Jan. 28, 2011 by Dan Rohlf

The President Muffed it on Salmon

In his State of the Union speech to Congress Tuesday night, President Obama suggested that reducing inefficient federal bureaucracy can help reduce federal spending and promote economic growth. Stretching to find a lighthearted example of government ineptness, the President quipped that “the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked."

This remark may have elicited chuckles in the Capitol building, but really it's not so funny for the parts of the country where salmon conservation raises significant environmental and economic issues.

Critics have rightly jumped on the line (see Earthjustice, Slate). First, the President got his bureaucratic story mostly wrong. On the west coast, Pacific salmon are under the jurisdiction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – an agency within the Department of Commerce – regardless of whether they are in the ocean as adults, or struggling to pass safely upriver through a gauntlet of federal dams to reach their spawning grounds (the more lethal trip, actually, is typically when young fish must try to avoid the dams' turbines on their …

Jan. 26, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

On Capitol Hill this morning, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is holding a hearing on what it describes as the “Views of the Administration on Regulatory Reform.” The star witness will be Cass Sunstein, head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, better known as the “regulatory czar” of the Obama Administration.

As you might have read already in this space, last week the President launched a new regulatory initiative in which he directed the various regulatory agencies to comb through existing regulations looking “to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb.” Many of us think a new regulatory initiative is in order. But this version isn’t what we had in mind. Our currently regulatory structure is underfunded and overwhelmed, and the evidence is all around us: cars …

Jan. 25, 2011 by Ben Somberg

Momentum for Chesapeake Bay restoration has advanced significantly in the past two years, shaped by the combination of President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order and the EPA’s Bay-wide Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process. These federal initiatives, taken in partnership with the Bay states, required the Bay states and the District of Columbia to submit Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) to demonstrate how they will meet the pollution targets in the applicable TMDLs.

In August, CPR sent the Chesapeake Bay watershed jurisdictions (Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia) metrics by which our panel of water quality experts would judge the strength of the plans; we also submitted comments to the states in November on their draft plans. The states’ final plans were submitted to EPA in November and December.

The state plans fail to provide a …

Jan. 24, 2011 by Daniel Farber

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

In his book Bayou Farewell, Mike Tidwell tells some haunting stories about the rapid disappearance of the Louisiana coast from his time with Cajun fisherman.  Here’s one story:

“We all pile into the crab boat and Tim tells his son to head down the bayou. A few hundred feet away . . . Tim points toward a watery stretch of march grass oddly littered with bricks and concrete.

“’It’s a cemetery,’ he says.

“There, shockingly, along the grassy bayou bank, I can now make out a dozen or so old tombs, all in different stages of submersion, tumbling brick by brick into the bayou water. . . The bayou is swallowing the dead here.”

The fact is that even before the BP Oil Spill, the Gulf Coast and the Gulf of Mexico itself were under siege from damage to wetlands, a poorly regulated oil and gas …

Jan. 19, 2011 by Ben Somberg

In case anyone thought the White House would seek additional appropriations to hire new agency staffers to do the regulatory look back work, it sure sounds like a no. Here's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Cass Sunstein speaking on Federal News Radio:

"Agencies are in the best position to make choices about which rules to review and justify whether they need to be modified" he said. "The Executive Order makes clear that the look back process will occur with full understanding of the agency's priority settings and resource constraints in a tough budgetary environment. So we expect the agencies will take this process very seriously but do so in way that recognizes resources are not unlimited."

Sunstein said agencies will have to find a way to do the look back based on the resources they have already.

"I don't anticipate any additional …

Jan. 18, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

President Obama’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning touted EPA’s “deregulation” of the artificial sweetener saccharin as a positive development for America. Inadvertently, the president made EPA look silly for having regulated the stuff in the first place. The use of this example was also unfortunate because EPA’s decision to deregulate had little consequence. Here’s the back story.

