Jan. 8, 2009 by Matthew Freeman

More Midnight Regs

The reporters of ProPublica continue their impressive coverage of the Bush Administration’s midnight regulations. Most of the rest of the media behaves as if the nation’s 43rd President is already out of power. But the nonprofit, wave-of-the-future-if-we’re-lucky investigative outfit has built an impressive, and frankly distressing, list of last-minute regulations – in the process driving home the point that even lame ducks can paddle furiously just below the surface.


The most recent entries on ProPublica’s list include efforts to remove the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf from the endangered species list, weaken protections against “fugitive emissions,” pull back on restrictions on the use of the antimicrobial drug cephalosporin in livestock bound for dinner tables, and eliminate a rule requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to obtain written consent from patients before testing them for HIV and then to provide pre- and post-test counseling. Read more about these latest efforts, here.


Simultaneously, a number of agencies are cranking out new rules that would make it harder to use the Freedom of Information Act – adopting higher fees and issue more exemptions from the requirement to produce documents, and more. Read the FOIA story here.


On the hopeful side, ProPublica …

Jan. 7, 2009 by Matthew Freeman

The January 3 issue of The Economist Magazine offers a special report on the challenges confronting the world’s oceans.  The nine-part package of stories covers a range of topics, including global warming, dying coral reefs, bottom trawling, dumping of sewage and trash, oxygen-choking algae blooms resulting from too many nutrients (often from fertilizer runoff), overfishing, and more. It’s a fine compilation of a broad range of ocean issues, well worth a read.

Dec. 31, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

The Environmental Working Group is out with a new guide to Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs), and they warn that not all CFLs are environmentally equal.


CFLs offer huge energy-consumption and length-of-use advantages over traditional incandescent bulbs, but they introduce one noteworthy environmental problem: each CFL has a tiny amount of mercury inside the glass. It’s not much – about what would fit on the tip of ballpoint pen – but if the bulb breaks, the mercury can be dangerous. If one breaks, you’re supposed to get children, pregnant women and pets out of the room, open the windows, turn off air conditioning or heating, put on rubber gloves and a mask, and carefully put the pieces into a sealed jar. (Read cleanup instructions from EWG here, and from EPA here (pdf)).


Disturbing as that description is, CFLs still pose less of a mercury problem than incandescent …

Dec. 30, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

The Fresno Bee’s Mark Grossi ran a piece this weekend about local deaths caused by air pollution. It must have left readers shaking their heads; indeed, that seems to have been the point. Here’s the lede:

The more than 800 people who died prematurely this year from breathing dirty San Joaquin Valley air are worth $6.63 million each, economists say. Relatives don't collect a dime, but society is willing to pay someone this price. Confused? You're not alone.

The story goes on to discuss just a few of the absurdities inherent in the process by which regulators put a dollar value on human lives lost – statistical lives, as they coldly refer to them. Grossi notes, for example, that different lives are valued differently – children’s lives are worth less than adults’. By the end of the piece, it’s hard to escape …

Dec. 29, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

David Fahrenthold had a powerful article in Saturday's Washington Post on the failures of Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts. The lede:

Government administrators in charge of an almost $6 billion cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay tried to conceal for years that their effort was failing -- even issuing reports overstating their progress -- to preserve the flow of federal and state money to the project, former officials say.

Devising accountability mechanisms to safeguard against just such problems with the Chesapeake Bay Program –– the multi-state effort to restore the Bay – was the purpose of a unique project of CPR’s this year. The effort yielded recommendations to help establish a framework for the accountability mechanism. Read more, here.

Dec. 24, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

The Mercatus Center is out with a new report focused on midnight regulations -- the last-minute regs pushed through by Presidents even as their successor’s inaugural parade reviewing stand is being constructed on the front stoop of the White House. President Bush and his political appointees at regulatory agencies are making considerable use of their midnight hour, working to adopt new regs that would weaken the Endangered Species Act, make it harder for women to get reproductive care, keep truckers behind the wheel for 14 sleep-defying hours a day, make it easier to get a permit to mine uranium on the edge of the Grand Canyon, weaken protections against toxic chemicals in the workplace and so much more. (For a frightening list of the Administration’s last-minute regulating, visit ProPublica’s impressive compilation.) In fairness to the Bush Administration, the Clinton Administration did something very similar. To …

Dec. 23, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

It breaks no new ground to observe that the Bush Administration’s record on respecting science and scientists is dismal. Three examples tell the tale:

  • The President’s 2001 decision to severely restrict federal support for stem cell research;
  • The President’s embrace of Intelligent Design – the latest ruse for insinuating the religious doctrine of Creationism into public school biology classes alongside evolution; and,
  • The one for which future generations may best remember George W. Bush: his active opposition to meaningful action on climate change, which went so far as to suppress EPA’s scientific findings on the subject.

Those and other examples have set off a long-running battle – eight years of running, to be precise – pitting scientists and advocates of science against White House and industry operatives. Defending the White House record through much of this was Science Advisor to the President John Marburger. It was …

Dec. 22, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

Last year at about this time, the toy giant Mattel was up to its ears in recalled toys - more than 20 million of them to be specific. Not a good posture for a toy company right before Christmas.


Nevertheless, there’s an argument to be made that Mattel caught something of a PR break out of the incident – or more accurately the series of incidents. I haven’t seen Mattel’s polling on it, but my hunch is that if you ask people what they remember from last year’s toy recalls, two things would come up: Chinese manufacturing and lead paint. Both of those things are on target, but they don’t quite tell the story. Eighty percent of toys sold in the United States are imported, primarily from China. Indeed, Mattel contracted with a Chinese company to produce more than a million toys that Mattel …

Dec. 13, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

CPR Member Scholar Catherine O’Neill has posted a blog entry on Marlerblog, discussing the conflict reportedly under way between the FDA and the EPA over whether to stop warning pregnant women against eating mercury-laden tuna.


Relying on studies that EPA staff scientists describe as, “scientifically flawed and inadequate,” FDA has forwarded to the White House a draft report arguing that the nutritive value of fish outweigh the dangers from mercury consumption.


After noting the shaky science undergirding the FDA’s case, O’Neill points out that the argument rests on the assumption that mercury-contaminated tuna is a regrettable but unchangeable fact of life, and that pregnant women have only two choices – eat or don’t eat mercury-laden fish. But mercury pollution isn’t a meteorological phenomenon. It’s the result of pollution. A better alternative, she argues, would be if the government did something meaningful to …

Dec. 10, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

CPR Member Scholar Frank Ackerman has an interesting piece in the November/December issue of Dollars and Sense magazine. He points out that the opponents of genuine action to prevent climate change have shifted their principal line of argument in an important way. Rather than arguing as they did through much of the 1990s and the first part of this decade that climate change isn’t real, or that it’s overstated, or that it’s a natural phenomenon about which we should not be concerned, or that we're all a bunch of extremist environmental wackos for worrying, they’re now arguing that doing much of anything about climate change will do violence to the economy.


Ackerman observes that opponents are making what is essentially a cost-benefit argument against meaningful action, suggesting that, at most, we should take baby steps so as to minimize economic impact …

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