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A solid piece that was buried in The New York Times today takes a look at the Obama administration’s enactment (or proposal of) tougher worker safety and consumer protection standards across a host of federal agencies. Sure, regulation buttressing is not really sexy, but its tremendously important. And the administration deserves some credit here.
What kind of regulations are we talking about here? Everything from construction site water runoff to safeguarding eggs. These include (from the article and its corresponding piece):
SALMONELLA AND EGGS
Final rule, July 2009
Mandates measures to prevent salmonella on eggshells during production, storage and transportation, like refrigeration of eggs or rodent-control efforts, to prevent an estimated 79,179 illnesses a year.
STOPPING DISTANCE FOR TRUCKS
Final rule, July 2009
Cost: At least $50 million a year. Savings: at least $169 million a year. New tractor-trailers will be required to be able to break from 60 m.p.h. to a complete stop within 250 feet, a 30 percent reduction, a change that is estimated to prevent 227 deaths annually and 300 serious injuries.
Final rule, October 2009
The first federal requirement to report and monitor greenhouse-gas emissions from about 10,000 industrial facilities representing 85 percent of such emissions in the United States.
The piece also talks about the upticks and generally favorable trends of inspection rates across agencies. FDA inspections are up significantly (still nowhere near what they should be, [example, example] but still headed in the right direction).
But what caught GAP’s eye today was the heavily-increasing number of inspections coming out of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC). That agency has the not-so-insignificant task of making sure products on store shelves don’t kill or significantly hurt people. Like toys from China with oodles of lead parts.
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It looks like scientists are pushing back against global warming denialists who have hijacked the debate over climate change. This week, Science magazine published a letter signed by 255 scientists that protests what they call "political assaults on scientists and climate scientists in particular." From the letter:
"There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions. But "for a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet."
In addition, Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Select House Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, held a hearing yesterday on climate science, at which he argued that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill proves that the US needs to move beyond a reliance on petroleum. Markey said that a move toward clean energy was the only solution to the undeniable reality of human-caused climate change.
Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Virginia released a statement opposing the actions of Virginia’s activist Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli after he launched an investigation into publicly funded work by a climate scientist formerly employed by UVA. The climate scientist, Michael Mann, was at the center of the so-called "Climategate" controversy last year, but has been cleared of any wrongdoing by a review at Pennsylvania State University, where he currently works. In addition, two reports by committees in the United Kingdom have found no evidence of wrongdoing by the scientists involved. However, Cuccinelli still wants UVA to turn over a massive number of documents relating to Mann's research to determine if Mann "defrauded" the state.
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ProPublica presents a list of involved people who are denying any knowledge of Lehman Brothers controversial usage of an accounting trick that allowed the company to hide its financial troubles before eventually filing for bankruptcy in 2008. Included is Lehman Brothers CEO, who claims that he didn't know about the issue because he doesn't use a computer and couldn't open attachments on his BlackBerry. The article has a nice video explaining the accounting trick.
New court filings in the case of Federal Air Marshal whistleblower and GAP client Robert MacLean argue that MacLean's direct supervisor was engaged in “an illicit affair with a female subordinate, on whom he bestowed numerous professional favors.” However, the supervisor was protected from punishment for this violation of agency rules because he made a dirty deal to carry out the director of the air marshal program's instructions to fire MacLean. GAP legal director Tom Devine is quoted in the article, from the Orange County Register:
MacLean’s attorney, Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project, responded to the government’s response: “The development about Mr. Donanti was not offered to impugn his character,” it says. “It demonstrates that he had a conflict of interest, because his professional survival depended on acting as the agency’s hatchet man against a problematic Federal Law Enforcement Officer’s Association (FLEOA) leader."
The article also discusses the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which would give whistleblowers many more rights and protections. The act was likely to pass the Senate by unanimous consent last year but two Republican senators (Jim Bunning and Kit Bond) put holds on the bill. Bunning has since removed his hold.
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In public safety news, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), David Strickland, said yesterday that the proportion of complaints against Toyota vehicles, when compared with other automakers, was “unremarkable.” Strickland also said that until the agency finds a specific cause of vehicle defect, they have little recourse. Strickland will probably face criticism about what the NHTSA should have done about years of complaints about Toyotas, and how it should handle further complaints when he testifies in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today. Strickland’s testimony will mark the fourth congressional hearing about Toyota defects. Former NHTSA head Joan Claybrook, who will also testify today, will argue that more needs to be done to protect drivers.
Sherron Watkins, the Enron whistleblower, reviews the new book by Harry Markpolos, the man who tried to blow the whistle on Bernie Madoff, but failed when the Securities and Exchange Commission refused to listen to him.
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An academic inquiry has cleared the climate scientist
at the center of the so-called "climate-gate" scandal of scientific misconduct.
Climate science skeptics had jumped on hundreds of emails and other documents obtained by an unknown computer hacker from a British scientific center, the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, in late November.
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In news from Capitol Hill today:
Despite a promise from President Obama that his administration would be the most open in history, more than 300 individuals and groups have filed lawsuits in order to get public records in the past year. Many of the plaintiffs argue that the lack of transparency remains the same since the Bush administration, as 298 public-records lawsuits were filed in 2008, the last year of Bush’s tenure.
Embattled Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will face many tough questions today during his testimony in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The specific issue at hand is Geithner's role in the bailout of AIG as president of the New York Federal Reserve, and his possible role in its decision not to disclose information about AIG's "back-door" bailout of other firms. Geither has faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans.
A coalition of nonprofit groups, including GAP, sent a letter to President Obama asking for a revision in the year-old executive order than restricts lobbyists from jobs in the administration. The order does not cover many special interest insiders, while still restricting non-profit or charity lobbyists, who do not have a particular financial interest in policy.
In public safety news:
New technology for radiation, and the nature of overworked hospital workers, has created new avenues for human error in the therapies. And because of the nature of the therapies, mistakes can be repeated multiple times, causing serious damage to patients.
And finally in climate science news:
Following the Massachusetts special election win by Republican Scott Brown, advocates of a climate policy are creating a more modest proposal, believing their more comprehensive cap-and-trade based plan would not pass the Senate. Instead, they are turning to a plan involving more "job-creating energy projects and energy efficiency measures."
In recent months, two cases against big producers of heat-trapping gases, including ExxonMobil and Shell Oil, have gone ahead in federal court after previous decisions to dismiss them were reversed. The cases, and others, are part of a climate change litigation movement that could eventually bring large industries to the negotiating table.
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A US judge in Florida denied two motions to postpone and reduce the prison sentence of Bradley Birkenfeld, a former UBS employee who blew the whistle on the Swiss banking behemoth’s illegal offshore banking practices. Defense attorneys had argued that prosecutors at the Justice Department misled both the judge and Birkenfeld. GAP Homeland Security Director Jesselyn Radack was quoted in the article (Law.com):
Jesselyn Radack, homeland security director for the Government Accountability Project in Washington, said Birkenfeld is a victim of a power struggle between two branches of government."What appears to be the case is that the Department of Justice got upstaged by the Senate and is punishing the whistleblower," she said.
In environmental news, the CIA is sharing information with top U.S. climate scientists (NYT) to evaluate the effects of climate change around the world. This partnership was initially shut down by the Bush administration, but has been restarted of late. Some of the information shared includes satellite images. Also, world leaders issued many directives at the Copenhagen climate summit in December; however, none of the follow up work necessary to ensure the realization of the major directives was finished by the end of the conference (ClimateWire). Many are unsure when and how the directives will play out, including the major concern of funding to poor nations for climate change adaptability.
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A New York Times masthead editorial argues that the while the Obama administration has taken a stance against torture, policy makers are continuing to rationalize it, after the Supreme Court declined to review a case brought by four Guantánamo detainees who were never charged with a crime. The Supreme Court’s decision not to review has deprived victims of a remedy and Americans of government accountability, while further damaging the country’s standing in the world.
The Justice Department is considering asking a federal judge to decrease the sentence of UBS whistleblower Brad Birkenfeld (NYT). Birkenfeld was sentenced to three years and four months in prison after blowing the whistle on illegal offshore banking practices by UBS. Because of his disclosures, the IRS was able to recoup $780 million dollars and thousands of names of tax cheats.
A dairy in China recalled milk products after they were found to contain too much melamine. The recall comes after a 2008 Chinese massive food scare, in which melamine in milk was blamed for killing six children and sickening 300,000. While the new recall is much smaller in scope, it does raise questions about whether or not the Chinese dairy industry has reformed itself.
A Washington Post editorial by science and politics writer Chris Mooney argues that while scientific scandals such as “Climategate” have not proven that science is fraudulent, they have indeed proven that scientists are not well armed with communication skills. Because the media is increasingly cutting back on science-focused journalism, the ability of scientists to communicate their own data efficiently is progressively more vital.
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by Robin Bravender
Climate scientists are refuting claims that raw data used in critical climate change reports has been destroyed, rendering the reports and policies based on those reports unreliable.
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By Robin Bravender
A free-market advocacy group has launched another attack on the science behind U.S. EPA's proposed finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute -- a vocal foe of EPA's efforts to finalize its "endangerment finding" -- petitioned the agency this week to reopen the public comment period on the proposal, arguing that critical data used to formulate the plan have been destroyed and that the available data are therefore unreliable.