This week, House Republicans re-introduced the “Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015,” (H.R. 185).
Proponents of the bill are claiming that it would “modernize” the rule-making process and streamline government inefficiencies.
In fact, the RAA would bog down attempts by federal agencies to protect our health, safety and environment in red tape by adding over 74 new requirements to the rule-making process, including over 29 new “documentation” requirements.
Center for Progressive Reform Senior Analyst James Goodwin compiled a list of all the potential requirements for agency rule-making included in the bill. Goodwin notes that, “most of the requirements are nonsensical that at best add nothing to the rulemaking process—and at worst distract agencies from those considerations that would lead to better quality rules.”
The full, damning list is copied below. Adding extensive paperwork and bureaucratic burdens to the rule-making process would threaten the President’s initiative to move forward on his clean energy plan and could prevent agencies from issuing crucial safeguards to protect workers and the public health.Full text
We are closing out the “Path to Progress” series for this year with a potential bright spot. In its Fall 2014 Regulatory Agenda, the Obama Administration set a target date of March 2015 for finalizing new rules designed to prevent and minimize the consequences of derailments in trains carrying crude oil and other highly hazardous materials. If the Department of Transportation is able to accomplish that feat, it would beat even our own proposed schedule—a welcome achievement. We are looking forward to seeing that entry on our arrivals board turn over to “arrived.”
We’re looking forward to it because crude shipments by rail continue to expand, and millions of us are living in a blast zone.
As our 13 Essential Regulatory Actions explains, domestic crude production is booming (at least for now) because of this administration’s regulatory acquiescence to—and the oil industry’s unbridled advances in—fracking and horizontal drilling. In North Dakota and elsewhere, oil companies are simply sucking so much oil out of the ground that the producers are looking for any possible way to transport it to refineries. One of the non-conventional methods is to load the crude oil on trains. But because the shipments originate in shale formations that are far removed from refineries, the risks of derailment are significant.Full text
Today, the EPA announced national standards governing coal waste from coal-fired power plants, also known as coal ash. The rule does not treat coal ash as a hazardous material, but as household garbage.
CPR President and University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor reacted to the classification:
It's bitterly disappointing that the electric utility industry, which earns profits hand over fist, has succeeded in bamboozling the White House to gut this rule. Originally designed by EPA to prevent fatalities, injuries, and grave long-term damage to the public's health, the rule was caught in the cross hairs of naysaying economists on the President's staff, who invented the misguided and subversive notion that if coal ash dumps were cleaned up, coal ash could not be recycled. In fact, a strong rule that makes it more expensive to dispose of coal ash could only result in more of it being recycled, especially because EPA never proposed to place any restrictions on recycling.
Coal-fired power plants produce an astounding 100 million tons of coal ash annually. For decades, utilities dumped this enormous quantity of waste into pits in the ground, where rain turned the ash into inky sludge. Unwilling to face the growing risk posed by the dumps, the companies kept shoring up the fragile walls of such dumps with the functional equivalent of chewing gum and spit. As smokestack scrubbers were installed to keep toxic metals like mercury and arsenic out of the air, these pollutants did not disappear, but instead fell down the stack into the ash, converting it into even more dangerous waste. Two recent spills--from a Duke Energy site in North Carolina and from a Tennessee Valley Authority site in Kingston, Tennessee--should have been the only wake-up call we needed to compel the companies to rebuild these sites before people are killed by spills and drinking water is ruined by leaks out of the bottom of the dumps.
Instead, the White House shut down a strong EPA rule and insisted on the pitifully weak alternative issued today, which treats coal ash as if it was household garbage and leaves it up to the tender mercies of state regulators to chase around after utility executives who have only to call their political bosses to shut down any further controls.
When--not if--the next spill happens, the White House will share the blame. We can only pray that no one is caught in the path of a river of sludge.Full text
The main tool available to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit the amount of pollution discharged into the nation’s waterways is a system of permits issued to polluters that restricts how much they may discharge. This permitting scheme, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), requires permittees to monitor their operations and report back to the EPA or an approved state environmental agency. On those data rest EPA’s ability to enforce the terms of the permits, and thus control pollution that is harmful to the environment and human health.
NPDES permit-holders are required to submit annual reports that include information on whether the polluter met the terms of the permit. Those reports are among the most important compliance assurance and enforcement tools available to the EPA, the states, and, by extension, the communities affected by polluting operations.Full text
Today, Nebraska Appleseed, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and several allied organizations sent a letter to OSHA requesting a response to their petition for a rulemaking on work speed in poultry and meatpacking plants. The groups originally submitted the petition to OSHA over a year ago, and it’s been radio silence ever since. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of workers, most low-income and socially vulnerable, continue to work in conditions that lead to crippling musculoskeletal disorders.
