Aug. 31, 2009 by Matt Shudtz

New EPA White Paper on Probabilistic Risk Assessment

Earlier this month, EPA released for public comment a new white paper on probabilistic risk assessment, marking the Obama Administration’s first major foray into the contentious debate about EPA's evolving risk assessment methods. Back in May, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced changes to the way the Office of Research and Development (ORD) will update risk assessments for the IRIS database, but that announcement was made without any real public input and it only implicated the inner workings of one program office (albeit an important one). The public comment period on the new white paper presents the first opportunity for the various stakeholders who usually weigh in on EPA’s risk assessment policies to have some say in the new administration’s policies.

The new white paper, Using Probabilistic Methods to Enhance the Role of Risk Analysis in Decision Making, focuses on one of the fundamental problems in regulatory risk assessment – how should risk assessors and risk managers address the uncertainty and variability intrinsic to the risk assessment process?

The most straightforward way to answer that question, and EPA’s approach in many situations, is to use default assumptions. When the pesticides program staff is working on setting a …

Aug. 28, 2009 by Yee Huang

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to set specific, statewide numeric standards for nutrient pollution in Florida, marking the first time the EPA has forced numeric limits for nutrient runoff for an entire state. This settlement, based on a 1998 EPA determination that under the Clean Water Act all states were required to develop numeric standards for nutrient pollution, has implications for the thousands of impaired rivers, lakes, and estuaries across the United States.

Under the Clean Water Act, states are required to establish water quality standards that consist of two components: a designated use and water quality criteria. The designated use identifies for what purposes the water body will be used, such as drinking water, recreational, or industrial use. Water quality criteria measures the chemical, biological, nutrient, and sediment composition of a water body and requires their levels to support the designated use. The CWA …

Aug. 27, 2009 by Yee Huang

In July, a federal judge settled a nearly 20-year legal dispute among Alabama, Florida, and Georgia over the use of water from Lake Lanier, dealing a tough blow to Georgia. The Army Corps of Engineers constructed Buford Dam in the 1950s, creating Lake Lanier as a reservoir for flood control, navigation, and hydropower. But Atlanta and its sprawling metropolitan area came to rely on the reservoir as a water supply, and Lake Lanier today supplies water to 75 percent of the city. In 1990, Alabama and Florida filed suit against the Corps and Georgia to stop Atlanta’s use of the reservoir.

The 97-page order from Paul Magnuson of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida is clear: Atlanta’s use of water from Lake Lanier as a municipal water supply is illegal and inconsistent with the original purposes of the lake. Georgia …

Aug. 26, 2009 by Holly Doremus

Cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

As reported in the L.A. Times and Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has petitioned EPA to hold a trial-type hearing before finalizing its proposed finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare. (We blogged about the proposed endangerment finding here.)

The main argument in the petition is that a formal hearing is required to effectuate the administration’s stated commitment to scientific integrity and transparency. Don’t be fooled. Scientific integrity is nowhere near the top of the Chamber’s wish list. Chamber officials have made that clear by telling the L.A. Times that the proceeding they have in mind would be “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century.” Scopes was convicted in 1925 of violating Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution in the public schools. His trial was a media circus …

Aug. 26, 2009 by Alice Kaswan

As fellow environmental law professors David Schoenbrod and Richard Stewart take their advocacy for market mechanisms and skepticism about regulation public, with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, I thought it was time to speak out in favor of a role for regulation. They claim that the climate change bill that passed the House in July, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (the Waxman-Markey bill), relies too much on “top-down” regulation and not enough on pure market mechanisms. Regulations, in their view, are bureaucratic, inefficient, and politically motivated to favor key industrial constituencies. Market mechanisms would be more efficient and effective, they say, because once an emissions cap is set, industry and consumers would make their own rational emissions reduction decisions.

