May 31, 2011 by Matt Shudtz

OSHA Releases Self-Evaluation of its Role in Federal Response to BP Oil Spill

OSHA published a report (pdf) last week on its role in the federal government’s response to last year’s massive oil spill. Within days of the blowout aboard the Deepwater Horizon, OSHA officials were in Louisiana, working to ensure that the people involved in the response and cleanup had adequate protection from the myriad hazards they would face. The new report is mainly a list of accomplishments, not an introspective “lessons learned” self-evaluation that could have paved the way for policy changes that would improve the federal oil spill response system. Nevertheless, the document is worth the read because it provides a good sense of the difficulty OSHA faced in protecting a huge workforce from so many hazards, as part of an unprecedented government response.

The report covers a handful of areas where OSHA did most of its work: site visits, intervention, and technical support; chemical exposure assessment; personal protective equipment (PPE); training; guidance and publications; community outreach; injury and illness reporting; and efforts to support the Labor Department’s big-picture goals of hiring local and displaced workers. 

The report’s sections on enforcement and training missed some key points that I would have liked to see the agency …

May 27, 2011 by Holly Doremus

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

I was excited to read this story in the LA Times, saying that BOEMRE and NOAA had reached an agreement that would give NOAA more say in decisions to approve offshore drilling. (Draw whatever conclusions you like about what my geeky excitement says about how boring my life must be.) This agreement is certainly needed, as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Commission has noted, and as I’ve written in this paper forthcoming in Boston College’s Environmental Affairs Law Review.

As reported by the Times:

The accord will require regulators to “explain in writing any decision not to incorporate a comment by NOAA,” and allow the agency to respond to those explanations.

This is good news, but with some limitations that may not be obvious at first glance. The Memorandum of Understanding is largely aimed at increasing communication between the two agencies …

May 26, 2011 by Amy Sinden

Following up on President Obama’s January Executive Order calling for agencies to conduct a regulatory “look-back,” the Administration today released a target list of health, safety, and environmental standards to be reviewed by agencies in the coming months, with an eye toward eliminating or modifying them.

The President’s January announcement was driven by politics, and from all appearances, the process of reviewing these regulations will be as well. In an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, and in a speech today at the American Enterprise Institute – note the conservative venues chosen – “Regulatory Czar” Cass Sunstein, Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, not only unveiled the target list but once again deployed the kind of anti-regulatory rhetoric one might expect from the Chamber of Commerce. Sunstein asserts that "Our goal is to change the regulatory culture of Washington by …

May 25, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) Administrator Cass Sunstein heads to the American Enterprise Institute Thursday morning to speak about federal agencies' plans to "look back" at and review existing regulations. Meanwhile, agencies statutorily obligated to protect public health and safety, such as EPA and OSHA, are diverting resources from pressing work so that they can structure and soon carry out a hunt for a supposed treasure of frivolous old regulations that need to be revised or eliminated. Strikingly, even industry itself has struggled to come up with enthusiasm for the effort -- or even a few specific examples of old rules it believes are unduly burdensome. It adds up to a not pretty picture.

President Obama called for the regulatory “look-backs” in his January 18 Executive Order on regulatory policy; the Order called on each agency to develop a "preliminary plan" within 120 days for how …

May 19, 2011 by Thomas McGarity

The report issued this morning by the Governor's Independent Investigation Panel on the West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 miners at the Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch Mine just over a year ago will never make the New York Times best seller list. But it should be required reading for all policymakers with responsibility for protecting the safety of the workers who spend much of their lives deep underground digging coal.

Although the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and Massey Energy have conducted their own investigations (MSHA's is forthcoming) into the causes of the tragic explosion, Joe Manchin, then the Governor, correctly assumed that the full story was not likely to come out of two entities with such an obvious stake in the outcome. He asked Davitt McAteer, the head of MSHA during the Clinton Administration and a long-time advocate of …

May 18, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

This post was written by CPR Member Scholars Rena Steinzor and Catherine O'Neill, and Policy Analyst James Goodwin.

