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The Rest of the Story Behind the Bay’s Enormous Dead Zone

Monday’s Washington Post article on the massive oxygen-depleted areas in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico promised to uncover how “falter[ing]” “pollution curbs” were contributing to the dead zones. Instead, the article focused almost exclusively on the dead zones themselves, providing nothing on the vital, yet stalled, regulatory solutions.

The article mentioned that fertilizer and manure washed from farms helped form the Chesapeake Bay dead zone, which was the eighth largest since record-keeping began. Yet it failed to mention that state and federal efforts to curb pollution from farms have faltered over and over again. 

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No, the GAO Didn’t Say EPA’s Cost-Benefit Analyses are Bad—But Here’s What We Should Take Away from Their Report

If you’re an antiregulatory, anti-environment member of Congress, such as Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) or Darrell Issa (R-CA), how do you get the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to issue a report that criticizes the cost-benefit analyses that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has performed on some of its recent rules?  That’s easy—you simply ask for one.  Then, when the GAO issues the report, like it did a few weeks back, you can begin issuing press releases filled with invective and righteous indignation.  The report’s findings, you can assert, are smoking-gun evidence that the EPA is running amok, issuing burdensome rules that are harming small businesses and families.  And just like that, you’ve conjured the latest antiregulatory, anti-EPA scandal du jour out of thin air.

Vitter and Issa have followed this playbook to a T and will no doubt continue trying to spin political gold out of this meaningless hay as part of the Republican’s broader strategy of using antiregulatory rhetoric to undermine the work of the Obama Administration while simultaneously boosting their electoral prospects in the fast approaching mid-term elections.  “Rather than using a fair and open rulemaking process, EPA pushed through regulations using sloppy analysis without sufficiently informing Congress or the public of the economic impact,” Issa predictably huffed following the report’s release.

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FDA Discretion and Animal Antibiotics

FDA has stalled for 30 years in regulating antibiotics in animal feed. A court says that's O.K.

The FDA seems to be convinced that current use of antibiotics in animal feed is a threat to human health. But the Second Circuit ruled recently in NRDC v. FDA that EPA has no duty to consider banning their use.  That may seem ridiculous, but actually it’s a very close case legally.  The court’s discussion of Massachusetts v. EPA as an administrative law precedent should be especially interesting to environmental lawyers.

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The Real Price of Chicken Nuggets: Obama Administration Turns Its Back on Poultry Processing Workers; Crippled (Literally) by a Thousand Cuts

Only in Washington, D.C. is nothing portrayed as something.  Out in the nation, not so much.  And so it was late last week that the Obama Administration took a victory lap for not making life even more miserable for some of the most abused workers in America. Yup, despite the best efforts of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is supposed to watch out for workers’ well-being, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the life-long booster for corporate agriculture, gave a swift kick in the pants to all those low-wage people of color who make the chicken nuggets and chick filets that now dominate what’s for dinner. 

Up until last Thursday, USDA was claiming loudly to anyone who would listen that it doesn’t “do” worker protection.  Then the agency did a full 180 in the middle of the road, and now claims it has addressed workers’ concerns with the help of its new best friends at OSHA. Those workers are the folks who toil at workplaces so miserable that many states make it a crime to film inside them. 

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Richard Tol on Climate Policy: A Critical View of an Overview

Richard Tol’s 2013 article, “Targets for global climate policy: An overview,” has been taken by some as a definitive summary of what economics has to say about climate change.[1] It became a central building block of Chapter 10 of the recent  IPCC Working Group 2 report (Fifth Assessment Report, 2014), with some of its numbers appearing in the Working Group 2 Summary for Policymakers.[2]

After extensive analysis of multiple results from a number of authors, Tol reaches strong and surprising conclusions:

  • climate change will be a net benefit to the world economy until about 2.25°C of warming has occurred
     
  • the optimal carbon tax is a mere $25/tC (or $7/tCO2)
     
  • the economically “efficient” climate scenario is likely to lead to atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases of more than 625 ppm CO2-equivalent by the end of this century; lower targets might have ruinously high costs

Despite, in the end, almost acknowledging the peculiarity of these conclusions, Tol continues to claim that no compelling argument to the contrary has been made: “A convincing alternative to the intuitively incorrect conclusion that continued warming is optimum, is still elusive.”

Tol’s conclusions in this article do not follow logically from his data and analysis. Though claiming an authoritative and objective stance, he offers, in fact, a controversial reading of climate economics.

As he sees it (with my numbering)

  1. “There are 16 studies and 17 estimates of the global welfare impacts of climate change…
     
  2. “There are 75 studies of the social cost of carbon [marginal damages from another tonne of emissions], with 588 estimates…
     
  3. “…a single group of estimates [of the impacts of climate policy, found in one review article] … includes the models with the best academic pedigree…”

Each of these points is founded on faulty selection of data and analyses, and contains interpretive flaws that make Tol’s facile conclusions unsupportable. First, it highlights 16 studies, some of them very old, from a handful of authors, as if they represented all we know about climate damages. Second, it identifies a larger number of studies of the social cost of carbon, more than half from the same handful of authors, and then focuses almost entirely on the subset of results with a high discount rate. Where it reports on my own work, the survey clearly misrepresents the original published source. Third, it purports to prove that low-carbon stabilization targets are expensive by ignoring models and analyses that reach these targets, but making ad hoc adjustments to other analyses that fail to describe a path to a stable climate.

The field of economic analysis of climate change is a work in progress, with many interesting, sometimes contradictory, developments and approaches appearing in recent years. Most of the field, and most of what economists are writing about climate change, cannot be seen through the narrow, distorting lens of Tol’s review article.

