May 13, 2009 by Shana Campbell Jones

Obama's Executive Order on the Chesapeake - a First

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 of the Federal Leadership Committee to make recommendations within 120 days on the regulations, policies, and programs needed to restore Bay water quality, as well as on how resources under the Farm Bill should be targeted to better protect Bay waters;
  • Requires the Federal Leadership Committee to define goals for the Bay and …

May 13, 2009 by Rena Steinzor

Cass Sunstein had his confirmation hearing Tuesday; it was well-attended and anti-climactic. President Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) testified for about an hour, and Senate approval of the nomination seems assured.

Ironically, in a perfect example of timing being everything, at about the same hour that Sunstein took his seat in front of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, a story hit the media fan in Washington showing that for the past several months, it has been business-as-usual between OMB and EPA with respect to climate change, with the economists of the first subjecting the scientists of the second to a gauntlet of skeptical questions about whether responding to this urgent problem will cost too much. Had the story broken 24 hours earlier, Sunstein would have had his hands …

May 12, 2009 by Ben Somberg

With Cass Sunstein's confirmation hearing for "regulatory czar" set for today, CPR Member Scholars Catherine O'Neill and Amy Sinden have an op-ed on the subject in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer -- "The cost-benefit dodge." They write: 

Beginning in the Reagan administration, any regulation with a significant impact has had to pass through Information and Regulatory Affairs' doors for approval. The office's role, frankly, has been to water down health, safety, and environmental regulations - if not drown them entirely.


Once confirmed, Cass Sunstein will face a choice: rely on cost-benefit analysis with the zeal his past writings suggest he would, modify the process in the hope that it can somehow be mended, or abandon it in favor of a better method. The decision he makes will have profound consequences.

Let's hope we find out what his choice will be during his confirmation hearing. And …

May 11, 2009 by Shana Campbell Jones

Cattle, chickens, and hogs create more than 500 million tons of manure in the United States annually – three times more than the sanitary waste produced by people. Yet, in contrast to a concerted federal and state effort to fund and build sewage treatment plants since the Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972, dealing with the water pollution problems caused by animal waste has been like wrestling a greased pig – a stinky, frustrating mess.

Regulating agricultural waste in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has been no less frustrating than in any other area of the country. And it’s no secret that nitrogen and phosphorous loadings from manure are killing the Bay. Recent developments in the Bay watershed, however, could signal a new direction on regulating Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs – factory farms) and the application of manure to cropland by farmers. An emerging coalition of 40 environmental …

May 7, 2009 by Holly Doremus

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

The National Environmental Policy Act, which became law on January 1, 1970, is the oldest of the major federal environmental laws. It has been a model for environmental assessment laws in numerous states and other nations, but it still comes in for a lot of criticism at home.

Some criticisms are surely justified. As Dan pointed out here, NEPA has yet to fulfill the promise of its lofty goals. NEPA has never quite managed to make environmental impacts central to federal decisions at the conceptual level, the point where key choices are made about what initiatives to pursue and what priorities to assign. Predictions about environmental impacts or the effectiveness of mitigation are hardly ever later reviewed. And in too many cases, environmental analysis is simply used to paper over decisions that have effectively already been made; in …

May 6, 2009 by Rena Steinzor

Cass Sunstein, President Obama's controversial nominee for Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), will go before the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for his confirmation hearing on Tuesday (May 12). The “Regulatory Czar,” as this position is known, wields enormous influence over the substance of federal regulations affecting matters as diverse as public health and safety, the environment, and education.

Professor Sunstein's nomination has attracted attention from the public interest community, largely focused on the many controversial stances on regulatory policy that he has taken in his legal scholarship. Here are some of the things I will be listening for when I go to the hearing on Tuesday:

  • Does Professor Sunstein recognize that the federal regulatory agencies are in a severely weakened state? The federal regulatory agencies that the American people depend upon to protect them from pollution, unsafe products, workplace …

May 6, 2009 by Ben Somberg

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will mix it up with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show tomorrow (Thursday) night. reports:

Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff told CNN that Salazar is looking forward to talking about "his work implementing President Obama's vision for building a clean energy economy and his efforts to protect America's treasured landscapes. Time permitting, of course, the Secretary will be glad to offer Stewart some fashion tips, including how best to sport a cowboy hat and bolo tie."

Salazar will be the first Interior Secretary to appear on the show. We'll check it out.

May 5, 2009 by Alejandro Camacho

On Thursday, Rep. Raul Grijalva introduced HR 2192, a bill on adapting to the impacts of climate change. The law would establish a "Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Panel" that would create a plan for several federal agencies to anticipate and seek to mitigate the effects of a changed planet.

The bill is very similar to the natural resource adaptation provisions (Title IV, Subtitle E, Subpart C) in the Waxman-Markey draft climate change legislation. Those provisions were a good start, though certainly not perfect (Holly Doremus and I previously analyzed the good and the bad of those provisions here).

E&E News reported  (subscription required) that Grijalva's bill, along with a separate one in the works in the House Science Committee, are "expected to be voted on before Memorial Day and eventually to be folded into Waxman-Markey." If it came to it, should Waxman-Markey stumble, this bill …

May 5, 2009 by Matt Shudtz

At long last, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is getting the injection of new blood that it has needed for years. President Obama announced today that he will nominate a new Chairwoman and a new Commissioner for the agency.

This is great news. CPSC has been operating with just two commissioners for several years. As originally designed, CPSC is supposed to have five commissioners and needs a quorum of three to undertake any meaningful regulatory action, such as create new safety standards or issue mandatory recalls. When President Bush was unable to nominate a suitable third commissioner, Congress let CPSC operate temporarily with two commissioners, but only on a limited budget.

That leads to the second reason President Obama’s announcement is such great news. His budget request of $107 million for the agency – a substantial increase over last year’s $80 million – will likely be …

May 5, 2009 by Matthew Freeman

CPR Member Scholars William W. Buzbee and Victor Flatt have an op-ed in this morning’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution offering a critique of the “discussion draft” of the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. Several CPR Member Scholars have blogged extensively about the bill here on CPRBlog, and with this op-ed, and a similar piece published the week before last in the Houston Chronicle, Professors Buzbee and Flatt take that discussion to the opinion pages of two important regional newspapers.

In the Atlanta J-C piece, they write:

The Waxman-Markey bill is smart and comprehensive, covering energy, fuels, cars and more.  Despite some shortcomings, it’s nevertheless a good place to start the congressional discussion about how to fix the most serious environmental problem the planet has ever faced. Polluting industries have mounted a scare campaign to persuade us that it’s too severe, will cost jobs, choke the economy, and more …

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