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Aug. 14, 2015 by Evan Isaacson

Farm Bureau Loses Another Clean Water Case

This week provided another important legal decision in the fight to regulate polluted runoff from agriculture.  A California lower court on Tuesday ordered the State Water Quality Control Board to reconsider its ineffective regulations on agricultural operations in the Central Coast region.  Judge Timothy Frawley of the Sacramento Superior Court ruled in favor of the Monterey Coastkeeper, the Otter Project, and other environmental and commercial and recreational groups, as well as a resident who could no longer drink her tap water because it was so polluted from runoff.  This decision represents another farm bureau loss and another crack in the wall that has long protected agricultural interests from having to comply with clean water rules.

Like most other states and regions, agricultural operators in central California have long been allowed to pollute surface and ground waters, enjoying special status granted to agricultural operations and other contributors of nonpoint source pollution.  In 2004, the Central Coast Water Quality Control Board took baby steps toward solving the problem with the creation of a conditional waiver that agricultural operations could sign on to.  Much like a general permit, the conditional waiver at least recognized the problem and established a framework for regulation. 

After …

Aug. 14, 2015 by Alice Kaswan
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Yesterday in this space, I discussed how stringent Clean Power Plan targets are critical to achieving significant aggregate co-pollutant reductions that will indirectly benefit many overburdened communities. Today, I turn to classic environmental justice issues: the distributional effects of the plan and its community engagement provisions.

As I explained in my short essay in CPR’s policy paper, The Clean Power Plan: Issues to Watch, it is difficult for EPA to directly control the plan’s distributional effects given the realities of an interconnected grid and the states’ important implementation role. Environmental justice groups had suggested that EPA require states to do an environmental justice assessment of their state implementation plans. The Plan acknowledges the importance of localized co-pollutant impacts on communities of color and low-income communities and “encourages” states to evaluate the impact of their plans of vulnerable communities and ensure that they benefit from the …

Aug. 13, 2015 by Alice Kaswan
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Though directed at greenhouse gases, the Clean Power Plan, by controlling existing fossil-fuel power plants, will have important implications for associated co-pollutants, many of which continue to be emitted at unhealthy levels notwithstanding decades of control.  The degree to which the Clean Power Plan will lead to reductions in traditional pollutants – the extent  of its “co-pollutant benefits” – is an especially important issue for communities experiencing the highest pollution levels, communities that are disproportionately of-color and low-income.  Hence, the Clean Power Plan presents an opportunity for the federal government and the states to further environmental justice.  So, how does the Plan measure up? And how should the states maximize the opportunity to achieve environmental justice?

In The Clean Power Plan: Issues to Watch,  I wrote a short essay identifying and explaining a number of environmental justice issues raised by the proposal. The final Clean Power Plan’s preamble …

Aug. 10, 2015 by Sidney Shapiro
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The New Push to Protect American Workers from the Conditions of the Marketplace 

In 1873, when Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner published their book, The Gilded Age, they satirized the greed, political corruption, and skewed distribution of wealth that pervaded the United States at the time. As during Twain’s time, most of the wealth generated in this country in recent decades has gone only to the very wealthiest among us. For Americans who work for a minimum wage, there has not been a raise for decades, even though inflation has worn away their buying power. Recently we have seen a national movement to raise the minimum wage, but it is not the only issue that the nation must face if it is to address the plight of workers in this economy. 

Recently the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that …

Aug. 5, 2015 by Katie Tracy
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Raul Zapata Mercado, a husband and father of three, was killed on January 28, 2012 when a 12-foot trench collapsed on him while he was working at a U.S. Sino Investments Inc. construction site in Milpitas, California.

More than three years after the fatal collapse, in May 2015, the construction company owner, Richard Liu, and the project manager, Dan Luo, were convicted of involuntary manslaughter—in other words, even though they didn’t act maliciously to kill Mercado, they are responsible for unintentionally killing him because their complete disregard for worker safety was so negligent that it rose to the level of a criminal act. Luo was also convicted of three counts of felony labor code violations for violating a safety order and causing a workers death. And on Friday, July 31, both men were sentenced to two years in prison as punishment for committing involuntary …

Aug. 5, 2015 by James Goodwin
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When asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, the notorious bank robber Willie Sutton is said to have responded, “Because that’s where the money is.”  For decades, the accepted conventional wisdom held that a similar dynamic motivated legions of industry lobbyists to parade through the front door at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  Why—one might ask—does industry spend so much time complaining to OIRA’s political appointees and staff-level economists about rules they find inconvenient to their bottom line?  Because, like CPR has been saying for many years in reports, apparently that’s where the regulatory relief is to be had.

In 2011, we released a ground-breaking report that sought to move beyond mere intuition and confirm with actual data the degree to which industry was able to wield its outsized influence to secure favorable deregulatory changes to …

Aug. 3, 2015 by Robert Verchick
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Against intense pressure from the coal industry to tie Americans to dirty fuels forever, the Obama administration has surged forward in the battle to fight climate change. The Clean Power Plan rule, released today by the EPA, promises serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, while giving states the flexibility and incentives they need to reduce pollution, keep the grid humming, and save consumers money. The challenge, as EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy put it, was “wicked hard.”  But polls show Americans want action on climate change.

Last week, CPR Scholars released a white paper on a number of key issues to watch on the Plan, offering insights on what to look for and on how states could implement it. Some of the key questions the report raises are included below with my reactions after reading the final rule for the first time. This is the beginning of an …

Aug. 3, 2015 by Katie Tracy
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July 26 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the federal civil rights legislation that protects the rights of people with disabilities to participate in and contribute to society, including the right to join the workforce.

Over the past quarter-century, the law has undoubtedly improved the lives of many Americans, but challenges remain, most notably with respect to equal employment opportunities. As U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez aptly wrote in his statement on the anniversary, “While we celebrate the courage of the trailblazers who made the ADA possible and mark the momentous progress of the last 25 years, we must also be resolute about meeting the challenges that remain. Employment remains the unfinished business of the ADA.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest employment figures, 12.5 percent of people with disabilities were unemployed in 2014, meaning they had …

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