Sept. 20, 2010 by Ben Somberg

NYT Checks in on Drywall Situation, Finds Mess

The toxic drywall issue has been relatively quiet in the press for some time now. Some guy in Manatee County FL looks to be trying to flip a few contaminated houses (unclear how much he's repairing them). Habitat for Humanity had a drywall problem in New Orleans. No real big announcements from CPSC of late.

The Times came back to the drywall issue on Saturday, though, and found that the situation remains fairly bleak for many affected homeowners:

But so far the relief has been negligible. Most insurance companies have yet to pay a dime. Only a handful of home builders have stepped forward to replace the tainted drywall. Help offered by the government — like encouraging lenders to suspend mortgage payments and reducing property taxes on damaged homes — has not addressed the core problem of replacing the drywall. And Chinese manufacturers have argued that United States courts do not have jurisdiction over them.

It's as if we should figure out how to catch these problems before they happen.

Sept. 16, 2010 by Rena Steinzor

Today Jacob Lew heads to the hill for two Senate hearings on his nomination to be the new director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget. He is expected to be confirmed.

The hearings will likely focus on budgetary issues, but no less important is another division of OMB: the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the office charged with coordinating regulatory policy. The policy context is this: from salmonella-laced eggs to the BP oil spill, we are in a year of regulatory disasters. No one agency or individual is responsible for the breakdown; the problems are pervasive and the fixes often not easy.

The OMB could be playing a positive role in supporting regulatory agencies and helping to stop the next crisis before it happens. Instead, it has too often busied itself meddling in agencies' processes, and rushing to stand up for …

Sept. 15, 2010 by Daniel Farber

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Imagine a problem: it’s global; it stems from an extremely complex, interconnected system; it has major economic implications.  Sounds like climate change, or in other words, like the kind of problem that the world can’t seem to address effectively.  But no, it’s not Global Climate Change, it’s Global Economic Change.  And the world seems to be coalescing without much fuss around major regulatory initiatives.

From the NY Times, a story about how the major governments came together and adopted tough rules to deal with potential global crises:

BASEL, Switzerland — The world’s top bank regulators agreed Sunday on far-reaching new rules intended to strengthen the global banking industry and shield it against future financial disasters.

The new requirements more than tripled the amount of capital banks must hold in reserve, an effort to bolster their financial strength and provide …

Sept. 14, 2010 by Ben Somberg

Today CPR releases a new white paper, From Ship to Shore: Reforming the National Contingency Plan to Improve Protections for Oil Spill Cleanup Workers (press release), a look at how decisions were made about safety protections for cleanup workers in the aftermath of the BP oil spill -- and the lessons for the future.

The federal government's pre-disaster planning on worker safety issues didn't adequately consult the safety experts, and that meant the decision-making in the immediate wake of the spill couldn't be adequate. Too many cleanup workers in the Gulf were given inadequate training on the use of personal protective equipment. Employers and individual workers were left to determine on their own how to resolve the difficult question of what level of protections, such as respirators, to use.

OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are constrained to limited roles …

Sept. 8, 2010 by Matt Shudtz

In Tuesday's New York Times story, “In a Feast of Data on BPA Plastic, No Final Answer,” Denise Grady characterizes the continued development of new studies about the endocrine disrupting chemical as yet another dispute between environmentalists and chemical manufacturers over a ubiquitous chemical with uncertain health effects. While her assessment of the state of the science is accurate, she expends thousands of words parsing the uncertainty and profiling the scientists who’ve made it their work to reduce the uncertainty without fully exploring the bigger picture context that would explain why this isn’t a petty dispute.

The question Grady left unanswered was, Why is there so much uncertainty about the health effects of a chemical that is produced in quantities of nearly a million tons per year? Two reasons immediately come to mind.

First, chemical manufacturers operate under a system of antiquated laws. The …

Sept. 3, 2010 by Alyson Flournoy

Five years after Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill offers a chance to learn a lesson that we should have learned five years ago.  Certainly, the two events differ in important ways – the hurricane itself was a force of nature, and the oil well blowout although powered by nature, was clearly the result of human activity. But the hurricane was not just a natural disaster. Its impact resulted from a series of human decisions and actions that exacerbated the hurricane’s effects and impaired the response effort.   The lesson we should learn from these disasters is this: numbers may not lie, but they will fool us if we let them. Numbers – like those that predict how likely a disaster is, or the cost of taking steps to prevent a disaster – can be a helpful tool as we make decisions, like what kinds of levees to build and …

Sept. 3, 2010 by Ben Somberg

CPR Member Scholar Sidney Shapiro will be on the Leslie Marshall Show at 7:20ET this evening discussing regulatory failures, from the BP oil spill to the Katrina disaster of five years ago, and the lessons learned. The program is syndicated on TalkUSA and streams live.

Sept. 2, 2010 by Yee Huang

The Capital of Annapolis reported recently on the alarmingly low penalties assessed by the Maryland Department of Environment for massive spills of raw sewage—containing a mix of untreated human, residential, agricultural, and industrial wastewater—into the state's waters. This article supports one of the key findings from CPR’s report, Failing the Bay: Clean Water Act Enforcement in Maryland Falling Short, released earlier this year. These low penalties, sometimes “about the same as a speeding ticket,” do not and cannot serve as the basis of an effective, deterrence-based enforcement program—precisely what is needed to compel compliance with the Clean Water Act and state water quality laws.

The article reports on raw sewage spills from publicly operated sewer management systems, using information obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act request. In 2009, the sewer system operated by the Anne Arundel County government spilled nearly 200 …

Sept. 1, 2010 by James Goodwin

On July 9, 2010, following more than 10 years of interference and delay, the Food and Drug Administration’s rule to prevent salmonella contamination in eggs finally went into effect. FDA officials have argued that this rule—which, among other things, requires farms to test eggs and facilities for salmonella, protect feed and water from contamination, and buy chicks and young hens from suppliers that monitor for salmonella—would have likely prevented the massive salmonella outbreak that has sickened 1,470 individuals and resulted in one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history, with more than half a billion eggs being pulled off stores’ shelves. It’s hard to know whether this is necessarily true or not, but if adequately enforced, the rule certainly would have driven very significant changes to the facilities we've learned about in the past weeks.  Tragically, the salmonella outbreak …

Sept. 1, 2010 by Catherine O'Neill

According to the egg industry, the thousands of people sickened by eggs contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis have only themselves to blame. As USA Today reported:

"Consumers that were sickened reportedly all ate eggs that were not properly or thoroughly cooked. Eggs need to be cooked so that the whites and yolks are firm (not runny) which should kill any bacteria," says Mitch Head, spokesperson for the United Egg Producers.

"Some people may not think of an egg as you would ground beef, but they need to start," says Krista Eberle of the United Egg Producers' Egg Safety Center. "It may sound harsh and I don't mean it to sound that way. But all the responsibility cannot be placed on the farmer. Somewhere along the line consumers have to be responsible for what they put in their bodies."

With more than 500 million eggs to date subject …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 30, 2010

New CPR Study Chronicles Series of Regulatory Failures that Produced BP Oil Spill

Sept. 29, 2010

Sen. Landrieu's Counterproductive Hold on the Lew Nomination

Sept. 28, 2010

Obama's Reg Czar Feigns Transparency, Worker Safety Rules in Crosshairs

Sept. 27, 2010

Bad Times for Good Government

Sept. 27, 2010

The Chesapeake Bay Program

Sept. 24, 2010

Rescuing the Chesapeake by Anchoring the Goal Posts and Making Rules for the Game

Sept. 24, 2010

EPA Delivers on TMDL, Raps Chesapeake Bay States