Beginning in the 1970s, scientists discovered that if you feed large quantities of saccharin to rats, they develop cancer. As a result, products containing saccharin were required to carry a warning label, and saccharin went on the lists of “hazardous substances” potentially subject to the Superfund toxic waste cleanup and hazardous waste regulations, as did all carcinogens. This result seemed counter-intuitive and industry lobbyists working against Superfund’s renewal in 1984-87 ridiculed EPA with the question: “If I spill a truckload of Tab …

Jan. 18, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

Sixteen months ago, President Obama stood in the well of Congress and issued a ringing call for a progressive vision of government. Working to persuade Members of Congress to adopt health care reform, he said that “large-heartedness…is part of the American character.  Our ability to stand in other people's shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand.” Many took comfort from that vision, the first avowedly affirmative one we had heard from a President about the government he leads in many a year. 

Since then, much of the President’s domestic agenda has been adopted, and a mid-term election “shellacking” has intervened. And now, President Obama, with the 2012 election drawing ever nearer, is embracing a far less generous vision. In an op-ed on the opinion pages …

Jan. 14, 2011 by Sidney Shapiro

Republican legislators have been scheming for years about ways that they can slow down, if not stop, needed health, safety and environmental regulations. But their latest effort, though creative, is perhaps their most ill-conceived. They’re calling it   “The REINS Act” (in the last Congress, H.R. 3765 sponsored by Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY), S. 3826 sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)), and, if adopted,  no new "economically significant" regulations would take effect unless affirmatively approved by Congress, by means of a joint congressional resolution of approval, signed by the President.  The proposal is a genuinely radical departure, plainly designed to gum up the regulatory works. Republicans have promised to hold congressional hearings on the bill early this year.

The REINS Act would make Congress the final arbiter of all significant regulatory decisions. While superficially this may seem like a good idea – after all, Members of Congress …

Jan. 13, 2011 by Alexandra Klass

The report of the President’s Gulf Oil Spill Commission answered some questions and raised others. But one thing still puzzles: Why didn’t the Gulf Oil Spill start a national conversation about our dependence on oil development and the need for renewable energy?

At first, it appeared it might, but the focus quickly turned to reforming the regulatory agency with oversight for the spill and fixing the technical failures that caused the well blowout in the first place. Both were important areas of inquiry, but the focus on oversight failures and technological quick fixes allowed us to avoid more fundamental questions that had to do with our failure to make the investments necessary to create a future grounded in renewable energy.

We know from history that a larger policy conversation might well have been triggered. In the mid-1970s, Love Canal triggered such a national reexamination, and …

Jan. 13, 2011 by Holly Doremus

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

If EPA is afraid of the new Congress, you wouldn’t know it from today’s news.  Assistant Administrator Peter Silva issued the Obama administration’s first veto of a Clean Water Act section 404 permit. This veto, which has been working its way through the cumbersome process for more than a year (see here, here, here, and here), is only the 13th in agency history, the second since 1989, and the first to be issued after a permit had been issued. It blocks “valley fills” — the use of streams and tributaries for disposal of the rock and dirt removed in surface coal mining — at Mingo Logan’s Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County West Virginia.

The proposed Spruce No. 1 project is enormous:

If fully constructed, the project will disturb approximately 2,278 acres (about 3.5 square miles) and bury …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Jan. 28, 2011

The President Muffed it on Salmon

Jan. 26, 2011

The GOP Majority Weighs in on Regulatory Reform

Jan. 25, 2011

New CPR Report says State Plans for Chesapeake Bay Restoration Not Strong Enough to Get the Job Done

Jan. 24, 2011

The BP Oil Spill and the Disappearing Louisiana Coast

Jan. 19, 2011

Sunstein: No Additional Agency Funding Expected for Regulatory Look Back

Jan. 18, 2011

President Obama Moves to the Right on Regulation; Appeasing Business Has Real Life Costs

Jan. 18, 2011

The Problem with Saccharin