Climate Change Policies Face Challenges in Congress

During his second inaugural address on Jan. 21, President Obama announced that the United States will respond to the growing threat of climate change.

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Congress Asking the Right Questions on FOIA

A recent letter from Congress to the Justice Department represents a positive development toward strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The letter, sent Feb. 4 by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asks what steps the government is taking on a number of key transparency improvements.

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Oil and Gas Production a Major Source of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, EPA Data Reveals

On Feb. 5, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new data indicating that in 2011, the oil and natural gas sector was the second-highest contributor of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. A method of natural gas drilling, known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, is a major component of this industry. Given this data and its stated commitment to addressing climate change, the Obama administration will have to reconsider its strong support of natural gas production.

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Court Invalidates National Labor Relations Board Recess Appointments, Future of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Now Uncertain

On Jan. 25, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). President Obama made these appointments on Jan. 4, 2012, the same day he appointed Richard Cordray as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a crucial agency designed to protect Americans from abuses by credit card companies and others in the financial industry.

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CBO Report Reveals Economic Damage Done by Deficit Reduction

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), released Feb. 5, reveals that the federal budget deficit is now on track to drop below $1 trillion for the first time in several years. It is expected to drop further for several more years without any additional efforts at deficit reduction. However, this drop has been bought at a significant cost, including substantially reduced economic growth and higher unemployment.

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EPA's New Soot Rule Will Save Lives, Health Care Costs, and the Environment

In December 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a new national clean air standard for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), commonly referred to as soot. These microscopic particles are often emitted from diesel engines and power plants. When inhaled, the particles lodge deep inside the lungs and can cause asthma, acute bronchitis, heart attack, stroke, and even premature death, especially in vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. EPA moved forward to strengthen the standard after new data confirmed that the standard set in 1997 did not adequately protect the public.

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Congress Sets Stage for Second Budget Showdown

On Jan. 23, the House of Representatives sidestepped a battle over the debt ceiling and prepared itself instead for a coming fight over sequestration and a possible government shutdown. The No Budget, No Pay Act (H.R. 325), passed by the House, suspends the debt ceiling until May 18 and ties congressional pay to passage of budget resolutions in the House and Senate by April 15.

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Amount of Toxics Released in the U.S. Increased for the Second Year in 2011

Total releases of toxic chemicals in the U.S. increased for the second year in a row according to Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data reported to and analyzed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The TRI program, established as a part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986, requires the EPA to make information on the release and transfer of toxic chemicals (above a certain threshold) available to the public in order to provide Americans with a better understanding about toxic pollution in their communities.

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Open Government Gets a Second Term

Four years ago, when Barack Obama assumed the office of the President of the United States, he signaled his commitment to open and accountable government with a set of directives and executive orders designed to make his administration “the most transparent in history.” Significant progress was made in his first term, but the president's vision has not yet been translated into across-all-agencies improvements in openness, and in the area of national security, most civil liberties advocates are disappointed.

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The Obama Administration's Regulatory Agenda: Many Overdue Rules Need to Be Finalized to Fulfill Legislative and Public Safety Promises

Each year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is supposed to publish two agendas of planned rules and at least one regulatory plan summarizing economically significant rulemakings likely to move forward in the near future. In 2012, the Obama administration skipped the spring agenda entirely and did not publish the fall agenda until December, likely because of the elections. The plan that finally emerged contains some positive measures but does not go far enough to significantly advance consumer, workplace safety, or environmental protections.

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