Ideological claims that “markets work” and “regulations don’t work” miss the point. Schoenbrod and Stewart identify failed regulations and …

Aug. 25, 2009 by Rena Steinzor

The publication of in-depth investigative reporting on complex regulatory issues is a phenomenon that has become as rare as hen’s teeth, and I greeted the front-page story in Sunday's New York Times on the perils posed by atrazine with a big cheer. Unfortunately, despite reporter Charles Duhigg’s best efforts, the response of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokespeople and other commentators garbled the issue substantially. What the story revealed is that even on this mammoth and controversial environmental problem, Obama’s EPA has not yet made plans to defuse the booby traps set up by the Bush Administration. It also left the unfortunate impression that experts think that it’s a reasonable public health policy to tell pregnant women to stop drinking tap water to protect their babies from atrazine “spikes.” This mindset that it is up to consumers to protect themselves by avoiding …

Aug. 24, 2009 by Holly Doremus

This item cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

Atrazine is suddenly very much in the news. Sunday’s New York Times features a major story about whether the EPA’s current standard for acceptable levels of atrazine in drinking water is tight enough to protect human health. Yesterday’s Peoria Journal carried a story about a class action lawsuit filed in Illinois state court against Syngenta, the primary manufacturer of atrazine. And NRDC has just issued a report accusing EPA of ignoring the atrazine problem (summary here, full text here).

Atrazine is a herbicide commonly used to keep corn fields, lawns, and golf courses free of broad-leaved weeds. It is reportedly the most widely used herbicide in the United States and, correspondingly, the most commonly detected pesticide in U.S. waters. EPA regulates atrazine under two laws, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the …

Aug. 21, 2009 by Rena Steinzor

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), of late in the news for his role as power player in the health care debate, has long enjoyed a reputation as a Republican maverick. One reason for that reputation is his highly publicized crusade to improve ethics in the medical profession, specifically with respect to “ghost writing” of medical journal articles. In recent years, it’s become disturbingly common for pharmaceutical companies to hire public relations firms to write summaries of scientific research supporting their products and then pay hefty fees to high-profile academic researchers who sign the drafts and submit them for publication without disclosing their affiliation with their corporate sponsors.

Grassley’s campaign was first featured on the front page of the New York Times in June 2008, with an exposé on a Harvard child psychiatrist who failed to disclose the money he earned from manufacturers of antipsychotic medicines for …

Aug. 20, 2009 by Catherine O'Neill

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) issued a report today finding widespread mercury contamination in U.S. streams. The USGS found methylmercury in every fish that it sampled – an extraordinary indictment of the health of our nation’s waters. The USGS reported that the fish at 27% of the sites contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of humans who consume an average amount of fish, as established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But EPA’s criterion grossly understates the risk to those people whose fish consumption practices differ from those of the “average American,” particularly members of the various fishing tribes, Asian-Americans, and those hailing from the Pacific or Caribbean Islands. Whereas EPA’s criterion is based on the assumption that people eat 17.5 grams per day of fish – about one fish meal every two weeks, on average – people in …

Aug. 19, 2009 by Matt Shudtz

On Monday, the big news out of FDA was the announcement that they’re going to publish a new assessment of the risks posed by BPA in food packaging, due out by the end of November. Jesse Goodman, FDA’s Chief Scientist, made the announcement at a meeting of the agency’s Science Board, which also heard two presentations by scientists from different offices within FDA working on the new assessment.

Last year, FDA formed a task force to assess the risks of BPA and the task force quickly concluded that “there is a large body of evidence that indicates that FDA-regulated products containing BPA currently on the market are safe and that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects.” Given the rapid development of new studies on BPA in the diet, it …

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

New EPA White Paper on Probabilistic Risk Assessment

Aug. 28, 2009

Nationwide Implications from EPA Nutrient Pollution Settlement

Aug. 27, 2009

Lake Lanier Case a Lesson on Water Resources and Land Use Planning

Aug. 26, 2009

Would a CO2 'Monkey Trial' Improve Scientific Integrity and Transparency?

Aug. 26, 2009

Why a Cap-and-Trade System Needs a Regulatory Backstop

Aug. 25, 2009

Obama EPA Takes Strike One on Atrazine

Aug. 24, 2009

Atrazine in Drinking Water