Anti-Regulatory Forces Target Agency Science to Undermine Health and Safety Standards

As committees of the 113th Congress begin to implement their agendas, it is increasingly apparent that environmental and health standards, and the science serving as the basis for these protections, will remain a favorite target of anti-regulatory legislators. Last session's industry-supported proposals to change scientific assessment programs would undermine environmental, health, and safety standards, yet they are likely to reappear. Meanwhile, new investigations underscore that these measures ignore the real impediments to improving the credibility and usefulness of agency science and risk assessments.

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Disclosure at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs: Written Comments and Telephone Records Suspiciously Absent

In 1981, President Reagan signed an executive order charging the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) with reviewing all economically significant rules and rejecting those that did not pass a strict cost-benefit test. Supporters of environmental, consumer, and worker protection standards have long criticized the office for failing to make its analyses public. Moreover, the office has a reputation for meeting with industry interests behind closed doors and for engaging in intrusive back-and-forth exchanges with agencies over proposed rules. This often results in the office delaying, watering down, or blocking new standards and safeguards.

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Sequestration Standoff

As March 1 approaches, across-the-board federal spending cuts, called sequestration, appear almost certain to occur. Republicans and Democrats are not negotiating to resolve the looming crisis. Neither seems sufficiently motivated to compromise.

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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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