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July 29, 2010 by Ben Somberg

State Coal Ash Regulation at Work

You may have read of a letter sent by 31 Representatives to the EPA today to complain about coal ash regulation. I wasn't planning on dignifying it with a response, but sometimes something just calls out for a little highlighting. Like when the members write:

"States have been effectively regulating CCRs"

That's actually a case they want to be on record making? Really?

View of the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant fly ash spill. Photo used under Creative Commons by Brian Stansberry.

July 28, 2010 by Thomas McGarity
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Now that Congress has passed legislation creating a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the Treasury Department, attention has shifted to how the Obama Administration will implement the new law.

The issue of who President Obama should appoint to head the new agency is now front and center. Consumer groups and many members of Congress believe that Professor Elizabeth Warren, who came up with the idea for a consumer protection agency for the financial sector and has been an aggressive consumer advocate during the entire financial crisis, should be the President’s choice. The banking industry’s position is “anyone but Warren.”

Elizabeth Warren (who was my colleague at the University of Texas for many years) is the most qualified candidate. Although she would inevitably have to make compromises in launching the new agency, she is a charismatic leader who would remain a strong consumer advocate and …

July 27, 2010 by Lena Pons
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The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 (H.R. 5381/S. 3302), the primary legislation on the table in response to the Toyota unintended acceleration fiasco, went through the committee process in the House and Senate earlier this summer. The bills, as introduced, included some tough provisions to respond to gaps exposed by the Toyota episode.

Among important reforms included in the bills currently:

  • More public access to NHTSA’s early warning information database;
  • standards for accelerator control and brake override;
  • a standard requiring redundant systems to ensure vehicle electronics are robust;
  • mandatory event data recorders;
  • significantly increased civil penalties;
  • penalties to hold corporate officials civilly liable for submission of false, misleading or incomplete information to NHTSA;
  • restoration of federal judicial redress if people believe NHTSA has illegally denied their defect petition; and
  • a needed increase in funding for NHTSA.

But as the bills move through the …

July 27, 2010 by Catherine O'Neill
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The EPA released a guidance document on Monday that promises to integrate environmental justice considerations into the fabric of its rulemaking efforts. Titled the Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action, EPA’s Guidance sets forth concrete steps meant to flag those instances in which its rules or similar actions raise environmental justice concerns. Specifically, the Guidance directs agency staff involved in rulemaking to “meaningfully engage with and consider the impacts on” communities of color, low-income communities, indigenous populations, and tribes.

EPA’s Guidance responds to an issue raised by CPR Member Scholars at the dawn of the Obama Administration. In our 2008 report, Protecting Public Health and the Environment by the Stroke of a Presidential Pen, we observed that efforts to address environmental injustice had languished in the 15 years since President Clinton issued the Environmental Justice Executive Order (Executive Order …

July 26, 2010 by Daniel Farber
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

A key figure in behavioral economics recently issued a warning about over-reliance on its findings.  In a NY Times op. ed, Dr. George Lowenstein raised questions about some uses of behavioral economics by government policymakers:

As policymakers use it to devise programs, it’s becoming clear that behavioral economics is being asked to solve problems it wasn’t meant to address. Indeed, it seems in some cases that behavioral economics is being used as a political expedient, allowing policymakers to avoid painful but more effective solutions rooted in traditional economics.

Behavioral economics should complement, not substitute for, more substantive economic interventions. If traditional economics suggests that we should have a larger price difference between sugar-free and sugared drinks, behavioral economics could suggest whether consumers would respond better to a subsidy on unsweetened drinks or a tax on sugary drinks.

But that’s the …

July 23, 2010 by Alice Kaswan
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After endless negotiations and draft bills, the Senate has given up on climate legislation that would place any sort of cap on the nation’s emissions, and will likely settle for a few select energy initiatives. Congress’ failure to act is galling. Hand wringing is fully justified. But what now? State and local governments have become accustomed to federal paralysis, and will, I hope, continue to march on notwithstanding the tight lock that certain vested fossil fuel interests and industry have clamped on congressional action.  Moreover, EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the Clean Air Act have become all the more critical in the absence of comprehensive federal climate legislation. A key question, however, will be whether state, Clean Air Act, and existing federal energy laws can make up for the absence of more comprehensive federal climate legislation.

In the last several years, over …

July 23, 2010 by Yee Huang
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July 1 marked the 35th anniversary of the effective date entry-into-force of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). While CITES is among the stronger international conventions, its strength is diminished by a lack of an enforcement mechanism and political maneuverings.

The arrests and cargo seizures may not make headlines often, but international trade in endangered species is one of the most valuable illegal markets, behind drugs but potentially comparable to arms and human trafficking. According to a 2008 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, the global trade in illegal wildlife is valued at more than $5 billion and potentially exceeds $20 billion annually. For example, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly (Orinthoptera alexandrae), which can have a wingspan of up to 14 inches, sells for as much as $10,000! Some of the more valuable species commodities are tiger parts, caviar, elephant ivory, rhino horn …

July 22, 2010 by Shana Campbell Jones
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Thanks to a strong ruling from a federal judge in Baltimore Wednesday, large poultry companies are one step closer to being held accountable for the pollution (manure) the small farms that grow chickens for them generate. Responsibility: it’s not just for the little guys anymore.

In March, several environmental groups in Maryland sued Perdue Farms, Inc. and Hudson Farm, a chicken farm that raises Perdue’s chickens, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act. (I blogged earlier about the political brouhaha that erupted here.) Samples taken on five different occasions from a ditch flowing from Hudson Farm showed excessive levels of fecal coliform, E. coli, nitrogen, phosphorus, and ammonia. Agriculture is the largest source of nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, contributing an estimated 38 percent of the nitrogen and 45 percent of the phosphorous.

The groundbreaking suit not only targeted the specific geographic source of …

July 21, 2010 by Matt Shudtz
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Just before the July 4 recess, Representative George Miller, Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced the Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010. Recent explosions at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine, Tesoro’s Anacortes (WA) refinery, BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, and U.S. Steel’s coke oven in Clairton (PA), highlight the life-threatening hazards that American workers face on a daily basis. Despite these hazards—and the myriad other less serious or even chronic hazards that don’t make headlines—workers continue to do their jobs day in and day out.

Contrast these workers’ diligence with that of certain members of Congress, who, in advance of today’s committee vote on the Miner Safety and Health Act, have said that they want to hold off on legislating until they see the official reports on the causes of the Upper Big …

July 21, 2010 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Last year, I noted that the interim report of the Interagency Ocean Task Force appointed by President Obama marked a promising step toward a national ocean policy. Now the Task Force has issued its final recommendations, which the President promptly began implementing.

A national ocean policy has been a long time coming. Back in 2003, the Pew Oceans Commission called for a new “unified national ocean policy based on protecting ecosystem health.” A year later, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy echoed many of the Pew Commission’s recommendations. But the Bush administration sat on those recommendations. President Bush did create an executive-branch Committee on Ocean Policy, but failed to give it any substantive mandate.

President Obama has filled that gap. On Monday, he issued an Executive Order (as yet unnumbered) replacing the Committee on Ocean Policy with a National Ocean Council …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
July 29, 2010

State Coal Ash Regulation at Work

July 28, 2010

The New Consumer Protection Agency and Bureaucratic Reality

July 27, 2010

EPA's New Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice in Rulemaking a Welcome First Step

July 27, 2010

Auto Safety Bill Takes Some Bruises in the Senate; Automakers Try for More

July 26, 2010

Using Disclosure as a Smokescreen: How Behavioral Economics Can Deflect Regulation

July 23, 2010

At Thirty Five, Endangered Species Treaty Has Mixed Record

July 23, 2010

Climate Change: The Ball's Bounced Back to the States, EPA, and DOE