Category Archives: Environment

Quick Thoughts About NAM’s Hyperbolic Report on Smog

by Frank O’Donnell, President, Clean Air Watch
I know few of us are thinking about smog on a day like this. But I see that the good people of NAM are – out with yet another hyperbolic report about the alleged impact of cleaning up the air. http://www.nam.org/ozone/

Power Plant

As you can see, NAM has produced a very florid map purporting to show areas of the country that would be out of compliance with an ozone standard of 65 parts per billion, down from the current level of 75. (As I am sure you know, this is the most extreme outcome of EPA’s proposal, which was a range of 65-70).

But this map appears to be based on old information – data from 2011-2013. It apparently does not factor in one basic reality – that the air will be cleaner a decade from now than it is today because of various in-the-works pollution controls such as the Tier 3 clean-car, clean-gasoline standards.

EPA’s own projections conclude that outside California, only 9 counties in the entire country would be out of compliance with a standard of 70 in 2025, and that an additional 59 counties would fall short of a 65 standard. http://www.epa.gov/glo/pdfs/20141126-2025datatable.pdf

By the way, I believe many if not most of these counties would meet a standard of 65 if EPA adopted tougher standards to reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxides from new big-rig trucks. California is looking at exactly such a strategy. (Parts of California might not have to meet a new standard until as late as 2037.)

Another huge flaw in NAM’s logic: the business lobby contends that tougher air quality standards equate to “no growth.” All you have to do refute this notion is look at the facts:

IF NAM were correct, there would be “no growth” today in current dirty-air areas such as Texas and California. I offer for your consideration the most recent data on economic growth from the U.S. Department of Commerce http://1.usa.gov/1MUYZlf Growth was very high in such “nonattainment” states as Texas – and was pretty strong even in California!!

Perhaps NAM has decided to appropriate a line from Groucho Marx: “Are you going to believe me, or what you see with your own eyes?” http://quotations.about.com/od/funnymovieandtvquotes/a/grouchomarx1.htm

Originally posted here.

Industry-Backed Study Exaggerates Regulatory Costs, Ignores Benefits

What are the costs and benefits of the safeguards that protect Americans from big polluters, predatory lenders and junk food giants?

It’s not an unusual question, but you won’t get a fair answer in a new report published this morning by the American Action Forum (AAF) – a front group for corporate interests headed by former Bush administration officials. The report purports to provide the cost of all regulations, proposed and final, issued during 2014.

As has been the case with previous AAF reports, this one focuses exclusively on costs – leaving out both the quantifiable and non-quantifiable benefits of the rules and regulations they considered.

Just look at the White House’s new Clean Power Plan to see why it’s wrong to ignore the benefits of safeguards. Cleaning up our nation’s power plants would cost less than $9 billion, but could yield more than $90 billion in health and environmental benefits – preventing more than 6,000 premature deaths and as many as 150,000 asthma attacks annually.

You’d think industry and their well-paid spokesmen would understand the concept of “return on investment,” but apparently not when it comes to our children and families.

History has shown that regulations (once implemented) usually cost far less than the estimates AAF uses. That’s because those estimates are based on exaggerated industry figures, ignore flexibilities built into the regulations and fail to account for technological innovations that reduce costs.

Indeed, AAF’s report is misleading from the very first line. It claims to have found $16.9 billion in costs from final rules issued in 2014. But its $181 billion total for proposed and final rules issued last year in fact includes rules issued in all previous years of the Obama administration – assuming that the annual costs of previous rules just continue in perpetuity. That assumption is plainly false.

And so are the group’s claims about the effects on our economy. Despite the doom and gloom forecasts in AAF’s report, the past year has seen outstanding job growth and rising consumer confidence – exactly the opposite of what AAF predicted.

If this report demonstrates anything, it’s that some people know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

The Benefits of Public Protections: Ten Rules That Save Lives and Protect the Environment

benefitsreport

Protecting the public from harmful products and services is an important role of the American government. But regulators struggle to achieve this goal as they encounter relentless push-back from industry lobbyists trying to weaken or kill rules. Most media coverage of public protections focuses on Industry complaints about the cost of new standards (without any acknowledgment of the benefits) or devastating stories of consumer deaths resulting from a lack of regulation. Without a positive narrative, we forget about the incredible quality of life that effective safeguards afford the American public.

