May 30, 2012 by Sandra Zellmer

Protecting Our Greatest Asset: Ratifying the Convention on Biological Diversity

a(broad) perspective

Today’s post, co-authored by CPR Member Scholar Sandra Zellmer  and Policy Analyst Yee Huang, is the fourth in a series on a recent CPR white paper, Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership: Why the United States Should Ratify Ten Pending Environmental Treaties. Each month, this series will discuss one of these ten treaties. Previous posts are here.

Convention on Biological Diversity
Adopted and Opened for Signature on June 5, 1992
Entered into Force on December 29, 1993
Number of Parties: 193
Signed by the United States on June 4, 1993
Sent to the Senate on November 20, 1993
Reported favorably by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 29, 1994

Biodiversity is the range of variations in all forms of life, from the genetic level to the species level to the ecosystem level. This diversity of life sustains all processes on the planet, built up over the several billion years of the planet's existence. It has intrinsic as well as aesthetic, cultural, and spiritual values, and an economic value too. The diversity of plants and animals has contributed to more nutritious diets, an increased human lifespan, and treating treatable illnesses. Economists estimate that humans derive trillions of …

May 30, 2012 by James Goodwin

Last December, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finalized a new aviation safety rule designed to prevent excessive pilot fatigue, a problem that had contributed to at least one high-profile airline disaster—the Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash near Buffalo, New York, in February of 2009, which killed 50 and injured four—as well as to a disturbing series of mishaps and “near misses.”

It turns out that the rule took a mid-flight detour on its journey from proposal to final form, and that the way in which it was weakened along the way is a textbook example of how the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs manages, at the behest of industry, to override the plain meaning of statutes requiring regulation. The proposal, issued for public comment in September 2010, covered cargo-only pilots as well as passenger pilots. That made a certain sense, because while …

May 25, 2012 by Matthew Freeman

This Memorial Day weekend, boaters, swimmers, fishers and others will flock to the Chesapeake Bay to mark the traditional, if not quite calendrically accurate, beginning of summer.  They'll bring their wallets with them, of course, thus supporting businesses and and jobs up and down the Bay. After a day in, on or near the water, many of them will tuck into a meal of crabcakes, made from blue crabs harvested in the Bay.

Recreation and commerce are two of the most important uses of the Bay, and certainly the best known. But another use, less advertised and far less understood, is as a dumping ground for pollution. Some of that pollution comes from rainwater runoff from roads and other hard surfaces, carrying motor oil and other substances into the Bay. Some comes from overfertilized lawns. And a significant chunk, including 44 percent of the Bay's …

May 24, 2012 by Daniel Farber

Following is the first of two Dan Farber blog entries reposted today from LegalPlanet.

Bureaucrats aren’t very popular.  But consider the alternatives when it comes to dealing with environmental problems.  Basically, bureaucrats are part of the executive branch of government.  For instance, the head of EPA is appointed by the President and can be removed by the President at any time.  (A few agencies such as the SEC enjoy some protection from presidential removal power, but that’s not true for any of the environmental agencies.)  I explained in my last post why the free market won’t generally solve environmental problems.  So that leaves the three branches of government: the courts, the executive branch, and Congress.

Most people who don’t like regulations also don’t like the idea of using courts to solve social problems.  In the case of environmental problems, the reluctance is …

May 24, 2012 by Daniel Farber

The The following is the second of two Dan Farber blog entries reposted today from LegalPlanet.

The key to understanding the economics of environmental protection is the concept of externalities.  An externality is simply a cost that one person or firm imposes on another. In general, an externality means that an activity is causing more harm than it should.

Of course, a company or individual could decide to voluntarily correct the problem to eliminate the externality.  But if the cost is significant, many people will not be altruistic enough to bear a heavy cost in order to help someone else.  And corporations, which have a fiduciary duty to protect their own shareholders, are not in the business of being altruistic toward outsider.

