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June 9, 2020 by Darya Minovi

It's Hurricane Season. Will State and Federal Agencies Act to Reduce Public Health Hazards from Toxic Flooding?

June 1 marked the start of hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin. While not welcome, tropical storms, strong winds, and storm surges are an inevitable fact of life for many residents of the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Coast. As a new paper from the Center for Progressive Reform explains, with those storms can come preventable toxic flooding with public health consequences that are difficult to predict or control.

In Ernest Hemingway’s 1970 novel, Islands in the Stream, he wrote of his protagonist, Thomas Hudson, “He knew how to plot storms and the precautions that should be taken against them. He knew too what it was to live through a hurricane with the other people of the island and the bond that the hurricane made between all people who had been through it.”

Only Hemingway could romanticize hurricanes. And things have only gotten worse. Last month, a study by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that hurricanes have become more intense and destructive over the last four decades. Climate change is largely responsible for these increasingly powerful storms, which can in turn yield sea level rise and flooding that make matters worse.

While Hudson may …

June 3, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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For decades, commentators have complained about how long it can take for workers attempting to unionize to simply get an election in which workers make an up-or-down decision on whether to form a union. For many years, employers were able to raise hyper-formalistic legal arguments that took so long to resolve that the employees initially interested in forming a union had often moved on to other employment. In far too many cases, employers also unlawfully coerce workers during the delay, and those workers eventually withdraw their support for the union.

After much internal political wrangling, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) enacted a series of new election procedures in 2014 meant to accomplish a simple objective: to get interested employees to a union election first and then (if necessary) address the typical mountain of anti-worker legal challenges. Prior to the changes, many of these challenges were adjudicated …

June 2, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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In April, the U.S. Supreme Court finally weighed in with an answer to a longstanding question about what kinds of pollution discharges rise to the level of a "point source" and require a permit under the Clean Water Act. The Court dipped its toes into some muddied waters, as this question has been the subject of a range of decisions in the lower courts for decades, with little consensus. Panelists on the Center for Progressive Reform's May 28 clean water webinar examined the Supreme Court's opinion and its possible implications for water quality protections.

Maui sewage discharge map

The Clean Water Act prevents the addition of any pollutant to any navigable water of the United States from any so-called "point source" – a fixed point, as in, for example, the end of a pipe discharging into a river – without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. Generally speaking, the EPA …

June 1, 2020 by James Goodwin
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It is now beyond debate – or at least it should be – that we, the people of the United States, have been failed by the Trump administration and its conservative apologists in Congress in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They failed to put in place mechanisms for systematic testing and contact tracing. They failed to coordinate the efficient acquisition of essential medical equipment such as ventilators and personal protective equipment. They failed to provide for an orderly phase-down of non-essential economic activity. They failed to establish clear, enforceable safety standards protect consumers, workers, and their families engaged in essential economic activity. This stopped being a public health crisis a long time ago. The pandemic is now more fairly characterized as a crisis of government.

Fortunately, our democracy has a crucial safety valve that stands ever ready to kick in when our representatives fail to protect us: the …

June 1, 2020 by Matt Shudtz, David Flores, Matthew Freeman, James Goodwin, Brian Gumm, Catherine Jones, Darya Minovi, Katlyn Schmitt, Katie Tracy, Robert Verchick, Robert Glicksman, Alice Kaswan, Thomas McGarity, Joel Mintz, Sidney Shapiro, Amy Sinden
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Staff and Board members of the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) denounce the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Memorial Day. We stand with the peaceful protestors calling for radical, systemic reforms to root out racism from our society and all levels of our governing institutions and the policies they administer.

CPR Member Scholars and staff are dedicated to listening to and working alongside Black communities and non-Black people of color to call out racism and injustice and demand immediate and long-lasting change. Racism and bigotry cannot continue in the United States if our nation is to live up to its creed of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

CPR's vision is thriving communities and a resilient planet. That ideal animates all of our work, but systemic sources of inequality and injustice stand as massive barriers to the realization …

May 28, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt, Dave Owen
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Sometime soon, EPA is expected to release its final rule limiting state and tribal authority to conduct water quality certifications under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. A water quality certification is the most important tool states have to ensure that any federally permitted project complies with state water quality protections.

