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Sept. 29, 2021 by M. Isabelle Chaudry

Pushing for a Heat Stress Standard in Maryland and Beyond

A recent Maryland law requires the state's Commissioner of Labor and Industry, in consultation with its Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board, to develop and adopt regulations that require employers to protect employees from heat-related illness caused by heat stress. Those standards are due by October 2022.

The law also requires the state to hold four public meetings to collect input from residents. This month, the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Division (MOSH) scheduled those meetings, and I testified at the September 20 session.

As I stated during the hearing, CPR is pleased that Maryland will issue a standard requiring employers to protect workers from heat-related illnesses this session. I and other advocates urged MOSH to address the dangers of working in the heat and the immediate need for the standard.

As noted in my testimony, farmworkers are predominantly Black and brown, and many are from Indigenous and Afro-descended backgrounds, and they often earn wages below the federal poverty level. What’s more, farmworkers may not be authorized to work in the United States, which can cause fear of job loss and even deportation if they complain of or report poor working conditions. Farmworkers play an important role in our …

Sept. 23, 2021 by Joel Mintz
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Addresses by national leaders to the United Nations General Assembly are often broad expressions of lofty ideals, and President Joe Biden's speech Tuesday fell squarely into that category. It covered an extraordinary panoply of global challenges and policy concerns, including controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuilding and strengthening global alliances and regional initiatives, curbing terrorism, protecting human rights (including the rights of women and workers) and lifting up democracy. Biden also committed the United States to advancing human dignity, combating corruption and seeking peace in areas of conflict around the world.

Of particular importance were Biden's remarks regarding the global climate change crisis. Observing that "we stand at an inflection point in history," Biden outlined a stark choice between "meeting the threat of climate change" or suffering "the merciless march of ever-worsening droughts and floods, more intense fires …

Sept. 22, 2021 by Clarissa Libertelli
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Amid the latest wave of voter suppression laws across the nation, Senate Democrats last week unveiled new voting rights legislation.

This legislation aims to safeguard the voting rights of millions of Americans. Ensuring access to the ballot for all eligible citizens is, of course, crucial to the health and integrity of American democracy. More than that, though, it is an essential precondition for the effective functioning of our regulatory system. Put simply: When voters’ voices are suppressed, lawmakers and agency officials may be less responsive to their needs — and more likely to favor those of corporations and other special interests. 

Public support for regulations

Corporations often fight any regulations that threaten to restrict their profits; the general public, however, strongly supports protective regulations across the political spectrum. 

This is true even of issues that provoke sharp disagreements among elected officials. When it comes to addressing pollution and …

Sept. 21, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt, Natalia Cabrera
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This post was originally published by the Chesapeake Accountability Project. Reprinted with permission.

Maryland is home to more than 1,000 industrial facilities, including landfills, auto salvage yards, hazardous waste treatment, storage sites, and various types of manufacturing and processing plants. When it rains or snows, toxic pollution often runs off these facilities and enters nearby waterways and groundwater resources, negatively impacting aquatic life, nearby communities, and drinking water sources.

The problem — known as industrial stormwater pollution — is dire in Maryland. More industrial facilities are being built in the state, and precipitation intensity is increasing more quickly in the Chesapeake Bay region than elsewhere in the United States, threatening public and environmental health. Low-income people and communities of color are at heightened risk.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) requires industrial facilities not covered by individual permits to obtain a general permit for industrial stormwater. This …

Sept. 14, 2021 by Martha McCluskey
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This post was originally published on LPE Blog as part of a symposium on vulnerability theory and law and political economy (LPE). Reprinted with permission.

Assumptions about the human condition shape the legal rules and institutions that structure the economy and state. By re-centering law on a clearer understanding of the human subject, vulnerability theory can strengthen law and political economy (LPE) efforts to address accelerating threats to democracy, equality, and the environment. In particular, vulnerability theory responds to neoliberalism’s use of the liberal ideal of individual autonomy to undermine liberal goals of democracy, human rights, and equality. Those goals can be better advanced and defended by affirming the universal human fact and societal value of embodied, embedded beings.

