Blankenship Convicted in Massey Coal Mine Disaster

by Rena Steinzor | December 03, 2015

Justice was done today by a hard-working jury in West Virginia that convicted Don Blankenship of conspiracy to obstruct federal mine safety rules.  This conspiracy was the primary cause of an enormous explosion that killed 29 men in the worst mine disaster in 40 years.  Although the jury was not presented with the question of whether Blankenship was directly responsible for the explosion, it did decide that he played Russian roulette with miners’ lives.  By underfunding efforts to comply with and harassing employees to ignore safety rules so they could “dig coal” faster, and threatening managers with dismissal if they worked to solve ventilation and other problems at the mine, Blankenship made an already hazardous workplace into a horror show that made men fear for their lives every time they journeyed thousands of feet underground.

Defense counsel will undoubtedly make much of the jury’s decision not to convict Blankenship of lying to the government, but those two counts were relatively minor.  The ...

Labor Board's New 'Joint Employer' Standard Offers College Football Players a Second Chance

by Katie Tracy | September 10, 2015
Marking a victory for workers, on August 27, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a highly anticipated decision in the case of Browning-Ferris Industries, updating its overly restrictive standard for determining “joint employer” status for purposes of collective bargaining. The decision responds to the increasing reliance on contingent work arrangements that often involve multiple employers, and reflects the Board’s recognition that its application of labor law must be adjusted to address the realities of today’s economy. Much of the ...

Clean Air versus States Rights

by Daniel Farber | June 09, 2015
A sleeper decision by the D.C. Circuit upholds federal air pollution authority. The D.C. Circuit’s decision last week in Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality v. EPA didn’t get a lot of attention, despite having a very significant constitutional ruling.  Since the constitutional discussion doesn’t start until about page seventy, after many pages of scintillating discussion of matters like the reliability of private air pollution monitors and the meaning of the word “nearby”, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that the case has ...

Corporate Crime Is Not 'Civil Disobedience'

by Thomas McGarity | May 26, 2015
Cross-posted with ACSBlog. The Wall Street Journal recently devoted nearly two pages of its Saturday Review section to an editorial by Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute urging American corporations to violate laws that they deem to be “pointless, stupid or tyrannical” as acts of civil disobedience.  The article, which is a capsule summary of his recently published book titled By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission,” betrays a profound misunderstanding of the concept of civil disobedience and a deplorable contempt for the laws that ...

GM and Its No Good, Very Bad Year

by Rena Steinzor | May 01, 2015
With the announcement that GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra received the outsized compensation of $16.2 million in 2014, what should have been a year of humiliation and soul-searching for that feckless automaker instead ended on a disturbingly self-satisfied note.  Purely from a public relations perspective, Barra worked hard for her money.  Appearing repentant, sincere, and downcast, she persuaded star-struck members of Congress that the company was committed to overhauling a culture characterized by what she called the “GM shrug,” ...

The Horne Case and the Public Trust in Wildlife

by John Echeverria | April 29, 2015
Who could have imagined that the takings case of Horne v Department of Agriculture argued in the Supreme Court last week might portend revival of the doctrine of public trust ownership of wildlife?  But it might. Really. The Horne case involves a claim that an arcane raisin-marketing program administered by the Department of Agriculture effects a taking by requiring raisin growers, in certain years, to turn over a portion of their crop to the government in order to keep raisin prices high.   While there ...

Urban Parks and the Public Trust Doctrine: A Pending New York Lawsuit and Its Implications

by Joel Mintz | April 22, 2015
Urban parks are a much-prized resource. They provide city dwellers with safe places to relax, walk their dogs, supervise their children at play, plant gardens, contemplate nature, pursue recreational activities, and escape the multiple stresses of urban life. At the same time, however, particularly in prosperous cities where open land is scarce and real estate values are high and growing ever-higher, some urban parks are under threat. Where they feel they can find legal avenues to do so, developers who ...

The Importance of the Murray Energy Case and Administrative Procedure

by Emily Hammond | April 21, 2015
Last week, the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument on a highly unusual attempt to short-circuit EPA’s rulemaking process for greenhouse gas regulation of existing power plants.  Despite statutory and constitutional hurdles to premature litigation, the petitioners—the coal-fired industry and coal-producing states—argued that the importance of the proposed rule justifies court intervention. The rule’s importance is precisely why it is critical that the agency complete the administrative process. That industry groups will file lawsuits over EPA’s greenhouse gas initiatives is unremarkable.  ...

