Dec. 31, 2009 by Holly Doremus

60 Minutes Flubs the California Water Story

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

On Sunday, 60 Minutes had a long story on the California water crisis, featuring Lesley Stahl interviewing (among others) Arnold Schwarzenegger and UC Davis professor Jeff Mount. On the positive side, the story accurately portrayed the vulnerability of California’s fragile through-Delta water delivery system to a major earthquake or catastrophic levee break. But CBS News flubbed the overall storyline.

In typical media fashion, it oversimplified the story to “Delta smelt versus farmers,” with barely a mention of the two-year closure of the coastal salmon fishery or the crash of the Bay-Delta ecosystem as a whole. Worse, 60 Minutes swallowed whole a tall tale concocted by anti-regulatory interests: that protecting the Delta smelt has economically crippled California agriculture.

That story is demonstrably false on at least two different levels. First, while the San Joaquin valley has had a tough economic year, its woes have not been driven by water shortages. According to this independent report from economist Jeffrey Michael at the University of the Pacific, the real culprit is the collapse of the housing market and therefore of the construction industry:

Reductions in water deliveries due to environmental regulations have increased the Valley unemployment rate by …

Dec. 30, 2009 by Matt Shudtz

EPA today took an important step toward reversing one of the Bush Administration’s “midnight regulations,” announcing a proposed rule that would improve monitoring standards for airborne lead. Under EPA’s new proposal, any establishment that emits lead into the air at a rate of a half a ton per year or more could be required to have a monitoring station.

In a previous post I noted that EPA finalized a rule in late 2008 that only required monitoring at sites with emissions topping 1 ton per year, after a last-minute entreaty from the lead battery industry and some of their accomplices at OMB. EPA had originally proposed a threshold somewhere in the 0.2 to 0.6 tons per year range.

After President Obama took over the White House and put Lisa Jackson in charge of the EPA, several environmental and public health groups petitioned the …

Dec. 30, 2009 by Matt Shudtz

CPRBlog asked some of our regular bloggers to give us some suggestions for the high and low points of the regulatory year. We began by taking the Bush Administration’s “midnight regulations” off the table, so that we could focus in on the Obama Administration’s impact to date. CPR Policy Analyst Matt Shudtz offers up a number of items, below, focusing on the positive:

At OSHA, several high points: 

The leadership of David Michaels (as Assistant Secretary, the head of OSHA) and Jordan Barab (as Deputy Assistant Secretary), both of whom seem intent on putting OSHA back on task – protecting workers – after years of agency wheel-spinning.

OSHA’s enforcement sweep of construction sites in Texas, in which the agency brought inspectors from other regions to conduct unannounced inspections. Actual enforcement of the laws! Texas earned the honor because it has the highest rate of construction fatalities …

Dec. 29, 2009 by Rena Steinzor


CPRBlog asked some of our regular bloggers to give us some suggestions for the high and low points of the regulatory year. We began by taking the Bush Administration’s “midnight regulations” off the table, so that we could focus in on the Obama Administration’s impact to date. CPR President Rena Steinzor begins.

The high point of the year on the regulatory front was EPA’s endangerment finding on climate change, issued December 7, 2009, finally giving the seventh day of December a positive symbolic role in history, beyond the more memorable one as a day that will “live in infamy.” We endured eight solid years of stonewalling by the Bush Administration on climate change – a saga that included everything from suppressing EPA reports because the facts were inconvenient, to the downright juvenile step of refusing to open an email from EPA because it contained a …

Dec. 23, 2009 by Daniel Farber

 cross-posted from Legal Planet

Rob Stavins has a good, concise overview of the session and the outcome on the Belfer Center website.  Not as negative as some other observers, he highlights the extraordinary procecess that resulted in the Copenhagen Accord:

It is virtually unprecedented in international negotiations for heads of government (or heads of state) to be directly engaged in, let alone lead, negotiations, but that is what transpired in Copenhagen. Although the outcome is less than many people had hoped for, and is less than some people may have expected when the Copenhagen conference commenced, it is surely better – much better – than what most people anticipated just three days earlier, when the talks were hopelessly deadlocked.

