Dec. 22, 2015 by Katie Tracy

Feds Resolve to Expand Criminal Prosecutions of Workplace Safety Violations in the New Year

As the year draws to a close and the New Year approaches, people all around the world will be contemplating what they can resolve to do better in 2016. This year, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) seem to be celebrating the tradition as well. In a move akin to a “New Year’s Resolution” to do better by workers, the two agencies have just announced that they will be expanding their “worker endangerment initiative” to bolster criminal prosecutions against employers responsible for endangering workers’ health and safety.

The new initiative is an encouraging step toward punishing employers who make decisions that put profits over people and toward deterring others from violating federal labor laws. But the initiative—while it’s a beneficial supplement to the weak criminal penalties applicable to many labor violations—is also limited in scope and shouldn’t be regarded as a comprehensive solution.

The purpose of the DOL/DOJ worker endangerment initiative is to supplement the weak criminal penalty provisions found in three of our nation’s labor laws—the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), the Mine Safety and Health Act (Mine Act), and the …

Dec. 21, 2015 by Matt Shudtz

This afternoon, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it was sending its final version of a long-awaited rule on silica dust in the workplace to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for final review. CPR Executive Director Matthew Shudtz responded to the news with the following statement:

Workers across the United States have been waiting for this day for a long time. But don’t overlook the fact that this announcement simply marks a procedural accomplishment in a decades-long administrative process. This rule has been to OIRA before, and the last time it sat with the White House bean counters for two and a half years. By Executive Order, this review should be complete in a matter of weeks. That’s what millions of silica-exposed workers expect and what the White House needs to deliver.

We won't know the full …

Dec. 21, 2015 by Alice Kaswan

As we seek to understand and assess the Paris Agreement over the coming months and years, we will continue to contemplate the critical underlying political and ethical question: who should be responsible?  And to what degree should that responsibility take the form of direct action versus providing support in the form of financing, technology transfer, and capacity-building?  As my Center for Progressive Reform colleague Noah Sachs has observed, the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) has been a consistent theme in all of the climate negotiations. But, what CBDR means – why and when responsibilities should be common, and why and when they should be differentiated -- is continually contested and continually shifting.  I briefly highlight the allocation of responsibility in the Paris Agreement.  Drawing upon two recent articles on adaptation justice, I then provide a short roadmap to the theories of justice at play in the international …

Dec. 18, 2015 by

A few months ago, I recounted the recent history of budget cuts to Maryland environmental agencies and their effect on the state of environmental inspections and enforcement in the state over the last two decades.  Fortunately, it appears that an opportunity to change this situation has presented itself to policymakers in Annapolis. 

Recently, at the annual November meeting of the legislative Spending Affordability Committee, key lawmakers from the budget committees and House and Senate Leadership heard from the top legislative budget analysts that the state’s fiscal picture finally looks “good.”  In fact, for the first time in a decade the state general fund budget is forecasted to be in a structural surplus, not only for the current fiscal year (2016), but the following year (2017) as well.  Then this week, we received more good news about the state’s budget. Revenue estimates were revised up again …

Dec. 16, 2015 by James Goodwin

This week appears to mark the end of an extraordinary period in the history of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the shadowy bureau charged with reviewing and revising pending agency rules, which too often ensures they are not overly inconvenient for affected industries.  For the last month and a half, a Mos Eisley-esque mélange of characters has streamed through the front doors to lobby OIRA’s gang of economists and political operatives over a pending rule that would establish the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) authority to regulate non-traditional tobacco products including e-cigarettes and flavored cigars the same way it does with more traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.  OIRA’s review of the rule, which comes at the end of a rulemaking process that has already stretched more than five years, provides these groups with one last …

Dec. 15, 2015 by Daniel Farber

If we're serious about keeping warming "well below" 2 degrees C, geoengineering may be necessary.

The Paris agreement establishes an aspirational goal of holding climate change to 1.5 degrees C, with a firmer goal of holding the global temperature decrease “well below” 2 degrees C. As a practical matter, the 1.5 degrees C goal almost certainly would require geoengineering, such as injecting aerosols into the stratosphere or solar mirrors. Even getting well below 2 degrees C is likely to require steps of that kind or a technological breakthrough for another kind of geoengineering, removing CO2 from the atmosphere. None of this has to happen soon, but sometime between now and the end of the century, something along these lines would probably be required.

