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Feb. 24, 2011 by Catherine O'Neill

EPA's New Boiler Rule Will Deliver Reduced -- But Still Huge -- Health Benefits

This post was written by CPR Member Scholar Catherine O'Neill and Communications Specialist Ben Somberg.

The announcement from EPA Wednesday creating final standards for pollution from industrial boilers is being described by the press as “scaled back,” and “half the cost of an earlier proposal.” Those things are true, but the new regulation is no small matter. It will have a significant and positive effect on the health of people across the country and beyond.

Says the Sierra Club: "Though the announcement today is modest by comparison to the proposals put forth by the EPA last June, we urge Administrator Lisa Jackson to forge ahead to protect our children and families’ health." NRDC says: "EPA could have done more, but these standards accomplish long overdue, needed cuts in mercury, benzene, heavy metal and acid gas pollution from industrial plants. While the final biomass standards are notably relaxed in response to industry complaints, overall the safeguards still will save up to 6,500 lives, avoid 4,000 heart attacks, and prevent more than 46,000 cases of aggravated asthma and bronchitis every year. Americans deserve these tremendous health benefits without political interference by Congress."

"It appears that EPA has addressed …

Feb. 23, 2011 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied certiorari on two Endangered Species Act cases, Arizona Cattle Growers Association v. Salazar and Home Builders Association of Northern California v. US Fish and Wildlife Service. The cases were considered together because they raise the same issue: how the economic impacts of critical habitat designation should be calculated. Development and extraction interests hoped the Court would use the cases to force the U.S. to take a broader view of those impacts.

The ESA requires that the Fish and Wildlife Service designate critical habitat when it lists a species as endangered or threatened. The listing decision must be based solely on the species’ biological status. In determining critical habitat, by contrast, FWS must take into economic and other impacts into consideration and may exclude areas from critical habitat if it finds “that the benefits of such exclusion …

Feb. 23, 2011 by William Buzbee
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The Supreme Court today issued its much-awaited ruling in Williamson v. Mazda. Could an injured or deceased plaintiff sue under common law for damages allegedly attributable to the lack of a rear inner seat seatbelt, when the Department of Transportation (DOT) had declined to require such belts while requiring other seat belts?   The case on its face appeared much like the Court’s earlier Geier v. American Honda Motor Co decision, issued in 2000, in which the Court held that a common law injury claim for the lack of an airbag was preempted due to DOT’s decision to allow manufacturers to choose among safety devices.   Many lower courts had read Geier expansively, thus preempting claims like those now presented in Williamson. But the reach of that ruling was always in question since the Geier case could also be read in a narrow way, limited to the …

Feb. 22, 2011 by Matt Shudtz
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Lizzie Grossman has a nice post over at The Pump Handle highlighting how the National Contingency Plan for major oil spills has significant gaps, which left government agencies and cleanup workers in the Gulf scrambling to figure out the right training programs and the best ways to protect workers' health and safety in the days, weeks, and months following the BP spill.

But, as Lizzie points out, one of the most powerful advocates for fixing the NCP -- the National Spill Commission -- has left the issue of cleanup workers' by the wayside:

Occupational health issues for responders are simply not the focus of the Commission's review: OSHA is only mentioned twice in the body of the report. The role of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in the response is not described at all, nor is the health impacts roster maintained by the Louisiana Department …

Feb. 21, 2011 by Robert Verchick
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If you’ve ever visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park—one of the most visited national parks in the United States—you have Horace Kephart and George Masa to thank. These two men, the first a travel writer, the second a landscape photographer from Osaka, Japan, each settled among those six-thousand foot peaks with intentions of starting a new life in the American wild. Unfortunately, the timber industry had gotten there first and was soon mowing down forests at the rate of 60 acres per day. Distressed by such calamity, Kephart and Masa organized a diverse grassroots campaign to raise millions of dollars to save the area. Fueled by church donations, high school fundraisers, and other activities, the campaign eventually enabled the federal government, through a public-private partnership, to set aside land for what would finally become by 1940, a protected, 814-square-mile expanse of America’s …

Feb. 18, 2011 by John Knox
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On Monday, Valentine’s Day, a judge in Ecuador sent Chevron the opposite of a valentine: it ordered the giant oil company to pay $8.6 billion in damages and cleanup costs for harm caused by exploration and drilling by Texaco (acquired by Chevron in 2001) in a giant tract of rain forest near the headwaters of the Amazon River. The plaintiffs brought the class action on behalf of 30,000 indigenous residents of the region, who have long claimed that by dumping billions of gallons of toxic sludge into local waterways between 1964 and 1990, Texaco destroyed the local environment and caused hundreds of deaths by cancer.   

