Regulation and its absence

Submitted: Jul 05, 2017
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 The dismal dialectic between government and business may be approaching the trough, even if it has not bottomed out yet. From this vantage point, the velocity of bribery having slowed from the sheer volume of the current bribes, something almost like a calm prevails. And in this calm it is possible to see why government regulates on behalf of the people and why business reacts and works to undermine and destroy every governmental regulation. Out of the latter motive comes such idiotic slogans as "The business of America is business," (Pres. Calvin Coolidge, 1923-1929), and all subsequent slogans in this vein, like the immortal chamber of commerce chesnut, "Government should be run like a business."

But. government is not a business, and government in the era of the triumph of capitalism across the world it has the dual duties of helping business and, if it is properly functioning, teh duty to protect the people against the excesses of capitalism.

These excesses have now caused global warming, which threatens human civilization and life and is causing mass extinction of wildlife and fish. And yet, mysteriously, at least most irrationally, the most powerful nation on the earth, richest, best armed, has chosen this moment to elect as its president a developer.

This might be a time for people to reconsider the role of regulation in their lives, at least if they value the lives of their future generations. Let's think about air pollution, water pollution and availability, protection of local wildlife and fish, global warming, the corruption of local land-use planning authorities, the abandoned residential developments on the outskirts of town, the corruption of financial regulation in mortgages, the corruption of realtors, mortgage lenders and banks leading to the continuing waves of foreclosures, the corruption of the process of setting dairy prices in favor of the large processors, the corruption of multiple natural resource state and federal agencies in the approval of the UC Merced campus, and many other official decisions that have contributed to the deterioration of our local environment and standard of living.

--blj

 

6-23-27

The Independent (UK)

Why is it that the British state could cope with the Blitz, but cannot deal with Grenfell Tower?

It is disgusting but revealing that the Government has still not withdrawn a press release which is entitled ‘Government going further to cut red tape by £10 billion’

Patrick Cockburn 

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/grenfell-tower-small-state-tories-paying-price-a7805586.html       <!--[endif]--> 

My mother, Patricia Cockburn, joined the Air-Raid Precautions (ARP) in 1939 and worked at the “Northern Control Centre” in a large cellar deep under Praed Street in Paddington through the early months of the Blitz. This is about two and a half miles from where Grenfell Tower was to be built 35 years later. She recalled later in a memoir that “60 of us sat in a large underground room, each at a narrow desk on which were four telephones coloured white, red, green and black”.

The black phone was for the Chief Warden of a district to call in to say where bombs had fallen and ask for assistance proportionate to the level of destruction and the number of casualties. Patricia would immediately pick up her white phone to send ambulances, the red one for fire engines and the green for heavy rescue vehicles. The skill of the controllers lay in matching the rescue effort to the needs of the victims of the bombing. “You never gave the warden all the machines he asked for,” wrote Patricia. “If you did, you would run out of ambulances and fire engines, long before the raid was over.”

Overall, she found the system well organised and effective. There were glitches, such as an instruction to wear gas masks at all times which briefly made it impossible for the controllers to hear what the wardens were telling them. She was overawed by the dedication of the rescue crews. One night during a heavy raid she got a call on her white phone and heard a girl’s voice calmly asking: “My ambulance is on fire, do I have permission to abandon it?” Patricia asked if she had any patients in the ambulance. The girl said she did not because the crew had been on the way to a bombing. Patricia asked if this meant they had a full tank of petrol and, when told that it did, replied: “Don’t ask any more questions, get out and run like blazes.”

My mother left the job because she was pregnant and was therefore not in the cellar when a bomb fell through an airshaft and killed everybody on duty at the time.

I was thinking about my mother’s time in the ARP during the Blitz, comparing her experiences with events surrounding the Grenfell Tower fire. The fire, ambulance and police services behaved with comparable courage and efficiency to their predecessors in World War Two. But the response of central and local government 77 years after the Blitz was miserably inadequate, and continued to be so long after the unexpectedness of the calamity provided any excuse. They failed at every level and their failure is being rightly pilloried as a grotesque example of cavalier irresponsibility on the part of the state.

It is nauseating to think of the burned bodies of people trapped in Grenfell Tower as the flames engulfed them and then read government boasts on an official website about how “businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from six hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day jobs.” Dangerous drivel like this sends the clear message that the authorities do not care much about fire safety. Of course, under a regime of cursory 45-minute inspections every business will have a “good record” until the day it burns to the ground.

