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Dec. 14, 2009 by Ben Somberg

Forgive the Obvious, But: Not All Hydraulic Fracturing is Created Equal

In this morning's "Underused Drilling Practices Could Avoid Pollution," ProPublica has more important reporting on hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting chemicals at high pressure under deep rock to extract natural gas. Reports Abrahm Lustgarten:

Energy companies have figured out how to drill wells with fewer toxic chemicals, enclose wastewater so it can't contaminate streams and groundwater, and sharply curb emissions from everything from truck traffic to leaky gas well valves.

...

Yet these environmental safeguards are used only intermittently in the 32 states where natural gas is drilled. The energy industry is exempted from many federal environmental laws, so regulation of this growing industry is left almost entirely to the states, which often recommend, but seldom mandate the use of these techniques.

If natural gas is to be a growing 'bridge' energy source in coming years, will we mandate that the industry do what's possible to protect the residents affected by hydraulic fracturing?

Previously in this space: Yee Huang explained how hydraulic fracturing escapes Safe Drinking Water Act regultion and Rena Steinzor lamented calls for state regulation of fracking (as opposed to federal regulation).

Dec. 12, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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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

.

Dec. 12, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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We noted earlier this month that a U.S. Small Business Administration official had claimed that the danger of workplace noise was solved just as well with earplugs as it is with reducing the noise at its source -- despite extensive research to the contrary ("Presidential Appointee at SBA Maligns OSHA's Industrial Noise Proposal; Claims Ear Plugs "Solve" the Problem").

 

The official, Winslow Sargeant, Chief Counsel for Advocacy at the SBA, has since given a slightly different line. From BNA's Occupational Safety and Health Reporter (4/28):

We strongly support regulations that protect worker safety and health," Sargeant said. "But with regard to the noise rule, we were unable to evaluate whether this proposal was necessary, as a matter of safety, or whether it was economically feasible.

If SBA has indeed not evaluated the safety necessity, it's troubling that Sargeant had previously made such a …

Dec. 10, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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The below item is written by Celeste Monforton and cross-posted from The Pump Handle.

The first regulatory agenda under OIRA chief Cass Sunstein was published Monday in the Federal Register (link to its 237 pages.)  The document includes a narrative of Labor Secretary Solis’ vision for worker health and safety, mentioning these specific hazards: crystalline silica, beryllium, coal dust, airborne infectious agents, diacetyl, cranes and dams for mine waste.   The document purports to “demonstrate a renewed commitment to worker health,” yet the meat of the agenda tells a different story for particular long-recognized occupational health hazards.

Take, for example, MSHA’s entry on respirable coal mine dust, a pervasive hazard associated with reduced lung function, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, progressive massive fibrosis, and more.  Despite an announcement last week by Labor Secretary Solis and MSHA Asst. Secretary Joe Main saying they want to “end new cases of black …

Dec. 9, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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A few notes on the Chinese drywall issue from the past weeks:

The CPSC announced that it was expanding its investigation to include some American-made drywall, following some reports of similar problems -- bad odors and pipe corrosion. But meanwhile, the Bradenton Herald asked "Is scope of Chinese drywall problem exaggerated?" Reporter Duane Marsteller notes that "100,000" has become an often-repeated number for how many homes are affected, but that in fact it's quite unclear.

About 300 people rallied in Florida over the weekend calling for a stronger response to the issue. Floridians and Louisianans, and their members of Congress, remain upset over the speed of CPSC's response. Last week, a deadline passed for joining the big class action suit against Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. -- set to be heard in a U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans in February. The judge ordered the complaint …

Dec. 4, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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CPR Member Scholars Victor Flatt and David Hunter, along with several guest contributors, will be writing for CPRBlog from the climate talks in Copenhagen. Stay tuned.

Nov. 23, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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The Obama Administration is expected to issue revisions to Executive Order 12,866, which specifies how the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) supervises federal regulatory agencies as they develop regulations to protect health, safety, the environment, and more (see the full comments on the matter submitted by CPR's board members in March).

CPR President Rena Steinzor and Board Member Rob Glicksman have issued a backgrounder on the coming Executive Order -- explaining the context and setting out six specific criteria on which to judge the Order. They are:

  1. Does the new EO continue to require agencies to justify proposed rules by quantifying “benefits” in dollar terms only – thus inviting agencies to ignore benefits that defy such monetization?
  2. Does the new EO continue to apply a “discount rate” to benefits of regulatory protections that won’t be realized for several years to come? And if it …

Nov. 19, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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"Interior increases oversight of mountaintop mining" trumpets the AP, and "U.S. boosts coal mining oversight to fight pollution" says Reuters. That's in response to an announcement from Interior on Wednesday.

But on Coal Tattoo, and from NRDC and Sierra Club, one learns of a pretty different story.

Says NRDC's Rob Perks:

Why in the world would I have a problem with this? As I previously posted on the apparent "slow-walk" on this issue by the Interior Department, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar knows full well that President Bush's 'midnight regulation' loosened protections to allow coal companies to dump mining waste directly into streams, and he favors revoking that rule change to restore original "stream buffer zone" protections that were enacted back in 1983. But rather than having his agency propose that change right away and proceed straight to public input, the Interior Department's …

Nov. 6, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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For an analysis of the news from California this week -- where the legislature passed a group of bills Wednesday on water protection -- do check out Richard Frank on Legal Planet, who looks at the good and the less-than-good.

It commits substantial public funding and commitment to  desperately needed Delta ecosystem restoration. The bill package fundamentally re-organizes the state governance system that will oversee Delta regulatory, planning and restoration efforts. And it reflects long-overdue and necessary steps to address water rights enforcement and water conservation efforts on a statewide basis.

But, he says:

The water conservation mandates contained in the legislation are largely aspirational, and lack strong means of enforcement. The water rights reform provisions were greatly weakened in the course of the legislative debates, and it’s questionable at best whether they will have much long-term effect in reforming California’s dysfunctional water rights system. Finally–and …

Nov. 4, 2009 by Ben Somberg
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CPR Member Scholar Rebecca Bratspies has a piece on the Atlantic's food website today -- "Saving Seafood From Extinction" -- on how the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is making a last-ditch effort to overhaul the nation's devastated fisheries. The agency's new regulations -- including lower catch limites -- have faced some opposition, but the choice is clear, writes Bratspies:

Allowing this overfishing to continue means abandoning all hope of either stock recovery or a healthy fishery. Such a tactic doesn't do anybody any favors. Overfishing is disastrous not only for the fish but also for broader marine ecosystems, and ultimately for the fishing communities themselves. Those communities are already hurting, and the new restrictions will definitely cause more pain. But, business as usual is simply not an option. Current management practices have not only failed to restore fish stocks to sustainable levels but have often allowed …

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