New Posts

Feb 8, 2016

Top 400 Taxpayers See Tax Rates Rise, But There’s More to the Story

As Americans were gathering party supplies to greet the New Year, the Internal Revenue Service released their annual report of cumulative tax data reported on the 400 tax r...

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Feb 4, 2016

Chlorine Bleach Plants Needlessly Endanger 63 Million Americans

Chlorine bleach plants across the U.S. put millions of Americans in danger of a chlorine gas release, a substance so toxic it has been used as a chemical weapon. Greenpeace’s new repo...

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Jan 25, 2016

U.S. Industrial Facilities Reported Fewer Toxic Releases in 2014

The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data for 2014 is now available. The good news: total toxic releases by reporting facilities decreased by nearly six percent from 2013 levels. Howe...

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Jan 22, 2016

Methane Causes Climate Change. Here's How the President Plans to Cut Emissions by 40-45 Percent.

  UPDATE (Jan. 22, 2016): Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its proposed rule to reduce methane emissions...

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Earmarks: Inherently Bad or Just Broken?

You can always tell when the appropriations season is approaching because, somehow, earmarks, the shadowiest part of the appropriations process, always find a way of sneaking back into the political discourse. True to form, as we wait for Congress' budget resolution, today saw both the Democrats and Republicans announcing their own earmark reform plans. The House Democrats, through Congressman David Obey, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, announced that they would be forbidding earmarks to for-profit organizations. At the same time, House Republican Leader John Boehner announced that his caucus was considering an outright ban on earmarks from House Republicans.

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Fun with Recovery Act Tax Expenditure Graphs!

The Recovery Board, via the Office of Tax Analysis, has a new set of snazzy charts and graphs breaking down Recovery Act tax obligations, from March to December 2009. There isn't anything particularly newsworthy in these charts, since we've known the relative sizes of the expenditures for a while now, but they are very useful in seeing the expenditures over time, which is a new trick. I added part of one of the more interesting charts below; just be aware that more current estimates place the tax expenditure amount obligated closer to $120 billion.

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More Action Is Needed to Improve Recovery Act Data Quality

The Recovery Act may be a great step forward for spending transparency, but it is also exposing the problems of obtaining quality recipient reporting. Two new government reports show that recent revisions and additions to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) rules on recipient reporting are not necessarily "magic bullets" for addressing reporting errors. The reports also make clear that ensuring that recipients have a clear understanding of existing guidance is a crucial aspect of any data quality improvement effort.

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How Not to Make an Example

I wanted to highlight one other thing from ProPublica's article on the "two-time loser" list, a nugget which I think was buried in the article. According to earlier OMB guidance, the main recourse agency officials have to punish repeat offenders is the revocation of federal funding, and we haven't heard whether agencies have used this stick yet. But ProPublica quotes OMB spokesman Tom Gavin as saying that, thus far, one, and only one, organization has suffered this fate. Want to guess which greedy, no-good corporation is flaunting the will of Congress, and which is being singled out as a rule-breaker? Maybe Xe? Wal-Mart? ENRON!?!

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ProPublica Fact-Checks Recovery Board's Two-Time Loser List

ProPublica has a great story up today, examining the list of "two-time losers" the Recovery Board posted on their website. The Board chairman, Earl Devaney, said he posted this list of recipients who failed to report, as they are legally required to do, in both reporting periods, in an effort to shame the recipients into reporting. Since agencies have very few sticks to get recipients to report, the list sounded like a great idea. One problem: ProPublica found that at least 60 of the 360 recipients listed did actually report on time.

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Deal Made with Bunning, UI Benefits Resume

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) accepted an offer from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to drop his hold on a bill that will allow unemployed workers to see their Unemployment Insurance benefits and health insurance subsidies continue for 30 more days and to return some 2,000 federal highway safety employees to work today. The Senate quickly passed (78-19) the $10.3 billion bill, HR 4691, and cleared it for President Obama's signature

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Sign the Petition to Restore Unemployment, Health Benefits

Updated below.

Our friends at the Coalition on Human Needs are passing around a petition to "put aside partisan games, to put aside rhetoric and enact legislation that has broad bi-partisan support – an extension of unemployment benefits and the COBRA health care subsidy through the end of 2010."

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Recovery Act Data Shows Recipients Are Learning

Earlier today, the Recovery Board released the list of Recovery Act recipients who did not file during the second reporting period.   According to the Board, recipients of 1,036 Recovery Act awards failed to file during this quarter, which was from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2009. That number represents a whopping 76 percent decline from the first reporting cycle, which saw 4,359 missing award reports, and is less than one percent of all the award reports. Equally good news is that of the 1,036 missing reports, only 389 were from "repeat offenders," or recipients who failed to file in both quarters.

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The Recovery Act's Real Legacy: Transparency

Yes, today is the Recovery Act's birthday, and to celebrate, everyone and their uncle are rushing to "evaluate" (translation: put their spin on) the Act. Did the Recovery Act create jobs? Did it avert the Great Depression II? Are we getting anything for the $862 billion? The answer to all these questions is "Yes" (see here, here, and here for some good evidence), but the debate ignores the more lasting legacy of the entire Act: its transparency provisions.

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For Regulatory Agencies, Intrigue in an Otherwise Bleak Budget

President Barack Obama's proposed budgetary spending freeze would have varying impacts on the regulatory agencies responsible for protecting public health and welfare. Oversight of industry and solving new and neglected problems may dwindle as environmental and consumer safety regulators are forced to operate in a constrained fiscal environment.

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Resources & Research

Living in the Shadow of Danger: Poverty, Race, and Unequal Chemical Facility Hazards

People of color and people living in poverty, especially poor children of color, are significantly more likely...

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A Tale of Two Retirements: One for CEOs and One for the Rest of Us

The 100 largest CEO retirement funds are worth a combined $4.9 billion, equal to the entire retirement account savings of 41 percent of American fam...

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more resources