It's always good to begin with the actual text of the agreement. Here’s the language of the agreement …

Dec. 10, 2015 by

In the latest draft treaty text from Thursday evening in Paris two contentious issues seem to be resolved: how often the agreement will be reviewed after it is adopted (“stocktaking”) and whether the reviews should involve ever-more-stringent commitments by the parties (“ratcheting”).

The background here is that the greenhouse gas reduction commitments made so far by 185 countries are voluntary, and they have varying levels of ambition.    Most countries committed to fulfill their promised reductions by 2030, but some countries, including the United States, used a 2025 target year (the U.S. committed to a 26-28% reduction below 2005 levels).   There is no enforcement mechanism for these commitments – no sheriff to monitor compliance and no court to punish the laggards.

The second-best option, then, is periodic reviews – stocktaking -- to see how each nation is progressing toward its voluntary pledge.  Although this idea seems non-controversial, many developing countries …

Dec. 9, 2015 by

Here at the UN climate summit is Paris, negotiators are hashing out the new meaning of an old term: common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR). CBDR has been a bedrock principle of climate negotiations since 1992. It was the basis for dividing the world into two camps: 37 developed nations that had binding greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets, and the rest of the world. There are many definitions for CBDR, but the best one I’ve heard was given by former Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth before a skeptical Senate committee. Defending the fairness of CBDR, he said that it means all nations are in the same boat, but some nations like the United States have to do more work than others to pull the oars.

The Paris agreement is based on voluntary climate commitments by every party, so if everyone is pulling an oar, to use Wirth …

Dec. 9, 2015 by James Goodwin

This morning, CPR President and Loyola University, New Orleans, Law Professor Robert R.M. Verchick testifies at a hearing convened by the Senate Budget Committee to examine a dangerous regulatory policy proposal known as “regulatory budgeting.”

As he explains in his testimony, regulatory budgeting represents a stark departure from the traditional focus of regulatory policy discussions, which have long been concerned with improving the effectiveness—or quality—of regulatory decision-making. Regulatory budgeting, by contrast, makes the total number—or quantity—of regulations the primary focus, relegating concerns of individual regulatory quality to a matter of secondary importance.

Regulatory budgeting seeks to impose an arbitrary cap on total regulatory costs. According to one version, agencies would get an annual regulatory budget—much like their appropriations budget—which would constrain how many new regulations the agency could implement during the covered time period. Agencies could seek to exceed that …

Dec. 7, 2015 by Mollie Rosenzweig

If you've come across one of the ads, newspaper stories, or opinion pieces from Chuck Norris in the past week warning you about frankenfish, you can thank the FDA. In mid-November, the FDA made history by approving the first genetically engineered (GE) animal for human consumption, Atlantic salmon from the company AquaBounty. Not only has the approval process failed to win over skeptics, exposing the weaknesses in the current legal regime that governs plants and animals developed through biotechnology, it raises important questions about the future of food oversight. With emerging genetic technologies on the horizon, can federal agencies continue to exert control over approving genetically altered plants and animals under a legal scheme that never imagined the technologically advanced foods of today and tomorrow? 

AquaBounty created the AquAdvantage salmon by combining the growth gene from the Chinook salmon and a “promoter” gene from another species …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Dec. 22, 2015

Feds Resolve to Expand Criminal Prosecutions of Workplace Safety Violations in the New Year

Dec. 21, 2015

CPR's Shudtz on the Silica Rule

Dec. 21, 2015

The Paris Agreement and Theories of Justice

Dec. 18, 2015

Now is the Time to Restore MDE Enforcement Resources

Dec. 16, 2015

VapeMentors, the Fat Cat Vapor Shop, and Cosmic Fog Vapors All Walk Into an Obscure White House Office...

Dec. 15, 2015

Does the Paris Agreement Open the Door to Geoengineering?

Dec. 10, 2015

Stocktaking and Ratcheting After Paris