On Halloween, nothing seems spookier than a chance encounter with a ghost or goblin, except maybe a zombie. But there is something much more haunting that happens every day. Across the United States, an average of 137 people die daily from occupational diseases caused by on-the-job exposures to toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances. Nearly 200,000 more suffer from nonfatal illnesses annually.
This is no trick. There is no mystery here. In fact, in 2017, more people died from occupational diseases than from motor vehicle accidents or firearms. And that same year, 41 workers died from acute inhalation of a chemical on the job, according to data reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) earlier this month. With such a high number of deaths, working with chemicals makes every day at work a fright fest.
Chemical exposures may not be the stuff of nightmares or horror films. Nonetheless, I'm kept awake at night wondering what we can do to grab the attention of our president and lawmakers. After all, the solutions are well known and not too costly, and no magic potions or witches' brews are required. Yet those with the power to do something about it aren't …
The oil industry is enormous – something like 2 to 3 percent of global GDP. Individuals firms like ExxonMobil earn tens of billions of dollars each quarter. Controlling climate change will mean drastic curtailment in the coming decades of the industry’s major products. There’s no way that the industry will accept this lying down, and it’s a formidable opponent. To be successful, we will need a combination of strategies, aside from the rightness of our cause. There’s no doubt that there will be major battles with the industry. The question is only whether we can strengthen the forces on our side or reduce the stakes for the industry now and then. Here are some strategies of both types.
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog.
Last Thursday, the Government Accountability Office released a new study on federal agencies and environmental justice. The narrow purpose of the report is to assess the extent to which federal agencies are implementing Executive Order 12898, which was issued by President Clinton in 1994 and theoretically remains in force, along with subsequent agency commitments, some made in response to prior GAO studies.
For environmental justice advocates, much of the report will paint a depressing, if unsurprising, picture. In 2011, federal agencies participating in an environmental justice working group agreed to develop and periodically update environmental justice strategic plans, but some agencies have never developed plans, and others have stopped updating their plans. Ideally, those plans would include ambitious goals for progress and measurable indicators for evaluating progress toward (or past) those goals, but many agency plans include no such things …
Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.
Ever since Ronald Reagan declared government to be the problem rather than the solution, the federal bureaucracy has been the target of criticism from right-leaning think tanks, regulatory skeptics in academia, and politicians of all political persuasions. Lately, members of the federal judiciary have visibly joined this chorus of criticism.
Among the charges leveled against regulation and the agencies responsible for issuing and enforcing rules is the claim that, even assuming the validity of regulatory goals, traditional regulatory approaches too often fail to achieve them or impose unjustified social costs. Others assert that regulatory "intrusions" on the operation of the free market are antithetical to the protection of individual liberty and the economic system on which our nation was built.
We take a different view.
Government regulation serves a critical role in promoting the public interest by, for …
There are going to be some significant environmental cases over the next year. In addition, some important new cases will be filed now or in the near future, which may produce some interesting rulings. It will probably take more than a year, however, for some of the big new cases down the turnpike to result in their first level of judicial opinions, let alone reach completion.
The Supreme Court
The Court agreed last spring to hear two environmental cases this year. The first, County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, No. 18-260, will be argued on November 6. The issue is whether the Clean Water Act requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to navigable waters by a nonpoint source, such as groundwater.
The many thousands of people in the Mid-Atlantic region who care deeply about restoring the Chesapeake Bay tend to be pretty knowledgeable about the causes of the Bay's woes and even some of the key policy solutions for restoring it to health. These concerned citizens may even be familiar with the term "TMDL," a legal concept within the Clean Water Act that is probably completely foreign to most of the rest of the country. But what even the most committed Bay advocates may not be aware of is that a TMDL (short for "Total Maximum Daily Load") is merely a plan, not an enforceable document, and certainly not a self-activating solution to the Bay's problems.
The key to giving effect to the Bay TMDL and the entire Chesapeake restoration framework lies in the mechanics of the Clean Water Act. Quite simply, the TMDL sets an overall …
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland was different from most other lawmakers we see today. He embodied a moral authority that others try to project but that for him was unquestionably authentic. When he spoke of working on behalf of "the people," there was never a shred of a doubt that he meant just that.
Rep. Cummings is a vivid reminder that our democratic institutions work best when they are open to genuinely diverse perspectives. His personal experiences with adversity and injustice helped forge the views he brought to his work as representative of Maryland’s 7th District, which includes some of the most economically distressed areas in the country. These lived experiences no doubt led him to view his constitutional duty to "promote the general Welfare" differently from many of his colleagues and to take that duty much more seriously.
Rep. Cummings brought this unique perspective …
Last week, President Trump unleashed the latest volley in his administration's efforts to bring about the "deconstruction of the administrative state" with the signing of two new executive orders relating to agency issuance and use of "guidance documents." The first purports to ensure "improved agency guidance," while the second claims to promote "transparency and fairness" in the use of guidance for enforcement actions. The bottom line for the orders is that, with a few potentially big exceptions, they are unlikely to have much practical impact. Instead, this is mostly a messaging exercise by the Trump administration aimed at advancing the broader conservative campaign to delegitimize the regulatory system by propagating the tired old myth that regulatory agencies are unaccountable and pose a threat to our society.
Before diving into orders' substance, two housekeeping points need to be addressed. First, what are guidance documents anyway? They …
Stop me if you've heard this one before: Critical U.S. infrastructure is dilapidated and unsafe. Regulation is weak, and enforcement is weaker. Everyone agrees on the need for action, and climate change will only make the problem worse, but no one seems to do anything about it. Sadly, this has become a familiar story.
Take dams, for instance. A year ago, I noted that the federal government regulates the safety of only a small proportion of dams in the United States, while it owns less than 5 percent. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, in 2015, there were more than 15,000 dams classified as "high-hazard potential," a number that had increased by a third since 2005. The federal government issues dam safety guidelines, but they are not mandatory. The national flood safety program is established by 33 …
Just when it seemed that President Donald Trump was completely immune to accountability for his various abuses of power, impeachment proceedings against him have quickly picked up steam over the last couple weeks.
Laying aside what happens with Trump, it's significant that it was a whistleblower complaint from a current CIA officer that helped expose the president's misconduct. (Reports that a second whistleblower, another intelligence official, is preparing to step forward have emerged in recent days.)
Therein lies one of the many important civics lessons to be drawn from the bit of history we're witnessing: The process to this point has confirmed the value of a high-quality, independent, and professional federal bureaucracy to the effective functioning of our democracy. For starters, while Trump administration political appointees and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are likely to dominate the headlines as this drama plays out …