March 9, 2011 by Ben Somberg

Adler Op-Ed: Utah Working to Shut the Door to Citizen Involvement in Environmental Decisions

CPR Member Scholar Robert Adler has an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune looking at a series of developments in Utah -- administrative actions as well as pending legislation -- that could hinder citizen engagement in environmental decisions. The context, write Adler, is this:

Whether or not one agrees that Tim DeChristopher was legally or morally justified in his civil disobedience as “bidder 70” in Bureau of Land Management oil and gas leases, virtually everyone asks why he did it.

I do not presume to speak for him. But one possible reason was surely his frustration about what he perceived as the ineffectiveness of other avenues to influence public decisions that affect his health and the quality of his environment.

It is ironic, therefore, that at the very time Mr. DeChristopher and his attorneys have been fighting to highlight this frustration, multiple levels of Utah’s state government have been working to systematically shut the door to other citizens who want to raise — through entirely lawful means — important questions about the quality of our air and water, the use of our public lands and resources, and the nature of the world we will leave to our children.

Adler's full op-ed is …

March 4, 2011 by Ben Somberg

Industry representatives have long made exorbitant claims about the costs of regulations, only to be proven wrong again and again. And despite that history, anti-regulatory campaigners repeat the scariest statistics their own experts come up with, even if those statistics were meant to include a range of possible outcomes, or included caveats of uncertainty.

An important batch of articles this week dug into these issues. Here are some of the highlights:

Associated Press:

Yet in testimony before House committees now run by anti-regulation Republicans, industry witnesses repeat numbers from imprecise economic models. Members of Congress often cite the same figures without the researchers' caveats.


... industry lobbyists warned in 1990 that the latest round of Clean Air Act amendments would mean a “quiet death for businesses across the country.” Businesses claimed the acid rain emissions trading program would cost ratepayers $5.5 billion annually between 1990 and …

Jan. 25, 2011 by Ben Somberg

Momentum for Chesapeake Bay restoration has advanced significantly in the past two years, shaped by the combination of President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order and the EPA’s Bay-wide Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process. These federal initiatives, taken in partnership with the Bay states, required the Bay states and the District of Columbia to submit Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) to demonstrate how they will meet the pollution targets in the applicable TMDLs.

In August, CPR sent the Chesapeake Bay watershed jurisdictions (Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia) metrics by which our panel of water quality experts would judge the strength of the plans; we also submitted comments to the states in November on their draft plans. The states’ final plans were submitted to EPA in November and December.

The state plans fail to provide a …

Jan. 19, 2011 by Ben Somberg

In case anyone thought the White House would seek additional appropriations to hire new agency staffers to do the regulatory look back work, it sure sounds like a no. Here's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Cass Sunstein speaking on Federal News Radio:

"Agencies are in the best position to make choices about which rules to review and justify whether they need to be modified" he said. "The Executive Order makes clear that the look back process will occur with full understanding of the agency's priority settings and resource constraints in a tough budgetary environment. So we expect the agencies will take this process very seriously but do so in way that recognizes resources are not unlimited."

Sunstein said agencies will have to find a way to do the look back based on the resources they have already.

"I don't anticipate any additional …

Jan. 5, 2011 by Ben Somberg

Representative Darrell Issa, the incoming chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has made his views on regulations fairly clear. Earlier this week, for example, he scored headlines when his office gave out a document publicizing the issues his committee will take up. From the document: "The committee will examine how overregulation has hurt job creation..."

No surprise; that's about the line we'd expect from Issa.

But someone in Issa's office must have recognized a problem: Won't the investigations not quite have the same credibility or punch if the investigator himself has already announced his conclusion?

Perhaps that’s why Rep. Issa's spokesman, Kurt Bardella, took a different tack this same week, telling Politico: "Is there a pattern emerging? Is there a consistent practice or regulation that hurts jobs? Until you have all the facts, you really can't make …

Dec. 23, 2010 by Ben Somberg

Two years ago this week, an earthen wall holding back a giant coal ash impoundment failed in Kingston, Tennessee, sending more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry over nearby land and into the Emory River. The ash had chemicals including arsenic, lead, and mercury. Clean up costs could be as much as $1.2 billion.

The coal ash issue is not "new" -- toxic chemicals from unlined coal ash pits have been leaching into the ground for a long time. But the Kingston disaster, and a new administration, brought attention back to the issue and its continuing danger. One-third of some 629 dump sites that hold ash mixed with water were not designed by a professional engineer, and 96 are at least 40 feet tall and 25 years old.

Just weeks after Kingston, in January, 2009, Lisa Jackson faced her confirmation hearing for EPA Administrator. Senators …

Dec. 21, 2010 by Ben Somberg

A few stories from the last week that I thought deserved noting:

  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrapped up a rather impressive 8-day series Sunday on air pollution in 14 counties of southwestern Pennsylvania. Ultimately, the paper found that "14,636 more people died from heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer in the region from 2000 through 2008 than national mortality rates for those diseases would predict. Those diseases have been linked to air pollution exposure. After adjusting for slightly higher smoking rates in Pennsylvania, the total number of excess deaths from those three diseases is 12,833." One of the stories looked at inadequate enforcement efforts.
  • The Knoxville News Sentinel Tennessean checked in on the search for justice two years after the Kingston coal ash disaster: "In all, more than 400 people have filed a total of 55 lawsuits against TVA and, in several of those cases …

Dec. 6, 2010 by Ben Somberg

With the 40th anniversary of EPA last week, there's been some useful writing on the big picture of the history. I wanted to highlight:

  • Steve Cochran at EDF has the first in a series on the Clean Air Act and its record of protecting us from pollutants. Post one: the acid rain program.
  • Ruth Greenspan Bell at World Resources Institute takes us through some of the history to show that for EPA regulations, cost predictions are overstated.
  • Lisa Jackson outlined her view of the record of EPA accomplishments in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. EPA also put together a series of photos to remind folks of what it was like in the old days.

Important reminders, I think.

Nov. 19, 2010 by Ben Somberg

Senator Mary Landrieu released her hold on the nomination of Jacob Lew for Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the Senate confirmed Lew by voice vote Thursday evening.

Back when Lew had his confirmation hearings, CPR President Rena Steinzor wrote here about the challenges Lew will face on the regulatory front ("OMB Nominee Jacob Lew, Meet Broken Regulatory State").

Nov. 19, 2010 by Ben Somberg

"In order for CBA cost benefit analysis to be workable, regulators need to have a relatively restricted range of possibilities." That's what OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein wrote in a 2007 book. So how about from $82 billion to negative $251 billion, a third of a trillion dollars – is that a relatively restricted range?

Those are the estimated net benefit figures, over 50 years, in the Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) for EPA's "strong" coal ash regulation proposal. Do those numbers actually mean much? No. Yet there they are, trumpeted as if they have meaning. They don't.

As regular readers know, the regulation of coal ash has been quite the journey. We take the next step in the trek today, when the public comment period ends on EPA's current proposals. CPR President Rena Steinzor submitted comments on the coal ash rulemaking this morning (press release …

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