July 31, 2009 by Ben Somberg

In NYC Area, Contaminated Fish on the Plate

More New Yorkers are fishing off area piers in this economy, and, in many cases, eating unsafe amounts of fish contaminated with PCBs and mercury. That was the thrust of a NY Daily News report earlier this month. They also reported that there were extremely few signs alerting the public to any kind of danger. New York City official soon responded that they'd put up more warning signs.

CPR Member Scholar Catherine O'Neill discussed the fish contamination issues on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show on Wednesday.

O'Neill says that warning signs have regularly proven ineffective across the country. The information often fails to reach and inform its intended audience. Among other things, signs often don't cover all the languages they'd need to, and advisories frequently fail to convey complex information in a way that is understandable. In addition, the alternatives suggested (or implied) -- e.g., avoiding certain species entirely or altering one’s preparation methods -- may be culturally inappropriate or economically infeasible for some people.

O’Neill contends that a better policy is to involve the communities or groups affected, as they are best able to determine how to reach their members. The immediate goal …

July 30, 2009 by Sidney Shapiro

On Tuesday, the White House announced the appointment of Dr. David Michaels to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). An epidemiologist and a professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services, Michaels will bring substantial expertise and experience to the job. Besides being an active health research – he studies the health effects of occupational exposure to toxic chemicals – he has also written impressively on science and regulatory policy. His book, Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, offers extensive evidence of how regulatory entities spend millions of dollars attempting to dismantle public health protections using the playbook that originated with the tobacco industry’s efforts to deny the risks of smoking. He is also an experienced public health administrator, having served as the Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environment, Safety and Health in the …

July 30, 2009 by Sidney Shapiro

Like Alice's adventure, the development of regulatory oversight in the Obama administration is becoming "curiouser and curiouser." President Obama selected Cass Sunstein to be the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), a curious choice since Sunstein, although one of the country’s most distinguished academics, is in favor of extending the use of cost-benefit analysis, a position so popular with the business community that the Wall Street Journal endorsed his nomination. Sunstein's confirmation hearing was uneventful, probably because he avoided answering any difficult questions, but Sunstein's nomination is now being held by Senator John Cornyn, who objects to Sunstein's previous statements on animal rights -- an issue that the head of OIRA is highly unlikely to encounter.

In the meantime, the development of a new Executive Order on regulatory impact analysis has had its own curious journey. The new administration invited public comment …

July 29, 2009 by Daniel Farber

This item cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

The White House is considering a new executive order to limit floodplain development.  The proposal covers roughly the same federal licensing, project, and funding decisions as NEPA.  The heart of the proposal is section 4, which unlike NEPA imposes a substantive requirement (preventing or mitigating floodplain development.)  The proposed language is after the jump.  This is a very constructive step — we can’t keep putting people and infrastructure in harm’s way, nor can we allow development that increases flood risks elsewhere.

The Association of State Flood Plains Managers has a very helpful website.  Information about flood issues can also be found in Berkeley’s archive on disasters and the law.

Here’s the proposed language of section 4:

(a) Identify floodplains Before taking a covered action, an agency must determine whether that action will occur in or adversely …

July 28, 2009 by Matt Shudtz

Last Thursday, EPA announced (pdf) that they would reconsider a rule on monitoring lead in the air that was published in the waning days of the Bush Administration. I wrote about the original announcement, criticizing EPA for turning its back on children in neighborhoods like mine, where certain sources of airborne lead wouldn’t be monitored because of some questionable lobbying by the lead battery industry. Long story, short: After originally proposing and asking the public to comment on lead monitoring thresholds between 200 and 600 kilograms per year, EPA changed its mind at the last minute and finalized a rule requiring monitors only at sources of airborne lead with outputs above 1000 kilograms per year.