The Government approach is to imply with a sort of gloating superiority that concern for health and safety is a frivolous diversion from the real business of life which is making money. It is disgusting but revealing that in the wake of Grenfell Tower the Government has still not withdrawn a press release dated 3 March 2016 which is entitled “Government going further to cut red tape by £10 billion”. Signed among others by the communities and local government secretary, Sajid Javid, its lauds the infamous “One-in, Three-out policy” under which three regulations must be removed every time one new one is introduced. If some PhD student ever writes a thesis on “Gimmicks that kill”, they should try to trace how this mindless slogan turned into policy.

Sneers directed over the decades by governments and media against “Health and Safety” as the apogee of unnecessary and intrusive bureaucratic meddling, set the stage for the Grenfell Tower tragedy. One does not have to be particularly cynical about human nature to realise that some businesses, noting the dismissive attitude of the state to its own regulations, will conclude that nobody who matters will mind if it breaks a few of them.

But there is an even more destructive aspect to this contempt for state supervision that marks a big difference between government attitudes today and in 1940. For centuries after the end of the 17th century, Britain had a more efficient and better organised state than its rivals in the rest of Europe. This was the outcome of decades of civil conflict in Britain and Ireland, though not all parts of the state apparatus were equally effective, the navy being much better run than the army. It was state power as much as free trade and the industrial revolution sustained the British role in the world.

It is a tradition that has taken a long time to die. Britain was never going to retain its imperial status after 1945, but neoliberal rhetoric about shrinking the state has been deeply damaging in a country that was never big or strong enough to afford too many mistakes. I was periodically stationed in the Middle East, Russia and the US in the years after 1980 and in all these places one could sense the decay of British state institutions. Visiting British politicians were astonishingly ignorant of the local political landscape. British embassies abandoned diplomacy and turned into trading posts. Britain’s reliance on its relationships with the US and the EU became ever more pronounced. This may not have mattered too much until British voters decided to discard the European crutch and President Trump devalued the US crutch by retracting the US role in the world.

Some of this decline was inevitable and some was self-inflicted. The political and media elite often compensated for these failings by disappearing into a world of comforting fantasies, as in the failed British military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It became the norm to blame all the disasters on Tony Blair, but in both these wars, and later in Libya and Syria, there was a pervasive lack of interest in what was going wrong and how it might be put right.

For a nation that so often is mocked and mocks itself for being too absorbed in its triumphs in the First and Second World Wars, the British are surprisingly ignorant of the causes of their past success. Whatever its military fortunes, the British state machine used to be better organised and more effective than its allies and opponents and its ability to create powerful alliances useful to itself was unmatched. Self-interested denigration of the state as a sort of super-parasite over the past 30 years has helped dissipate these strengths. The well-organised calm of my mother’s ARP control room under Paddington in 1940 was incomparably better than the chaotic state response to Grenfell Tower.

 

6-26-17

Sacramento Bee

‘Huge milestone’ for Delta tunnels – feds say they won’t push fish over the brink

 Dale Kasler And Ryan Sabalov

http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/delta/article158264619.html

 

The Delta tunnels got a crucial green light from two federal agencies Monday when scientists said the controversial project can co-exist with the endangered fish that inhabit the waters of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

In a pair of long-awaited decisions, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service said the tunnels, known as California WaterFix, aren’t likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Delta smelt, Chinook salmon, steelhead and other imperiled species.

“WaterFix will not jeopardize or threaten endangered species, or adversely modify their critical habitat,” said Paul Souza, regional director with Fish & Wildlife, which is responsible for protecting Delta smelt. Barry Thom, regional administrator at the Fisheries Service, said his agency made a similar conclusion that “the project doesn’t deepen any harm.”

The lengthy documents, known as biological opinions, represent a pivotal point for the project, which would burrow a pair of 35-mile-long tunnels beneath the Delta in an effort to re-engineer the way water flows through the fragile estuary. Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration says the tunnels would improve conditions for the fish. That would allow the federal and state pumping stations in the south Delta to deliver water more reliably to the 19 million Southern Californians and hundreds of San Joaquin Valley farmers who depend on it.

Environmentalists and others who oppose the project said they’ll continue to fight – in court, most likely. But the biological opinions bring the tunnels project a surge of momentum.

