Dec. 16, 2008 by Joseph Tomain

Tomain on Obama Energy/Environment Team

President-elect Obama’s announcement of his energy team clearly signals a dramatic change from the energy policy of all past presidents not only from the past administration. This team will oversee a new direction for future energy policy, especially pertaining to climate change.


With these appointments and in his remarks, the President-elect identifies several strong themes for future energy and environmental policy including: (1) A commitment to expanding the economy while protecting the environment; (2) creating a government office merging energy and the environment (this point is underscored by Carol Browner’s selection); (3) science and technology are to be in the forefront of energy and environmental policy (underscored with Stephen Chu’s nomination); and (4) that innovation in policy and technology will be encouraged (underscored by the nominations of Nancy Sutley, Lisa P. Jackson and Sen. Ken Salazar).


The President-elect’s remarks announcing the appointments are here.  Read a New York Times story on the appointments and the challenges they’ll face, here.  And read Climate Wire’s story, here.  

Dec. 15, 2008 by James Goodwin

All last week, USA Today published a series of articles detailing the findings of its investigation into the toxic air pollutants afflicting many of the schools throughout the United States.  Using models developed by EPA for tracking toxic chemicals, USA Today investigators evaluated and ranked air quality for some 127,800 schools.  In particular, these models were able—through the use of computer simulations—to predict the dispersal of toxic chemicals released by 20,000 industrial polluters during roughly the last decade.  By combining these models with a map containing the locations of the various schools, investigators were able to predict the likely air quality outside the schools, and determine how air quality has changed over time.


The findings of this investigation were startling, to say the least.  At roughly one-quarter of the schools studied, the toxic air pollution levels increased significantly over the course of 10 …

Dec. 13, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

CPR Member Scholar Catherine O’Neill has posted a blog entry on Marlerblog, discussing the conflict reportedly under way between the FDA and the EPA over whether to stop warning pregnant women against eating mercury-laden tuna.


Relying on studies that EPA staff scientists describe as, “scientifically flawed and inadequate,” FDA has forwarded to the White House a draft report arguing that the nutritive value of fish outweigh the dangers from mercury consumption.


After noting the shaky science undergirding the FDA’s case, O’Neill points out that the argument rests on the assumption that mercury-contaminated tuna is a regrettable but unchangeable fact of life, and that pregnant women have only two choices – eat or don’t eat mercury-laden fish. But mercury pollution isn’t a meteorological phenomenon. It’s the result of pollution. A better alternative, she argues, would be if the government did something meaningful to …

Dec. 12, 2008 by Rena Steinzor

President-elect Barack Obama seems close to naming Lisa Jackson, now head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Jackson, or whoever ends up getting the appointment, will surely get a raft of advice from friends and closet enemies alike. Most of it will have to do with regulations she should cancel, promulgate, or change profoundly. But I have some turf-guarding advice.


Of all the body blows that have fallen on EPA in the last 16 years, during both the Clinton and Bush II Administrations, none is at once so subtle and serious as the fact that it is no longer first among equals within the government with respect to the environmental problems that are in its jurisdiction. Instead, these bipartisan and shortsighted chief executives put the departments that EPA is supposed to regulate on an equal footing with that Agency …

Dec. 11, 2008 by Margaret Giblin

Although it might not quite be the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster, the tale of the lowly zebra mussel has a critical mass of the ingredients needed for a horror movie – or at least a seriously disturbing documentary. They’re creatures from a different world (that is, ecosystem), they’re amazingly prolific (each female produces 1 million eggs per year), they colonize both non-living and living surfaces (including turtles, crustaceans, other mollusks, and even other members of their own species), they harm the environment and impose billions of dollars in costs, and, as Land Letter put it, they’re “impossible to eradicate using current technologies.” (Click here for pictures of the unwelcome invaders.)

Most recently, they’ve been discovered in Maryland, near the uppermost reaches of the Chesapeake Bay. First, officials confirmed that a zebra mussel had been scooped from inside a water intake pipe at the …

Dec. 10, 2008 by Matt Shudtz

Sometime this month, EPA is expected to reach a final determination on regulating perchlorate in Americans’ drinking water. Every indication is that the agency will conclude, despite ample advice to the contrary, that there’s no need for a national standard for the chemical – a component of rocket fuel and munitions. That, even though, by EPA’s own account, millions of Americans are exposed to perchlorate at concentrations that could have a negative impact on our health.


(For some background on why perchlorate isn’t something you want in your water, and particularly in your kids’ drinking water, check out Shana Jones’s post on this blog from October 24.)


Deciding whether a national drinking water regulation “presents a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction” is a decision that, by law, depends solely on the judgment of the EPA Administrator. In this instance, Administrator Stephen Johnson’s …

Dec. 10, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

CPR Member Scholar Frank Ackerman has an interesting piece in the November/December issue of Dollars and Sense magazine. He points out that the opponents of genuine action to prevent climate change have shifted their principal line of argument in an important way. Rather than arguing as they did through much of the 1990s and the first part of this decade that climate change isn’t real, or that it’s overstated, or that it’s a natural phenomenon about which we should not be concerned, or that we're all a bunch of extremist environmental wackos for worrying, they’re now arguing that doing much of anything about climate change will do violence to the economy.


Ackerman observes that opponents are making what is essentially a cost-benefit argument against meaningful action, suggesting that, at most, we should take baby steps so as to minimize economic impact …

Dec. 9, 2008 by James Goodwin

One of many areas in which the Bush Administration has sought to throw sand in the gears of the regulatory process is by tampering with the methods of risk assessment used by regulatory agencies as part of their process of gauging how much regulation, if any, is needed in a certain area.


More specifically, risk assessment in this context is the process by which scientists try to evaluate and quantify risks associated with human or environmental exposure to chemicals and pollutants in the air, water, food, or consumer products.  The goal is to summarize, based on the weight of all available scientific evidence, the risks posed by particular chemicals or pollutants.  Policymakers then decide, based on statutory directives and the available science (as characterized through the risk assessment process), whether and how to regulate the particular chemical or pollutant.


When done correctly, risk assessments bridge between the …

Dec. 8, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

Shortly before Thanksgiving, a quartet of heavyweight health organizations issued their annual “Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer.” The principal finding of the study from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries is that the incidence of cancer and the rates of death from cancer continue to decline. That’s great news, and it’s even better news that it seems not to be by accident. The report notes, for example, that California, a state that has fairly rigorous anti-smoking laws, has seen the rate of lung cancer deaths drop by almost 3 percent over the last decade.


The substance isn’t the topic of this post, however; it’s the news coverage.


The report drew extensive media attention, even managing to break through the impressively managed …

Dec. 5, 2008 by Matt Shudtz

Dan Rosenberg of NRDC has an excellent new post up on Switchboard that lays out some ideas for reforming U.S. chemical policies in the wake of the Bush Administration. The ideas include improving the risk assessment process EPA uses to develop its IRIS database, strengthening chemical security measures, re-invigorating right-to-know policies under the Toxic Release Inventory, stepping up research into risks posed by BPA and nanotech, and reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to follow the European Union’s REACH program.


Each reform is important, but I want to comment on the last one. Amending TSCA so that U.S. chemical policy aligns with the Europeans’ precautionary approach is a great way to start closing the data gap on toxic chemicals. Every year, hundreds of new chemicals enter the market, and REACH-style testing requirements would be a good way to ensure that EPA staff have …

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