Archives for posts with tag: safety

Rena Steinzor has posted her article “The Truth About Regulation in America (Harvard Law & Policy Review, Vol. 5, pp. 323-346, 2011) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The special interests leading the accelerating crusade against regulation have re-ignited a potent coalition of industry lobbyists, traditional conservatives, and grassroots Tea Party activists. The politicians speak in generic terms for public consumption: “the nation is broke,” “big government is bad,” “regulation costs trillions.” Behind the scenes, industry lobbyists target for repeal dozens of regulations that are designed to control pollution, ensure drug, product, and food safety, and eliminate workplace hazards. In an effort to bring light and air to an often misleading and always opportunistic national debate, this essay presents five truths about the state of health, safety, and environmental regulation in America: First, regulatory dysfunction hurts many people. At the same time, big, bad government and powerful, protective regulation are two different things. The current system is sufficiently weak, especially with respect to enforcement, that even scoundrels are not stopped. Fourth, regulated industries understand the benefits of regulation and could negotiate compromises with agencies and public interest representatives if deregulatory opportunists would back off. Finally, if left alone, health, safety, and environmental agencies could accomplish great things.

Six “protector agencies” with the mission to safeguard people and natural resources from the hazards of the industrial age are the focus of the essay. In the descending order of size include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

In a nutshell, I argue that stringent regulation has enabled this country to achieve a remarkable level of industrialization while maintaining its natural environment to a remarkable degree, with the admittedly huge exception of the eroding ozone layer that is causing severe climate change. For verification of this observation, we have only to consider China, where a break-neck pace toward industrial development has left the environment in shambles, causing as many as 2.4 million deaths annually as a direct result of contaminated water and air (adjusted for population, the American equivalent would be 558,000 deaths).

The truth about regulation in America is that we cannot prosper without it, as many corporate executives will admit when they are standing outside the herd. The agencies that protect health, safety, and the environment cost less than one percent of the federal budget and projected benefits exceed costs by at least two to one. But the agencies are growing weaker and less able to enforce the law effectively. Further, as happened on Wall Street, even egregious violators continue business as usual until disaster strikes (and, in some painfully notorious cases, even afterwards — see, for example, British Petroleum’s chronic violations of worker safety and environmental laws that were left undeterred over the decade leading up to the Gulf oil spill).

Download the paper for free.

Advertisements

ProPublica: Furious growth and cost cuts led to BP accidents past and present.

Jeanne Pascal turned on her TV April 21 to see a towering spindle of black smoke slithering into the sky from an oil platform on the oceanic expanse of the Gulf of Mexico. For hours she sat, transfixed on an overstuffed couch in her Seattle home, her feelings shifting from shock to anger.

Pascal, a career Environmental Protection Agency attorney only seven weeks into her retirement, knew as much as anyone in the federal government about BP, the company that owned the well. She understood in an instant what it would take others months to grasp: In BP’s 15-year quest to compete with the world’s biggest oil companies, its managers had become deaf to risk and systematically gambled with safety at hundreds of facilities and with thousands of employees’ lives.

“God, they just don’t learn,” she remembers thinking.

Just weeks before the explosion, President Obama had announced a historic expansion of deep-water drilling in the Gulf, where BP held the majority of the drilling leases. The administration considered the environmental record of drilling companies in the Gulf to be excellent. It didn’t ask questions about BP, and it didn’t consider that the company’s long record of safety violations and environmental accidents might be important, according to Carol Browner, the White House environmental adviser.

They could have asked Jeanne Pascal.

For 12 years, Pascal had wrestled with whether BP’s pattern of misconduct should disqualify it from receiving billions of dollars in government contracts and other benefits. Federal law empowers government officials to “debar”—ban from government business—companies that commit fraud or break the law too many times. Pascal was a senior EPA debarment attorney for the Northwest, and her job was to act as a sort of behind-the-scenes babysitter for companies facing debarment. She worked with their top management, reviewed records and made sure they were good corporate citizens entitled to government contracts.

At first, Pascal thought BP would be another routine assignment. Over the years she’d persuaded hundreds of troubled energy, mining and waste-disposal companies to quickly change their behavior. But BP was in its own league. On her watch she would see BP charged with four federal crimes—more than any other oil company in her experience—and demonstrate what she described as a pattern of disregard for regulations and for the EPA. By late 2009 she was warning the government and BP executives themselves that the company’s approach to safety and environmental issues made another disaster likely.

A close look by ProPublica and PBS FRONTLINE at BP’s explosive growth corroborated and expanded on Pascal’s concerns. The investigation found that as BP transformed itself into the world’s third largest private oil company it methodically emphasized a culture of austerity in pursuit of corporate efficiency, lean budgets and shareholder profits. It acquired large companies that it could not integrate smoothly. Current and former workers and executives said the company repeatedly cut corners, let alarm and safety systems languish and skipped essential maintenance that could have prevented a number of explosions and spills. Internal BP documents support these claims.

More.

You can watch “The Spill,” a PBS FRONTLINE documentary drawn from this reporting  here.

A clip:

%d bloggers like this: