March 17, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

A Regulatory Czar in the Imperial Tradition: A Look at the Snowe-Coburn Small Business Regulatory Freedom Act

Who’s the most powerful person in the Executive Branch these days, other than the President, the Vice President, their chiefs of staff, and—on any given day—the Secretaries of Defense or State?   If odd Senate bedfellows Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) have their way, the new, genuinely imperial regulatory czar will be one Dr. Winslow Sargeant, chief counsel for advocacy for the Small Business Administration (SBA). Under a plan these two have concocted (and are even trying to include as an amendment (SA211) this week in a bill (S. 493) to reauthorize two small business technology programs), Sargeant would be given the authority to render existing regulations—from Dodd-Frank financial reform to health care reform to statutorily mandated environmental protections—null and void simply because he does not like the way the sponsoring agency has handled its periodic "lookback" analysis of the impact of the rule on small business.  (Under the Regulatory Flexibility Act, agencies must periodically review existing rules that have a “significant” impact on small businesses). Need to read that again? Here’s what Snowe-Coburn says:

If, after a review under paragraph (1), the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration determines …

March 16, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

This morning a House Agriculture subcommittee will hold a hearing to "review the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, agricultural conservation practices, and their implications on national watersheds." Observers should be prepared for a trip to an alternate world.

The Chesapeake Bay has suffered for decades now because of nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment pollution. Once-abundant fish, blue crab, and oyster populations plummeted, and local economies built around them have paid the price. Repeated state pledges to reduce the pollution and restore the Bay have fallen short time and again. If fixing the problem were easy, we would have done it already. It's not easy. But it's possible.

The EPA's current effort to restore the Bay is unquestionably the most serious effort to fix the problem. Decreasing the pollution that's harming the Bay will require some changes in how we all do business, so it's hardly …

March 16, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

My bet is that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will do a little victory dance in her office before going home this evening. She’s earned it. After 20 years of false starts, EPA is issuing today the first proposed rule to control poisonous mercury emissions from power plants. They’re doing it despite a concerted blast of coal company and electric utility lobbying at the upper levels of the White House. Jackson’s achievement is testimony to her exemplary leadership of EPA in difficult times, but more than that, it’s a huge win for the babies of America, an estimated 630,000 of whom are born annually with blood mercury levels in excess of what experts consider safe.

The Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was the first widely recognized victim of mercury poisoning. When Carroll was writing, mercury was used to keep …

March 15, 2011 by Frank Ackerman

Cross-posted from Real Climate Economics.

True or false: Risks of a climate catastrophe can be ignored, even as temperatures rise? The economic impact of climate change is no greater than the increased cost of air conditioning in a warmer future? The ideal temperature for agriculture could be 17 degrees C above historical levels?

All true, according to the increasingly popular FUND model of climate economics. It is one of three models used by the federal government’s Interagency Working Group to estimate the “social cost of carbon” – that is, the monetary value of the long-term damages done by greenhouse gas emissions. According to FUND, as used by the Working Group, the social cost of carbon is a mere $6 per ton of CO2. That translates into $0.06 per gallon of gasoline. Do you believe that a tax of $0.06 per gallon at the gas pump …

March 11, 2011 by Sidney Shapiro

This coming April 20 will mark the one-year anniversary of the first day of the BP Oil Spill – a three-month polluta-polluza that eventually became the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the world. That was the night that a long series of failures finally came to a head: failures aboard the Deepwater Horizon by BP and its contractors, failures in the enforcement of regulations intended to prevent such disasters or at least limit the damage from them, failures in the crafting of the regulations governing the process by which BP won approval to drill, and failures in the drafting of the legislation from which flowed the regulations.

For the 126 workers on the Deepwater Horizon that night, the sounds and images of those failures must have been terrifying beyond imagining. Eleven of them didn’t make it home alive, and another 17 were severely …

March 11, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

Not to be outdone by the Small Business Administration’s aptly named Office of Advocacy, the Chamber of Commerce has issued its own breathless report on how many jobs we could save if we did away with environmental, land use, and utility regulations. Crunching a bunch of dubious numbers, the SBA Office of Advocacy’s consultants, Nicole and Mark Crain, claim that regulations cost $1.75 trillion a year, a number several of my CPR colleagues thoroughly debunked in a report issued in February. Undeterred and not to be outdone, the Chamber’s feverish Project No Project, released yesterday, claims that citizen opposition to polluting plants combined with “excessive” government permitting requirements to deny the economy a “$1.1 trillion short-term boost” and “1.9 million jobs annually.”