The Stuff of an 'Extraordinary Writ' or a Hum-drum Administrative Law Case?

by Kirsten Engel | April 20, 2015
Reflections on the April 16th Oral Argument in Murray v. EPA and West Virginia v. EPA In a rulemaking there is a provision for judicial review, right, it’s not going to be a question that’s avoided . . . when the rule comes out, it’s going to be challenged, we’re going to get to it.  Why in the world would we resort to an extraordinary writ, which we have never used before?  So it really is quite unusual. -  Judge Griffiths, remarking on ...

Corporate Violence as Crime

by Rena Steinzor | January 09, 2015
A year ago, about 300,000 people in and around Charleston, West Virginia, lost their drinking water source when thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical known as MCHM (4-methylcyclohexanemethanol) leaked into the nearby Elk River through a hole in a rusted-out storage tank. Last month, the wheels of justice began to catch up with the owners of the responsible company when they were indicted by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.  Coincidentally, the West Virginia indictments came down on the same day ...

Why Not Jail?

by Matt Shudtz | December 16, 2014
When 29 miners died at Upper Big Branch or 11 workers died on the Deepwater Horizon, when 64 people died from tainted steroids, or when hundreds got Salmonella poisoning from peanut butter, did you ask yourself, 'Why not send the people responsible to jail?' You're not the only one. In her new book, Why Not Jail: Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction, CPR President Rena Steinzor asks the same question and concludes: The criminal justice system is as important ...

The Death of Deference?

by Daniel Farber | November 26, 2014
Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted cert. in several cases to hear the following question: “Whether the Environmental Protection Agency unreasonably refused to consider costs in determining whether it is appropriate to regulate hazardous air pollutants emitted by electric utilities.” The fundamental issue is whether it was unreasonable for EPA to interpret section 112 to preclude consideration of cost at this particular stage of the regulatory process — not only different from what the Court thinks is the best interpretation, but a position ...

Why I Wrote This Book: Why Not Jail?

by Rena Steinzor | November 17, 2014
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. ...

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

by Rena Steinzor | November 13, 2014
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 ...

For Attorney General, A Tough Prosecutor

by Matthew Freeman | October 14, 2014
In an op-ed published in The Hill on Friday, CPR President Rena Steinzor makes the case that in appointing a successor to Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama needs to find a prosecutor tough enough to go after corporate malfeasance with more than a series of comparatively weak deferred prosecution agreements. She writes, Of course, prosecutors can’t send corporations to jail — they are inanimate paper entities. But forcing them to acknowledge that they broke criminal laws is more than ...

A Blow to Public Interest Litigation

by Daniel Farber | September 18, 2014
A Texas judge's award of attorney fees is a threat to all public interest groups, liberal or conservative. A couple of weeks ago, a federal district judge in Texas awarded over $6 million in attorneys’ fees against the Sierra Club.  Sierra Club had survived motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, only to lose at trial. The court awarded fees on the ground that the suit was frivolous. The combination of rulings — denying summary judgment but then calling a lawsuit frivolous ...

D.C. Circuit Vacates FERC Smart Grid “Demand Response” Rule

by Joel Eisen | May 30, 2014
Last Friday (May 23), in Electric Power Supply Association v. FERC, a D.C. Circuit panel split 2-1 and vacated Order 745, a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rule designed to promote “demand response” (DR). DR is a rapidly growing and valuable means of reducing electricity demand, thereby benefiting consumers and the environment. It is also an important part of the Smart Grid, in which smart meters and devices that communicate with one another and energy service providers can further promote these goals. ...

CPR Member Scholars to Congress: Judicial Review Provisions of CFTC Reauthorization Bill Need Another Look

by James Goodwin | May 20, 2014
Yesterday, CPR Member Scholars sent a letter to House Representatives about their concerns with Section 212 of H.R. 4413, the Consumer Protection and End-User Relief Act.  This provision would add a new Section 24 to the Commodity Exchange Act, establishing specific requirements for judicial review of rules adopted by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).  H.R. 4413 is on the short list for a floor vote in House. As the letter explains, several aspects of Section 212 “raise significant problems.”  ...

Access to the Courts

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, many conservatives argue that markets are self-correcting, and that manufacturers who produce shoddy products or that pollute the environment quickly lose customers and go out of business. They're wrong. Americans need access to the courts so they can hold corner-cutting corporations accountable for the harm they cause.

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