Expected Budget Cuts Prompt EPA to Reduce Performance Targets in Five-Year Strategic Plan

Just over one year ago, a fertilizer facility in West, TX exploded, killing 15 people and injuring hundreds more. In January, approximately 10,000 gallons of toxic chemicals leaked from a storage tank at a Freedom Industries facility in Charleston, WV into the Elk River, contaminating the drinking water supply of over 300,000 nearby residents. And in February, thousands of gallons of coal ash spilled from unlined ponds at Duke Energy's coal plant into the Dan River in North Carolina. More environmental incidents like these are happening regularly, risking the public's health and the environment. We need stronger national standards for toxic chemicals and hazardous waste, and these standards need to be enforced. But the federal agency charged with issuing and enforcing national environmental standards, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has been subjected to significant budget cuts over the past several years that have restricted its ability to carry out its mission.

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Stories of Americans Cut Off of Emergency Unemployment Compensation

It was a long and cold winter in Washington, DC, in more ways than one. At the end of 2013, Congress allowed Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) to expire, leaving 1.3 million Americans who had been without work for more than six months suddenly cut off from their lifeline benefits. Unemployment benefits don't provide a lot – about $269 a week on average – but it is enough to put some food on the table, pay the most urgent bills, and hang on by your fingernails until work can be found. Without this support, many families are forced to drain their retirement accounts and sell their belongings. Some face homelessness.

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Weaker Campaign Finance Limits Increase Need for Effective Disclosure

On April 2, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, striking down aggregate limits on the contributions that individuals can give to political candidates. Coupled with the court's earlier rulings that loosened restrictions on corporate spending on election ads, this decision makes comprehensive and timely disclosure of campaign spending even more important. Voters should be able to see who is financing campaigns.

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Rating RATE Participants: Government's Largest Contractors in Corporate Tax Cut Coalition

Reforming America's Taxes Equitably, or RATE Coalition, is a corporate lobby group made up of 29 major corporations and two trade associations. Formed last year, the RATE Coalition has been increasingly active in pressing Congress to cut corporate income tax rates from current levels. But a number of the companies involved in the coalition benefit from the very revenue stream they're seeking to shrink.

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E-Gov Spotlight: Department of Labor's Enforcement Data Tool Provides Access to Worker Safety Information

During Workers' Memorial Day on April 28, the country will honor Americans who have died from a job-related illness or injury. Relevant to that commemoration is the Department of Labor's online enforcement database, which sheds light on safety enforcement actions and company performance in protecting workers from injury, illness, and death.

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Accelerating Approvals of U.S. Natural Gas Exports Increases Risks of Environmental Disasters and Rising Energy Costs

Long before Russia's annexation of Crimea last month, companies and trade associations that support exporting U.S. liquefied natural gas called for accelerating the existing export review and approval process. With mounting concerns that Russia will continue its incursion into Ukraine, through which major Russian natural gas pipelines travel, U.S. export proponents are seizing the opportunity to repackage their agenda by framing it as a strong signal to Russia that its power over the global liquefied natural gas market is diminishing. However, significantly expanding U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas overseas has major economic and environmental risks, and proposals to accelerate the approval process for export projects in response to the crisis in Ukraine would only enhance these threats.

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American Workers to Congress: We Need a Raise

Polls show that more than three-quarters of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage. Approximately 76 percent support raising the minimum wage to at least $9 an hour, and as many as 73 percent support an increase to $10.10, the minimum proposed in the Fair Minimum Wage Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA). That bill would raise the minimum wage over two and a half years and then peg future increases to inflation. Raising the minimum wage enjoys broad bipartisan support: when polled, 58 percent of Republicans expressed support for increasing the minimum wage to $9 per hour.

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Wyoming Supreme Court Advances Disclosure of Fracking Chemicals

In a partial victory, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that Wyoming's District Court must reconsider public disclosure requests for chemicals used in fracking fluid, and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC) cannot simply claim information on fracking chemicals is protected under a trade secrets exemption. The lawsuit could set an important precedent in the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing.

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White House Lays Foundation for Agencies to Design New Open Government Initiatives

How can federal agencies be more responsive in making the information they gather and hold available to the public? Agencies are currently grappling with that question as they prepare new "open government plans" required by the White House. On Feb. 28, the Obama administration issued guidance to outline the approach that agencies should take with the next set of open government plans, which are due June 1, 2014.

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Portman Proposal Limits Environmental Reviews and Public Input on Proposed Development Projects

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is pushing ahead with his campaign against public safeguards, using a subcommittee hearing on March 11 that was designed to discuss ways to improve the effectiveness of our regulatory system to promote yet another anti-regulatory bill, the Federal Permitting Improvement Act of 2013. The bill would require faster environmental impact assessments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for proposed major infrastructure projects and limit public input in, and oversight of, federal decision making.

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