Archives for posts with tag: corporate influence

From :

The American Lung Association released this television advertisement that describes the impacts that “secondhand smog” has on the health of our kids who live and breathe far from the smoke stacks that emit the pollutants. Join the fight at http://www.fightingforair.org.

From iWatch:

One spring day in 2010, the haze hanging over this Mississippi River town was worse than usual. It billowed from the smokestacks of a corn processing plant and blanketed the neighborhood across the street. It enshrouded homes and, seen from a certain angle, looked almost blue.

Kurt Levetzow watched from his car. An inspector with the state agency that enforces air pollution laws, he’d been fielding more and more citizen complaints lately about Grain Processing Corp., known as GPC.

The company’s plant sits on the edge of the town’s South End neighborhood, where black soot and bits of corn collect on cars and homes and many residents worry about what they’re breathing. Even on an ordinary day, a pungent burnt-corn odor hangs in the air, and the haze can be seen from miles away.

But Levetzow hadn’t seen anything like this. Driving through the neighborhood near the plant, he snapped pictures and took notes for the memo he would write. “I went through Muscatine on 3-26-10,” he wrote. “I was amazed at what I saw.”

A pickup truck came to a stop next to Levetzow’s car. It was a company security guard.

“Is there a problem?” the guard asked.

“Yes, there is,” Levetzow answered. “GPC is fogging that residential area with a blue haze.” Levetzow pointed. “You see what I mean?”

The guard looked over. “Ah, they’re getting used to that,” he said, chuckling.

Many communities have had little choice but to get used to it. As the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News has reported, hundreds of communities are beset with chronic air pollution involving toxic chemicals Congress intended to rein in years ago. Here in the heart of the Corn Belt, people endure the consequences of a regulatory system that has failed them for years.

The plant’s troubles are well-known to state and federal officials, but fixes — when they have come at all — have been slow. Memos, reports and thousands of emails obtained by iWatch News detail Levetzow’s efforts, the company’s resistance and the state environmental agency’s passivity. They also highlight gaps in a regulatory system that relies on a self-reporting honor system, spotty monitoring and ambiguous rules.

Officials at the state Department of Natural Resources, known as the DNR, have allowed GPC to avoid improvements that would reduce pollution. Even when Levetzow told his bosses he thought GPC’s apparent compliance with air pollution laws was a façade and repeatedly urged them to act, they did little, emails show.

The company says it stays within the limits outlined in its permit, has followed air pollution rules and is upgrading pollution control equipment as part of a major plant improvement project, some of which is scheduled to be finished in 2014. The improvements — some required by a court order resolving a case brought by the state for environmental violations five years ago — still may fail to keep the area in compliance with air quality standards, the state says.

GPC spokesperson Janet Sichterman said other companies share responsibility for Muscatine’s air quality problems, and GPC is doing its part to clean up the skies. “We want this to be a great community with quality air, too,” she said.

While the Clean Air Act delegated enforcement duties to the states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency keeps tabs on state agencies and sometimes steps in. The plant appeared on the September version of EPA’s internal “watch list,” which includes serious or chronic violators of the Clean Air Act that have faced no formal enforcement action for nine months or more. GPC was not on the list in October.

Now, after years on the sidelines, the EPA has started to get involved. The agency says it is conducting an ongoing criminal investigation of GPC — a rare step the EPA usually reserves for companies it feels have knowingly violated the law. In December 2009, a team of investigators led by the EPA raided the plant and seized documents. Sichterman said the company doesn’t know why it’s being investigated but is confident the probe will determine GPC followed all laws.

Some residents, no longer content to wait for official action, are organizing and building their own case. They are filing complaints and documenting health problems. Recently, they hired a lawyer. As in other communities, they face significant hurdles, from limited air monitoring and health studies that would help them make their case to wariness among their neighbors about taking on powerful political and economic forces.

More.

From Associated Press:

Large and small companies have told Republican-led congressional committees what the party wants to hear: dire predictions of plant closings and layoffs if the Obama administration succeeds with plans to further curb air and water pollution.

But their message to financial regulators and investors conveys less gloom and certainty.

The administration itself has clouded the picture by withdrawing or postponing some of the environmental initiatives that industry labeled as being among the most onerous.

Still, Republicans plan to make what they say is regulatory overreach a 2012 campaign issue, taking aim at President Barack Obama, congressional Democrats and an aggressive Environmental Protection Agency.

“Republicans will be talking to voters this campaign season about how to keep Washington out of the way, so that job creators can feel confident again to create jobs for Americans,” said Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the House Republican campaign organization.

The Associated Press compared the companies’ congressional testimony to company reports submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The reports to the SEC consistently said the impact of environmental proposals is unknown or would not cause serious financial harm to a firm’s finances.

Companies can legitimately argue that their less gloomy SEC filings are correct, since most of the tougher anti-pollution proposals have not been finalized. And their officials’ testimony before congressional committees was sometimes on behalf of — and written by — trade associations, a perspective that can differ from an individual company’s view.

But the disparity in the messages shows that in a political environment, business has no misgivings about describing potential economic horror stories to lawmakers.

“As an industry, we have said this before, we face a potential regulatory train wreck,” Anthony Earley Jr., then the executive chairman of DTE Energy in Michigan, told a House committee on April 15. “Without the right policy, we could be headed for disaster.”

The severe economic consequences, he said, would be devastating to the electric utility’s customers, especially Detroit residents who “simply cannot afford” higher rates.

Earley, who is now chairman and CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., said if the EPA had its way, coal-fired plants would be replaced with natural gas — leading to a spike in gas prices. He said he was testifying for the electric industry, not just his company.

But in its quarterly report to the SEC, Detroit-based DTE, which serves 3 million utility customers in Michigan, said that it was “reviewing potential impacts of the proposed and recently finalized rules, but is not able to quantify the financial impact … at this time.”

Skiles Boyd, a DTE vice president for environmental issues, said in an interview that the testimony was meant to convey the potential economic hardship on ratepayers — while the SEC report focused on the company’s financial condition.

“It’s two different subjects,” he said.

Another congressional witness, Jim Pearce of chemical company FMC Corp., told a House hearing last Feb. 9: “The current U.S. approach to regulating greenhouse gases … will lead U.S. natural soda ash producers to lose significant business to our offshore rivals….” Soda ash is used to produce glass, and is a major component of the company’s business..

But in its annual report covering 2010 and submitted to the SEC 13 days after the testimony, the company said it was “premature to make any estimate of the costs of complying with un-enacted federal climate change legislation, or as yet un-implemented federal regulations in the United States.” The Philadelphia-based company did not respond to a request for comment..

California Rep. Henry Waxman, the senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the SEC filings “show that the anti-regulation rhetoric in Washington is political hot air with little or no connection to reality.”

More.

From The Associated Press:

The Republican-controlled House passed the first of two bills Thursday to delay rules to cut toxic air pollution and mercury from cement plants, solid waste incinerators and industrial boilers.

House Republicans repeatedly have targeted Environmental Protection Agency regulations that they view as job killers. The latest bills probably will stall in the Democratic-run Senate, even if some Democrats vote for them, and the White House has threatened to veto both measures.

The first bill, which the House passed by a 262-161 vote, would force the EPA to rewrite regulations designed to reduce pollution at about 150 cement plants nationwide. The measure also would extend by years the time that companies have to comply with the new regulations.

Of the plants covered by the rule, 103 are in Republican districts, according to an Associated Press analysis of EPA data. All but one of the chief sponsors of the bill has cement plants in his or her district.

Two of the sponsors, GOP Rep. Joe Barton of Texas and Democratic Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma, are in a three-way tie for the most cement plants in a district with six apiece.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in statement that the bill’s passage was a common-sense action to delay “EPA regulations that stand in the way of investment and growth.” He said the legislation would make it easier for cement companies, already struggling because of reduced demand, “to succeed and create jobs again.”

The House plans to vote Tuesday on legislation to force the EPA to revise regulations aimed at curbing hazardous pollution, including mercury, from industrial boilers. That legislation is also expected to pass.

President Barack Obama challenged the Republicans’ attacks on EPA as a job killer.

“They’ve said, ‘We’ll roll back regulations that make sure we’ve got clean air and clean water, eliminate the EPA’,” Obama said at a news conference. “Does anybody really think that that is going to create jobs right now and meet the challenges of a global economy … that is weakening, with all these forces coming into play?”

More.

From California Watch:

California’s former top pesticide regulatory official dismissed safety guidelines suggested by her own staff scientists on the grounds that they were “excessive” and too onerous for the pesticide manufacturer, recently released internal documents show.

In response, the scientists lodged a formal protest, calling the official’s actions “not scientifically credible,” according to the documents released by court order last week.

The documents amount to a “smoking gun,” says Paul Blanc, a professor of occupational and environmental medicine at UC San Francisco. Last year, Blanc helped advise the staff scientists on their evaluation of the pesticide, methyl iodide.

“The decision by the regulatory superiors was not science-based,” Blanc said.

In one of the documents, Mary-Ann Warmerdam, who led the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation until this year, weighs a recommendation from her staff that farm workers be exposed to no more than a trace amount of methyl iodide per day. The recommendation – intended to protect farm workers from cancer and miscarriage – is “excessive and difficult to enforce,” Warmerdam wrote in April 2010, about two weeks before the department made its recommendation that California approve methyl iodide. If the restrictions on methyl iodide were approved, she wrote, the pesticide manufacturer might find the recommendations “unacceptable, due to economic viability.”

“(Warmerdam’s) method was to consult with the pesticide manufacturer and determine what was acceptable to them, and then decide on what an acceptable level of exposure was,” said Susan Kegley, a consulting scientist for the Pesticide Action Network, a group suing the state.

Department spokeswoman Lea Brooks declined to comment on the documents, citing the pending litigation. “It is inappropriate to try this case in the media,” Brooks said.

Warmerdam resigned from the department in January. Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to appoint a successor.

Methyl iodide was approved in December 2010, at the tail end of the Schwarzenegger administration. It’s a chemical fumigant used primarily by strawberry growers. A coalition of environmental and farm-worker groups has sued the state to try to ban the chemical.

As part of the suit, the groups asked the Department of Pesticide Regulation to release documents explaining how the agency decided to approve the chemical. The plaintiffs wanted to know how the agency had settled on exposure levels more than 100 times higher than what scientists within the agency believed were safe.

When pressed for documents that might reveal the agency’s rationale, Warmerdam declined to release them, citing the “deliberative process” exemption, which allows government agencies to keep the thought process behind a decision private. A public records act request filed by California Watch and KQED QUEST elicited the same response.

Earlier this month, a judge disagreed, ordering the department to release the documents, which plaintiffs shared with reporters on Thursday.

“DPR has an obligation to explain to the public the basis for its decision,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, who is representing the plaintiffs. “The public has every right to know that DPR approved methyl iodide over the objections of its own staff scientists.”

That rift between scientists and regulators first became public last year, in an e-mail exchange unearthed by KQED QUEST and California Watch’s Public Records Act request. In the e-mails, two staff toxicologists – Lori Lim and Ruby Reed – said they had not been part of the decision to approve methyl iodide, and they stood by their original work.

“We had to read between the lines to figure out how the target levels were calculated,” they wrote. Both Lim and Reed have since resigned from the department.

The new documents show staff scientists sending their complaints up the department’s chain of command.

“I am puzzled by the numbers,” staff scientist Jay Schreider wrote in a memo to the state’s top toxicologist, Gary Patterson. Approving methyl iodide was “management’s prerogative,” Schreider wrote. But he said managers should not imply that the scientists’ findings “are the basis for that decision, or that the apparent ‘mix and match’ approach provides a scientifically credible basis for the decision.”

In his order, Judge Frank Roesch of the Alameda County Superior Court found that the “great majority” of the department’s documents should never have been withheld in the first place. As for the rest, Roesch found “the interest in public disclosure clearly outweighs agency interest in non-disclosure.”

The documents reveal a rare point of agreement between the department’s scientists and its managers: that methyl iodide may cause brain damage in developing fetuses.

When California first began evaluating methyl iodide, it took the unusual step of bringing in an outside group of scientists, hired to work alongside department scientists, as an independent peer-review group. The scientists, including UCSF’s Blanc, worried that methyl iodide could drift up from strawberry fields and be inhaled by pregnant farm workers or children playing nearby, causing subtle effects such as IQ loss, which might never be detected or traced back to the chemical.

“Methyl iodide concentrates in the fetal brain to levels well above those in the mother,” they wrote in their assessment. “There is a high likelihood that methyl iodide is a developmental neurotoxin.”

The new documents show department managers also contending with the lack of data about methyl iodide’s potential effects on developing brains. In animal tests, they wrote, “several measures of neurological deficiency were measured. … Overall, there is a need for a more thorough investigation into developmental neurotoxicity in pre- and post-natal exposures to methyl iodide, because the existing data do not address these exposures.”

More.

(Image Creative Commons by Donnaphoto.)

From Reuters:

Republicans, backed by wealthy conservative lobbyists, are determined to stop the EPA and what they see as an activist agenda that is costing jobs and hurting corporate profits.

“Right now for House Republicans one of their important rally cries is that EPA regulations are excessive and even abusive,” said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

After President Barack Obama’s push for a climate bill in Congress collapsed last year, the EPA was left as the last bastion of hope for his environmental policy.

This led the agency, ironically founded under the Republican administration of Richard Nixon in 1970, to pursue its environmental agenda vigorously. The EPA was considered a toothless tiger under the administration of George W. Bush.

Almost on par with government spending, Republicans galvanized around the issue, using every opportunity, such as congressional hearings, relentlessly to criticize EPA chief Lisa Jackson and stymie her agency’s efforts.

While Republicans face stiff opposition in any legislation to shackle the EPA from the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House, they do have a number of options, especially in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

And the party has proven adept at outflanking the often disunited Democrats on big issues.

House Republicans could move to cut EPA funding through the appropriations process or through deficit-cutting talks in November as required by the debt-ceiling agreement.

Representative Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was picked by Republicans to be part of the 12-member congressional committee that will decide on cuts needed as part of the debt-ceiling agreement.

He could push hard for savings from the EPA’s budget as he has led the battle against its rules.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid recently said he sees no threat to the EPA from Upton’s presence on the super-committee.

“I would assume they will make a serious effort to cut back and apply pressure to cut back EPA regulatory activity as part of this budgetary process,” Stavins said.

“I don’t know if they’ll succeed. That will depend on what the Democratic response to that is.”

Representative Ed Whitfield, another leading Republican on energy policy issues, said that outside the debt talks his party will hammer away in hearings and through legislation on its themes that the EPA has been killing jobs and growth.

Whitfield said Democrats, especially those from energy-intensive states such as West Virginia and Ohio, should know it will be a major issue on the campaign trail.

“We want to keep passing things on the House side that would reverse things EPA is doing simply because we’d like to see those 23 Democratic senators up for reelection next year vote on some of this,” Whitfield said.

EPA ACTIONS INFLAME REPUBLICANS

Of the most contentious proposals, the EPA wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s major utilities. But the process has been delayed, in part, some suspect, by Republican pressure.

These rules could hit the bottom lines of such companies as American Electric Power and Duke Energy. Similar regulations are also planned for oil refineries.

In addition, the EPA has been struggling to complete a much-delayed rule on ozone pollution while also pushing new fuel-efficiency standards and measures to cut emissions from oil and gas drilling.

In protest, states and industry groups have slapped the EPA with multiple lawsuits, which could delay implementation of its rules and slow investment in energy-dependent industries.

CHOKING THE FUNDING

Republicans have tried a number of legislative moves to hamper the EPA. In April, the House passed a bill designed as a blanket ban on the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and sent it to the Senate, which voted 50-50 on it, falling short of the super-majority needed.

The House Interior-EPA spending bill introduced last month to cut funding to EPA programs is also pending.

More.

From :

The Story of Citizens United v. FEC, an exploration of the inordinate power that corporations exercise in our democracy.

The 2010 Report by the President’s Panel on Cancer had this to say about the inefficacy of existing regulations of chemical toxins:

The prevailing regulatory approach in the United States is reactionary rather than precautionary. That is, instead of taking preventive action when uncertainty exists about the potential harm a chemical or other environmental contaminant may cause, a hazard must be incontrovertibly demonstrated before action to ameliorate it is initiated. Moreover, instead of requiring industry or other proponents of specific chemicals, devices, or activities to prove their safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful. Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.

U.S. regulation of environmental contaminants is rendered ineffective by five major problems: (1) inadequate funding and insufficient staffing, (2) fragmented and overlapping authorities coupled with uneven and decentralized enforcement, (3) excessive regulatory complexity, (4) weak laws and regulations, and (5) undue industry influence. Too often, these factors, either singly or in combination, result in agency dysfunction and a lack of will to identify and remove hazards.


From Politics Daily:

Fire retardants in baby blankets, nano-particles in cosmetics, plastics in water bottles and anti-bacterial agents in soaps.

Experts call these and other chemicals emerging contaminants — compounds that were once thought to be safe, but which scientists now believe may pose a danger to human health.

How those chemicals get into your house — and your bloodstream — is no surprise: Loopholes in the federal law that regulates toxic chemicals have allowed manufacturers to sell them without first proving they are safe.

In recent years, however, dozens of studies — many funded by the federal government — have shown that chemicals that are

ubiquitous in the environment and in consumer goods can cause cancer, wreak havoc on hormones, damage the developing brain, depress the immune system and alter gene expression-among other problems. Earlier this year, the President’s Cancer Panel reported, “The true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated.” And Linda

Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which funded many of the top studies, told Congress, “Research has revealed the heightened vulnerability of fetal, infant and child development processes to disruption from relatively low doses of certain chemicals.” Birnbaum, like EPA chief Lisa Jackson, urged Congress to revamp the federal law that regulates toxic chemicals, giving the agency greater authority to protect the public.

Last fall, a group of congressional Democrats vowed to overhaul the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to make it easier for EPA to take dangerous chemicals off the market and ensure that the substitutes are safe. But one year, six congressional hearings and 10 “stakeholder sessions” later, the bills are dead, a testament to the combined clout of $674 billion chemical industry, the companies that process their compounds into air fresheners, detergents, perfumes, cosmetics, toys, medical devices and other consumer goods, and the stores that sell them. Their campaign to block reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act won out over EPA’s support, an unprecedented campaign by public health advocates fueled by the industry’s own admissions that the current law does not fully protect public health.

Read more.

%d bloggers like this: