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March 26, 2014 by Frank Ackerman

How the Koch Brothers are Hacking Science

Rhode Island has recently learned that its renewable energy standards could be ruinously expensive. But they’re in good company: more than a dozen states have “learned” the same thing, from reports from the same economists at the Beacon Hill Institute (BHI).

Housed at Boston’s Suffolk University, BHI turns out study after study for right-wing, anti-government groups. Funding for BHI’s relentless efforts has come from Charles and David Koch (leading tea party funders) and others on the same wavelength. For the Rhode Island study, BHI teamed up with the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, a member of the Koch’s State Policy Network.

While BHI’s name and location place it close to the Massachusetts state government, it is philosophically a different beacon on a different hill. Last year BHI requested a grant from the Searle Freedom Trust, aimed at undermining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state effort that Massachusetts participates in. The grant application said, “Success will take the form of media recognition … and legislative activity that will pare back or repeal RGGI.” Suffolk vice-president Greg Gatlin said that BHI had not gone through the university’s required grant approval process, and “the …

March 26, 2014 by Noah Sachs
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I’ve been in Bangalore, India for about two months on a Fulbright fellowship to study Indian environmental law.  While I knew India has major problems with air pollution and sanitation, I didn’t expect that one of the major environmental controversies here would be about greening the idol industry.  Apparently, the gods in India can wreak havoc on the environment.

Each year, Indians sink millions of idols in rivers and lakes to celebrate various festivals.   The biggest festival for idol sinking is Ganesh Chaturthi, held each August or September in honor of the elephant god Ganesh.  Hindus sink Ganesh idols for a variety of reasons, including purifying the home, casting away misfortune, and returning the God to the earth.   

The problem is that most of the idols are made of plaster of Paris and are decorated with brightly colored paints that contain dyes and heavy metals …

March 19, 2014 by James Goodwin
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For years, Duke Energy has enjoyed virtual free rein to contaminate North Carolina’s surface and ground waters with arsenic, lead, selenium, and all of the other toxic ingredients in its coal ash waste in clear violation of the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental laws.  And it seems that both North Carolina’s regulators and state legislators are determined to keep it that way.

Last year, the state’s environmental agency actively thwarted citizens’ efforts to sue Duke for violating the Clean Water Act by intervening in the lawsuit at the last minute and then settling with the company for just over $99,000—chump change for a company worth more than $50 billion—and no obligations to clean up their coal ash waste sites or prevent future pollution.  As detailed previously on CPRBlog, the head of the state’s environmental department—appointed by Gov …

March 18, 2014 by Wendy Wagner
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Basic disclosures of conflicts of interest have been required by the top science journals for decades. Yet most regulatory agencies – despite strong urging from a variety of bipartisan sources – have failed to require these disclosures for private research submitted to inform regulatory decisions. This omission is particularly alarming since, unlike journals, agencies used this research to determine the appropriate standards for protection of public health and welfare. If anything, one would expect the agencies to apply higher scientific standards and insist on greater transparency for privately submitted research as compared to journal editors.

The failure of agencies to meet these bare minimum standards of science has not gone unnoticed. Recently, the Administrative Conference of the U.S. recommended that agencies should, where possible, require these basic disclosures of conflicts, including “whether the experimenteror author had the legal right without approval of the sponsor of the research …

March 17, 2014 by Anne Havemann
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Maryland faces an important deadline in its long-running effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.  By 2017, the state will be legally required to have put in place a number of specific measures to reduce the massive quantities of pollution that now flow into the Bay from a range of pollution sources in the state.  Unfortunately, if the terms of a draft Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement are any indication, we’re going to miss the deadline.

Today, CPR President Rena Steinzor and I submitted comments to the Chesapeake Executive Council, a collaborative partnership of Bay state governors currently chaired by Gov. Martin O’Malley, arguing that the Agreement falls well short.  As the first interstate agreement since EPA issued the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay, the Agreement is an opportunity to build off the TMDL and tackle the issues that plan does not …

March 13, 2014 by Rena Steinzor
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A scant five days before the Department of Interior opens a new round of bids for oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico, the EPA has blinked, pronouncing BP, the incorrigible corporate scofflaw of the new millennium, once again fit to do business with the government.

