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In the U.S. Senate last week, between the debate and the vote on judge Sonia Sotomayor to serve as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced  S. 1580, on behalf of Senator Edward Kennedy, a bill to amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.  As far as I can tell, its text is nearly identical to H.R. 2067 , the bill introduced in April by Cong. Lynn Woolsey.  The bills’ major provisions are:

  • expanding OSHA coverage to the 8.5 million public sector workers (who are employed by state, county and local governments, and not covered by an OSHA State Plan);
  • expanding the definition of protected health and safety activity as it relates to whistleblower protection, and improving administrative procedures for whistleblower investigation;
  • increasing civil penalty amounts and requiring inflation adjustments to them;
  • revising criteria for criminal violations and the applicable law; and
  • providing new rights and access to information for injured worker and family members.

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by Richard Denison, cross-posted from EDF Blogs

Today, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) unveiled its “10 Principles for Modernizing TSCA.”   Also today, the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition – of which EDF is a member – issued a news release and unveiled its 9-point “Platform for Reform of TSCA.”  How do they line up?

I’ll leave to you readers to decide just how much alignment (or lack thereof) there is between these dueling manifestos.  To get the ball rolling, I’ll use this post to single out three key differences.

First, however, let me say I welcome the fact that ACC is finally moving beyond rhetorical flourishes about “modernization” and “the need to restore public confidence in its products.”  At last ACC has begun to provide something that could become something that one can sink one’s teeth into.  Equally refreshing is that ACC is now acknowledging a number of deep problems with TSCA that it has traditionally denied – problems that many of us having been raising for years. 

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It’s long past time to breathe some fresh air into the Department of Labor’s Solicitor’s Office (SOL).  I was hopeful when President Obama nominated M. Patricia Smith in April to serve as the Solicitor of Labor, but since her May 7 confirmation hearing, her appointment is languishing in the Senate HELP committee.  The Solicitor’s Office has about 600 employees, many of whom are attorneys working in regional offices across the country, and they are supposed to help DOL agencies accomplish their missions by providing legal advice.  The mission statement includes, ensuring that the

“Nation’s labor laws are forcefully and fairly applied to protect the Nation’s workers.”

However, when it comes to protecting coal miners who have been discriminated against for complaining about safety problems, some attorneys in SOL are failing miserably.

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Evidence continues to accumulate that talking on the phone while driving – even with a hands-free device – increases the risk of car crashes. We learned earlier this week that officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been concerned about this problem for years, but declined to go public with research that would have demonstrated the need for legislative action or send a letter to the Transportation Secretary warning that state hands-free laws wouldn’t solve the problem.

NHTSA materials related to cellphones and driving came to light thanks to the nonprofit groups Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, which obtained the documents under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and passed them along to the New York Times. Reporter Matt Richtel explains what was in the documents and why the agency decided not to release them:

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The White House announced today 10 nominations for senior administration positions, including Mr. Joe Main to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health (MSHA).    The biography provided with the announcement notes that he:

“… began working in coal mines in 1967 and quickly became an advocate for miners safety as a union safety committeeman as well as serving in various local union positions in the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). He was employed by the UMWA in 1974 as a Special Assistant to the International President, and joined the UMWA Safety Division in 1976, serving as Safety Inspector, Administrative Assistant, and Deputy Director. In 1982 he was appointed Administrator of the UMWA Occupational Health and Safety Department, a position he held for 22 years, managing the international health and safety program and staff. “

In an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal reporting on Main’s nomination, mine worker advocate Tony Oppegard said:

“A year from today, you will see a very different agency in terms of the way it’s run.”

Here’s hoping for a speedy confirmation process [remember Senate Dem's, Bush's choice Mr. Dave Lauriski did not have a confirmation hearing] so Mr. Main can get to work.

Of the many disturbing and damaging policies instituted during the G.W. Bush Administration, high on my list is abuse of FOIA.  It started with the post 9/11-Ashcroft memo, which was institutionalized into downstream agencies, and reconfigured and rejustified over Mr. Bush’s remaining 7 years.  In the public interests, one journalist sought to find out how the Labor Department’s FOIA practices were “evolving” under G.W. Bush’s non-disclosure philosophy. 

In March 2005, Mine Safety and Health News (MSHN) received an anonymous tip, urging the editor, Ellen Smith, to request records from a training session held for DOL FOIA officers on March 1-2, 2005.  The tipster suggested that she’d likely be very interested in what had been communicated to DOL staff and that she should specifically ask for a copy of the videotape made of the two-day session.  (Presumably, the officials who organized the FOIA training session decided to videotape the event for the benefit of employees who were not able to attend.)

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cross-posted from OMBWatch

Despite the Obama Administration’s consistent theme of creating a new, more open government, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has yet to prove it will comply with the Administration’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) policies.  In its response to a 2008 FOIA request, MSHA refused to release information that has been consistently released in the past.  An appeal of that response provides a test of the administration’s approach to implementing its openness policies.

On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum about the use of FOIA, writing that the presumption regarding government disclosure should be:

“In the face of doubt, openness prevails.”

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Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (aka the Waxman-Markey bill), which sets up a cap-and-trade system to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050. It also includes other provisions to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green jobs.

As Paul Krugman noted in a recent NYT column, this isn’t the legislation we’d ideally want, but it’s the best we’re going to get right now – and this isn’t a problem that can wait. A bill with more ambitious targets and fewer giveaways to polluting industries just isn’t possible with the current Congressional makeup.

In the Washington Monthly, Charles Homans provides some interesting context for the bill with a profile of Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman. Since his election to the House in 1974, Waxman has been mastering the mechanisms of influence and waging multi-year campaigns to achieve progress on health and environmental issues. Homans explains Waxman’s approach:

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Two months ago, I applauded OSHA for announcing that its SBREFA panel meeting on a draft diacetyl proposed rule would be open to the public.  Today, I feel schnookered.  OSHA hosted its teleconference-meeting yesterday (5/19) and today (5/20) with specially-selected small employers, but failed to provide meaningful notice to allow the public to participate.  Is a meeting really “public” if you don’t tell the public? Or is it really public if you only tell a select few?  

 Not in my book.

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by Rena Steinzor,  cross-posted from CPR Blog

With his attractive family and a phalanx of top aides in tow, Professor Cass Sunstein had a cordial, 45-minute hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee yesterday. He was introduced by former student and current Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) who praised Sunstein as a teacher, mentor, and eclectic thinker, all qualities for which he is rightly known. Ironically, however, the remainder of the hearing could be summarized as efforts by the three Senators in attendance— Chairman Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), ranking minority member Susan Collins (R-ME), and Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI)—to get Sunstein to pledge that eclectic thinking will not be his modus operandi at the White House.

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