Oct. 28, 2011 by Catherine O'Neill

Newest Research on Effects of Mercury Underscores Importance of Utility MACT

As EPA’s long-awaited rule curbing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants heads to OMB for its review, new scientific studies suggest that the harms of mercury contamination may be more severe and more widespread than previously understood. According to the report Great Lakes Mercury Connections: The Extent and Effects of Mercury Pollution in the Great Lakes Region, released October 11, “the scope and intensity of the problem is greater than had been previously recognized.”  Despite these harms, utilities have been relentless in their efforts to derail mercury regulation.   (The most recent attempts of this industry and its allies in 25 states to prop up the recalcitrant “old dirties” that still hope to avoid reducing their mercury emissions is discussed by my colleague Rena Steinzor.) These ongoing efforts to undermine protection of human and ecological health are unconscionable. The release of this recent collection of scientific data only underscores this point.    

The Great Lakes Mercury Connections report summarizes the findings of 35 new scientific papers that are the result of an ambitious multi-disciplinary effort to enlarge understanding about the impacts of mercury contamination in the Great Lakes region. According to the report, regulatory controls on the sources of mercury pollution …

Oct. 27, 2011 by Frank Ackerman

Cross-posted from ThinkProgress Green.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) has asked the Energy Information Administration to evaluate an unrealistically harsh and unsophisticated clean energy standard, designed to represent the Republicans’ worst nightmare: every electricity retailer in the country (some of them quite small) must meet a relatively high and rising standard for low-carbon energy, starting very soon, with no trading between companies, banking of excess credits, or other flexibility mechanisms that would soften the blow.

Even the Republican nightmare doesn’t look as bad as one might have suspected: according to the EIA analysis, it achieves a rapid reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, while causing electricity prices to rise by less than one percent per year, and lowering GDP per capita in 2035, the end of the study period, all the way from (watch closely or you’ll miss this) $65,848 to $65,658 – a reduction of …

Oct. 26, 2011 by Daniel Farber

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Of course, not everyone agrees that CBA is good in the first place.  It remains anathema to many environmentalists.  My own view is that it can be a useful tool so long as its limitations are clearly understood.

But just because something is good doesn’t mean that more is better.  My grandmother’s view was that if a recipe called for two eggs and one tablespoon of butter, four eggs and two tablespoons would produce an even tastier result — a theory that did not always prove valid.  Sometimes, you really just need two eggs!

The same is true of cost-benefit analysis.  There are a number of proposals in Congress to expand cost-benefit analysis to cover many additional regulations.  A very thoughtful analysis from the Congressional Research Service points out that these proposals may not themselves pass a cost-benefit analysis:

Although there is …

Oct. 25, 2011 by Ben Somberg

If you were an industry lobbyist working to block new health and safety protections, what would make your job easier? How about if the law said that you could flood an agency with alternate regulatory proposals, and the agency wouldn’t just need to consider each one, but in fact conduct a full cost-benefit analysis on them all? That would probably be an effective way to tie up the agency quite nicely, and block it from getting its work of protecting the public done.

And that’s exactly what one of the provisions in the “Regulatory Accountability Act,” the subject of a hearing at the House Judiciary Committee this morning, would do. The bill would require an agency to do a cost-benefit study for “any reasonable alternatives for a new rule or other response identified by the agency or interested persons.” That’s just the tip of …

Oct. 21, 2011 by Yee Huang

Maryland has a long-held reputation as a regional and national leader in environmental protection. But in some areas, especially enforcement, that reputation warrants scrutiny, says a CPR briefing paper released today. For example, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) cannot by law assess fees for issuing and administering permits for municipalities for water pollution, despite the many resources required to regulate and monitor the pollution. The state’s penalties for violating the Clean Water Act have remained chronically below the level allowed under federal law. And state law does not require MDE to penalize polluters for the full amount of the economic gain they achieved by flouting the law, unlike laws in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Together, these shortcomings may effectively dilute the power of deterrent effect of environmental laws across the state. The end result: waters less protected from pollution.