The premise of the Chamber’s report is that if busybody neighbors and fussy regulators would just get out …

March 11, 2011 by Catherine O'Neill

By Wednesday of next week, EPA is due to publish its long-anticipated rule controlling mercury emissions from coal-fired utilities.  This is how we ought to judge the rule: does it follow the mandate of the Clean Air Act (CAA)? For too long, utilities have managed by various means to fend off regulation required by the CAA. Assuming EPA’s rule at long last complies with Congress’s directives, Americans may look forward to a day when they can again eat fish without serving their families a side of methylmercury. 

The mercury that coal-fired utilities emit is highly toxic to humans. Exposure to even small amounts of methylmercury can lead to irreversible neurological damage. Methylmercury's neurodevelopmental effects place the developing fetus, children, and adults up to age 20 at particular risk. The most recent data also suggest adverse effects on the cardiovascular systems of adults. Mercury emitted …

March 9, 2011 by Ben Somberg

CPR Member Scholar Robert Adler has an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune looking at a series of developments in Utah -- administrative actions as well as pending legislation -- that could hinder citizen engagement in environmental decisions. The context, write Adler, is this:

Whether or not one agrees that Tim DeChristopher was legally or morally justified in his civil disobedience as “bidder 70” in Bureau of Land Management oil and gas leases, virtually everyone asks why he did it.

I do not presume to speak for him. But one possible reason was surely his frustration about what he perceived as the ineffectiveness of other avenues to influence public decisions that affect his health and the quality of his environment.

It is ironic, therefore, that at the very time Mr. DeChristopher and his attorneys have been fighting to highlight this frustration, multiple levels of Utah’s state government have …

March 4, 2011 by Ben Somberg

Industry representatives have long made exorbitant claims about the costs of regulations, only to be proven wrong again and again. And despite that history, anti-regulatory campaigners repeat the scariest statistics their own experts come up with, even if those statistics were meant to include a range of possible outcomes, or included caveats of uncertainty.

An important batch of articles this week dug into these issues. Here are some of the highlights:

Associated Press:

Yet in testimony before House committees now run by anti-regulation Republicans, industry witnesses repeat numbers from imprecise economic models. Members of Congress often cite the same figures without the researchers' caveats.


... industry lobbyists warned in 1990 that the latest round of Clean Air Act amendments would mean a “quiet death for businesses across the country.” Businesses claimed the acid rain emissions trading program would cost ratepayers $5.5 billion annually between 1990 and …

March 4, 2011 by Amy Sinden

When it comes to the use of cost-benefit analysis in setting environmental rules, it looks like President Obama's EPA has taken a big swig of industry’s Kool-Aid. We'll know for sure soon: The EPA has a March 14 deadline to issue its proposed Clean Water Act rule on cooling water intake structures at existing power plants and other facilities. But all signs seem to be pointing toward a highly formalized cost-benefit analysis resulting in a weak rule – and a lot of dead fish.

Lisa Jackson has hinted that the rule will create a relatively toothless case-by-case permitting regime rather than simply mandating the more environmentally protective closed-cycle cooling technology that some plants already use. And the agency’s development over the past six months of an elaborate, controversial, and frankly misguided study to try to divine the dollar value members of the public attach …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
March 30, 2011

Key OSHA Health and Safety Initiative Potentially Delayed Months by OMB Nitpicking

March 29, 2011

Robert Glicksman Testifies at House Hearing on Agency Rulemaking Process

March 29, 2011

EPA Punts on Cooling Water Rule; Despite Facts on the Ground, Decides Technology That Would Prevent Massive Fish Kills no Longer Feasible

March 25, 2011

Echoes of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in Today's Debate over Regulation

March 24, 2011

Energy Efficiency on the Rebound?

March 24, 2011

As the VSL Turns...: In Value of a Statistical Life Debate at EPA, Moral Decisions Hide Behind Technical Jargon

March 23, 2011

Mintz Op-ed Looks at the Real Consequences of Proposed EPA Budget Cuts