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Thank you to the 255 signatories for their recently-published letter to the editor “Climate Change and the Integrity of Science” in the 7 May 2010 issue of Science. The letter, a polite request to de-escalate political assaults on scientists, is concise, direct, and refreshing (almost radical). Here’s an excerpt:

We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them.

Gratitude is expressed to the 255 signatories because they are speaking out and challenging what could become, or has become, status quo.

I hear the rally cry expressed by the signatories and will respond by doing what I can to continue to fight for the integrity of science and the people who practice and teach it.

All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts.

Sign me up.

William “Bob” Griffith, 54 died at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine on April 5.   His tribute page says he

“came from a family of miners, went into the mines as a young man with his father and worked there like his brothers.  …When he wasn’t working, Griffith and his wife were fixing up their 1967 Camaro.”

His wife Melanie Griffith has now asked MSHA asst. secretary Joe Main twice (once on April 20 and April 23) for his agency to hold a public hearing as part of the disaster investigation.  In her request yesterday, she pleads for a response, noting:

“time is of the essence”

Her letter continues:

“It is our understanding that MSHA will begin witness interviews on Tuesday.  Family members deserve and demand full transparency and a voice as they go through what is undoubtedly the most difficult time of their lives.  Please respond to this most urgent request.”

I’m confident that Mr. Main and the Labor Secretary’s top staff will make a prompt decision on Mrs. Melanie Griffith’s request, or contact her (and the other Massey families) early next week to fill them in on their decision-making process.

by Ken Ward, Jr., cross-posted from CoalTattoo

Shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama issued a memo in which he asserted this his administration

“is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.”

The memo continued:

“We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

Well, Obama’s Labor Department has now received formal requests from two of the widows of the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, asking that the department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) conduct its investigation of the disaster through the public hearing provisions of the federal mine safety law.  But so far, neither the White House nor MSHA has publicly offered any response to these requests. 

Were MSHA to grant the requests, all investigative interviews would be open to the families, the press and the public.  There would be no exclusive access for coal company lawyers (as Gov. Joe Manchin’s mine safety director, Ron Wooten, has said the state would allow) or for the United Mine Workers union.  Everybody would be able to watch and listen, and know whether the investigation was asking the right questions and digging for real answers about what caused this horrible disaster.

Are there potential downsides to doing this through a public hearing?  Sure.

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The Pump Handle is pleased to provide the full text of an article, published in the Bureau of National Affairs’ “Occupational Safety & Health Reporter,” on SKAPP’s Scientists in Government project report.*

by Stephen Lee

A study of scientists’ opinions at 13 federal agencies, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, found that many feel political pressure guides much of their work.  The research, published March 3 by the George Washington University Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy, said scientists at NIOSH felt the agency deliberately avoided research that might lead to controversial findings for fear the agency might be eliminated.  One senior NIOSH scientist was quoted in the report as saying,

“All research areas are dictated from management, and you must be limited to doing research in these specific areas. As a consequence, eight people have left within the last two years alone. They felt they weren’t being treated as full scientists.”

The 100-page report , Strengthening Science in Government: Advancing Science in the Public’s Interest, interviewed 37 participants at 13 federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture.

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by Rena Steinzor, cross-posted from CPRBlog

What Progressives Expect from OIRA: An Open Letter to Cass Sunstein

Dear Cass:

As you know, we picked a spat with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) last week over Randy Lutter’s supposedly temporary detail appointment to your office.  It’s not the first time we’ve criticized the workings of OIRA, and almost certainly won’t be the last. 

I’ve spoken to a number of people in the media and elsewhere who have expressed surprise that progressive organizations like CPR are such relentless critics of a progressive Administration.  I’m sure Administration officials feel this frustration as well.  That dynamic is at work in OIRA’s case because you have a reputation as a progressive thinker on many issues.

I won’t try to speak for all progressives, but I can assure you that very few of us criticize the Administration lightly.  Nor do we do it with any sense of pleasure. 

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by Richard Denison, PhD, cross-posted from EDF’s ChemNano Blog

Over the last few months, I was heartened to hear a number of industry stakeholders in the debate over TSCA reform embrace the idea of designating in TSCA reform legislation a “jump-start” or “quick-start” list of chemicals of high concern or priority.  The idea was to allow EPA to hit the ground running, by having an agreed-to list of chemicals on which it could immediately initiate action.  Well it now appears many in industry actually have something far slower and far more cumbersome in mind.

The Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection of the U.S House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing yesterday on the question of “prioritization”: How a new law could best spur prompt identification of and action on the chemicals of highest concern.  Mr. Bill Greggs testified on behalf of three trade associations prominent in the debate over TSCA reform:  The Consumer Specialty Products Association, the Soap and Detergent Association, and the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

In Mr. Greggs’ testimony and answers to questions from subcommittee members, what industry has in mind when it talks about a quick start became much clearer:

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The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People program, which for the past several decades has provided “science-based, 10-year national objectives for promoting health and preventing disease,” has opened its 2020 iteration for public comment. Between October 30 and December 31, 2009, the public is welcome to provide feedback on the proposed objectives as individuals, as part of an organization, or anonymously. These objectives span a number of health topics, and many extend outside of the public health and health care sectors.

Comment on the draft objectives.

Attend a public meeting to comment in person.

Any day now, the leaders at DOL, MSHA and OSHA should be letting us know formally their plans for proposing and issuing worker health and safety protections.  This formal notification comes in the form of the Department’s semi-annual regulatory agenda, which pursuant to the Regulatory Flexibility Act, is supposed to be published in April and October.   Secretary Solis’ first reg agenda was issued (a little late) on May 11, and I’m sure her second agenda is almost ready to hit the streets.

When the Labor Secretary’s first agenda suggested that MSHA didn’t foresee any substantial regulatory action on respirable coal dust until 2011, I griped.  I also complained about the OSHA plan, including the absence of a timetable for proposing a rule on combustible dust and offering instead an unnecessary and delay-inducing pre-rule step.  OSHA proceeded with that disappointing plan.

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Members of Congress George Miller (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Corrine Brown (D-FL)  sent a letter to acting OSHA chief Jordan Barab urging the agency to expand its process safety management standard (PSM) to address reactive chemicals.  Reactives are highly unstable that can violently generate heat, energy and/or toxic gases when they come into contact with air, water or other substances.   The letter reminds Mr. Barab that members of Congress wrote to his predecessor, Asst. Secretary Foulke, in January 2008 asking him to begin the rulemaking process to address the hazards related to reactive chemicals.  They note:

“the previous administration failed to take action.”

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As I get ready to take in the 3-day Labor Day weekend, I have to remind myself that this national holiday has deep roots in the trade union movement and struggles (sometimes violent) for workers to secure basic human rights.   In 1948, some of the fundamental protections sought by our worker-forbears were codified into the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Among others, Article 23 of the Declaration emphasizes that workers’ rights are human rights:

Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.  Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.  Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.   Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

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