Today CPR releases Back to Basics …

Oct. 20, 2011 by Yee Huang

It’s no secret that past efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay have suffered from a lack of accountability. And so as the EPA, the Chesapeake Bay states, and the District of Columbia engage in their current effort to restore the health and water quality of the Bay, getting accountability right is extremely important. This theme is the focus of this year’s Ward Kershaw Forum, which CPR and the UMaryland Carey School of Law will co-host at the law school in Baltimore tomorrow, October 21. 

The panels and speakers will address questions such as:

  • What are the key features of an effective enforcement program?
  • How can community groups help ensure accountability?
  • How can water quality trading be made accountable?

Speakers include EPA Bay “czar” Jeff Corbin, Maryland Department of Environment Secretary Robert Summers, and Maryland State Senator Brian Frosh – as well as a host of stakeholders …

Oct. 19, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

In perhaps the most profoundly embarrassing development yet for the U.S. government’s star-crossed efforts to police offshore drilling, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced last week that it was asking BP, Transocean, and Halliburton to pay a total of up to $45.7 million in fines for 15 violations arising out of the catastrophic failure of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s million, not billion, by the way, and a total for all three companies, not each. The $15 million or so that they might each pay is so small in comparison to their annual profits that they might just go ahead and put the sum on an expense account. Meanwhile, as if their humiliation was not enough, the Department of Justice remains strangely silent on its criminal investigation of BP, more than a year after …

Oct. 18, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

Proving the old adage that you must be careful what you wish for, conservative officials in 25 states have done their best to hoist the Obama Administration on its own petard by running off to court to oppose the EPA rule that would curb toxic emissions from power plants. They argue, among other things, that the agency had not itemized the “cumulative” costs of this and all other electric-utility-oriented regulations under Executive Order 13,563 and needed at least another year to get this burdensome task done.  

Issued this January, EO 13,563 is the leading edge of the Obama Administration’s effort to persuade polluting industries that it has their best interests at heart. Like every other executive order on the books, it says on its face that it “does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by …

Oct. 17, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

The residents of Kingston, Tennessee had no inkling that the Christmas of 2008 would be any different than another year. In the wee morning hours three days before the holiday, an earthen dam holding back a 40-acre surface impoundment at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power plant burst, releasing 1 billion gallons of inky coal ash sludge across Kingston, Tennessee. The sludge flood crossed a river, destroying 26 houses. One had a man inside, and was lifted off its foundation and moved 40 feet downhill. In the end, the spill covered 300 acres in four to five feet of sludge and mud. Estimated cleanup costs are more than $1.2 billion. 

On Friday, inspired by relentless electric utility industry lobbying, House Republicans and some three dozen Democrat colleagues voted to gut a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that had the potential to get a grip on …

Oct. 14, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

This post was co-authored by CPR President Rena Steinzor and CPR Policy Analyst Aimee Simpson.

In what at first glance seemed to be a startlingly uncharacteristic move, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to update and strengthen its food additive regulation that sets out the approved uses for polycarbonate resins.   For those who don’t speak plastic, “polycarbonate resin” refers to plastic that contains bisphenol-A or “BPA”—an endocrine-disrupting chemical with significant health risks, especially for babies. Polycarbonate resin is found in everything from reusable food and beverage containers, to tin can linings and thermal receipt paper. 

While usually a staunch defender of unbridled BPA use in all things plastic, the ACC actually asked the FDA to remove approval for the use of BPA in “infant feeding bottles and certain spill-proof cups.” If this request has you scratching you head …

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

Newest Research on Effects of Mercury Underscores Importance of Utility MACT

Oct. 27, 2011

Rep. Ralph Hall's Clean Energy Standard Is Unrealistically Harsh And Unsophisticated

Oct. 26, 2011

If Cost-Benefit Analysis is Good, Is More Cost-Benefit Analysis Always Better?

Oct. 25, 2011

Sidney Shapiro Testifying at House Judiciary Hearing on Regulatory Accountability Act

Oct. 21, 2011

New CPR Briefing Paper: Maryland Should Update Laws to Better Enforce Environmental Protections

Oct. 20, 2011

CPR to Co-Host Forum on Chesapeake Bay Restoration Accountability

Oct. 19, 2011

Too Big to Rein in, BP Continues Galloping Along, Unbridled and Unrepentant