April 30, 2013 by Rena Steinzor

OIRA Nominee's Disappearing Affiliation with Industry Think Tank

See the UPDATE at the bottom of the page.

Last Thursday, President Obama named Howard Shelanski as his new nominee for Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). As of that evening, Shelanski was listed on the website of the industry-funded, fiercely anti-regulatory Mercatus Center as an "expert" in its Technology Policy Program. OIRA has long operated as a regulatory chokepoint, stalling and weakening health and environmental safeguards at the behest of industry groups, and as I've written, the protection of the public will require the next Administrator to work hard to transform OIRA's role. Although much research remains to be done on Shelanski's record, his association with Mercatus raised serious concerns about whether he could be the person to bring that fundamental change to OIRA. (In fact, it brought back memories of George W. Bush, who culled his second OIRA Administrator, Susan Dudley, from Mercatus's ranks.)

I pointed the Mercatus connection out in a blog the morning after his nomination. By Friday afternoon, without any explanation, Shelanski's name had been quietly removed from Mercatus' list of experts. (Here's Google's cached version (in pdf form) from April 11, 2013 showing …

April 30, 2013 by Lisa Heinzerling

Reposted from RegBlog.

In his revealing new book about his nearly four years as President Barack Obama’s “regulatory czar,” Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein describes a striking moment:  “After I had been in the job for a few years, a Cabinet member showed up at my office and told my chief of staff, ‘I work for Cass Sunstein.’  Of course that wasn’t true – but still.” 

But still, indeed.  Sunstein’s book, Simpler: The Future of Government, makes clear just how much power the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) wields in this administration.  As I have written elsewhere, Sunstein informs us that, as OIRA Administrator, he had the power to “say no to members of the president’s Cabinet;” to deposit “highly touted rules, beloved by regulators, onto the shit list;” to make sure that some rules “never saw the …

April 29, 2013 by Matthew Freeman

CPR's Tom McGarity has an op-ed in this morning's Christian Science Monitor describing the regulatory environment in which that West, Texas, fertilizer plant came to have a large stockpile of explosive material while operating with little or no oversight from state or federal authorities. An April 17 explosion at the plant claimed at least 15 lives and destroyed several hundred homes.

McGarity notes that Texas has no state program for occupational health and safety, so leaves such matters to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). But with its tiny staff of inspectors (2,400 in all), OSHA's its resources are stretched so thin that it has inspected the plant just once -- in the mid-1980s. Similarly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has insufficient staff to inspect more than once a decade. Meanwhile the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is so small, it can …

April 26, 2013 by Rena Steinzor

A few months ago, I urged the Obama Administration to view the nomination of a second-term Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) as an opportunity to fundamentally change the role that the office plays in the regulatory system. Dozens of important rules got stuck at OIRA in the year before the presidential elections and are still languishing. House Republicans continue their blistering and unsubstantiated attacks on the agencies, doing everything they can to cut their budgets beyond the bone, while the Obama Administration does nothing to rebut these tirades. And most agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are on life support, unable to prevent, much less mitigate a series of deadly fiascos. As just two very recent examples: consider  the explosion at a West Texas fertilizer factory that claimed 15 lives several days ago, catching emergency response crews at their most …

April 24, 2013 by Daniel Farber

Reposted from Legal Planet, by permisison.

There are a lot of things to disagree about in terms of energy policy.  One thing that ought to be common ground, as discussed in a Washington Post column, is increased research in energy R&D.  As this chart shows, federal support for energy R&D is smaller than it was under Ronald Reagan:

The economic argument for supporting R&D is simple.  Private firms don’t have enough of an incentive to engage in basic research because intellectual property law doesn’t allow them to capture the full benefits of the resource. For that reason, government support for the research is necessary.  Moreover, really new ideas have a high risk factor that may make them unattractive to private investors (a problem addressed by the ARPA-E program.)