If only a few people are on the receiving side of the externality, they might be able to enter a contract with the creator of …

May 21, 2012 by Robert Verchick

The end of the school year always leaves me wishing that I could have lectured more clearly or somehow covered more in my classes on environmental law and policy. There was really just too much to discuss. How does one do justice to all those doubtful arguments in support of the Keystone XL pipeline? It’s a job creator! A gasoline price cap! A floor wax! Or the continuing saga of how the Obama administration should reorganize the offshore drilling responsibilities assigned to the MMS, I mean BOEMRE, I mean BOEM/BSEE. And there is never enough time to test it all.

This year I’ve assembled a few questions that have been on my mind this semester but that didn’t make it onto the exam. (Answers are posted at the bottom of this page). By the way, if you’re a regular reader of CPRBlog …

May 11, 2012 by Matt Shudtz

Two years ago tomorrow, Saturday, EPA sent a seemingly modest idea over to the White House for a quick review.  The agency wanted to establish a simple list of “chemicals of concern.”  These weren’t chemicals that were necessarily going to be subject to bans or other restrictions, but they present significant enough hazards and are distributed widely enough in the environment to raise some eyebrows among EPA’s toxics staff.  Among the chemicals that were being proposed for inclusion on the list:  phthalates, PBDEs, and BPA.  The rule wasn’t expected to cost much, but EPA sent it to the White House anyway, probably because this was the first time the agency would use a particular statutory authority Congress first granted in 1972.  But two years after EPA sent the proposal to the White House, it is still sitting on a desk somewhere at OIRA, and …

May 10, 2012 by Rena Steinzor

President Obama issued the latest salvo in the Administration's efforts to placate the business community this morning, in the form of a new Executive Order called “Identifying and Reducing Regulatory Burdens.”   The Order would expand and enhance the unfunded mandate that would require agencies to scour through the rule books, finding “excessive” rules that would save regulated companies big money. As I have written elsewhere in this space, the latest example of such an effort would jeopardize food safety by allowing huge poultry processors to self-inspect for salmonella, not incidentally making the lot of the workers who are already overburdened by workplace safety hazards close to intolerable.

The new order sugarcoats its regressive mandate by instructing agencies to seek “public comment”  on regulatory “look-backs,” which in practice does not mean comments from mom and pop, who are unlikely to spend their spare time on …

May 9, 2012 by Ben Somberg

When the Administration withdrew a rule last month prohibiting young agricultural workers from performing some particularly dangerous tasks, the Department of Labor’s statement didnt't just say it was tabling the proposal, or reconsidering it, or even starting over from scratch. It went an extra step, adding: “To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”

Given that farm accidents are a very real concern, it's hard to read such an unusually vocal commitment to inaction as anything other than a political gesture. Indeed, the Administration won plaudits from big ag and its supporters. But if the White House actually thought that throwing young agricultural workers under the bus would truly satisfy  the appetite of the opposition – and change the politics of the issue – it was wrong.

Here was Janet Fisher, West Virginia’s Deputy Agriculture Commissioner, speaking …

May 8, 2012 by Rena Steinzor

Electoral politics or public policy? Policy or politics? One ripe example of how the White House rides herd on health and safety agencies, thinking about politics, not policy to determine what they should do, is provided by the latest poster child for curbing allegedly “excessive rules”: a U.S. Department of Agriculture proposal to take federal inspectors off the lines at poultry processing plants and substitute inspections by workers who would simultaneously cope with a speed-up on the line from 90 to 175 birds/minute.

According to White House regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, regulatory decisions made in the name of the President are based on an objective consideration of the merits of health and safety rules, and he has the paperwork to prove it. Executive Order 12,866, Executive Order 13563, Circular A-4, and a wad of memoranda intone just what kinds of detailed analyses agencies are …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
May 30, 2012

Protecting Our Greatest Asset: Ratifying the Convention on Biological Diversity

May 30, 2012

Spurred on by Industry, OIRA Weakens Rule to Prevent Fatigue-Related Aviation Catastrophes

May 25, 2012

A Warning about Water Quality Trading in the Chesapeake

May 24, 2012

Why We Need Administrative Agencies Like EPA

May 24, 2012

Why the Environment Requires Government Protection: Some Simple Economics

May 21, 2012

Test Questions I Wish I'd Asked

May 11, 2012

EPA's Proposed Chemicals of Concern List Under OIRA Review for Two Years: That Goose is Cooked