By any reasonable estimation, it should have been a jewel in the EPA’s regulatory crown. Released in February, the EPA’s final Boiler MACT rule (actually, it’s two rules—one addressing large boilers and the other addressing smaller ones) would annually prevent up to nearly 6,600 premature deaths, more than 4,000 non-fatal heart attacks, more than 1,600 cases of acute bronchitis, and more than 313,000 missed work and school days.  The final rule produced these enormous health benefits despite the fact it had been dramatically softened to placate industry critics. Because of these benefits, a recent CPR white paper had identified the Boiler MACT rule as one of the 12 “most critical environmental, health, and safety regulations still in the pipeline.” The …

May 13, 2011 by Matt Shudtz

EPA announced Wednesday that it is delaying the reporting period for its Inventory Update Reporting requirement. It's not good news.

EPA had announced its intention to revise (pdf) the TSCA Inventory Update Rule (IUR) back in August of last year. The TSCA Inventory is the official list of chemicals in commerce, and the IUR is the regulation that requires companies to submit production and use data to EPA to ensure the Inventory accurately represents all of the chemicals out there. Determining the risks posed by chemicals in the environment is a matter of combining hazard information with exposure data. The TSCA Inventory, along the data in EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, provide answers to the “exposure” half of that equation.

EPA's proposal was a step forward, requiring more information reporting from chemical manufacturers, more frequent updates, less information hidden from the public by confidentiality, and …

May 10, 2011 by Dan Rohlf

In an impressive effort to demonstrate that crafting bad environmental legislation knows no partisan boundaries, Democratic Senator John Tester of  Montana – who recently spearheaded a successful effort to remove wolves from the endangered species list through a budget maneuver – last month introduced legislation to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating lead ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Several environmental organizations last year petitioned EPA to mandate the use of non-lead bullets and shot, noting that traditional bullets used by hunters spread lead fragments throughout the environment, poisoning a wide variety of non-target birds and other wildlife, including critically imperiled species such as California condors.

Tester claims that his legislation would protect hunters when “Washington DC’s rules get in the way of common sense.” But it’s actually the status quo that’s a nonsensical health hazard for hunters and their friends and families …

May 6, 2011 by Frank Ackerman

Cross-posted from Triple Crisis.

Climate legislation, even in its most modest and repeatedly compromised variety, failed last year. And there won’t be a second chance with anything like the current Congress. What caused this momentous failure?

Broadly speaking, there are two rival stories. It could be due to the strength of opposing or inertial forces: well-funded lobbying by fossil fuel industries, biased coverage by increasingly right-wing media, the growth of the “Tea Party” subculture and its rejection of science, dysfunctional institutions such as the U.S. Senate with its filibuster rules, and the low priority given to climate legislation by the Obama administration.

Or it could be because environmentalists screwed up and shot themselves in the foot.

If you had to guess, which of these stories sounds to you like it would get more media attention? You’re right, that’s what everyone else thought, too …

May 6, 2011 by Alexandra Klass

On Wednesday, Our Children's Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit, made headlines when it began filing lawsuits on behalf of children against all 50 states and several federal agencies alleging that these governmental entities have violated the common law public trust doctrine by failing to limit greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.  The claims seek judicial declaration that states have a fiduciary duty to future generations with regard to an “atmospheric trust” and that states and the federal government must take immediate action to protect and preserve that trust. Although these claims certainly are novel and may have limited or no success in many states because of lack of precedent, they rely on what has proved to be a flexible and powerful common law doctrine in some states that has pushed the legal envelope in the name of environmental protection in the past. As a result …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
May 31, 2011

OSHA Releases Self-Evaluation of its Role in Federal Response to BP Oil Spill

May 27, 2011

The New BOEMRE-NOAA MOU: A Good Start, But More is Needed

May 26, 2011

Administration's Regulatory 'Look-Back' Announcement Panders to Industry, Focuses Primarily on Eliminating Regs, Diverts Agencies from Crucial Work

May 25, 2011

Sunstein to Outline Regulatory Review Plans; Industry Yawns; Public Health and Safety Agencies Lose out from Diverted Resources

May 19, 2011

The McAteer Report: A Mine Safety Blockbuster

May 18, 2011

Lisa Jackson Steps Back (Again) on Boiler MACT: One of the Top 12 Rules Now in Indefinite Limbo. Delay Violates the CAA

May 13, 2011

Inventory Update Reporting Rule Delayed Following Five Industry Meetings at the White House and Some Specious Claims