In 2009, the Obama administration took steps toward rebuilding the federal government's ability to protect public health, workplace safety, and environmental quality. President Obama set out key principles to guide the administration's actions on transparency, regulatory reform, and scientific integrity. He appointed well qualified agency heads who reversed or halted many harmful regulations from the prior administration. In doing so, the president has created expectations for a renewal of government's positive role. The most vexing problems, however – changing a dysfunctional regulatory process and restoring badly needed resources to agencies – remain major hurdles.
The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the clearinghouse for federal regulations, has brought in a conservative economist, Randall Lutter, to review regulatory proposals from agencies. The move has upset OIRA critics and unnerved those who interpret Lutter's past writings as a sign of his views on public health and environmental regulation. Those working inside government and those who know him argue that the criticisms of Lutter, a civil servant on temporary assignment to OIRA, are unfair.
A new study has found up to 232 industrial chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of infants born in 2007 and 2008. The identified chemicals include known carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, and numerous other compounds toxic to various organs and systems. The study, commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Rachel's Network, reveals the extent of exposure to harmful substances faced by pregnant mothers and underscores the need to create public policies to prevent future exposures.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) began outlining its agenda for protecting workers with the announcement of a comprehensive plan to end black lung disease and the publication of its regulatory plan. MSHA had been headed by acting administrators during the last years of the Bush administration and has been slow to address many safety issues after a series of mine accidents and increased incidence of debilitating disease.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cannot adequately verify lost-time injury and illness cases reported by employers, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Although injury and illness rates for workers have been declining in recent years, critics say the improvement has more to do with OSHA data collection procedures than occupational safety and health policy.
On Oct. 30, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it was issuing a proposed $87.4 million fine against BP Products North America Inc. (BP) for failure to remedy workplace hazards. The proposed fine is the largest ever issued by the agency and results from a 2005 explosion at an oil refinery that killed 15 workers.