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Oct. 31, 2012 by Daniel Farber

Redeeming FEMA: How the Agency has Been Strengthened Since Katrina

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Today’s FEMA is a lot different from the organization that flubbed the Katrina response. There have been a number of positive changes, mostly during the past four years.

First, as the Washington Post explains, FEMA’s authority has expanded:

Congress has broadened FEMA’s authority so that the agency can respond in advance of major storms, instead of waiting for governors to request federal aid after a disaster strikes. The measures earned plaudits from then-Gov. Haley Barbour (R) of Mississippi and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) of Louisiana — usually tough Obama critics — and professional emergency managers who had sought the changes for years.

Second, unlike the hapless “Brownie” who headed FEMA during Katrina, the current director is an experienced professional. W. Craig Fugate was the head of the highly regarded Florida emergency response agency under Governor Jeb Bush. Fugate began his career as a firefighter, then became head of emergency management in Gainesville, Florida, before going to work for Bush. He knows what he’s doing.

Third, FEMA has new management procedures. Using a new system called FEMAStat, the agency is monitoring outcomes and tying them to program activities, providing important feedback for planning. The agency …

Oct. 29, 2012 by Daniel Farber
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

The federal role in disaster response dates back to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, when General Funston sent troops from the Presidio to deal with the city’s desperate emergency. Governor Romney seems dubious about this century-old federal role. During one of the GOP primary debates, Governor Romney was asked what he thought about the idea of transferring FEMA’s responsibilities to the states. This is what he said:

Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?

John King, the moderator, then asked, “Including disaster …

Oct. 26, 2012 by Robert Verchick
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If you like sparkling diamonds and saffron saris, you will love Surat, India’s bustling, no-nonsense city, some 250 kilometers north of Mumbai, near the Arabian Sea. If you’re wearing a new diamond, there’s an 80% chance its was shaped by Surati hands (and laser beams too). And nearly every Indian has something in the closet from Surat—which is what you’d expect from a city whose clattering looms churn out 30 million meters of raw fabric a day.

But Surat, with a population of 4.5 million, faces big challenges too. Its proximity to the Tapti River delta—a strategic advantage in trade—also makes Surat a flood magnet. In the last 20 years, the city has been drowned by three major floods caused by emergency releases from an upstream dam. Lesser floods, caused by hard rains, occur more frequently, interrupting local business …

Oct. 25, 2012 by Thomas McGarity
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In the week before Christmas last year, 14-year-old Anais Fournier went to Valley Mall in Hagerstown, Maryland with some friends.  While there she purchased and consumed a 24-ounce can of an energy drink manufactured by the Monster Beverage Corporation.  She returned to the mall the next day and consumed another Monster energy drink.  Later that evening, while she was watching a movie at home with her boyfriend, she went into cardiac arrest. She died four days later on the day before Christmas Eve.  An autopsy concluded that she had died of “cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity.”

Thanks to the efforts of her mother to get to the bottom of the matter, Anais’s untimely death may stimulate new efforts to regulate sports drinks and other potentially dangerous dietary supplements and to hold companies accountable in courts of law for their irresponsible marketing strategies.

Anais’s mother …

Oct. 24, 2012 by Daniel Farber
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Deregulation is one of Mitt Romney’s five steps in his plan to add jobs.  But how do we supposedly know that deregulation will add jobs?  It’s a fascinating story, featuring a Nobel laureate’s economic model.  The model is very fancy, lots of complex math, but it’s justified on the basis of a discredited study.

The story begins with a new white paper from the Romney campaign. Four leading economists attempt to provide an explanation of the campaign’s job claims.  In terms of deregulation, the white paper says, “Recent research by Ellen McGratten and Nobel laureate Edward Prescott concludes that higher regulatory costs reduced both R&D and fixed investment during the financial crisis and its aftermath; and regulations continue to increase.”  So getting rid of regulations will increase jobs, apparently. This one paper is the sole basis given for …

Oct. 18, 2012 by Amy Sinden
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The Clean Water Act turns 40 today.   One of the remarkable things about those four decades is the extent to which the Act has largely withstood repeated attempts by industry to water down its technology-based standard-setting provisions with cost-benefit analysis.   Just three years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper, environmentalists largely lost one skirmish in this ongoing war, but the legacy of that opinion may actually be less harmful to the statute’s ability to protect clean water than appears at first blush.  Understanding all that requires going back to the origins of the Act.

It’s not that there wasn’t a federal statute aimed at preventing water pollution back before 1972.   It’s just that the old statute wasn’t working.   A key problem was that the old statute set standards based on the water quality of a river …

Oct. 18, 2012 by Michael Patoka
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CPR President Rena Steinzor and Member Scholar Thomas McGarity sent a letter this morning to Paul Verkuil, Chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), taking the independent federal agency to task for its increasingly apparent bias toward the views of industry groups and its troubling alliance with current and former officials at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  By repeatedly partnering with groups engaged in destructive battles with the agencies that write protective regulations, ACUS deviates from its stated mission of “providing nonpartisan expert advice and recommendations for improvement of federal agency procedures,” argue Steinzor and McGarity.

After losing its funding in 1995, ACUS was officially revived in 2010 at the urging of a broad spectrum of experts and organizations, including public interest groups, some of which are represented among ACUS’ membership.  As Steinzor and McGarity write:

One reason advanced …

Oct. 18, 2012 by Aimee Simpson
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Last week I visited a dairy farm with my two year-old son.  Complete with hayrides, homemade ice cream, cows mooing, and a bluegrass band, the fall festival provided us with some good, wholesome entertainment.  My son giggled as the baby cows licked his hand, oohed and awed at the fluffy baby chicks, and, of course, consumed the decadent ice cream as if I had not fed him in weeks. 

It was a memorable scene for us city-dwellers, but as my son climbed over hay bails and pretended to drive a tractor, I found myself longing for the ignorance of childhood.  Because as he moved from one gleeful experience to the other, questions filled my mind as I took in each detail of the land and farming process.  As I listened to the tour leader describe the careful separation of sick and antibiotic-treated cows during the milking process …

Oct. 17, 2012 by Robert Verchick
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VARANASI -- We slip into the river at night, and with an easy stroke, our oarsman moves our boat across the chestnut waters of “Mother Ganga,” India’s Ganges River.

Spiritual life in Varanasi (also called Benares) is a passion. Hindus all over India save their money for the chance to visit this holy city and bathe in Ganga’s purifying waters. At sunrise, along the string of bathing steps called “ghats,” you’ll see hundreds of people of all shapes and sizes soaping up in the water, praying, laughing and chatting, or just bobbing along. At the so-called “burning ghats,” open-air cremations take place twenty-four hours a day in quiet ceremonies attended by family and curious onlookers. But this evening, my family and another, visiting from Maharashtra, are on our way to watch the Ganga Aarti, a Hindu ceremony of music and prayer devoted to Mother Ganga …