Federal Response Lags In Wake Of Deadly Pipeline Disaster

02/28/2011 11:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Welcome to our new blog, "The Watchdog," which will keep a close eye on regulatory agencies and how their actions impact the lives of everyday Americans. Though the rules and regulations they write -- from determining how much arsenic is allowable in your drinking water to whether your favorite TV show can drop the F-bomb in primetime -- affect all of us, their deliberations and the way that lobbyists influence their decisions receives very little coverage.

To make sense of these debates, follow the implementation of health care reform and financial reform and decipher the minutia of the Federal Register, "The Watchdog" is on the case. If you have any tips or suggestions, send them to marcus@huffingtonpost.com.

02/28/2011 12:15 PM EST

Lone Lawmaker Tries To Scrap Product Safety Database

The first-ever government database of product saftey complaints, which is scheduled to go live in two weeks, could be dropped due to a budget amendment offered by freshman Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), reports the Washington Post.

Pompeo claims that the database -- which would make public thousands of complaints received by the Consumer Product Safety Commission -- would burden American businesses and is prone to fictitious or inaccurate claims. Yet CPSC officials argue that built-in safeguards would prevent such abuse, pointing out that only four out of 900 complaints were deemed inaccurate during a "soft launch" earlier this month.

02/28/2011 12:07 PM EST

Giuliani Firm Helped School Stop Electric Shock Ban

A special-needs school outside of Boston that disciplines students with electric shocks, used a sophisticated lobbying campaign -- even hiring Rudy Giuliani's law firm -- in Congress last year to help defeat a ban of its controversial techniques, according to recently released public documents, reports the Boston Globe.

Per the Globe:

The center, the only school in the country that uses electric shocks to modify behavior, launched its Capitol Hill campaign after the House approved a measure last year outlawing the use of restraints and some other devices to control students. The bill did not explicitly reference shock devices, but lawmakers said the ban would have applied to the Judge Rotenberg Center’s practices.

Critics say the electric shocks — which are the subject of ongoing state and federal investigations — are inhumane. But school officials and parents say they are necessary, a last resort to prevent severely disabled children and teens from harming themselves or others.

The center paid $100,000 last year to a law firm headed by former GOP presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani in a successful effort to help stifle the measure in the Senate, according to 2010 lobbying disclosure records released in January. The bill died in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

02/28/2011 11:14 AM EST

Federal Response Lags In Wake Of Deadly Pipeline Explosion

From Tuesday through Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board will hold a hearing on the Pacific Gas & Electric pipeline explosion that killed eight and burned dozens of homes in San Bruno, Calif., last September.

So far, it appears that the federal response to the disaster has been lagging.

Per the American Independent:

Bills to increase the number of inspectors at the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), require companies to install automatic shut-off valves on pipelines and set new standards for safety testing of pipelines have been introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate but face a dim future in a Congress where environmental safety rules are under attack.

Some states have decided not to wait on federal action.

Earlier this month, California State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) introduced a bill (PDF) to require gas utilities to install remote controlled shut-off valves throughout the state’s pipeline system and concentrate them in areas of seismic activity or high population.

02/28/2011 10:54 AM EST

The Wake-Up Call: Orphan Wells Leave Taxpayers On Hook

- Orphan wells leave taxpayers on the hook, says GAO.

- Pretty amazing account of a whistleblower's long, strange journey sounds like a must-read

- With no federal action, Walmart takes the lead in banning chemicals. Is retail regulation the future?

- Highlights of Ian Urbina's NYT expose on how lax regulation of natural gas well is allowing tainted water to enter rivers:

More than 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater was produced by Pennsylvania wells over the past three years, far more than has been previously disclosed. Most of this water — enough to cover Manhattan in three inches — was sent to treatment plants not equipped to remove many of the toxic materials in drilling waste.

At least 12 sewage treatment plants in three states accepted gas industry wastewater and discharged waste that was only partly treated into rivers, lakes and streams.

Of more than 179 wells producing wastewater with high levels of radiation, at least 116 reported levels of radium or other radioactive materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking-water standards. At least 15 wells produced wastewater carrying more than 1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable.