Sept. 14, 2009 by Matt Shudtz

New Research on Radioactive Granite, and OSHA's Response

Granite, like most natural stones, contains radioactive material. While this isn’t much of a concern for a person who spends a few hours in a kitchen with granite countertops every day, new research by David Bernhardt, Linda Kincaid, and Al Gerhart suggests that the workers who fabricate those countertops might have reason to worry.

When they cut granite slabs to fit a room and to have nice edges, corners, and cut-outs for sinks and appliances, workers’ saws can create a lot of dust, and that dust can contain uranium, thorium, and other radioactive materials. If the dust isn’t properly controlled and the workers are not wearing the right protective equipment, they can inhale the dust, where it can cause real damage to the vulnerable tissues in their lungs. Based on limited sampling and some conservative assumptions about control equipment and exposure duration, Bernhardt, Kincaid, and Gerhart suggest that stone cutters could potentially be exposed to radiation levels many times greater than recommended exposure levels for the general public.

Granite’s radiation problem is not new, and the Marble Institute of America, one of the industry’s main trade associations, was quick to commission its own study to challenge …

Sept. 11, 2009 by Kirsten Engel

Five State Attorneys General sent a letter to the Senate leadership on August 31st urging the Senate to enact strong climate legislation. The AGs letter is unusual in that states directly lobbying Congress on the details of federal legislation is a fairly infrequent phenomenon in and of itself. The AGs from California, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey are asking Congress to strengthen the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), despite several important ways in which ACES would largely displace state regulation of climate change. They accept some of these limitations on state power, but argue strongly for preserving their often pathbreaking roles in devising strategies to combat climate change.

Not surprisingly, the AGs first order of business is to tell Congress how important it is that any federal climate law enacted preserve state authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions generally. They specifically argue that …

Sept. 11, 2009 by Holly Doremus

This item cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

EPA today announced that it would review 79 pending applications for Clean Water Act section 404 permits for surface coal mining projects in Appalachia (hat tip: Coal Tattoo). This review is good news, and an indication that EPA may be developing a backbone with respect to the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the region’s waterways. It remains to be seen how firm that spine will be, that is, how much EPA will demand in the way of changes before it allows the projects to go ahead.

EPA’s announcement suggests a new level of resolve on its part because the review will cover all the remaining applications that were pending before March 31, 2009. In June, in connection with the administration’s issuance of a new coordinated policy on mountaintop removal mining, EPA and the Corps announced …

Sept. 10, 2009 by Yee Huang

On Tuesday the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report on the status of state and federal agriculture policies for five Chesapeake Bay watershed states: Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia.  The report focuses on agriculture policies that impact water quality and highlights a gaping hole in the regulation of animal-based operations. Past and ongoing efforts to improve the water quality in the Bay have focused on agriculture, where pollution control measures are fairly cost-effective (compared to wastewater treatment or stormwater runoff, for example). While these measures have reduced some of the nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment pollution in the Bay, the agriculture sector still contributes the largest share of pollution: 42 percent of the nitrogen, 45 percent of the phosphorous, and 60 percent of the sediment.

For the report, EWG obtained data both on the number of permitted operations and animals covered by the federal and …

Sept. 10, 2009 by Rena Steinzor

After weeks of sustained attack from the right-wing on issues that are marginal to the job the President asked him to do, Cass Sunstein has emerged from the nomination process bloody but apparently unbowed (here's this afternoon's roll call). He is now the nation’s “regulatory czar,” Director of the White House OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.  Although Professor Sunstein has been sitting in the Old Executive Office Building for months, he has undoubtedly been preoccupied with his nomination battle. Having survived the occasionally nonsensical trial by partisan and self-serving flight of fancy that was his confirmations process, we hope he will notice that his staff at OIRA has been behaving as if the 2008 election never happened. Having paid careful attention to OIRA over these past few months, in search of evidence of a new outlook, I’m sorry to report that I’ve …

Sept. 10, 2009 by Shana Campbell Jones

Today at 12:30pm the Federal Leadership Committee released, pursuant to President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order, seven draft reports to improve Bay restoration. Each report is about 50 pages, so there’s a lot of information to take in – from strengthening water quality to strengthening storm water management to assessing the impacts of climate change. After a quick look, here are my initial thoughts:

1. EPA Special Advisor Chuck Fox’s diligence and energy is impressive. Not only did he have to navigate EPA’s many layers of bureaucracy, he also coordinated representatives from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior, Transportation and others to make sure these reports made the Executive Order deadline. He has been – and I think will continue to be – remarkably effective.

2. In contrast to the previous administration, the Obama EPA seems to be serious …

Sept. 9, 2009 by Ben Somberg

Late this afternoon the Senate ended debate, in a 63-35 cloture vote, on the nomination of Cass Sunstein for Administrator of the Office of Information and Reuglatory Affairs (OIRA). Here's a quick look back at what CPR scholars have said about the Sunstein nomination and the role of OIRA in regulatory policy:

Sept. 9, 2009 by Thomas McGarity

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration implemented a 2007 food safety statute by promulgating a rule requiring food manufacturers to report instances of foodborne diseases to an electronic database that the agency has just established (the Reportable Food Registry). This long-awaited database will help epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control, state health agencies and academia identify "clusters" of illnesses that should contribute to a better assessment of the extent and magnitude of the foodborne disease problem in this country.

More important, the new database may assist epidemiologists in pinpointing the food items that have caused particular outbreaks much more quickly. This is critical to the government's ability to take action to prevent the spread of foodborne diseases before they become full-fledged catastrophes like the recent spinach and peanut butter outbreaks.

In a food distribution system in which ground beef from a single cow can wind …

Sept. 9, 2009 by Yee Huang

A feature article Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer, by Sandy Bauers, describes the impressive restoration of the Lititz Run, a stream located in the Lower Susquehanna Watershed in Pennsylvania.  Lititz Run flows into the Susquehanna River, which contributes about 40 percent of the nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as a significant amount of phosphorous and sediment. Efforts to curb runoff, change agriculture practices, and upgrade sewer treatment plants by the local community changed the run from a fetid, polluted waterway into a healthy, permanent habitat for trout. The water quality in the stream has improved significantly over the last ten years: nitrogen has been reduced by 47 percent, along with nearly 10-percent reductions in sediment and phosphorous.

The agriculture sector contributes the largest share of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay, amounting to 42 percent of the nitrogen, 45 percent of the phosphorous, and 60 percent …

Sept. 6, 2009 by Matthew Freeman

CPR's Dan Rohlf had an op-ed in The Oregonian on Friday, taking the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to task.  Faced with news that the nation's largest emitter of mercury pollution is a cement plant in the state, DEQ moved quickly to...defend the polluter.  Rohlf writes:

The biggest mercury polluter in the entire United States is a cement factory in eastern Oregon. This fact has not escaped notice of the state's environmental watchdog, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.  The very day the federal government released a disturbing report on mercury's widespread threat, DEQ officials announced that the agency would work hard to make sure that the cement company could continue to release mercury at a level 60 times greater than new federal emissions limits.

 Huh?  While it may be hard to believe, the agency that describes its job as "to protect …

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