Selling Out Regulation
The Republican Party has a sense of humor, however inadvertently. Its ardent advocates regularly accuse the Obama administration of heavy handed regulation of business.
Tell that to the hundred federal poultry inspectors who just picketed the Department of Agriculture in opposition to a proposal that would allow those crammed, bacterial poultry slaughterhouses to do their own inspections. The picketers fear that with this license, the poultry bosses will speed up the slaughter rate to 175 birds per minute from the present 70.
Tell that to the Securities Exchange Commission that will have to allow the return of the notorious boiler room practices where “start-ups” with up to $1 billion in annual revenues can sell stock to investors like the old Wild West days with little discourse or regulation. After the recent devastating Wall Street crash and bailout, here they go again—just throw the federal cop off the corporate crime beat.
Tell that to Donald Michaels, the superbly qualified head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration who can’t get the White House to approve issuance of long-overdue life-saving safeguards for worker health and safety. Fear of Republicans by the Obamaites in an election year super-cedes their oath to enforce laws that save lives in hazardous workplaces. Nearly 60,000 workers lose their lives to workplace-related diseases and trauma every year. That is equivalent to nineteen 9/11 casualty tolls every year.
Tell that to a strapped U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that at long last was trying to reduce the toxic materials in your air and water. President Obama personally intervened on two of their forthcoming regulations to stop them.
Tell that to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that was the subject of a front page New York Times article on April 3, 2012 titled “White House and the F.D.A. Often at Odds.” It seems that President Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Nancy-Ann DeParle, has been leaning on FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg to drop proposed rules requiring labeling of calories for foods served on airplanes and movie theaters, as well as regulation of sunscreen and asthma inhalers.
The Obamabush White House objected to what the Times said was “the enforcement of an agency decision on a drug to prevent premature births.”
The FDA believed that the Obama “hope and change” campaign in 2008 would start a new day from the years of George W. Bush who believed, for example, that the agency should not issue rules preventing contamination of eggs and other produce. Alas, said a top FDA official to the Times: “Employees here waited eight long years for deliverance that didn’t come.”
Mr. Obama, as with his other choices of White House staff, set himself up by choosing the “regulation czar,” Cass R. Sunstein who can give thumbs down on agency safety proposals. Professor Sunstein, who thinks harder than he feels the pain of victims of non-regulation (or law and order) has a philosophy known as “libertarian paternalism." (Google it if you wish to discover its meaning.)
FDA scientists sadly recall Mr. Obama’s White House ceremony to sign a memorandum in 2009 to replace Mr. Bush’s politicization of science in government with scientific integrity and to listen to scientists “even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it is inconvenient.” Once again, words, words, words, succumb to the power of corporatism.
Obama’s regulatory agency officials receive constant pressure from Congressional corporatists on their meager enforcement budgets. They are made to behave as if they should fear the criminals and defrauders they are supposed to be catching to protect the American people.
All of them are envious of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) created by Congress to shield consumers of credit, mortgages, payday loans and other financial transactions from the Wall Street-driven crime wave. You see, the CFPB resides inside the Federal Reserve and receives its $500 billion budget from the Fed, which gets its budget from bank fees and is free of the Congressional hammers.
Still, the CFPB and its sterling staff (with few exceptions) is an agency waiting to start producing long-needed rules of decent business behavior. It is not clear what is causing the delay, but it couldn’t be Congress now. It may be the high hurdles that the bureau has to overcome vertically with its supervisory council—real or fancied.
Occupy Washington needs to mass in front of these agency buildings soon to highlight the truth about Obama’s weak-kneed regulatory agencies. In a perverse way, the Obamaites would probably welcome such protests as enhancing their corporate fundraising efforts.
Meanwhile the people pay.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.