For this reason, it’s good news that the President’s proposed budget includes substantial increases for …

April 23, 2013 by Sandra Zellmer

Monday was the deadline for public comment on the State Department's draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Keystone XL Pipeline. Mine, which I submitted with the support of two of my University of Nebraska colleagues, are here. The State Department had initially announced that it would take the unusual path of refusing to make all of the comments available to the public absent a Freedom of Information Act request, but after a storm of criticism, the Department has reversed its decision to play hide and seek and now promises to post them all on a website.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has released its comments, which are extremely critical of the State Department's analysis of the project's effect on climate change and its failure to consider alternative pipeline routes that avoid critical water resources. The EPA's comments, together with the outpouring of …

April 19, 2013 by

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ended a generation of human rights litigation in the United States by holding, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, that the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) does not apply to actions occurring in foreign countries. The ATS allows plaintiffs to sue in federal courts for torts committed in violation of international law and, since 1980, plaintiffs have used it for claims of grave human rights violations, such as torture, crimes against humanity, extrajudicial killing, and even genocide, arising in other countries. Now it appears that the federal courts will be closed to such claims.  

In recent years, plaintiffs had brought a series of cases against corporations that accused them of complicity in human rights abuses. Many of those claims were against corporations exploiting natural resources in developing countries. For example, Kiobel arose from Shell’s decades-long presence in the Niger Delta. In the …

April 19, 2013 by Robert Glicksman

Industries that discharge water pollution are required to abide by clean water laws and regulations that limit how much they can pollute the nation's rivers, lakes, streams, and other bodies of water. If they exceed their limits or fail to implement appropriate methods for controlling their pollution, they violate the law. Such violations should trigger appropriate sanctions to deter all regulated entities from committing future violations.

Unfortunately, polluters may weigh decisions about whether and how much to pollute from a dollars-and-cents perspective only, comparing the costs of compliance with the penalties to which they may be subject for exceeding applicable discharge limits. Such a comparison can make decisions about how much to pollute turn on a comparison of the bottom line on the corporate balance sheet with and without a violation, without any apparent recognition of the impact that pollution may have on the health of …

April 17, 2013 by Yee Huang

In the decades since Congress and state legislatures passed most of the nation's most significant environmental laws, our knowledge about ecosystems has increased dramatically. We know much more about the “goods and services” that ecosystems provide—more, for example, about the migratory species that sustain agriculture by functioning as pollinators, and more about how healthy ecosystems help to filter and clean our water. But our policymakers haven’t yet taken advantage of much of that new knowledge. As ecologists learn more about the complex and dynamic interactions that produce these valuable services, decisionmakers and advocates should adopt an ecosystem services approach to implementing laws that affect the environment.

Such an approach to environmental protection focuses policy and decisionmaking on restoring and maintaining the natural infrastructure and resources that the public values. It combines scientific assessment tools to understand both our dependence and impacts on ecosystems and …

April 17, 2013 by Lesley McAllister

The following is reposted from the Environmental Law Prof Blog.

The electric utility industry often complains that renewable energy proponents don’t pay enough attention to the intermittency of renewable resources.  A common refrain is “the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.”  The industry then reminds us that, for a reliable electricity grid, supply and demand must be in balance at all times. The implication is that this will be impossible if we rely heavily on renewable energy.

A new report published by the Civil Society Institute models a year 2050 scenario in which renewable energy is used to generate about half of all electricity in the US, and the lights still reliably come on.  In the scenario, about 22% of demand is met by solar (almost all PV), 16% by wind, 8% by hydro, and 5% by biomass. The rest …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
April 30, 2013

Who Is Running OIRA?

April 30, 2013

OIRA Nominee's Disappearing Affiliation with Industry Think Tank

April 29, 2013

Tom McGarity Op-Ed in the Christian Science Monitor: Feeble Oversight in West, Texas, Was No Accident

April 26, 2013

Obama's Next Regulatory Czar

April 24, 2013

An Energy No-Brainer

April 23, 2013

Blistering Comments on State's Draft Keystone XL Environmental Impact Statement

April 19, 2013

Death of a Statute: The Kiobel Ruling