The workers’ advocates who submitted the petition had the misfortune of dropping it in the mail just days before the 2013 government shutdown, so at the time some commentators cut the agency some slack, noting that 90 percent of the agency’s staff—including everyone in the standard-setting office—were laid off. But that excuse is no longer relevant, and evidence of the need for the rule continues to pile up.Full text
CPR President Rena Steinzor issued the following statement in response to today's announcement that a grand jury had indicted owners and managers of Freedom Industries in connection with the massive leak of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MHCM) that fouled the Elk River and triggered a drinking water ban for 300,000 residents earlier this year:
Booth Goodwin continues to distinguish himself as a tough prosecutor who is willing to use the law to punish and deter those who threaten public health. Because this harsh chemical was never tested, we know that public health was damaged but not exactly how people were harmed or, for that matter, how much harm was done. The spill destroyed the peace of mind of tens of thousands of people and put everyone on bottled water for weeks. For that, the defendants should pay, with jail time and fines.
Steinzor is a professor of law at the University of Maryland and the author of the recent book, Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.Full text
When 29 miners died at Upper Big Branch or 11 workers died on the Deepwater Horizon, when 64 people died from tainted steroids, or when hundreds got Salmonella poisoning from peanut butter, did you ask yourself, 'Why not send the people responsible to jail?'
You're not the only one. In her new book, Why Not Jail: Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction, CPR President Rena Steinzor asks the same question and concludes:
The criminal justice system is as important to the ultimate embodiment of a society's values as it is in keeping the public peace. ... When the vicious cycle of racially discriminatory mass incarceration of poor people is juxtaposed against the vivid descriptions of the crimes committed by well-heeled corporate executives, it is hard to imagine the contrast does not have a corrosive effect on people's confidence in government institutions. Quite apart from the intrinsic unfairness of the failure to prosecute white collar crime far more aggressively, we sacrifice the benefits of deterring events that harm ordinary people.
Why Not Jail is available now on Amazon (including a Kindle edition) and from the publisher, Cambridge University Press. It's a great read, using five case studies to explore the problems--and potential--for criminally prosecuting corporate malfeasance that harms public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment. Order one now for yourself and your friends. 'Tis the season!Full text
We’ll soon learn the results of White House deliberations over EPA’s long-delayed coal ash rule, one of the Essential 13 regulatory initiatives we’ve called upon President Barack Obama to complete before he leaves office. Under the terms of a consent decree, EPA is required to issue its new rule by Friday, December 19. As glad as we are to see this phase of the rule’s tortuous odyssey come to a close, we suspect that court, not a victory party, will be the public interest community’s next stop, despite a late-entry exposé aired by 60 Minutes last week.
In the universe of self-inflicted environmental wounds over the last two decades, any “10 best” list must include the brilliant decision to make operators of coal-fired power plants scrub smokestacks to keep mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and lead particles out of the air but neglecting to prevent them from picking the bad stuff up off the grate, carting it a short distance, and dumping it into giant pits in the ground. Utilities generate an astounding 100 million tons of such inky sludge annually. But because the federal government has never issued minimum requirements for such dumps, and state laws are rarely adequate, these pits have been left to grow wider, deeper, and taller, contaminating drinking water and threatening catastrophic spills.Full text
[Under an] Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency will strictly monitor and regulate pollution from large [industrial animal farms], with fines for those who violate tough air and water quality standards.
—Sen. Barack Obama, 2008
The animal farms to which then-candidate Obama was referring are known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and they house tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of chickens per flock. The ballooning popularity of these factory farms—at least with industry—means they now raise more than 40 percent of U.S. livestock, and that number increases annually. Along the way, the farms generate approximately 500 million tons of manure each year—three times the amount of waste the human population of the U.S. produces. This waste contains excess nitrogen and phosphorus; pathogens, including bacteria and viruses; antibiotics; and heavy metals such as copper and arsenic. Unlike human waste, livestock waste is not treated. Rather, it is stored in piles, pits, and sheds and spread onto land. These pollutants pose a threat to human health and wildlife and put our nation’s waterways—including the Chesapeake Bay—at risk.Full text
Contact: Erin Kesler
Telephone: (202) 747-0698 X4
What: CPR and the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law will host a luncheon and Q&A session with MD Attorney General-elect Brian Frosh on the state of environmental enforcement in the Chesapeake Bay. Mr. Frosh will speak to a group of Bay advocates, University of Maryland faculty, attorneys at firms that represent Maryland businesses, and interested citizens and students, and take questions from the audience, including media.
Background: Yesterday, the Center for Progressive Reform and Chesapeake Commons released an interactive map detailing the extent of pollution caused by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) along Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The map, released concurrently with a report from the Environmental Integrity Project drawn from its data, relies on farmer-reported information to find that all but one of the sixty CAFOS examined has excessive phosphorus levels caused by over-application of manure. The pollution that results from the farms strains Maryland’s efforts to enforce its pollution-control limits as mandated by federal and state law. Maryland’s Governor-elect Larry Hogan vowed yesterday to fight any effort to implement the Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT) proposed under Governor O’Malley’s Administration to deal with the pollution caused by overuse of phosphorous on the state’s farms.
When: Thursday, December 11, 2014
11:30 am - 1:00 pm
Registration opens at 11:15
Where: Westminster Hall
University of Maryland Carey School of Law
519 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD