May 28, 2009 by Holly Doremus

Sharing the Catch

Cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

According to Science Insider (subscription required), NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco has endorsed broader use of a “catch shares” approach to allocating the available catch in commercial fisheries. The shares strategy (also referred to as “individual transferable quotas” or “limited access privileges”) gives individual participants in the fishery a permanent and transferable right to a set proportion of the total allowable catch.

In theory, assigning shares should contribute in several ways to a more sustainable fishery. By limiting entry, a shares strategy should help address the chronic problem of over-capitalization — too many boats chasing too few fish — which tends to ratchet up pressure for high catch levels. By giving the fishers a long-term stake in the health of the fishery, it should give them incentives to support sustainable (reduced) catch levels. In some fisheries, shares can also make fishing safer by removing the pressure to catch as many fish as possible in as short a time as possible.

There is some evidence that reality matches the theory. Last fall, a group led by Chris Costello of UC Santa Barbara published a study in Science (subscription required) showing that catch shares fisheries worldwide are only half …

May 26, 2009 by Catherine O'Neill

Here's some slippery regulatory logic: West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection says it is justified in setting less stringent levels for mercury in the state's waters than recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Why? Because, according to the WVDEP, a recent study shows that people in West Virginia eat less fish than the "average American" assumed by EPA. And if people consume less fish, they will be exposed to lower quantities of the toxic pollutants in those fish -- including methylmercury. But why might people in West Virginia eat less fish? One reason is likely the statewide fish consumption advisory warning people to limit their consumption of fish caught in all West Virginia waters, due to mercury contamination. But isn't the amount of mercury contamination permitted in the state's waters limited by the WVDEP? Well, yes. But any limitations on sources …

May 22, 2009 by Matt Shudtz

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel continued its impressive BPA reporting Sunday with disturbing revelations about former FDA political appointees’ utter disregard for the agency’s career scientists. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Journal-Sentinel uncovered e-mails showing that high-level officials went to industry lobbyists for advice about new research on bisphenol A (BPA) before asking FDA career staff.

In one instance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's deputy director sought information from the BPA industry's chief lobbyist to discredit a Japanese study that found it caused miscarriages in workers who were exposed to it. This was before government scientists even had a chance to review the study.

"I'd like to get information together that our chemists could look at to determine if there are problems with that data in advance of possibly reviewing the study," Mitchell Cheeseman, deputy director of the FDA's center …

May 22, 2009 by Bill Funk

On Wednesday, by the stroke of a pen, President Obama reversed a major Bush administration policy, striking another blow for good government. For eight years the Bush administration sought to accomplish tort reform by stealth and indirection with several agencies proclaiming in preambles to regulations that the regulations preempted state tort law. These agencies included the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and most notably the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA's broadest claim -- that its drug labeling regulation preempted state tort law -- was rejected by the Supreme Court earlier this year in Wyeth v. Levine.

In a November 2008 White Paper, CPR Member Scholars called for the President to amend or strengthen the existing Executive Order on Federalism to reverse this Bush policy and to re-establish the presumption that federal regulations protecting health, safety, and the environment …

May 20, 2009 by Holly Doremus

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

In March, I wrote here about EPA’s newfound boldness on mountaintop removal mining. Under current regulations, the Corps of Engineers issues permits for that practice under Clean Water Act section 404, but EPA has the authority to veto those permits. EPA, which was entirely passive on the matter under the Bush administration, had sent objections to the Corps on a couple of permits, and announced that “it would take a close loook” at others.

It is now clear that a close look doesn’t mean blanket opposition. Nick Rahall, Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, has released a letter from EPA indicating that, of 48 permit applications the agency has reviewed, it has approved 42 and objected to only 6. Coal Tattoo (the Charleston Gazette’s blog on all things coal mining) has the story here …

May 19, 2009 by Victor Flatt

On Friday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released its anticipated Beta version of its comprehensive GHG and energy bill. Among other goals, the new discussion draft attempts to address concerns from moderate and conservative Democrats concerning the proposed cap and trade system and how it would work. The most notable change involves the free allocation of allowances to certain economic sectors to assist in the transition to the new system, and this is the part that seems to most directly respond to actual political pressures regarding the cost of controlling greenhouse gases.

With respect to offsets, the most problematic change is allowing the offsets, which are more uncertain than emission reductions, to be treated as equal in value to emissions allowances. The original Waxman-Markey discussion draft discounted all offsets by 20% with respect to equivalent greenhouse gas allowances, so that it took 1.25 offsets to …

May 18, 2009 by Matt Shudtz

On May 9, at the conclusion of the Fourth Conference of the Parties (COP-4) to the Stockholm Convention, negotiators from around the world agreed to add nine chemicals to the list of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are too dangerous for international trade. It was an important step toward protecting the world community from toxic exposures, but it unfortunately highlights our country's inability to take a leading role in international environmental law.

How it works

In 2001, representatives of nations from across the globe met in Stockholm to negotiate a treaty that would eliminate the production, distribution, and use of the most dangerous chemicals in the world marketplace. They originally agreed to phase out DDT, PCBs, and ten other substances known as the “dirty dozen” because of their high toxicity, ability travel great distances in air or water, and tendency to bioaccumulate in the food chain …

May 15, 2009 by Ben Somberg

On Tuesday, CPR Member Scholar Catherine O'Neill testified about mercury pollution from chlor-alkali plants at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection.

At least one in ten women of childbearing age in the United States has blood levels of mercury that threaten the neurological health of her newborn babies. Chlor-alkali plants are a major source of mercury pollution (which we are exposed to primarily through eating fish), even though only four of the plants in the United States still use a mercury-emitting technology. It's completely unnecessary, O'Neill argued, because the industry developed an alternative technology decades ago that does not use any mercury. Approximately 95 percent of chlor-alkali is produced using those newer processes, "diaphragm cell" and "membrane cell."

Said O'Neill: "For years now, we’ve tried waiting this problem out, allowing the …

May 14, 2009 by Ben Somberg

CPR President Rena Steinzor and Policy Analyst Matt Shudtz submitted formal comments this week to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) with policy recommendations for separating science from politics.

Back on March 9, President Obama issued a memorandum on scientific integrity, which outlined broad principles on the subject and requested that John Holdren, the director of OSTP, draw up a series of specific policy recommendations. CPR Member Scholars wrote a letter to Holdren with initial recommendations, and suggested opening the process to formal public comment. On April 27, the White House announced that they were doing just that.

The comments submitted by Steinzor and Shudtz on Wednesday give recommendations in response to each of the six broad principles that President Obama set out. Below is a summary of their recommendations.


Ensuring Selection and Retention of the Best-Qualified Candidates for Science & Technology Positions …

May 13, 2009 by Shana Campbell Jones

Yesterday, as the Executive Council for the Chesapeake Bay Program held its annual meeting, President Obama issued an Executive Order on Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration (a first), declaring the Chesapeake Bay a national treasure and signaling that EPA will play a strong role in leading Bay cleanup. For years, federal leadership on the Bay has been missing in action. President Obama's move is dramatic, and we dare to hope that this could be a turning point.

Among other things, the order:

  • Requires EPA to “examine how to make full use of its authorities under the Clean Water Act to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary waters”
  • Establishes a Federal Leadership Committee headed by EPA and including the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation to oversee program activities, including data management and reporting;
  • Requires the agencies identified as part …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
May 28, 2009

Sharing the Catch

May 26, 2009

Fish Tales from West Virginia

May 22, 2009

FDA Political Interference with BPA Science

May 22, 2009

Obama's Memo on Preemption -- Striking a Blow for Good Government

May 20, 2009

Mountaintop mining update

May 19, 2009

On Offsets, New Waxman-Markey Bill is a Mixed Bag

May 18, 2009

COP-4: Beyond the Dirty Dozen