Sept. 25, 2009 by Ben Somberg

Workplace Safety News This Week

The Chemical Safety Board released its report Thursday on the 2008 explosion at the Imperial Sugar plant in Georgia, finding that the incident was "entirely preventable" (Reuters article, full report). Ken Ward Jr. gave helpful context for the announcement and followed up afterward with the criticism from unions for the Chemical Safety Board's "decision to not repeat its previous recommendations that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration write tough standards regulating combustible dust in America’s workplaces." Celeste Monforton applauded Georgia Senators Chambliss and Isakson for calling on OSHA to issue regulations on combustible dust.

Also on Thursday, a study by PEER announced that "Workplace Exposures Rise as OSHA Health Inspections Fall" --

The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration is doing fewer health inspections despite more workplace exposures to toxic and hazardous substances, according to an analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). While workplace exposures are linked to the premature deaths of 10 times more workers than all workplace accidents combined, OSHA now spends less than 5% of its limited resources on workplace health protection.

Last but not least, another item from Monforton, "Dispelling an OSHA Myth," tells the story of a plant …

Sept. 21, 2009 by Ben Somberg

As first reported by Law 360 on Thursday:

In a decision reversing a ruling in favor of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a federal appeals court has chastised the agency's Office of Civil Rights for what the court said was its apparent failure to consider alleged civil rights violations in a timely manner.

“What the district court initially classified as an 'isolated instance of untimeliness' has since bloomed into a consistent pattern of delay by the EPA,” wrote Judge A. Wallace Tashima in the three-judge panel's opinion, filed Thursday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Here's the opinion, and more from Greenwire. Chris Winter of the Crag Law Center, the Rosemere Neighborhood Association's attorney in the case, declares in a press release: “For years, EPA’s Office of Civil Rights ignored civil rights complaints from all across …

Sept. 9, 2009 by Ben Somberg

Late this afternoon the Senate ended debate, in a 63-35 cloture vote, on the nomination of Cass Sunstein for Administrator of the Office of Information and Reuglatory Affairs (OIRA). Here's a quick look back at what CPR scholars have said about the Sunstein nomination and the role of OIRA in regulatory policy:

Sept. 4, 2009 by Ben Somberg

The AP reports:

A federal judge presiding over hundreds of lawsuits against Chinese drywall makers and installers said Thursday that he plans to hold the first trial in January for the cases, which claim the imported products emit sulfur, methane and other chemical compounds that have ruined homes and harmed residents' health.

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon told attorneys that he expects them to pick six plaintiffs whose cases could be tried in early 2010, with the first trial starting in January.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, in its August drywall update, reported that new complaints continue to come in, and "the majority of the reports continue to be from Florida, Louisiana, and Virginia." And:

To date, CPSC staff has confirmed 6,211,200 sheets of Chinese drywall were imported into the U.S., plus 28,778 sheets imported into Guam, Saipan, and American Samoa during …

Sept. 1, 2009 by Ben Somberg

A recent article on, "China: Where Poisoning People Is Almost Free," gave great examples of just how cheap it often is to pollute in China. And it pointed to potential consequences:

While companies can get away with pollution atrocities for years, the Chinese government, in the long run, may have to pay a high price for allowing it: political instability triggered by the unanswered grievances of pollution victims.

Manufacturers, of course, can and have moved overseas to countries -- China being a major destination -- with light pollution controls.

So if poisoning people in China is 'almost free,' what about here? There are costs to upgrading plant technologies to meet regulations, and costs for the pollution permits themselves, for example. And it's a good thing we have the environmental laws and regulations we do.

But what if you're a non-point source of pollution? Say, the …

Aug. 18, 2009 by Ben Somberg

If you haven't caught it yet, Mother Jones magazine's cover article on Fiji Water, by Anna Lenzer, is an impressive, provocative bit of reporting ("How did a plastic water bottle, imported from a military dictatorship thousands of miles away, become the epitome of cool?"). Fiji responded, and Lenzer responds to that.

Aug. 15, 2009 by Ben Somberg

At Netroots Nation, the annual liberal blogger conference, organizations, candidates, and of course bloggers get together to talk. It's informal. North Carolina's Rep. Brad Miller, among several electeds at the conference, was sporting jeans by Friday.

The focus among the environmental folks, not surprisingly, is climate change. The enviros here have qualms with the Waxman-Markey bill, but most are in the mindset of trying to get a Senate bill passed.

Speaking on a panel Friday, Rep. Jay Inslee, of Washington, expressed some optimism. He said that he, along with fellow Energy and Commerce Committee members Markey and Boucher, had met with a group of 14 "moderate" Senators, and: "I've never seen this happen before ... There were members of the U.S. Senate actually listening to members of the U.S. House." He said these Senators were, as the saying goes, looking for ways to …

Aug. 4, 2009 by Ben Somberg

CPR Member Scholar Thomas McGarity testified this afternoon at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on the issue of medical device safety (written testimony, press release).

Currently, individuals injured by a faulty medical device generally cannot sue the device manufacturer in state courts if that device was fully approved by the FDA, even if the manufacturer was aware of new research showing faults in the product. The Senate is considering a bill that would exempt state common law claims from the express preemption clause in the Medical Device Amendments to the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. The House is considering a similar bill.

"The implicit assumption in preempting medical device injury claims in state courts is that the FDA can and is performing its job perfectly, but that's just not the case," McGarity says. "Common law still has an important …

July 31, 2009 by Ben Somberg

More New Yorkers are fishing off area piers in this economy, and, in many cases, eating unsafe amounts of fish contaminated with PCBs and mercury. That was the thrust of a NY Daily News report earlier this month. They also reported that there were extremely few signs alerting the public to any kind of danger. New York City official soon responded that they'd put up more warning signs.

CPR Member Scholar Catherine O'Neill discussed the fish contamination issues on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show on Wednesday.

O'Neill says that warning signs have regularly proven ineffective across the country. The information often fails to reach and inform its intended audience. Among other things, signs often don't cover all the languages they'd need to, and advisories frequently fail to convey complex information in a way that is understandable. In addition, the alternatives suggested (or …

July 7, 2009 by Ben Somberg

It was, as Greenwire put it, a rough term for environmental interests; in five separate cases the Supreme Court overturned rulings that environmentalists had favored.

CPR Member Scholar Amy Sinden told the NYTimes of one of the themes:

“It’s become a cliché to say the Roberts court is about the expansion of executive power ... and I think it’s true of these environmental cases as well. The court gave the Bush administration discretion. That certainly leaves the Obama administration with discretion to act as well.”

Below is a recap of CPR Member Scholars' reactions to some of the key cases of the term.

Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council Holly Doremus:

In truth, nobody in the environmental community welcomed the decision—and it certainly wasn't a great day to be a whale—but the decision itself is neither surprising nor sweeping. ... According to the decision …

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