States often impose conditions on such projects that are more stringent than federal requirements in order to protect drinking water and local aquatic habitat, among other reasons. The Clean Water Act also empowers states to deny certifications and stop a project from moving forward if it would still violate the state's water quality standards even after conditions are imposed.

The rulemaking was spurred by an executive order from President Trump last year. The order directed the EPA to change the 401 certification process, with an ostensible focus on "the need to promote timely Federal-State cooperation …

May 27, 2020 by Samuel Boden
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On May 19, the National Weather Service advised people living near the Tittabawassee River in Michigan to seek higher ground immediately. The region was in the midst of what meteorologists were calling a “500-year-flood,” resulting in a catastrophic failure of the Edenville Dam. Despite years of warnings from regulators that the dam could rupture, its owners failed to make changes to reinforce the structure and increase spillway capacity. By the next day, the river had risen to a record-high 34.4 feet in the city of Midland.

Any flood of this magnitude is a tragedy, but the situation in Midland is worse: The city is home to the world headquarters of Dow Chemical Company, including a vast complex that has produced a range of toxic chemicals, including Agent Orange and mustard gas. Dow has a tarnished history in the area, responsible for contaminating the Tittabawassee River with …

May 21, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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A recent, interesting lawsuit filed against McDonald's, in Cook County, Illinois, suffers from few of the deficiencies that I have identified in prior postings about public nuisance cases related to COVID-19 (see here and here). The named employee-plaintiffs allege "negligence" in what might look at first blush like a drop-dead workers' compensation case. This time, however, there is a wrinkle: The negligence action is pursued against both franchisor-McDonalds (McDonald's USA) and certain of McDonald's franchise restaurants (McDonald's Restaurant of Illinois, Inc., Lexi Management LLC, and DAK4, LLC). One may be the employer (subject to workers' compensation liability), and the others may not (and therefore be liable in tort). Because you cannot know in advance how the question will come out, you allege negligence with respect to each defendant. This is perfectly sensible.

It will be politically …

May 20, 2020 by Alejandro Camacho, Robert Glicksman
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Much of the discussion of the Trump administration's failed handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has focused on its delayed, and then insufficiently urgent, response, as well as the President's apparent effort to talk and tweet the virus into submission. All are fair criticisms. But the bungled initial response—or lack of response—was made immeasurably worse by the administration's confused and confusing allocation of authority to perform or supervise tasks essential to reducing the virus's damaging effects. Those mistakes hold important lessons.

The administration's management of the pandemic has been hampered by misallocation of authority along three different but interacting dimensions. First, it has been marred by overlapping authority that has resulted in waste, while failing to capitalize on this overlap's potential to safeguard against shirking and inaction. Second, it has reflected a thoughtless mix of centralized and …

May 20, 2020 by Darya Minovi, James Goodwin
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Earlier this week, we submitted a public comment to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), criticizing the agency's March 2020 supplemental proposal for its “censored science" rulemaking. This rule, among other things, would require the public release of underlying data for studies considered in regulatory decision-making, and thus might prevent the agency from relying on such seminal public health research as Harvard’s Six Cities study, which have formed the backbone of many of the EPA’s regulations, simply because they rely on confidential data.

First proposed during the brief and tumultuous tenure of former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the rule, officially known by its Orwellian moniker “Strengthening Transparency for Regulatory Science,” has become a key part of the Trump administration’s assault on the agency’s credibility and authority. Indeed, the arrival of this administration has seen the EPA completely abandon its mission of protecting public health …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 17, 2020

Pandemic Spawns Dangerous Relaxation of Environmental Regulations

Sept. 16, 2020

The Pandemic's Toll on Science

Sept. 15, 2020

Citizen Suits, Environmental Settlements, and the Constitution: Part II

Sept. 14, 2020

Citizen Suits, Environmental Settlements, and the Constitution: Part I

Sept. 9, 2020

They Can't Breathe!

Sept. 8, 2020

Pandemic's Other Casualty: Expertise

Sept. 3, 2020

It's Time for Maryland to Protect Its Poultry Workers