April 8, 2010 by Ben Somberg

We Have a First Drywall Ruling


A New Orleans federal judge on Thursday awarded seven Virginia families $2.6 million in damages for homes ruined by sulfur-emitting drywall made in China, a decision that could affect how lawsuits by thousands of other homeowners are settled.

It remains to be seen how the plaintiffs can collect from Chinese companies that do not have to respond to U.S courts, although some have talked about getting orders to seize U.S.-bound ships and cargoes from the drywall companies.

The ruling is here.

April 8, 2010 by Yee Huang

Today CPR releases a new report, Failing the Bay: Clean Water Act Enforcement in Maryland Falling Short. The report, which CPR Member Scholar Robert Glicksman and I co-authored, details the results of an investigation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) enforcement program at the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). CPR provided a copy of this report to MDE, and its response (and CPR’s follow-up) is included as an appendix to the report.

Overall, we found that state of Maryland is failing to enforce existing water pollution laws, allowing illegal pollution that damages Maryland waters and the Chesapeake Bay. The report focuses on three specific areas:

  • Funding. MDE is drastically underfunded and is being tasked with greater responsibility despite overall decreases in funding. Between 2000 and 2009, the budget for the Water Management Administration (WMA) at MDE declined nearly 25 percent while the number of permits …

April 7, 2010 by Rena Steinzor

The system of checks and balances devised by the Framers of the Constitution 220 years ago was all about the sharing of power. In practice, it makes for a messy flow chart, and lends itself to lots of inside-the-Beltway conversation about who’s in, who’s out, who’s winning and who’s losing. But as messy as the how-a-bill-really-becomes-a-law flow chart is, the structure within the White House itself usually features one constant: When the President says jump, staffers ask how high.

Every now and again, however, things get turned on their head, and the forces of bureaucracy manage to thwart Presidential will. That dynamic appears to be at work right now in the White House Office of Management and Budget, where Obama appointees Peter Orszag and Cass Sunstein, the director of OMB and Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, respectively, seem to …

April 7, 2010 by Ben Somberg

Seven state attorneys general have written a letter this week, released today, urging senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman to retain key state authorities on combating climate change in their upcoming bill (The Hill, National Journal). The letter, from the AGs of California, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, follows two recent letters (see ClimateWire, subs. required) from 14 senators and from 14 state environmental protection agencies that called for some similar steps. (Update: And here's an April 7 letter to KGL from the National Association of Clean Air Agencies).

The attorneys general write:

"... federal climate legislation that builds on, and works in conjunction with, existing and ongoing State initiatives is not only consistent with a long-established model of federal and State partnership, but will also create a robust and effective legislative scheme that will maximize environmental and economic benefits. Indeed, the great majority of …

April 7, 2010 by Matthew Freeman

About a year ago in this space, I wrote a piece taking the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to task for its unhinged reaction to the Environmental Protection Agency’s then-nascent efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. As an example of the bombast, I included a link to a speech made by Chamber board member Don Blankenship, head of Massey Energy, in which he denied climate change, compared those who disagree with him with Osama Bin Laden and called them communists and atheists, accused environmentalists of “taking over the world,” and much more.

Apparently, such outrageous rhetoric doesn’t disqualify someone from being on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. You know what else doesn’t disqualify a coal industry honcho ? Operating a dangerous mine. It was in a Massey mine that 25 coal miners died earlier this week, after a methane explosion – the …

April 6, 2010 by Ben Somberg

Twenty-five people have been killed in the coal mine disaster in West Virginia.

At ABC News, Matthew Mosk and Asa Eslocker report on the safety history of the Upper Big Branch mine:

The West Virginia coal mine where an explosion killed 25 workers and left another four unaccounted for in the worst mining disaster since 1984 had amassed scores of citations from mining safety officials, including 57 infractions just last month for violations that included repeatedly failing to develop and follow a ventilation plan.

The Charleston Gazette's Ken Ward Jr. runs down what to look for in the coming days and says the disaster could prove a "test of whether the MINER Act reforms went far enough." The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe notes a report from a few days ago by the Labor Department's Office of the Inspector General on inadequate training for …

April 5, 2010 by James Goodwin

Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have long celebrated the number 42 as the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.” Now, the number 42 also happens to be the number of meetings that OIRA has hosted regarding EPA’s pending coal ash rule, as it works toward developing the Obama Administration’s answer to the ultimate question of how to regulate the disposal of this toxic waste.


OIRA Meetings on Coal Ash, as of April 5, 2010

(Click links to see attendees and examine documents presented to OIRA staff.)

Parties Supporting EPA Proposal (13)

April 2, 2010 by Ben Somberg

The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Housing and Urban Development released "interim remediation guidance" today for those affected by contaminated drywall (release, full guidance). CPSC had also recently released new lab test results showing high sulfur emissions from certain drywall samples. The agencies conclude:

Based on scientific study of the problem to date, HUD and CPSC recommend consumers remove all possible problem drywall from their homes, and replace electrical components and wiring, gas service piping, fire suppression sprinkler systems, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.

CPSC chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum tells AP:

"We want families to tear it all out and rebuild the interior of their homes, and they need to start this to get their lives started all over again."


April 1, 2010 by Holly Doremus

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Last week, I reported on EPA’s proposed veto of a Clean Water Act section 404 permit for a major mountaintop removal coal mining project in West Virginia. My view at the time was something along the lines of two-and-a-half cheers. I wrote that it was very good news, but didn’t articulate principals for distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable mountaintop removal. Setting the proposed veto next to approval of the Hobet 45 project in January, EPA had not exactly ended confusion about the review of mountaintop removal projects, as Council on Environmental Quality chief Nancy Sutley had promised last summer when the administration unveiled a coordinated review procedure.

I spoke too soon.  EPA has now issued detailed guidance for its review of Appalachian surface coal mining operations, and its a doozy. Actually, it shouldn’t be remarkable; its a straightforward and careful …

April 1, 2010 by William Buzbee

Federalism battles over state roles under federal climate legislation may have appeared settled, but they are once again under debate. The previous leading bills–the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House, and the Boxer-Kerry bill passed out of a committee in the Senate–lost momentum several months ago. After several months of legislative inaction, Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman have been working on a new piece of climate legislation. After the senators’ comments indicated that this bill might broadly undercut state and local government actions to address climate risks, fourteen senators and a group of leaders of state environmental agencies recently sent letters to Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman arguing for preservation of state authority to address climate ills. These letters show that some national and state leaders appreciate the importance of climate federalism choices and the value of state action. However, despite historical lessons, a decade of …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
April 28, 2010

Recent Obama Administration Open Government Milestone; Tearing the Wall of Separation Between the American People and Their Government Isn't Easy

April 27, 2010

The Libertarian Case for Controlling Climate Change

April 26, 2010

Inter-American Spotlight on the United States: Louisiana Residents Take Pollution Case to International Court

April 23, 2010

Tenaska Deal Signals Sea-Change in Climate Change Regulation, but Itself May be Too Good to be True

April 22, 2010

Tyson Taken to Task: Oklahoma Jury Awards Poultry Growers $7.3 Million

April 22, 2010

EPA's Rule on Lead Paint a Cause for Celebration, but Challenges Remain

April 21, 2010

<i>Food, Inc.</i> Airs on PBS; Put Your Hands on the Table and Step Away from the Hamburger