To draw attention back to the health, environmental and worker safety benefits we reap from government safeguards, the Center for Effective Government has released a report on 10 rules that will save over 10,000 lives and prevent 300,000 cases of disease, illness or injury each year.

The rules are:
1. Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Sillica
2. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, Ejection Mitigation
3. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, Electronic Stability Control Systems for Heavy Vehicles
4. Nutrition Labeling of Single-Ingredient Products and Ground or Chopped Meat and Poultry Products
5. Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Storage, and Transportation
6. National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter
7. Mercury and Toxics Standards
8. Control of Air Pollution from Motor Vehicles: Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards
9. Identification and Listing of Special Wastes; Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities
10. Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category

Using the traditional, regulatory methodology of benefit-cost analysis, the report shows that these 10 rules have monetary social benefits that far exceed their estimated compliance costs. In addition, three of the rules are likely to create new jobs.

This just goes to show that the sky-is-falling, anti-regulatory rhetoric of industry and its allies in Congress is false. Standards and safeguards can spur innovation and even create entire new industries. Lost consumer confidence and shaky financial markets are the real job killers. We need standards and safeguards so that families who work hard and play by the rules can build a better future for themselves and their children.

Yet Another House Bill Would Limit EPA’s Ability to Protect the Public and Environment

Note: On Tuesday, this bill was approved by the full House Science Committee on a vote of  17-13.

(This post originally appeared on The Fine Print, the blog of the Center for Effective Government)
By Katie Weatherford|  June 23, 2014

On June 24, the House Science Committee will meet to review the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4012), a bill that seeks to stifle the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to protect the public and environment from harm, even when there is overwhelming scientific evidence to support agency action.

The bill would prohibit EPA from issuing safeguards or even sharing information with the public about potential harms unless the agency makes publically available all scientific data and technical information used to support its action. The information that EPA would be required to publicize must be “specifically identified” and presented “in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.” However, these ambiguous terms are not defined anywhere in the bill, ultimately leaving their meaning to be decided during litigation.

Despite claims by some members of Congress and their industry allies that this bill would improve transparency and verifiability of scientific studies relied upon by EPA to justify new or updated safeguards, the plain language of the bill proves that the real objective is to delay EPA from its important work of protecting the public and environment from harm.

A key concern with the legislation is that it would severely restrict EPA’s ability to act, even when the agency is unable or even legally prohibited from sharing the scientific data or technical information it relied on to justify taking action. While the bill would not require EPA to release this information to the public, the bill would still prohibit the agency from taking action based on that information, no matter how credible or conclusive the studies may be. In other words, EPA could no longer rely on peer-reviewed scientific studies if underlying data is protected by privacy laws, as is the case for human health studies.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) sent a letter to members of Congress in February warning that this bill would likely prevent EPA “from using any study that uses personal health data. . . . Since many EPA rules are health-based standards, this rule would severely restrict the ability of the agency to base rules on science.” The group also warned that “new scientific methods and data may be restricted by intellectual property protections or industry trade secret exemptions.”

The bill would also likely prevent EPA from considering many industry studies, which often contain confidential business information (CBI), to justify agency actions that benefit public health and the environment. Yet, in certain instances that benefit industry such as permitting, the bill allows EPA to take action without disclosing industry data containing CBI.

According to another letter sent by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “The bill would make it harder for EPA to consider confidential information from industry in many instances, limiting the agency’s ability both to protect the public and to reduce the costs of regulation.”  “At the same time,” the letter states, “the bill unfairly caters to industry by exempting permitting and other agency actions from its ambit and underscoring the CBI protections in existing law.”

NRDC also identified several examples illustrating how this bill would “limit EPA’s ability to review relevant information that current law allows EPA to consider.” According to NRDC:

  • EPA could not establish a drinking water standard or health advisory for a contaminant under the Safe Drinking Water Act based on information that industry claims was protected by confidential business information (CBI).
  • EPA could not issue a risk/hazard assessment or a cancellation of a pesticide based upon (1) studies containing CBI; (2) epidemiological or clinical studies where the medical records of the patient are confidential under . . . patient confidentiality requirements; or (3) where the study would not be “reproducible” because of restrictions on access to confidential patient information.
  • EPA could not regulate or issue guidance to prevent lead poisoning of children in housing . . . based upon clinical or epidemiological studies, where the medical records of the patients are confidential under . . . patient confidentiality requirements, or where the study would not be “reproducible” because of restrictions on access to confidential patient information.
  • EPA could not conduct risk/hazard assessments necessary to inform and govern the cleanup of Superfund sites, to the extent that potentially responsible parties asserted CBI protections over company information potentially implicating their contribution to a site, or CBI relating to specific chemicals.

