UPDATE (Oct. 3, 2014): On Sept. 29, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved Dominion Resources $3.8 billion expansion of its Cove Point facility in Lusby, MD to allow for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from the site.
UPDATE (06/27/2014): On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in NLRB v. Noel Canning, unanimously affirming the D.C. Circuit’s invalidation of three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made by President Obama on Jan. 4, 2012. However, the Court split 5-4 on its rationale for the decision.
UPDATE (6/12/2014): California has finalized its long-awaited standard limiting the permissible level of hexavalent chromium (sometimes called “chromium 6”) in drinking water. The standard was set at 10 parts per billion (ppb), equivalent to about five teaspoons of the toxic chemical in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Once the standard takes effect on July 1, California will be the first state to impose a limit on this harmful contaminant in drinking water, taking action even before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Two miners were killed May 12 while working at Brody Mine No. 1 in West Virginia, a coal mine with a history of "significant and substantial" violations, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). While the cause of these two deaths remains under investigation, the incident is just the most recent example of the inadequacy of current mine safety and health programs that are intended to protect miners from on-the-job hazards. To correct these problems and prevent future disasters, MSHA must improve its oversight and enforcement of hazardous mining operations, and Congress must provide the agency the resources it needs to accomplish its important mission.
On April 16, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, sent a letter to the Department of the Interior requesting an investigation into the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) state-level efforts to push legislation that could undermine federal land management policies and directives.
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.
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.
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.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has recently taken an unprecedented action by introducing a joint resolution to disapprove of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed greenhouse gas emissions limits for new power plants. Through the resolution, McConnell is attempting to utilize the accelerated legislative procedures provided in the Congressional Review Act, even though the law was designed only for reviewing final agency rules.
This week, the House of Representatives will vote on a series of anti-regulatory proposals during a campaign targeting important public health and environmental safeguards. While House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has dubbed the campaign #StopGovtAbuse Week, the proposed legislation is in fact designed to delay or halt the rulemaking process by adding time-consuming and redundant procedural hurdles, by providing regulated industries additional opportunities to delay the process, and by stripping away the public's right to petition agencies when they fail to act.
President Obama has issued 168 executive orders since taking office in January 2009, fewer than any president in office during the past 100 years besides George H. W. Bush. Yet conservative commentators continue to complain that this president has exceeded his executive power. Challenges to the president's executive power are on the rise following his State of the Union address on Jan. 28 when he vowed to take whatever unilateral action he can to ensure our government operates in the best interests of our citizens. "Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do," the president declared.
Agencies rolled out few health, safety, or environmental standards in the first quarter of 2013, despite hopes that President Obama would commit more attention to agencies' regulatory agendas after winning reelection. But in the spring, the gears began to move as the administration focused on implementing crucial public protections and the new director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Howard Shelanski, made good on his promise to cut the backlog of rules waiting for review at OIRA. With the gridlock on legislation in Congress, many are looking for the administration to be more active in moving rules and action through the executive branch.
On Sept. 20, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a new proposal to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new coal-fired power plants. The Center for Effective Government applauded the steady progress on the rule but warned of likely challenges from climate-change deniers, regulatory opponents, and their allies in Congress. Over the past month, these challenges have appeared in the form of draft legislation and appropriations riders that seek to repeal or severely limit EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fueled power plants under the Clean Air Act.
In June, President Obama revealed his climate action plan, delivering on a promise he made during his State of the Union Address in February that he would take action to address climate change if Congress failed to do so. The plan outlines near- and long-term policies that the Obama administration will implement to address climate change: cutting carbon pollution, preparing the U.S. for climate change impacts, and leading international efforts to take action.
On July 25, the Bipartisan Policy Center hosted an event to explore the impact of the rapid expansion of shale gas on the U.S. economy, trade, and geopolitics. Most of the discussion from panelists focused on the economic opportunities that exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) abroad would create for U.S. firms. But Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), in a keynote speech, highlighted the importance of strong public protections as the U.S. maps out its energy future. He cautioned that the United States needs to "look before we leap" as we make choices about expanded energy development.
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) quietly published its highly anticipated Spring 2013 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Unified Agenda) on July 3. The spring agenda, like the previous fall agenda, does not show a strong commitment to advancing public health, safety, or environmental protections. Rather, it shows only slight progress on rules that have been under development for years and does not suggest the administration will address the pervasive delays or lack of transparency that currently plague the rulemaking process.
In a press conference on June 25, President Obama revealed his plan to address climate change. Delivering on a promise he made nearly four months ago during his State of the Union address, the president said that if Congress failed to protect future generations from the impacts of climate change, he would.
Recent reflections of a former executive agency official illustrate the troubling role the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) plays in reviewing all agency rules before they can be issued. In a new article, Lisa Heinzerling shares her perspective on OIRA review during her tenure at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Notably, Heinzerling gives a first-hand account of how the White House interacts with agencies regarding rules, contradicting the story being told by former OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein and challenging the unrecognizably rosy picture of rule reviews he spins. Indeed, Heinzerling identifies a number of problems with OIRA, including significant delays and a lack of transparency, that resonate with health and safety advocates.
In April, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a draft report on the benefits and costs of federal standards and safeguards. The report shows that over the past 10 years, public protections have produced vast benefits at minimal cost. In all, the estimated annual benefits of these rules ranged from $192.7 billion to $799.7 billion, while costs ranged from $56.6 billion to $83.7 billion.
Earlier this month, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) introduced companion legislation in the House and Senate, entitled the Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act (S. 714 and H.R. 1493). Disguised as an effort to increase transparency, this legislation aims to bog down the regulatory process with time-consuming and costly procedural hurdles that would limit the lawsuits brought to challenge unreasonable delays by regulatory agencies.