Overall, he sees Copenhagen as a constructive move forward:

The climate change policy process is best viewed as a marathon, not a sprint. The Copenhagen Accord – depending upon details yet …

Dec. 22, 2009 by Ben Somberg

One year ago today, about 1 billion gallons of coal ash were spilled when a dyke collapsed at the Tennessee Valley Authority's fossil plant in Kingston, Tennessee.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel has the moment-by-moment account of what happened that night. They report that Roane County real estate and tourism have suffered, and that there are 14 lawsuits pending against TVA in relation to the disaster, which will likely take years to resolve. And they editorialize:

TVA and the EPA have vowed that they will do everything in their power to prevent anything of this kind and this magnitude from ever happening again. We believe they will try — and public oversight and accountability will be the best tools to hold them to their promise.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports a group of local residents speaking up against TVA and state and county authorities.

The Washington Post and …

Dec. 21, 2009 by Rebecca Bratspies

On December 9, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced S. 2856, a one paragraph bill that would quietly gut a key portion of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) by dramatically expanding a narrow exception to one of the Act’s central mandates. Were it to pass, the bill would mark a significant step in the wrong direction for United States fisheries policy. The bill, the "International Fisheries Agreement Clarification Act," is co-sponsored by interim Senator Paul Kirk (D-MA).

The MSA requires fisheries managers to impose scientifically defensible annual catch limits (ACLs). For fisheries identified as overfished, the Act immediately ends overfishing, and requires that the fish stocks be rebuilt as rapidly as possible (with 10 years as the outside limit.)

Section 304(e)(4)(A)(ii) of the MSA creates an exception for fisheries covered by international treaties from this “rebuild in 10 years” requirement. If enacted, Senator Snowe …

Dec. 18, 2009 by James Goodwin

While the EPA announced Thursday that it was delaying a decision on issuing a proposed rule for coal ash, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has already hosted 10 meetings with industry representatives in recent months on the issue.

The 10 meetings -- the most on any topic at OIRA so far in the Obama Administration, according to records on its website -- were completely outside of EPA's rulemaking process. In that process, once a proposed rule is issued, industries have ample opportunity to give comment and present their case. The EPA is required by law to examine and respond to those comments. No law requires the White House to hear industry pleas, let alone before the notice and comment period has begun.

Coal ash comprises all the solid waste from the burning of coal to generate power. Chock-full of toxic substances, coal ash …

Dec. 18, 2009 by Rebecca Bratspies

NOAA issued a draft of its new catch share policy last week. Despite Director Jane Lubchenco’s clear support for the concept, the draft policy stops short of requiring that fisheries managers implement catch shares. This is a good thing. Instead of mandating catch shares, the draft policy focuses on education, cooperation, and transparency. The agency commits itself to “reducing technical barriers and administrative impediments” to implementing catch shares. Those are exactly the roles that NOAA should be playing.

Too often, proponents of catch shares imply that all we need do is wave a private property wand and the problems besetting fisheries will magically solve themselves. If only it were that easy. The basic idea is to set a firm cap on how much of each kind of fish can be captured in a fishery. This cap, the Annual Catch Limit (ACL) is supposed to be set …

Dec. 17, 2009 by Victor Flatt

As we move into the last days of climate negotiations in Copenhagen, the chances of securing a binding agreement of all countries continues to look less and less likely. The primary culprit, according to the New York Times, is the G77, a group of 130 developing countries that have negotiated as a block since arriving. But as the Times notes, since they have very different needs and incomes, the main thing they have in common is their ability to rail against the rich developed world and hold up negotiations. Indeed, it seems that the main impediment to progress (at least from the perspective of the organizers) has been the continued focus on process rather than substance.

As any progressive knows, the G77 countries certainly have a lot to rail against, in terms of unfairness in many arenas, including climate change. Unfortunately, being right doesn’t always mean …

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

60 Minutes Flubs the California Water Story

Dec. 30, 2009

Regulatory Highs and Lows of 2009: OSHA and Toxics

Dec. 30, 2009

EPA Proposes New Lead Monitoring Requirements

Dec. 29, 2009

Regulatory Highs and Lows of 2009: 'The Adults Are Back in Charge'

Dec. 23, 2009

Copenhagen in a Nutshell

Dec. 22, 2009

Tennessee Coal Ash Disaster Anniversary -- News Roundup

Dec. 21, 2009

Senator Snowe's Bill on Fisheries Would Open a Wide Loophole