This is an important issue because airborne lead has well known adverse impacts on neurological development. In its recitation of the justifications for regulating lead, EPA notes that manifestations of lead …

July 27, 2009 by Rena Steinzor

Michael Livermore is right to suggest that environmentalists should be focused on Cass Sunstein’s first official day as regulatory czar for the Obama Administration. After months of delay over the Harvard professor’s eclectic and provocative writings, he will eventually take office if he can placate cattle ranchers concerned about his views on animal rights. Whatever their level of paranoia about Sunstein’s ability to grant animals standing to bring lawsuits, the likely character of his reign was more accurately predicted by the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, which applauded Sunstein’s devotion to cost-benefit analysis, the major weapon of Presidents Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II to smother health, safety, and environmental protections.

Livermore, an advocate of kinder, gentler cost-benefit analysis that he hopes will lead to regulatory controls more palatable to conservatives, offers a depressing list of priorities for Sunstein on his …

July 24, 2009 by Yee Huang

This is the fourth and final post on the application of the public trust doctrine to water resources, based on a forthcoming CPR publication, Restoring the Trust: Water Resources and the Public Trust Doctrine, A Manual for Advocates, which will be released this summer.  If you are interested in attending a free web-based seminar on Thursday, July 30, at 3:00 pm EDT, please contact CPR Policy Analyst Yee Huang or register here.  Prior posts are available here.

Groundwater, invisible as it meanders beneath our feet, provides about half of all drinking water in the United States and nearly all drinking water for rural populations.  As water demand skyrockets, groundwater pumping rates far exceed replenishment rates.  For instance, underlying the Great Plains is the Ogallala Aquifer, which has provided water for decades of farming.  Now, this once dependable and seemingly infinite source is now disappearing in certain …

July 24, 2009 by Matt Shudtz

The Bush Administration’s anti-regulatory henchmen in the Office of Management and Budget are at it again – fighting to keep EPA and state environmental agencies in the dark about how much pollution is being emitted into the air.


On October 16, EPA announced that it was slashing the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for lead from 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³) to 0.15 µg/m³. (Side note: EPA’s 90-percent reduction in permissible lead levels is good, but it’s still on the high side of the 0.05 – 0.2 µg/m³ that its scientific advisory board suggested.) In order to enforce the new standard, EPA included in the rule new requirements for the number and location of lead monitoring stations. EPA requires a lead monitor for any facility that produces more than one ton of airborne lead per year.


But the …

July 23, 2009 by Rena Steinzor

This post is co-written by CPR President Rena Steinzor and Policy Analyst Matt Shudtz.

Just as the traditional media finished a breathless cycle of reporting on how prospective Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor had renounced her claim that a “wise Latina” would make different decisions than a white man, an article in USA Today reminded us of the need for many more wise Latinas in the corridors of power in Washington. According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace deaths of Hispanics have increased by 76 percent since 1992, even though total fatalities in all jobs nationwide dropped by almost 10 percent.

What explains these tragic figures? Admittedly, there are simply more Hispanic workers in the United States today.

And the jobs involved are the meanest and the dirtiest. In 2003, 42 percent of workers in the meat and poultry industry, which includes dangerous …

July 22, 2009 by Holly Doremus

This item cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

Hardrock mining (as opposed to oil and gas drilling) on federal land is a topic that rarely hits the national news. And there are plenty of other high-profile items on the agenda in DC at the moment, like health care reform and climate legislation. So I was a bit surprised, but pleased, to see this editorial calling for reform of the General Mining Law in the NY Times.

The Times is right that this is an area ripe for legislative work. Hardrock mining on public lands is still governed by the Civil War-era General Mining Law, adopted when the federal government was barely in control of much of the west, and well before environmental protection was on anyone’s mind. It allows anyone to explore for minerals anywhere on the public lands that has not been explicitly withdrawn with …

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

In NYC Area, Contaminated Fish on the Plate

July 30, 2009

Reviving OSHA: The New Administrator's Big Challenge

July 30, 2009

'Curiouser and Curiouser!' Cried Alice ... A Tale of Regulatory Policy in the Obama Administration

July 29, 2009

Proposed Order on Floodplain Development

July 28, 2009

Thoughts on EPA's Decision to Reconsider Lead Monitoring Requirements

July 27, 2009

Regulatory Czar Sunstein's First Days

July 24, 2009

Protecting the Invisible: The Public Trust Doctrine and Groundwater