To get right to the point, the federal government’s decision that BP has somehow paid its debt and should once again be eligible for federal contracts is a disgrace. Not only does it let BP off the hook, it sends an unmistakable signal to the rest of the energy industry: That no matter how much harm you do, no matter how horrid your safety record, the feds will cut you some slack.

Back in 2012, the agency’s intrepid staff had finally gotten permission to pull the trigger on the company, de-barring it from holding any new U.S. contracts …

March 10, 2014 by James Goodwin
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If you’re harmed by an improperly labeled prescription drug you’ve taken, should your ability to hold the manufacturer accountable in court depend on whether that drug was “name brand” or “generic”? Strangely, it does matter, thanks to the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Pilva v. Mensing. There, the Court held that because of a quirk in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations, generic drug manufacturers were shielded against plaintiffs’ state tort law failure-to-warn claims that alleged that a generic drug’s labeling failed to provide adequate warning of particular health risks.  The Court reasoned that since the FDA’s regulations didn’t readily allow generic drug manufacturers to update their labels quickly to warn consumers against any newly discovered risks, it would be impossible for those same generic drug manufacturers to fulfill a separate state tort law duty to provide such …

March 10, 2014 by Anne Havemann
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EPA’s budget is in free-fall.  Members of Congress brag that they have slashed it 20 percent since 2010.  President Obama’s proposed budget for 2015, released on Tuesday, continues the downward trend.  The budget proposal would provide $7.9 billion for EPA, about $300 million, or 3.7 percent, less than the $8.2 billion enacted in fiscal year 2014.

To cope with these cuts, the agency plans to fundamentally change the way it enforces environmental laws.  A draft five-year plan released in November signals that the agency is retreating from traditional enforcement measures, such as inspections, in favor of self-monitoring by regulated industries.  Specifically, the agency aims to conduct 30 percent fewer inspections and file 40 percent fewer civil cases over the next five years as compared to the last five.

Even before releasing the draft plan, the agency had already begun cutting down on …

March 7, 2014 by David Driesen
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The media has reported, erroneously, that the Obama Administration’s environmental impact statement concluded that the Keystone Pipeline would have no impact on global climate disruption. The facts are a bit more complicated, and much more interesting. Basically, the final EIS concedes that Keystone would increase greenhouse gas emissions, but it uses a silent political judgment masquerading as scientific analysis to minimize its estimate of the increase’s magnitude. Accordingly, President Obama has ample grounds to reject the Keystone Pipeline application.

Let me explain. The EIS concedes that the construction project creating the Keystone Pipeline would produce .24 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCO2E) per year until TransCanada completes the pipeline. It also admits that operation of the pipeline after construction would produce 1.44 MMTCO2E per year, about the emissions of 300,000 passenger vehicles.

Although this is a lot of …

March 5, 2014 by Daniel Farber
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The regulatory process has become more opaque and less accountable. We need to fix that.

Every year, thousands of law students take a course in administrative law.  It’s a great course, and we wish even more students took it.  But there’s a risk that students may come away with a vision of the regulatory process that is increasingly disconnected with reality.  Worse, the leading judicial opinions on the subject suggest that judges may suffer from a similar disconnect.

The Administrative Procedure Act is based on the premise that Congress delegates the power to address a problem to an agency, which then applies the statute to formulate a regulation.  Policy is driven by the statute along with the views of the agency head, who is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  But the realities are often different.  Policy is often driven, not so …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
March 26, 2014

How the Koch Brothers are Hacking Science

March 26, 2014

Greening the Idol Industry in India

March 19, 2014

The “Best” Regulatory System Money Can Buy: Lessons from North Carolina's “Regulatory Reform” Movement

March 18, 2014

Conflict Disclosures for Regulatory Science: Slow but Steady Progress at Last

March 17, 2014

CPR Submits Comments on the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement

March 13, 2014

EPA Declares BP a 'Responsible Contractor' Makes It Eligible Again for Federal Contracts in the Gulf

March 10, 2014

CPR Submits Comments on FDA's Proposed Generics Labeling Rule