Nov. 14, 2012 by Rena Steinzor

Help Wanted: Regulatory Czar with Commitment to Protecting Public Health, Worker and Consumer Safety, and the Environment

Judging from President Obama’s first term, the job of White House “regulatory czar” could prove of out-sized importance these next four years, with the head of an office few know exists ending up with the power to trump the authority of Cabinet members throughout the government.  Cass Sunstein, the former occupant of the position, was perhaps the most influential overseer of the regulatory process ever, and it's not hard to imagine that his replacement will be equally powerful.  But I'd propose that the next Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) have a very different job description.

Sunstein made himself a strong ally of business, doing his best to put the President in a position where he could withstand attacks by his Republican opponent for being tuned out to the needs of the “job creators.”  This strategy did not work particularly well.  President Obama was subject to withering attacks from big business and its political allies, and won reelection in the end by explaining himself as a populist concerned about the middle class.  For this reason, and because the recent crisis over compounding pharmacies reminds us how badly regulatory agencies need to be strengthened …

Nov. 13, 2012 by Robert Verchick

Last weekend my son took part in a set of Boy Scout activities with his local Delhi scout troop. On the grounds of the former residence of the U.S. ambassador, the boys prepared a kabob lunch, practiced fire making, and even built a Medieval-style trebuchet. But all I could think about were the little striped mosquitoes that seemed to follow the kids everywhere—Asian Tiger mosquitoes, to be exact, the kind that carry dengue fever

In New Delhi, dengue (DEN-gay) has reached epidemic proportions. The scouts, I’m happy to say, completed their tour without infection, thanks to lots of lotion, spray, and smoky coils. But not everyone has been so lucky. I know at least five people who have been confined to bed for two weeks of fever, headaches, and joint pain. (My medical traveler’s guide says it feels as if  “knitting needles have …

Nov. 8, 2012 by Catherine O'Neill

The current debate surrounding Washington State’s sediment cleanup and water quality standards provides another example of regulated industry calling for “sound science” in environmental regulation, yet working to undermine it.  Industry has worked to delay updates to water quality standards based on the most recent scientific studies, despite the fact that the current standards are based on decades-old data  and don’t adequately protect human health.  Most recently, industry has sought to weaken any forthcoming standards by misrepresenting scientific studies of contamination in Puget Sound and other marine waters and its impact on salmon. 

When agencies set standards limiting toxic pollution in our waters, they aim to protect humans exposed to these toxics by eating fish.  Fish consumption is the primary route by which people are exposed to a host of toxic contaminants, including PCBs, dioxins, and mercury.  Washington’s current water quality standards enlist a …

Nov. 7, 2012 by Rena Steinzor

President Obama’s reelection holds the possibility of great progress for public health, safety, and the environment — if, and only if, he recognizes the importance of these issues and stops trying to placate his most implacable opponents.

The weeks leading up to the election brought powerful reminders of two of the challenges at hand:  rising sea levels and more severe storms that scientists say we should expect as a result of unchecked climate change, and a meningitis outbreak that sickened hundreds, thanks to an obscure compounding pharmacy that escaped regulators’ reach. And let’s not forget that we are recovering from an economic downturn in which under-regulation of giant financial institutions played no small part. This is the context, the starting point.

Taking a progressive stance on health, safety, and environmental threats has never been easy politically because the industries most affected by these protections have powerful …

Nov. 5, 2012 by James Goodwin

Internal EPA emails obtained by CPR though a FOIA request reveals that representatives from one or more of the EPA’s peer agencies second-guessed a critical scientific finding undergirding the EPA’s then-pending draft final rule to tighten the ozone standard, claiming that ozone is not associated with mortality impacts. The EPA’s final proposal rightly disregarded the unsound comments and included information on how reducing ozone pollution saves lives.  The rule, estimated to save thousands of lives, was later blocked by the White House. The email provides a rare glimpse at how peer agencies abuse the interagency commenting process by attacking other agencies’ rules—often on matters on which they have comparatively little expertise.

In the August 3, 2011, email, sent while the draft final rule was still undergoing review at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Karen Martin, an EPA scientist …

Nov. 2, 2012 by Lesley McAllister

Cross-posted from Environmental Law Prof Blog.

Unlike climate change, clean energy policy has received a fair bit of attention in the presidential campaign. Obama made clear that he supports renewable energy as part of his "all of the above" approach, while Romney would end an important federal subsidy for wind power and otherwise increase reliance on coal, oil and gas. But for those who are disappointed that Obama didn’t say more about our need to transition away from fossil fuel and towards renewables, remember the old adages “actions speak louder than words” and “put your money where your mouth is.” Here are some facts about Obama’s actions and expenditures:

First, we must recall that subsidies for fossil fuels have been a fixture in US energy policy. As discussed in a recent report by venture capital firm DBL Investors, these subsidies have come in many forms …

Nov. 2, 2012 by Robert Verchick

The most solemn commitment borne by an elected official is to promote the public welfare and keep the citizenry safe. As New York City struggles to rebound from one of the fiercest storms in memory, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg rose to that occasion with an urgent call for government at all levels to forcefully address climate change.   

Yes, folks, Gotham gets it.

In an editorial for Bloomberg View, the mayor wrote:

The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast -- in lost lives, lost homes and lost business -- brought the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief.

The floods and fires that swept through our city left a path of destruction that will require years of recovery and rebuilding work. . . .  In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods -- something our city government had never done …

Nov. 1, 2012 by Ben Somberg

One of the biggest challenges for the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), a database for toxicological information and human health effects data that plays a role in many regulatory safeguards, is how slowly it produces chemical assessments. One of the reasons: chemical industry interests have flooded the comments on many IRIS assessments with pages of non-germane information for EPA to wade through.

In a letter today to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, CPR President Rena Steinzor and Policy Analysts Wayland Radin and Matthew Shudtz urge the agency to put reasonable limits on IRIS comments. They looked at 70 comments on 5 recent IRIS assessments (totaling 2800 pages, with attachments), and found that “ interested parties, particularly industry trade associations, frequently submit comments that do not provide relevant and timely information to EPA, but rather waste EPA’s time and resources and delay badly needed public protections.”

The …

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