To continue reading the full commentary, click here.

 

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We Do Need a Weatherman to Tell Which Way the Wind Blows

Over the past few years, as levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have continued to rise, natural disasters in the United States and around the world have become ever-more frequent. In the U.S., in fact, extreme weather-related events, including severe droughts, floods, wildfires, windstorms and other disasters are now very often reported in the news media. The clear consensus among climate scientists is that—even though no single extreme event can be said to be directly caused by climate change—global climate disruption has already begun; and this human-created phenomenon is ultimately responsible for an increased incidence of extreme weather.

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Tobacco Teachings, Up in Smoke?

Imagine a government warning on tobacco products that gave nearly equal prominence to both the pleasures and pains of using tobacco products. The "warning" would tell citizens that whether they should use tobacco products or not was – despite the government's long practice of recommending against such use – actually a pretty close case. Tobacco use is just so pleasurable, it turns out, that its risks – of bad health, of early death – might be worth it.Or imagine a parent saying the same thing to her child: here are the risks of using tobacco products, she'd say, but here on the other side are the wonderful pleasures. You make the call; it's too close for me to judge.

Despite its strangeness, this is exactly the kind of statement the White House and the Food and Drug Administration have collaborated in propounding in the 

context of a proposed rule deeming certain tobacco products subject to FDA regulation under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Economists from the FDA and the White House's Office of Management and Budget published a study purporting to estimate the amount by which the health benefits of tobacco use reduction are offset by a loss of the pleasure of using such products. When the FDA's proposed rule on tobacco products went to the White House for review, White House economists, rather than placing this study in the dustbin where it belonged, doubled down on its strange analysis. Indeed, they ended up increasing the FDA's estimate of the extent to which the "lost pleasure" associated with reducing tobacco use offsets the health benefits to be gained.

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Statement of CPR President Rena Steinzor on the Finalization of USDA’s Poultry Inspection Rule that Harms Consumers and Workers

In a press call today, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the poultry slaughter “modernization” rule is final and effective immediately.  

CPR President Rena Steinzor reacted to the rule's finalization:

The rule is a travesty from the perspective of every child who has chicken nuggets for lunch and every low-wage worker who stands in a fetid, overcrowded room cutting chicken carcasses thousands of times a day.

The new inspection system will allow plants to operate their slaughtering and evisceration lines at speeds that have proven hazardous for workers.  It will pull federal inspectors off the processing line, ensuring that carcasses caked in blood, guts, and feathers whir by at the rate of 2.3 bird per second.

The Government Accountability Office has written two scathing reports on the scant data used in promulgating the rule and the Southern Poverty Law Center has released reports documenting the already harrowing musculoskeletal injuries poultry workers are subjected to.

We’re disappointed that the Obama administration has turned its back on workers and left consumers at the mercy of Big Chicken. 

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CPR President Rena Steinzor in Roll Call: Congress Vs. GM: 'Why Not Jail' Squares Off Against K Street

Today, Roll Call published a piece by CPR President Rena Steinzor in support of the "Hide no Harm" bill.

According to the piece:

The “Hide No Harm Act” includes a definition of the “responsible corporate officer” against whom such cases could be brought, clarifying an existing legal doctrine by saying higher-level executives have the “responsibility and authority, by reason of his or her position in the business entity  . . .  to acquire knowledge of any serious danger.” The key is that the person could or should have known, not that he or she admits to having known.

It concludes:

The Department of Justice is undoubtedly negotiating fervently with company lawyers to reach a corporate settlement. But the prospect of allowing GM to buy its way out of having caused at least 13 deaths without even admitting criminal liability, casts a shadow over the proceedings. Why should the responsible parties at GM escape prosecution because the corporate “person” that employs them can afford to pay a hefty monetary penalty, giving federal prosecutors brief bragging rights without deterring other bad actors? Why not jail is now the most pressing question.

To read the piece in full, click here.

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Tweaks to Bad Chicken Processing Rule Leave Workers and Consumers in the Lurch; Rule Hurtles Out of the White House Door at Record Speed

We’ve received the bad news from impeccable sources that the much-criticized USDA poultry processing rule has passed White House review at record speed—20 days, count ‘em!—and will be released late this afternoon.  As usual, the process of OIRA review was shrouded in secrecy, with affected stakeholders filing in and out of the White House to talk about a rule they had never seen to taciturn OIRA officials who had long since cut a deal with USDA.  Of course, the late afternoon release is designed to forestall criticism in the same news cycle that will report the White House spin on the rule.  But we know enough about it to make some basic observations.

Our sources informed us that the rule will allow companies to have processing lines that run at the speed of 140 birds per minute—that’s 2.3 chickens every single second, although it’s also the current USDA maximum, allowing USDA to claim that the new rule doesn’t make matters any worse. 

OSHA, which was deeply involved in negotiations with USDA, clearly views this outcome as a great victory because it reduces by 35 birds/minute the original and outlandish USDA proposal that line speeds increase to 175 birds/minute.  But saving workers from the furthest reach of bad conditions without beginning to address their documented daily misery is incremental change, not victory. The plain truth is that study after study, including a recent NIOSH report, have documented severe ergonomic injuries at line speeds significantly below 140 birds/minute.  OSHA didn’t review those studies dispassionately in a rulemaking that would honor its mission of protecting workers from harm.  Instead, it played a numbers game with USDA under the watchful eye of White House staffers, leaving an already bad working situation to fester. 

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