“We feel this is a momentous step toward the future,” said Michelle Banonis, assistant chief deputy director at the California Department of Water Resources.

In an updated estimate, Banonis said the project will cost $17.1 billion, including the expense of operating the tunnels and environmental mitigation. The costs, including any potential overruns, will be paid by ratepayers whose water districts receive water from the tunnels, she said.

The state completed its environmental sign-off in December, and the federal agencies have now completed their reviews for the time being. However, the scrutiny by federal scientists will continue for several more years. The Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday that a subsequent biological opinion is still needed for the lengthy construction process. Both of the fisheries agencies also will pass judgment on the operational plan, which will govern how much water will actually flow through the tunnels once the project is built.

“It’s important for us to remain vigilant – clearly we have a number of species that are imperiled,” Souza said.

A draft version of the biological opinions, released in the spring, said the fisheries agencies were concerned the tunnels would erase vital habitats for smelt and other species in the Delta even though Brown’s administration pledged to restore 30,000 acres of habitat.

In response, state officials committed to restore an additional 1,800 acres of habitat at the north end of the Delta, at a spot that was considered particularly vulnerable during the construction work. That made a significant difference in the final decision and will lead to “an increase in the abundance of fish,” Souza said.

Environmental groups, Delta farmers and other opponents say the tunnels would actually worsen the Delta’s ecosystem, degrade critical fish habitats and amount to a Southern California water grab.

“The science in this decision was cherry-picked and not representative of the true scope of harm to endangered species,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of the activist group Restore the Delta.

All signs point to a lengthy court fight.

“As far as the Delta folks go, it is a fight to the death,” said Stockton lawyer George Hartmann, who represents south Delta farmers. Hartmann said he and other lawyers will try to sue the project to a standstill.

 

Why years of waiting may be over on Delta tunnels

 

 

 

 

“That’s Plan A,” Hartmann said. “There’s nothing else we can really do but fight it.”

Even with the near certainty of litigation, the tunnels project is clearly gaining steam after a decade in the planning stages. Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and a major advocate for the project, said preliminary construction work could begin next year. Actual digging of the tunnels would begin in 2021, he said. Construction is expected to take ten years.

Until recently, the project appeared to be in limbo. Farm irrigation districts in the San Joaquin Valley, which would share the costs with Metropolitan, have been reluctant to commit. Although farmers have been frustrated with limits on water deliveries because of environmental restrictions in the Delta, they’ve been uncertain on whether the tunnels would represent their salvation. Brown’s administration says the tunnels won’t necessarily mean more water but will allow the pumps to operate with fewer interruptions for fish.

Now the water agencies, under prodding from Brown’s office, have pledged to vote in September on whether to pay for the project.

The pumping stations near Tracy are so powerful, they can reverse the flow of the San Joaquin River at a crucial point, putting fish in harm’s way. By diverting a portion of the Sacramento River’s flow upstream at Courtland, and routing the water to the pumps through the tunnels, Brown’s administration says the project would eliminate most of the “reverse flow” problem.

Other regulatory hurdles remain. The State Water Resources Control Board is in the middle of months of hearings on whether the project would harm water users and the environment.

Nonetheless, Kightlinger said planning for the tunnels can go forward even before the water board makes its decision.

He and other experts said they believe the project could even survive litigation. Although tunnels opponents will undoubtedly seek court injunctions blocking the project, a judge might allow the project to proceed but could order modifications.

“I think there is the potential to go either way, depending on a number of variables,” said Jennifer Harder, a water-law expert at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. “There are circumstances under which the project may go forward, and those may exist here.”

She said judges wouldn’t necessarily decide if the project is a good idea. Rather, they would rule on whether the agencies in the project made reasonable decisions based on the evidence. “If that evidence supports the agency’s decision, the court doesn’t get to say whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea.”

 

6-30-17

The New Yorker

Daily Comment

The E.P.A.’s Dangerous Anti-Regulatory Policies

Elizabeth Kolbert

http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-epas-dangerous-anti-regulatory-policies?mbid=nl__daily&CNDID=48689978&mbid=nl_170701_daily&CNDID=48689978&spMailingID=11383573&spUserID=MTc5NzI4MDI2NDEwS0&spJobID=1200069440&spReportId=MTIwMDA2OTQ0MAS2

 

This week, while attention was focussed on the Senate’s health-care bill, the Trump Administration continued to quietly do the one thing it does well: wreak havoc on the environment. On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency released its plan to rescind the Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States rule, or wotuswotus essentially represents the Obama Administration’s attempt to clarify which waterways are governed by the Clean Water Act. A memo that the E.P.A. issued when the rule was put in place, in 2015, notes that it protects streams that roughly one in three Americans depend on for drinking water. (This memo is not currently available on the E.P.A.’s Web site; to find it, you have to go to the archived site.)