Instead of working to reduce EPA’s ability to rely on critical scientific and technical information to keep the public and environment safe, Congress should be working to ensure EPA has the authority and resources it needs to enhance our health and environmental safeguards. When this bill comes before the House Science Committee for review on Tuesday, the committee should ensure that this bill is put to rest and more worthy proposals receive due consideration.

U.S. Chamber, You Are Wrong

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups sure do kick and scream when any new major safeguard to protect the environment, worker safety, or consumers is being proposed. Their oft-repeated mantra about the impacts of regulation, however, is “the sky is falling” rhetoric.

The most recent example is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new proposed rules on existing power plants. The U.S. Chamber came out with a report on May 28th that claims nightmarish outcomes for consumers and the U.S. economy, but past experience just doesn’t match up with such claims.

For instance, utilities that operate coal-fired power plants tried to claim the end of the world was near when the EPA finalized a rule curbing pollution that crosses state lines, a rule the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld. A large power plant in Homer City, PA warned of “immediate and dire consequences” due to this EPA rule three years ago. Three years later, that power plant still exists and has cut its sulfur dioxide emissions by 80 percent without raising anyone’s electricity prices.

The idea that smart regulation can spur innovation is nothing new. Rules on consumer products led to better and safer goods for millions of Americans. A report from the Center for International Environmental Law on chemical safety noted that chemical safeguards helped the larger national economy. “Our study finds that stronger laws governing hazardous chemicals can not only drive innovation, but also create a safer marketplace,” said Baskut Tuncak, staff attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law, and author of the report. “Well-designed laws spark the invention of alternatives and further help level the playing field to enable safer chemicals to overcome barriers to entry, such as economies of scale enjoyed by chemicals already on the market and the externalized costs of hazardous chemicals on human health.”

The problem with warnings about the effects of regulation from places like the power plant in Homer City and from groups like the U.S. Chamber is that analyzing rules on a purely economic basis almost always emphasizes and overestimates the negative consequences and the costs of the standard in question. At the same time, this analysis overlooks the tremendous social and societal benefits that result from standards and safeguards, such as improved health, lower medical costs, and fewer deaths.

“[R]egulations also shift jobs and can create new ones too. The weight of the evidence is that regulation is not a significant factor affecting overall employment levels in the United States,” notes Cary Coglianese, Director of the Penn Program on Regulation at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Americans are too intelligent to be fooled by false claims about our public protections. Bad corporate actors, however, do quite a bit to kill jobs and damage the economy by polluting the environment, endangering consumers and shipping jobs overseas. Americans want a strong system of sensible safeguards that protect them from buying an unsafe product at the store, that allows them to know they can visit a nearby river or lake without worrying about toxic waste, that they can use their credit cards and know they have expanded protections, and that they can go to work and not be put in harm’s way. Smart standards exist to make sure people have access to a fair economy and a healthy environment that benefits everyone.

If Big Business Wrote a Letter to Santa Claus this is What It Would Say

If Big Business wrote a bill to help itself get rid of regulations it didn’t like, what would that bill look like?

We don’t have to guess anymore. This week, a group of legislators introduced the Regulatory Improvement Act, a bill designed to “improve” our nation’s regulatory system, remove “government bureaucracy and red tape,” and help businesses avoid the “burden” of complying with safeguards and standards that protect our health, safety, environment and workers. Their solution? Have politicians appoint a panel to recommend regulations for Congress to ax in a rushed process.

The bill sets up a so-called “Regulatory Improvement Commission” tasked with an already predetermined outcome. That outcome is deregulation, plain and simple. Deregulation, you probably remember, led to the financial crisis of 2008. In a time when we’ve seen so many instances of industry bad actors — including at least 13 deaths due to faulty GM ignition switches that company officials knew had problems, years of toxic air pollution and water pollution from giant companies, and financial service companies like Sallie Mae taking advantage of our veterans — should we really be thinking about how to remove vital public protections for our health, safety, environment and financial security?