The award is the latest chapter in one of the longest-running environmental cases ever, but it’s certain not to end the dispute: Chevron immediately called the decision “illegitimate and unenforceable” and appealed on Thursday. Attorneys for the plaintiffs …

Feb. 18, 2011 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

You may remember Judge Martin Feldman from his decisions last summer enjoining enforcement of Interior’s first effort at a deepwater drilling moratorium, and more recently declaring that the Department must pay the legal fees of the plaintiffs in that case because it was in contempt of the injunction order. (For my take on those decisions see here and here.)

No doubt the Department wished it could just slink out of the Gulf and never have to face Judge Feldman again. But all good things come in threes, right? And on Thursday Interior reached three of kind; three big losses in Judge Feldman’s courtroom that is.

This latest ruling orders BOEMRE (the Interior bureau in charge of offshore drilling) to act on five pending applications for permission to drill in the Gulf within 30 days. As I understand the ruling, all of …

Feb. 15, 2011 by Rena Steinzor
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CPR President Rena Steinzor is testifying at 1pm today before the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. The hearing will be the latest in a string attempting to make a case that public health and safety protections must be weakened right now given the state of the economy.

In her testimony, Steinzor argues:

I appreciate that the majority feels it has a mandate as a result of the election. But I would urge all Members to consider whether gutting environmental protection is really what voters had in mind, or whether this attack on regulation is simply an effort to re-fight past battles over the nation’s environmental laws, this time by objecting not to the laws themselves but to their enforcement. It’s bad enough that the agencies are underfunded to the point that they are barely able to do their jobs. But …

Feb. 14, 2011 by Thomas McGarity
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On March 23, 2005, the worst industrial accident in 15 years killed 15 workers and injured more than 180 others as highly flammable liquids from a distillation tower were vented directly to the ground and were ignited by a spark at the huge BP Corporation Refinery in Texas City, Texas. A two-year investigation by the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSHIB) concluded that the BP Texas City refinery was “an extremely dangerous workplace by any objective standard.” An “Independent Review Panel” that BP assembled to investigate the explosion and BP’s safety practices throughout all of its operations issued a similarly devastating critique. 

The CSHIB also found that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had acted irresponsibly. The facility was subject to OSHA’s 1992 process safety management standard, but plant managers had failed to implement many of its requirements.  The standard itself was out …

Feb. 11, 2011 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Here’s some of what’s going on in the ocean policy world:

  • BOEMRE is reviewing the first post-moratorium application to drill an exploratory deepwater well in the Gulf of Mexico. As required by a June Notice to Lessees, Shell’s application to drill 130 miles from shore in 2000 to 2900 feet of water includes a blowout scenario. Shell anticipates that drilling a relief well would take 109 days, during which time 12.3 million barrels of oil could be discharged, more than twice what the Deepwater Horizon dumped into the Gulf. The application includes a brief environmental impact assessment which acknowledges that the Macondo blowout showed that the impacts of a large spill could be worse than previously thought, but offers very little in the way of analysis of potential impacts. Mostly it repeats over and over again that a large …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Feb. 24, 2011

EPA's New Boiler Rule Will Deliver Reduced -- But Still Huge -- Health Benefits

Feb. 23, 2011

Williamson v. Mazda: Sound and Clear Preemption Decision

Feb. 23, 2011

Supreme Court Won't Hear Critical Habitat Cases

Feb. 22, 2011

Cleanup Worker Safety Planning Must Not Get Forgotten in Fallout from BP Spill

Feb. 21, 2011

Next Steps for America's Great Outdoors

Feb. 18, 2011

Judge Feldman is Still Mad

Feb. 18, 2011

Who Wanted Ecuador to Try the Biggest Environmental Case in History? That Would be the Defendant, Chevron