSHA that could establish stronger safeguards, risk assessment practices, and warning mechanisms for families and consumers concerning BPA and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals. We said an underlying requirement for both short-term and long-term action items is for federal agencies to acknowledge the unique low-dose effects and non-monotonic dose response curves (NMDRC) of endocrine-disrupting chemicals and adapt existing scientific protocols to reflect these unique risks.
Shortly before the conclusion of 2012, EPA announced a promising new effort in turning these action items into a reality. The agency is forming a working group dedicated to investigating and analyzing low-dose effects and NMDRCs for endocrine disrupting chemicals, and intends to release a “state of the science” paper, which will undergo peer review and “help inform how the safety of chemicals are assessed.” The working group will focus on three critical questions in conducting its work:
In October, I wrote about the city of Surat, the diamond-polishing capital of India, and its battle against climate change. Recently I had the chance to visit another municipality working on adaptation, a place known more for its postage stamp farms and wandering livestock than jewelry and textiles. It’s called Gorakhpur, and is located in the flood-prone state of Uttar Pradesh, near the India-Nepal border.
I first visited Gorakhpur nearly 25 years ago--when I was a long-haired backpacker and Gorakhpur was a muddy stop on the way to Kathmandu. Some things there haven’t changed. The streets are still muddy. Tea stalls and tarpaulin tents still line the streets, illuminated by the blue flames of cook stoves. At my business hotel, electricity was as unreliable as ever, and the telephones still crackled and hissed. Each morning, I would greet a dozen or so cows grazing on a hillock of garbage outside the hotel gate. (The city still has no regular solid waste collection).
But Gorakhpur has also changed in important ways. The city has over four hundred thousand people, with millions more in the surrounding district. There are malls, cineplexes, fast-food joints, and pizzerias! What began as a small urban core has spread erratically, encroaching upon lakes, marshes, and scores of farm villages—all held together by a hectic flow of traffic and a mighty, tea-stained dome of hydrocarbons.Full text
This post was written by Member Scholar Thomas O. McGarity and Senior Policy Analyst Matt Shudtz.
The Mercatus Center has recently published a report on OSHA that simply rehashes the same old discredited arguments that industry apologists in academia and think tanks have been making for thirty years. Not surprisingly, they reach the conclusion that voluntary compliance programs and worker education efforts are better uses of OSHA’s limited resources than rulemaking and enforcement.
The report contains no original research, and (with one exception) it relies exclusively on studies finding little or no correlation between OSHA activity and reductions in worker injures. At the same time, the report ignores much of the evidence tending to show OSHA regulations and enforcement are effective. The simple (and frustrating) fact of the matter is that it is almost impossible to design a study using available occupational injury statistics to measure with much confidence the extent to which enforcement of OSHA standards is or is not associated with a reduction in workplace injuries or deaths. It is therefore not surprising that the studies reach mixed results. The Mercatus report ignored some reports showing a positive correlation and belittled a recent study showing a highly positive correlation.
By law, the agency has reviewed a number of standards issued over the last forty years. The cotton dust standard virtually eliminated byssinosis, at a cost to industry far less than expected. The standards controlling exposure to ethylene oxide resulted in reduced risk to employees and lower-cost sterilizers available to employers, even as industrial production of the chemical increased. OSHA’s inspections have also been proven effective, with studies (among others, here, here, and here) indicating that injuries and standards violations decrease following the inspections – by as much as 50 percent.Full text
In January, USDA issued a proposed rule that would allow poultry slaughter facilities to increase the speed of their slaughter and evisceration lines as part of an effort to “modernize” the slaughtering process. Today, I attended a meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) and asked for the committee’s help in stopping the rule, given its threats to workers’ health and safety.
The gist of the rule is that it would remove most USDA inspectors from the slaughter lines and shift their inspection responsibilities to company employees. Because these changes would require costly alterations to the lines and potentially increase companies’ food safety liabilities, USDA had to sweeten the pot to entice companies to take advantage of the new system. So, USDA proposed allowing companies to increase line speeds from an already astounding 90 birds per minute to a dizzying 175 birds per minute, which is predicted to deliver companies added profits of a few pennies per bird. Of course, in an industry that processes billions of chickens per year, the pennies really add up.
Others have covered the troubling food safety implications of forcing USDA’s remaining inspectors to “inspect” (if you can call it that) 175 birds per minute.Full text
This post is based on an article I wrote with Anne Havemann entitled “Too Big to Obey: Why BP Should Be Debarred,” published in the William & Mary Environmental Law & Policy Review.
Attorney General Eric Holder and his lead prosecutor, Lanny Breuer, are deservedly running a victory lap in the immediate aftermath of their criminal settlement with BP. The amount of money paid to settle the charges, $4.5 billion—is considerably larger than anything paid by past bad actors, although it represents just a few months of profit for the company. In addition, the two top supervisors on duty at the rig when it exploded will be prosecuted for manslaughter, sending the message that line managers put their futures on the line when they worry more about sparing costs for the company than the safety of their workers. But even these tough remedies fall far short of the “nuclear option” that should be invoked in this case: the permanent debarment of BP from ever doing business with the U.S. government.
Despite a shocking history of chronic law violations stretching a couple decades in this country—including an explosion at its Texas City refinery in 2005 that killed 15 workers--BP remains the Pentagon’s largest supplier of jet and vehicle fuel, with government contracts valued at more than $2 billion. In theory, at least, the United States only does business with “responsible” companies and, as I’ll explain further in a moment, BP is the corporate embodiment of irresponsibility, even if we ignore the catastrophe that happened in the Gulf. Yet any suggestion that the company should be debarred by the Department of Defense (DOD)--the government’s biggest spender--is summarily dismissed by observers who seem convinced that debarring BP would leave the Pentagon with nobody to sell it fuel.
Some statutes, including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, provide for immediate suspension for government contractors found guilty of violating their provisions. Unfortunately, however, the suspension is only applicable to the facility where the violation took place. The drilling rig that exploded is obviously no longer in existence.Full text
President Obama’s reelection holds the possibility of great progress for public health, safety, and the environment — if, and only if, he recognizes the importance of these issues and stops trying to placate his most implacable opponents.
The weeks leading up to the election brought powerful reminders of two of the challenges at hand: rising sea levels and more severe storms that scientists say we should expect as a result of unchecked climate change, and a meningitis outbreak that sickened hundreds, thanks to an obscure compounding pharmacy that escaped regulators’ reach. And let’s not forget that we are recovering from an economic downturn in which under-regulation of giant financial institutions played no small part. This is the context, the starting point.
Taking a progressive stance on health, safety, and environmental threats has never been easy politically because the industries most affected by these protections have powerful allies in Washington, a small army of lobbyists, and plenty of money to contribute to politicians who support their opposition to regulation. So if the President chooses to take the lead on air and water pollution, food and drug safety, and dangerous conditions in the workplace, for example, he will face extraordinary pressure to do the wrong thing. And, sadly, he did not cover himself with glory during his first term in this area. Particularly as the campaign drew closer, the President tried to burnish his business-friendly credentials at the expense of needed protections. Now he has four more years to leave a legacy of leadership on these vital, life-and-death issues.
The stark choices are perhaps best exemplified by climate change. One path is tragically easy, the other extremely hard. The easy path is to only poke at the edges of greenhouse gas emissions reduction. The hard path is to take aggressive action, using the full powers of the Clean Air Act, to put the country on the path to dramatically reduced greenhouse gas emissions. In not so many years, this choice will be looked back on as one of the key measures of the President’s legacy. Without any question, history will condemn inaction in no uncertain terms. But a strong legacy will not depend just on climate. If the President does not act to make government protections stronger and more effective, we will face more tragedies, from fatal foodborne illness to refinery explosions to oil spills that kill people and cost billions.Full text
A draft of the Republican party platform, posted by Politico on Friday afternoon, reveals that the party has incorporated some of the more absurd claims and proposals on regulations pushed by House Republicans and some more radical trade organizations.
The draft claims regulations cost $1.75 trillion each year – that’s from a discredited study sponsored by the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. It turned out that 70 percent of that figure came from a regression analysis based on opinion polling on perceived regulatory climate in different countries (and much of the rest of the number came from cherry-picking the highest available estimates). The SBA study was debunked by a CPR white paper, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, and the Economic Policy Institute (twice).
The draft platform says: “Constructive regulation should be a helpful guide, not a punitive threat.” In other words, we suggest that you don’t poison your neighbors, but won’t do anything if you do – not quite a get-tough-on-crime message. And in reality, the punitive threats of even our existing rules are often simply too meager: if an employee’s death is caused by the willful violation of an OSHA requirement, for example, the maximum civil fine for the employer is $70,000. We have learned the hard way that that is not enough to deter many employers from breaking the rules.
The regulations section ends with this: “We call for a moratorium on the development of any new major and costly regulations until a Republican Administration reviews existing rules to ensure that they have a sound basis in science and will be cost-effective.” Now, telling the Obama administration – particularly if the President is reelected – that it can’t regulate until a Republican president approves – that’s quite a platform plank!Full text
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is one of the surviving monuments of the era of progressive social legislation (extending from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s) during which Congress enacted the nation’s foundational health, safety and environmental laws. That statute empowered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to write safety and health standards designed “to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions.” A separate “general duty clause” required every employer to provide a workplace that was “free from recognized hazards” that were likely to cause “death or serious physical harm.”
During the ensuing four decades, OSHA’s efforts to implement that statute have brought about substantial reductions in workplace injuries and illnesses, but far too many workers are still hurt or killed.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. private sector employers in 2010 reported nearly 2.9 million injuries and around 200,000 workplace illnesses. The actual numbers are likely much higher because some employers underreport workplace injuries, and doctors frequently fail to inquire into the likelihood that particular diseases, like cancer, have a workplace origin. A total of 4,690 workers died on the job, which represents a fatality rate of about 3.6 deaths per 100,000 full-time employees. These rates declined slightly during the recession of 2009, but were on their way back up in 2010
The sad fact of occupational life in the United States is that OSHA has not lived up to its potential, primarily because for the 30 of the past 40 years, OSHA has been the subject of unrelenting attacks by the business community. These attacks have rendered OSHA largely incapable of promulgating new occupational safety and health standards and only barely able to enforce existing standards the general duty clause. In 2010, the Center for Progressive Reform published a report detailing serious regulatory dysfunction in OSHA due primarily to a lack of resources, a weakened regulatory process, intrusive review by the White House, and an outmoded statute.
Today we publish The Next OSHA: Progressive Reforms to Empower Workers, offering a wide variety of suggestions for how Congress, OSHA, and workers themselves can make the nation’s workplaces safer and healthier. I co-authored the report with fellow CPR Member Scholars Martha McCluskey, Sidney Shapiro and Rena Steinzor, and CPR Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz.Full text
In a case that could have far reaching implications for agencies subject to the Regulatory Flexibility Act, the D.C. Circuit Court last month held that an EPA decision not to convene a small business advocacy review panel before issuing a rule was not judicially reviewable. The decision by Judge Merrick Garland, for a unanimous 3-judge panel, was in National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) v. EPA.
NAHB challenged the EPA’s change of course on an “opt-out” provision of a rule established under the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act. With the goal of protecting thousands of children from lead poisoning associated with older homes, the rule mandated that renovators of housing built before 1978 take certain steps to mitigate the dangers from lead paint. The opt-out provision would allow an owner-occupant of housing without children under the age of six or pregnant women to waive protections afforded by the rule. Two years after first creating the opt-out provision, the EPA, hearing criticism from environmental health advocates, reconsidered the harm the opt-out could cause to children and pregnant women, and chose to rescind it. The agency did so relying solely on the evidence that was available when the opt-out provision was enacted, but now applying that evidence to better fulfill the governing statute’s directives. As Judge Garland put it, the EPA simply “change[d] its mind.”
Among other things, the NAHB argued that the EPA’s change of course violated the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) because the agency did not convene a small business advocacy review panel. The RFA § 609(b) stipulates that an agency must convene such a panel in connection with the initial flexibility analysis that is mandated each time a new rule is promulgated.Full text
Last week, The Washington Post ran a story about regulation, headlined, "Regulators surge in numbers while overseers shrink." The story came from Bloomberg and was written by reporter Andrew Zajac. The headline captures the thrust of the piece. Zajac writes:
As the U.S. government’s regulatory bureaucracy has ballooned, one agency has been left behind: the office that oversees the regulators. The number of people working in federal agencies with regulatory authority has doubled to about 292,000 under both Republican and Democratic administrations during the past 30 years.
Yesterday, the Columbia Journalism Review dismantled the story's premise in the kind of takedown that ought to prompt the Post not just to run a correction, but to reconsider the way it reviews future Bloomberg stories on the subject before it prints them.
The takedown comes from Ryan Chittum, writing for CJR's "The Audit on the Business Press." Its headline also tells the tale: "Inflating the regulatory state: TSA and border security account for almost half of the increase in the regulatory staff since 1980."
The regulatory bureaucracy has ballooned? That doesn’t sound right. The federal workforce, after all, is down over the last 40-plus years, and places like OSHA are shadows of their former selves.