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Jan. 29, 2010 by James Goodwin

OIRA's First Year Under Obama: Deregulatory Stronghold Still Intact

This post is the seventh and final in a series on the new CPR report Obama’s Regulators: A First-Year Report Card.

The White House can influence the performance of protector agencies by the way it structures the regulatory landscape in which these agencies operate. Specifically, it can adjust the contours of this landscape in ways that either encourage or discourage proactive and effective action by the protector agencies. The manner in which it manages the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)—a small bureau within the Office of Management and Budget that oversees the president’s regulatory policy and reviews individual regulations—is particularly significant in this regard. During the Bush Administration, OIRA operated as a strong deregulatory force. During the first year of the Obama Administration, this obscure but powerful office too often continued on that path.

Under President Obama, OIRA has continued to provide agencies that are themselves major polluters, the Department of Defense, for example, and regulated industries with a venue in which they can attack regulatory agencies and their health, safety, and environmental regulation. As part of its implementation of the regulatory review process, OIRA hosts meetings on rules that it has under review …

Jan. 29, 2010 by Rena Steinzor
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The EPA issued a new rule recently on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) -- but not before it was weakened by OMB. The consequences for the public health are real.

The possibility of OMB interference in the rule was first raised by Matt Madia of OMB Watch. He noted that EPA's draft final rule -- sent to OIRA for review on December 18 -- required all metropolitan areas with a population of 350,000 people or more to install a monitoring station for measuring NO2 emissions near a major roadway in the area. By the time OIRA completed its review on January 22, the minimum threshold for monitoring stations had been increased to one per 500,000 people. Troubling, to say the least.

We noticed a document that shines further light on what happened behind the scenes. The EPA had made its position clear, it turns out. In a January 20th …

Jan. 28, 2010 by Sidney Shapiro
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When my children were growing up, they loved the “Where’s Waldo” book series. Each page had an illustrated picture chock full of people and objects; hidden somewhere among the mass of detail was a small picture of a cartoon character named Waldo. When the Toyota Motor Corporation announced this week that it was stopping the production and sales of several of its car models because of a dangerous problem with unintended acceleration, we had a “Where’s Waldo” scenario. The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), the regulator which is supposed to protect the American public from this sort of event, is nowhere to be seen, hidden inconspicuously in the background, hard to spot because of its disturbingly minor role in the unfolding events.

As I wrote earlier, Toyota had previously announced that it would replace the accelerator pedals on about 3.8 million vehicles in the …

Jan. 27, 2010 by Rena Steinzor
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President Obama’s expected State of the Union announcement that he plans to seek a freeze on non-security discretionary spending is an early warning sign that he and his team have decided to play small ball, abandoning the promise of his newly minted transformative presidency. The President’s decision to borrow this shopworn pander from the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush administrations almost certainly means continued, fatal dysfunction for the five agencies that ensure the quality of the air we breathe and the food we eat, the safety of the drugs we take and the consumer products we buy, and the control of toxic chemical exposures in the workplace.

Let’s be clear: those five protector agencies are severely handicapped in their efforts to protect Americans from a variety of hazards because their budgets have been shrinking or staying flat while the challenges they face have grown. In …

Jan. 27, 2010 by Ben Somberg
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Sue Sturgis has a nifty post at Facing South checking in on the doings of members of congress who represent states or districts that have cases of groundwater pollution from coal ash sites. Writes Sturgis:

On July 9, 2007, EPA's Office of Solid Waste published a report titled "Coal Combustion Damage Case Assessments" pdf documenting 24 cases of proven environmental damage and 43 cases of potential damage caused by current coal ash disposal practices nationwide. As it turns out, many of those damage cases are in the home states of Congress members opposing strict coal ash regulations.

Dozens of members representing areas affected by coal ash pollution have signed letters to the administration opposing strong regulation (one of the letters was sent just last month). Check out the post for the full rundown.

Jan. 26, 2010 by James Goodwin
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This post is the sixth in a series on the new CPR report Obama’s Regulators: A First-Year Report Card.

