March 31, 2009 by Rena Steinzor

Still Your Grandma's Cost-Benefit Analysis: Well-meaning Effort by Resources for the Future Falls Short of the Mark

Two years ago, a pair of well-meaning economists, Richard Morgenstern and Winston Harrington, who work at the moderate think tank Resources for the Future (RFF) got a large grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation to convene a group of well-credentialed academics to consider how to improve “cost-benefit analysis” (CBA). Unfortunately, their long-awaited report, released at a briefing today is a mouse that tries to roar, but doesn’t quite. The reforms proposed in the final chapter – and that are never endorsed by the report’s contributing experts – are your grandma’s version of cost-benefit analysis. Rather than presenting bold ideas that might somehow have transformed the cost-benefit methodology into something that, if adopted, would not hamper – and eventually embarrass – the Obama Administration, it instead offers up only modest tweaks.

Cost-benefit analysis, or “CBA,” is a controversial method of regulatory analysis invented by economists, and it relies on the belief that it is possible and reasonable to translate every “commodity”—including life, health, and nature – into money. Notice that I said “translate into money” rather than “reflect market realities in money.” As the recent economic meltdown has taught us, whatever sage and superior wisdom the economists claim to possess in comparison …

March 30, 2009 by Yee Huang

Rivers, lakes, and other water bodies across the country – including those that provide our drinking water – are contaminated with an eclectic cocktail of pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, and nutrientsGenetic mutations thought to exist only in the realm of science fiction are now readily observed in fish and other aquatic species.  Overall, the EPA estimates that only 12 percent of the nation’s waters have been surveyed, and of that small percentage more than half can no longer be used for at least one designated use.

A recent article in Inside EPA (subscription required) details plans inside the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen the protection of water by reviving a much-discussed but ill-fated rule to regulate water pollution from non-point sources. 

The Clean Water Act differentiates between point source (PS) pollution, which enters water through a discrete point of discharge, and non-point source (NPS) pollution, which enters water as …

March 27, 2009 by Rena Steinzor

Dangerous consumer products just can't seem to stay out of the news lately. The newest revelations are on drywall imported from China. Time reports the horrifying story of a 67-year-old dance teacher named Danie Beck whose two-story townhouse was lined with Chinese drywall. Beck smelled horrific odors shortly after moving in, and then began experiencing dizzy spells, insomnia, and sore joints. Eventually, she discovered the source of her misery: the drywall had somehow ended up with high levels of sulfur in the gypsum used to make it. The levels were so high that she and her homebuilder believe they corroded the coils on Beck’s air conditioning system, short circuited her electric wiring, and discolored her wood furniture. Can you imagine?

The Time story says that before 2005, very little of the drywall used in U.S. construction came from China. But escalating demand during the …

March 26, 2009 by James Goodwin

More than 100 groups and individuals have accepted the invitation from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to comment on the new Executive Order on Regulatory Review that the Obama Administration is currently considering.  The extended submission deadline is March 31.  So far, the comments reflect a strikingly wide dividing line between regulatory opponents, on the one side, and individuals and groups committed to protecting the public’s interest in health, safety, and environmental sustainability, on the other.

On the side of regulatory opponents, many conservative scholars (e.g., W. Kip Viscusi and Matthew D. Adler), free market think tanks and advocacy groups (e.g., Center for Regulatory Effectiveness and the Heritage Foundation), and various trade associations (e.g., American Chemistry Council, American Petroleum Institute, and American Trucking Association) have submitted comments pressing their support for the current institution of centralized regulatory review—overseen by the …

March 25, 2009 by Matthew Freeman

Late last week, the EPA sent over to the White House a preliminary “finding” that greenhouse gas emissions are a threat to public health, and therefore subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. It’s a simple conclusion, not hard to justify in terms of the science or the statute. But it’s momentous, in its way, because unless the White House has a sudden change of heart and blocks it somehow, it will fairly commit the federal government to actually doing something about climate change, at last.

It remains to be seen how the White House will respond, of course. But the very fact that we know the message was transmitted and will be considered by the White House Office of Management and Budget is progress. To fully appreciate that, a little history is in order. The Bush Administration had long resisted taking action on …

March 24, 2009 by Ben Somberg

CPR President Rena Steinzor and Member Scholar Wendy Wagner authored an op-ed in Monday's Austin American-Statesman and Cleveland's Plain Dealer with recommendations for President Obama's initiative for "science integrity."  On March 9, the President had instructed John Holdren, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), to develop a plan to achieve a goal of “ensuring the highest level of integrity in all aspects of the executive branch's involvement with scientific and technological processes.”

Steinzor and Wagner write that the plan should be broad enough to address more than just the dirty science of the Bush Administration:

During the Bush years, it was all too common for administration appointees to suppress or reshape scientific findings. But ending manipulation by political appointees is the low-hanging fruit of the bid to restore science to its rightful role in policymaking. It …

March 23, 2009 by Holly Doremus

This item is cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

Demonstrating once again the importance of presidential elections and appointments, the 9th Circuit has upheld the National Marine Fisheries Service’s policy on considering hatchery fish in listing Pacific salmonids. (Hat tip: ESA blawg.)

Hatchery fish can be a boon or a bane to salmon conservation. Because hatchery programs have emphasized production of fish for harvest, on the whole they have been far more harmful than helpful to wild fish over the last century.

Understanding the hatchery policy requires some background on salmon listings under the ESA. The law calls for the identification and protection of “species” which are “endangered” or “threatened.” It defines “species” to include subspecies and, for vertebrate species like salmon, “distinct population segments” which interbreed when mature. In 1991, NMFS developed a policy for recognizing distinct population segments of Pacific salmon, which it calls …

March 20, 2009 by Matt Shudtz

In his appearance on Jay Leno's show last night, President Obama argued (video, transcript) for financial regulations by making a comparison between credit cards, mortgages, and toasters:

"When you buy a toaster, if it explodes in your face there's a law that says your toasters need to be safe. But when you get a credit card, or you get a mortgage, there's no law on the books that says if that explodes in your face financially, somehow you're going to be protected."

But is there really a law that says your toasters must be safe? Well, not exactly. You are protected by the protection of last resort -- the right to sue in a civil court for damages if you are injured. But it shouldn't have to come to that; there should be some sort of protection enforced by government. Yet for thousands …

March 20, 2009 by Rena Steinzor

The financial cataclysm gripping the country is often (and rightly) blamed on a lax system of public and private oversight of financial institutions. On the private side, investors trusted huge auditing companies like Arthur Anderson to rate multinational corporations for fiscal soundness. Meanwhile, Arthur Anderson also took handsome fees from the same corporations to conduct those audits.  Such self-dealing makes no sense to most Americans.  No one lets us administer our own driving tests, much less check our own tax returns.

On the public side of the equation, we must consider the behavior of the government’s watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which was missing in action for much of the last decade.  Investors are so furious about this turn of events that some of Bernie Madoff’s victims have even filed suit against the SEC asking for money because the government ignored warnings from …

March 19, 2009 by Margaret Giblin

More than 10,000 oil and gas wells puncture the land within Pennsylvania's half-million acre Allegheny National Forest  (ANF)—more than in all the other national forests combined, according to the non-profit Allegheny Defense Project.  Back in the mid-1990s, about 100 new wells were drilled each year; today, it's about 1,300 per year.  The boom is driven by increased interest in and exploration of the Marcellus shale reservoir, a rock formation lying 5,000-8,000 feet below a large swath of Appalachia (including Pennsylvania) believed to hold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.  Accessing the Marcellus shale was long considered prohibitively expensive, but recent advances in drilling technology and the rising price of natural gas have combined to make production profitable. 

Environmental impacts of the drilling include land disturbance from construction of roads, pipelines and wellpads.  The deeper wells required to access the …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
March 31, 2009

Still Your Grandma's Cost-Benefit Analysis: Well-meaning Effort by Resources for the Future Falls Short of the Mark

March 30, 2009

Here Come the TMDLs?

March 27, 2009

The People's Agents: Sulfur in the Home, Brought to You by Drywall from China

March 26, 2009

What Others Are Saying About the Future of Regulatory Review

March 25, 2009

EPA Finding on Greenhouse Gases Puts Change in Motion

March 24, 2009

Steinzor and Wagner in Austin American-Statesman and Cleveland Plain Dealer

March 23, 2009

Time for NMFS to lead on hatcheries