Law plays a leading role in disseminating and legitimating neoliberal ideas. Yet, legal theory has lagged in addressing neoliberalism as a paradigm shift. As Corinne Blalock astutely …

Sept. 10, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The Biden administration is looking to make big regulatory changes, not least regarding climate change. Yet the White House office overseeing regulations is vacant. The obscurely named Office of Regulatory Affairs and Information (OIRA) has to sign off on all significant regulations. Even the dilatory Donald Trump had nominated a permanent administrator by July of his first year. Biden's delay in filling this important office is hard to defend.

The main reason for the delay is probably that Biden doesn't have the OIRA administrator's boss in place, either. Biden's nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had to be withdrawn when her Senate support evaporated. That was on March 2, however, and there's still no new OMB nomination six months later. Maybe the reason is an inability to find a candidate who can …

Sept. 9, 2021 by Darya Minovi
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On August 29, Hurricane Ida pummeled Louisiana’s coastline with winds as high as 150 miles per hour and a storm surge of up to nine feet, flooding communities and destroying homes. The Category 4 storm displaced thousands of people and left 1 million without power — all as the coronavirus surge overwhelms hospitals across the state.

Amid this chaos, Louisianans faced yet another hazard — the risk of exposure to toxic pollutants from explosions, flares, and accidental releases at disabled, damaged, or flooded industrial facilities.

A week after the storm made landfall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Response Center (NRC), which collects reports on oil, chemical, radiological, biological, and etiological discharges into the environment, had received more than 170 incident reports related to Ida. Many of these were in Louisiana, and 17 were air releases. Yet little is known about the effects as 13 …

Sept. 8, 2021 by Jennifer Nichols, Allison Stevens
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Soaring rates of voluntary resignations, widespread labor shortages, and the ubiquity of "Help Wanted" signs put the "labor" back in the Labor Day holiday this year, as employers struggle to respond to a jobs market that seems, for once, to have given workers the upper hand.

Story after story blames current labor market conditions on "burnout," an occupational phenomenon the World Health Organization describes as a combination of symptoms that includes emotional exhaustion and reduced personal accomplishment. "Burnout — and opportunity — are driving record wave of quitting," the Deseret (Utah) News declared in August.

But what if the diagnosis — or rather, what we call it — is a symptom of the real problem? Naming the phenomenon for its toll on workers, rather than for the working conditions that drive it, skews our understanding of what's wrong and how to fix it.

The word "burnout" calls to mind …

Sept. 6, 2021 by Minor Sinclair
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New dynamics are shaping the labor market, labor organizing and labor policies

Economists are scratching their heads furiously — why is there a labor shortage amidst high unemployment? Everywhere employers are posting “Help Wanted” signs but still face shortage of workers. Construction projects are stymied, retail shops are half-staffed and produce rots in the fields all because of a lack of workers. There is no fresh supply of “essential workers” who are surging into the job market.

The conservative view, that people don’t want to work and that the unemployment benefits are a disincentive, has been debunked by the evidence. An academic study analyzed the effect of cutting unemployment benefits (done in 26 states which are all but one led by Republican governors). On employment rates, the impact was negligible — only 7 of 8 people who were dropped from unemployment rolls actually gained jobs. But for households …

Sept. 3, 2021 by M. Isabelle Chaudry
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Labor Day got its start in the late 19th Century, when labor activists pushed for a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers make to America’s strength, prosperity, and wellbeing.

In addition to our usual picnics and barbeques, we should spend this day uplifting laborers who work in conditions in dire need of regulation — including those exposed to extreme heat or who work in hot environments.

Physical activity makes it difficult for the body to cool itself down, especially as temperatures and humidity rise. The effects can be dangerous, ranging from dizziness, nausea, cramps, exhaustion, and vomiting to faster heart rates and deadly heatstroke. Exposure to extreme heat can also exacerbate preexisting respiratory and heart conditions.

People who work in hot conditions are in special danger. Indeed, heat killed 815 workers on the job between 1992 and 2017 and seriously injured 70,000 more, according …

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