During the Bush Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) became a regulatory wasteland. Political interference, outdated laws, and chronic underfunding reduced the agency’s regulatory output to a mere trickle. For example, in the last 10 years, OSHA has issued comprehensive regulations for only two chemicals; in total, it has established legally enforceable exposure limits for fewer than 200 of the 3,000 most widely used industrial chemicals. Outdated laws and inadequate resources have also hindered OSHA’s ability to inspect workplaces and enforce worker safety regulations.

The Obama Administration faced a difficult challenge in trying to reawaken this vital protector agency from its dormant state. By and large, the Administration succeeded in placing OSHA in a promising upward trajectory this past year, strengthening its …

Jan. 25, 2010 by Victor Flatt
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The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United was not entirely unexpected, but it is appropriately seen as a breathtaking change in the way elections work in this country. The Supreme Court struck down federal campaign finance rules that limit corporate (and general organizational) spending on campaign finance ads to help or defeat candidates.

What can we expect now? One need look no further than Texas, which has no campaign restrictions in any statewide races. In Texas, large corporations and individuals have given millions of dollars to candidates and ads supporting them in one election cycle.

While this can be hugely influential on state legislation, at least legislation remains ostensibly open and in the public eye. Texas does have laws that may be seen as more favorable to corporations (such as low limits on medical malpractice compensation and a conservative tax structure), but all in all, the …

Jan. 25, 2010 by James Goodwin
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This post is the fifth in a series on the new CPR report Obama’s Regulators: A First-Year Report Card.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) progress on its statutory mission of reducing traffic fatalities came to a screeching halt in recent years, making it imperative that the Obama Administration work quickly to get this vital protector agency back into gear. Unfortunately, NHTSA coasted through part of the year, when it should have its foot on the gas. While it made some progress, it has not yet launched an affirmative agenda of its own to ensure future progress on its statutory mission.

At first blush, it might appear that President Obama succeeded in revitalizing NHTSA this past year. After all, the agency did take several important protective actions. A closer examination, though, reveals that most of NHTSA’s regulatory accomplishments could be characterized as low-hanging …

Jan. 25, 2010 by Thomas McGarity
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Cross-posted from ACSblog.

The citizens of Minot, North Dakota suffered a grave injustice on January 18, 2002 when a train derailment bathed much of that small town in a toxic cloud of poisonous gas that killed one person and injured almost 1,500 others. A detailed investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the derailment was most likely caused by fractures in temporary joints that the railroad had installed to repair the track.

When the victims sued the railroad for damages caused by its negligent maintenance, they found the courthouse doors locked. A federal district court held that their claims were preempted by the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) of 1970, which contained a "preemption" clause that Congress enacted to prevent states and localities from enacting regulations that were inconsistent with the regulations issued by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the federal agency that Congress …

Jan. 22, 2010 by Matt Shudtz
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FDA scientists have had a chance to develop an assessment of the risks of BPA in food contact applications using a fuller body of low-dose studies and concluded last week that there’s some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children (for a helpful analysis of the context of FDA’s decision, see Sarah Vogel’s post at The Pump Handle). Now, it’s time to look at what EPA is doing with respect to the ubiquitous endocrine-disrupting chemical.

In late September, Lisa Jackson announced that EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics would develop “action plans” for four chemicals or groups of chemicals, outlining potential future regulatory actions aimed at protecting the public and the environment from unreasonable risk. BPA was one of the candidates for an action plan, but when EPA released …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Jan. 29, 2010

EPA's New NO2 Rule: A Tale of OMB Interference

Jan. 29, 2010

OIRA's First Year Under Obama: Deregulatory Stronghold Still Intact

Jan. 28, 2010

Where is NHTSA? Toyota Recall and the Missing Regulator

Jan. 27, 2010

The Human Costs of Pander

Jan. 27, 2010

Congress and Coal Ash: Who are the Constituents?

Jan. 26, 2010

OSHA's First Year Under Obama: Shaking Off the Cobwebs

Jan. 25, 2010

NHTSA's First Year Under Obama: Stuck in Neutral