Category Archives: Regulations

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.
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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.

White House Cozies up to Big Tobacco

White House changes to a recent proposal by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have weakened draft health and safety standards related to tobacco products and have more broadly paved the way for watering down consumer protection in other sectors.

Nestled inside the White House is a little-known, small office with extraordinary power over our government agencies. This office, known as the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), has routinely contributed to the delay and weakening of health, safety and financial protections. Operating quietly with little media attention, OIRA has struck again – this time to weaken a recent FDA proposal to regulate electronic cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco.

The FDA’s original draft proposal contained an extensive section on the health benefits from reduced smoking, including the number of lives that would be saved and the value of those additional lives. Following review by OIRA, this section was deleted and edits were made that weakened language about the FDA’s health concerns over e-cigarettes. OIRA also altered language about restriction of non-“face to face” sales, which will prevent the FDA from regulating online sales of tobacco products, a platform that is used by children because of the difficulty in verifying the age of the person making the purchases. Even worse, in a blatant display of White House acquiescence to industry interests, “premium cigars” could be exempt from regulation altogether.

As if this weakened rule wasn’t bad enough, in a preliminary assessment of the benefits of regulating e-cigarettes, OIRA included a 70 percent discount to account for the “lost pleasure” that would result from reductions in tobacco use. In other words, if the health benefits of this new regulation were estimated to be $1 billion, they would be reduced by 70 percent to just $300 million because people will “lose pleasure” from smoking fewer cigarettes.

Cost-benefit analysis has long been a tool used by industry to weaken, delay or prevent the imposition of new regulation by government agencies. U.S. agencies routinely determine the potential costs and benefits of their rules and, in certain instances, are required to prove that the benefits of a proposed rule outweigh the costs of its implementation. While this may seem like a sensible request at face value, its real application has been devastating for public protection: costs of compliance are often overstated by industry, while non-quantifiable societal benefits are undervalued. How do we quantify the value of a saved IQ point in children not exposed to lead, or the value of a measure of increased privacy for online consumers?

Not only will this “lost pleasure” approach make it much more difficult for government agencies to regulate tobacco, but this principle also could be applied to other sectors to weaken protections against trans-fat-loaded fast food, alcohol consumption and even reckless driving. Some people find it fun to drive really fast on the highway, but does that mean we should deduct a measure of “lost pleasure” from the benefits we derive from speeding laws the next time state legislatures propose traffic rules? “It will undermine anything they try to do about anything,” said Dr. Stanton Glantz, a tobacco control expert and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Even more complicating is the fact that tobacco products contain highly addictive nicotine. Consumer surplus, the economic principle for which this “lost pleasure” discount is based, relies on the assumption that consumers will act rationally in determining whether or not to purchase a product. Highly addictive substances and practices make this rational thinking next to impossible – just think back to World War II, when desperate Europeans traded their scarce food rations on the black market for cigarettes!

Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at MIT whose work was cited by the FDA as a source for their 70 percent calculation, thought the choice to account for consumer surplus in this instance was wrong. “I think this is really a misapplication of my work.”
When corporate interests override the public interest and dominate the policymaking process, government agencies can’t do their job to safeguard public health. The U.S. needs a regulatory system that puts American families, children and consumers first. Let the FDA know what you think about its proposal as it accepts public comment through Aug. 8.

 

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.

Winning Safer Workplaces

(This post originally appeared on CPRBlog, the blog of the Center for Progressive Reform)
By Matt Shudz | June 26, 2014

Thousands of U.S. workers die on the job each year, the victims of unsafe workplaces. Countless more are injured, some permanently disabled, or exposed to toxic substances that could eventually harm or kill them. While the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has made progress to improve workplace safety since Congress passed the OSH Act in 1971, a new advocacy manual from the Center for Progressive Reform focuses on the progress on worker safety issues  likely to come at the state and local levels, far from the general dysfunction in Washington.

Winning Safer Workplaces: A Manual for State and Local Policy Reform, written by a team of lawyers and public health researchers, offers local advocacy groups a series of policy proposals, all ripe for enactment by state legislatures, city or county councils, or state or local agencies.

In releasing the manual, CPR President Rena Steinzor — my co-author on the manual — explained that while CPR’s worker safety efforts have been aimed principally at OSHA in the past, the decision to the focus on advancing a state and local agenda was born of “a hard truth.” “When it comes to advancing the cause of worker safety, Washington is simply not prepared to step up its game,” she said. “Congressional dysfunction makes legislation to update the 40-year-old Occupational Safety and Health Act unlikely any time soon. Underfunding, resistance by industry, and political polarization have tied OSHA up in knots. The tragic result is that workers die and are injured every day in incidents that could and should have been prevented. This manual is intended to help state and local groups – especially those new to the field of workplace health and safety – by providing them with a menu of policy proposals that they can tailor to their communities’ needs.”

The manual includes several case studies in which workers were killed on the job by preventable hazards:

  • Two workers who died of asphyxiation in North Carolina while installing water mains, after one passed out in a low-oxygen underground space and the other tried to save him. Their employer had failed to provide adequate training on how to avoid such unsafe conditions.
  • Two boys, ages 14 and 19, who were smothered in an Illinois corn silo. The boys were tamping down the grain by walking on it, after receiving just five minutes of instruction on safety procedures that made no mention of the required safety harnesses.
  • A Michigan logger who was killed by a felled tree while working for an employer that had refused to provide a helmet and that permitted teams of loggers to work too closely to one another. To add insult to injury, the logger’s family learned of his death not from the employer or from a safety official, but from a Facebook post. The employer was fined $1,525, less than the profit it earned from the tree that killed its employee.

“These cases and others like them show the urgency of seizing every opportunity to reform the law, penalize scofflaws, and give workers the power to demand safer conditions,” says Celeste Monforton, a former OSHA public health expert and a manual co-author.

Winning Safer Workplaces offers policy proposals in three broad areas:

  1. Empowering Workers includes proposals for health and safety committees on the job so that workers can take a measure of control of their safety; safety education and training requirements so that employers will be required to give workers the information they need to be safe; whistleblower protection laws so that courageous workers won’t have to risk their future to report violations; workers’ “right to refuse dangerous work” laws so that insisting on safety won’t cost a worker his or her job; and citizen lawsuits so that workers won’t have to rely on under-resourced government agencies alone to enforce safety standards.
  2. Making Sure Crime Doesn’t Pay covers proposals that would close legal loopholes that allow employers to avoid fixing health and safety hazards while investigations and litigation are under way; expand civil penalties for violations so that endangering workers’ lives is an expensive proposition; expand criminal liability so that bad actors will have personal disincentive to break the law and the punishment will match the crime; and shame scofflaw employers and industries by putting government data to work.
  3. Strengthening Institutions spans such proposals as ensuring that police and prosecutors make workplace safety a priority; robust fatality investigations so that workplace deaths aren’t swept under the rug; responsible contractor laws so that state and local governments can ensure that they only do business with companies that protect their workers; cross-agency partnerships so that agencies not principally responsible for workplace safety still report problems they encounter to those agencies that are; and annual state-level audits so that agencies are held accountable in a public way.

We’ll be rolling out the manual and its recommendations this summer in a series of legal and advocacy-based webinars. If you’d like a heads-up when those are scheduled, drop CPR an email at WorkerSafety@progressivereform.org.

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.