You might think that the well-being of a third of the population—some hundred and seventeen million people—would be of significance to the E.P.A., but then you might also think that the agency is there to protect the environment. The Trump Administration thinks otherwise. In announcing the proposal, the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, didn’t even bother to pretend that he was interested in public safety. Instead, he said, the agency’s goal was to “provide regulatory certainty to the nation’s farmers and businesses.”

Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that Pruitt had met privately with the head of Dow Chemical, Andrew Liveris, during a conference in Houston, shortly before reversing an Obama Administration decision to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos for use on food crops. (An E.P.A. spokeswoman said that the two men “did not discuss chlorpyrifos.”)

Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxin that has been shown to be especially dangerous to infants and young children, and a review by E.P.A. scientists had led the agency to recommend that it be disallowed. Somewhere between five and ten million pounds of the pesticide, most of it produced by Dow AgroSciences, are applied to crops in the United States every year. (The company said that “authorized uses of chlorpyrifos products offer wide margins of protections for human health and safety.”) Liveris, meanwhile, heads a White House manufacturing council, and his company, according to the Washington Post, “wrote a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural festivities.” In announcing that the E.P.A. would not ban chlorpyrifos, Pruitt once again passed over the well-being of the public. The decision, he said, when he announced it in March, was made out of a “need to provide regulatory certainty.”

Of course, if the Trump Administration was really interested in “regulatory certainty,” the rational thing to have done would have been to keep the Obama-era rules in place. wotus had already been finalized. The proposed change will take years to wend its way through the rule-making process—we can only hope more years than the Trump Administration has left. Similarly, the Administration’s decision to reverse course on chlorpyrifos will result in more uncertainty, rather than less. Already, seven states have filed legal objections in an effort to force the agency to follow through on the recommendations of its own scientists. (The coalition is led by New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, who, in announcing the challenge, noted that the E.P.A.’s job is to insure “the health and safety of New Yorkers and all Americans—especially our children.”)

What the Administration is really interested in, it seems, isn’t “regulatory certainty” but, rather, regulatory laxity. Trump loves to rail against “job-killing regulations.” Just last week, he boasted that the White House had formed a task force inside every agency to find and eliminate “job-killing regulations, of which we’ve had many.” But, as with so many Trumpian claims, the number of times this phrase has been repeated is inversely related to its truthfulness. There is, in fact, little evidence that regulations kill jobs. According to a 2014 review of studies on the subject, conducted by researchers at the London School of Economics, environmental regulations seem to have a “statistically insignificant” effect on employment. A 2015 report by the Office of Management and Budget (which has also been taken down from the Web site) notes that sometimes regulations may appear to cost jobs, if, say, a plant closes down, and other times they may appear to create jobs, as when a company staffs up to comply with the new rules. Over the long term, however, these “apparent reductions or increases in employment will often . . . turn out to be shifts in employment” rather than net gains or losses. The report calculates that the “monetized benefits” of federal regulations enacted during the previous decade were “significantly higher than the monetized costs.”

Which brings us to what is most horrifying about what’s going on. If you ignore the benefits of regulation, it’s easy to argue they are outweighed by the costs. But you don’t need a great deal of sophisticated math to conclude that the benefits of maintaining safe drinking water and avoiding developmental problems in kids are pretty high—higher than just about any conceivable estimate of the price. In a letter to Pruitt, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that its members are “deeply alarmed that the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of chlorpyrifos contradicts the agency’s own science and puts developing fetuses, infants, children, and pregnant women at risk.”

A gruesome monument to the dangers of deregulation now stands in the middle of London. Grenfell Tower, the North Kensington apartment building that went up in flames earlier this month, was clad in materials that, British authorities had repeatedly been warned, were unsafe for tall buildings. But the government, apparently believing its own anti-regulatory rhetoric, resisted calls for stricter rules. Trump is scheduled to go Warsaw, Hamburg, and Paris next month. Perhaps he should visit London as well.

 

 

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