The commission’s mandate would be to modify, consolidate or repeal existing regulations to reduce compliance costs for business, completely ignoring the tremendous societal benefits that standards and safeguards give to the American people.

While it takes years for a federal agency to get a final rule out the door after numerous periods of public comment and review, this commission could erase this beneficial work within months. The review process is blatantly tilted toward benefitting corporate interests rather than the public interest. The procedure for how public comments on the commission’s reports are received, and even the way the commission is tasked with writing its reports on regulations are all slanted to examining the burden on businesses, never the benefits to the public. For instance, even the “costs” associated with doing taxes counts as a burden!

Supporters argue that the commission can review only those regulations finalized more than 10 years ago. Just think of how much progress we have made in the past four decades from the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and much, much more. Regulations created from these and other laws would now be at stake.

And if there is an outdated regulation that could be removed, would it be worth all of this effort? There may well be a regulation pertaining to floppy disks, fax machines or pagers—but no one uses them anymore, and those regulations aren’t costing us anything to have written down somewhere. Is it worth setting up a new commission to remove superfluous regulations like that? Besides, most agencies already look back at existing rules – in a process that is far more careful and less politicized than the one this bill proposes.

And after all this, the commission is completely unaccountable to the public. The bill expressly states that the commission is exempt from the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (which requires public accessibility to meetings, open meetings and written advanced notice of a meeting a minimum of 15 days prior). According to the Regulatory Improvement Act, if just one member of the commission objects to a meeting being public, that meeting can be held in private.

Our vision for regulatory improvement

Nowhere does the Regulatory Improvement Act provide a way to update standards, make them stronger or more effective. If we were to write our own Regulatory Improvement Act, we would call for a regulatory review process that focuses attention on the need for stronger controls on corporations and expanded protections for the public.

Just because something is repeated often does not make it true. There is not an overabundance of regulation in this country. In reality, too much of our regulatory system has today slowed to a crawl, thanks in part to Big Business pushing at every point in the process to slow or stop new standards. They lobby against new laws; they lobby against new rules that agencies write under the existing laws; and then they lobby against strong enforcement of the rules that do get through.

By updating safeguards to better protect the public and making sure corporate bad actors are held accountable, our vision of regulatory improvement will be creating a system of standards and safeguards that better protects health and safety and puts everyone on a more equal footing, creating a fair economy for all.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board on Texas Fertilizer Disaster: Voluntary Compliance No Substitute for an Efficient Regulatory System

“[T]here is no substitute for an efficient regulatory system that ensures that all companies are operating to the same high standards. We cannot depend on voluntary compliance alone.”

That’s what Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairperson of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) said this week. The CSB, an independent federal investigative agency, was releasing its preliminary findings on the West, Texas, fertilizer explosion of just over one year ago, which killed 14 individuals.

The CSB faulted the company involved and pointed to gaps in the regulatory system – a lesson that needs to be headed here and to prevent other disasters. Said Moure-Eraso:

“The fire and explosion at West Fertilizer was preventable. It should never have occurred. It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it.”

The report noted that:

  • The explosion at West Fertilizer resulted from an intense fire in a wooden warehouse building that led to the detonation of approximately 30 tons of ammonium nitrate stored inside in wooden bins.
  • The building lacked a sprinkler system or other systems to automatically detect or suppress fire.
  • Texas has not adopted a statewide fire code, and state law actually prohibits most small rural counties from adopting a fire code.
  • Although some U.S. distributors have constructed fire-resistant concrete structures for storing ammonium nitrate, fertilizer industry officials have reported to the CSB that wooden buildings are still the norm for the distribution of ammonium nitrate fertilizer across the U.S.

The facility that exploded operated under few rules. It didn’t have a sprinkler system because no sprinkler system was required.

Lax rules have consequences. That’s a lesson policymakers need to take to heart – whether it’s about fertilizer facilities, food manufacturers or farmers, big polluters, automakers or any other area where the public’s safety and wellbeing is at stake. The CSB report underscores the need for a more pro-active, aggressive approach by regulators to protect the public.