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Celeste and I are in Houston for the OSHA National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety (and other related events). We’d love to meet any of our readers who are attending – if you’re at the meeting and see one of us, introduce yourself!

We’d also love to hear from summit attendees what you thought of the various sessions and of the conference as a whole. Leave a comment with your reaction!

The Pump Handle will be on vacation from now through early January.

We wish all of our readers and friends a healthy, peaceful 2010!

by Rena Steinzor, cross-posted from CPR Blog

After weeks of sustained attack from the right-wing on issues that are marginal to the job the President asked him to do, Cass Sunstein has emerged from the nomination process bloody but apparently unbowed (here’s this afternoon’s roll call). He is now the nation’s “regulatory czar,” Director of the White House OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  Although Professor Sunstein has been sitting in the Old Executive Office Building for months, he has undoubtedly been preoccupied with his nomination battle.  Having survived the occasionally nonsensical trial by partisan and self-serving flight of fancy that was his confirmations process, we hope he will notice that his staff at OIRA has been behaving as if the 2008 election never happened.  Having paid careful attention to OIRA over these past few months, in search of evidence of a new outlook, I’m sorry to report that I’ve drawn the strong impression that Bush Administration culture and ideology remain unchanged at OIRA.  To deliver change we can believe in, Cass Sunstein needs to convert OIRA from industry waiting room to objective arbiter of inter-agency disputes.

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President Obama’s address to Congress last night on health care had its high points and low points.  You can tune into your favorite spin-masters to hear those recaps.  My favorite part of the President’s speech was when he spoke of our “large-heartedness” and our ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others to offer assistance, provide comfort and seek justice.  He started by reminiscing about Senator Edward Kennedy, reminding us that this his commitment to improving our healthcare system was 

“born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience. It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer. He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick. And he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance, what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent, there is something that could make you better, but I just can’t afford it.”

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Three Indiana men – Stoney Powell, 45 and Roy Mathis, 60 of Wheatfield, and William Decker, 48 of Scottsburg – were killed near Searcy, Arkansas on Wednesday, May 14 in an explosion at a fuel storage facility.  The three men worked for the Kentucky-based firm C&C Welding.   Losing a loved one is difficult in any circumstance, but it must be especially painful when your love is killed so far away from home.  An Associated Press story reports that the storage facility is owned by TEPPCO Partners LP (NYSE: TPP) and the firm’s spokesman Rick Rainey noted:

“the explosion occurred just before 2:30 p.m…..[and] the tank had been previously cleaned and workers were preparing to install a new gauge on it.   [I]t was not immediately clear whether the workers were inside or outside of the tank at the time of the explosion.”

Other brief news is provided at KATV coverage and

Offer a moment of silence for these men and their families.

The nonprofit group OMB Watch is a terrific resource for learning about and monitoring the inner workings of the government. Their mission is “to increase government transparency and accountability; to ensure sound, equitable regulatory and budgetary processes and policies; and to protect and promote active citizen participation in our democracy.” Over the years, I’ve had many occasions to appreciate how they track and explain the easy-to-overlook steps in the regulatory process that profoundly affect public health.

OMB Watch has just launched a new website, and I’m particularly excited to see that they’ve combined their former blogs – Reg Watch, the Budget Blog, and Advocacy Blog – into a single blog called The Fine Print. (Regular readers will probably recognize Reg Watch from its frequent appearances in the Friday Blog Roundup.) Here are a few of the posts you’ll find there:

  • Congress takes on toxics … again: Congressman Frank Pallone has introduced a bill to strengthen the Toxics Release Inventory, which the Bush administration weakened with a 2006 rule.
  • House Passes Bill to Improve Information Sharing with First Responders: The House passes legislation that would make it easier for all levels of government to access information generated by the Department of Homeland Security about security and terrorism.
  • GAO Report Highlights High-Risk Areas: A new report from the Government Accountability Office identifies three new high-risk areas that are either susceptible to high levels of waste, fraud, and abuse or in need of transformational change to achieve greater efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability.

Visit OMB Watch’s new website for more of their new look and content.

I was on the National Mall yesterday when Barack Obama took the oath of office and gave his inaugural address, and the mood was both delighted and solemn. The densely packed crowd alternated between loud cheers and reverent silence as Obama spoke.

Our new president was blunt in his description of our current situation, reminding us that we’re at war, our economy is badly weakened, and our healthcare, education, and energy systems are far from where they should be (full text here). But he expressed confidence that we can meet these challenges:

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.

What I found most heartening about the speech was not just this faith in our country’s abilities, but the “common purpose” that Obama outlined, which included these:

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OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) cleared yesterday’s OSHA’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) on the butter-flavoring agent diacetyl.  The OIRA website indicates the review was completed on 1/14/09, with a recommendation for some change(s) to the document.

Diacetyl is associated with serious lung impairment in exposed workers, including the debilitating disease bronchiolitis obliterans.  See the SKAPP website for further information (here).

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The Pump Handle will be on vacation for the remainder of the year. Comments are still welcome, especially on Progressive Public Health posts.

We wish all of our readers and friends a healthy, peaceful 2009.


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