Politics Hindered Regulation Of Natural Gas Drilling For Decades

03/02/2011 10:38 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.

03/03/2011 12:16 PM EST

Women Left Behind In Heart Device Tests: Study

Reuters reports:

Many heart devices are approved for use in the United States despite a lack of data on safety and effectiveness for women -- even though the devices don't work the same in the two genders, according to a study.

"We know the risks are different in women and men," said study author Rita Redberg, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.

For example, women tend to bleed more when a device is implanted and appear to be at higher risk of dying due to the procedure, while some studies also indicate that women don't see the same benefits as men.

03/03/2011 11:18 AM EST

Many Natural Gas Pipelines Are Exempt From Intensive Inspections

Sixty percent of the nation's natural gas pipes may be exempt from extensive evaluation and inspection due to a grandfather clause applied to pipes laid down before 1970.

That is one of the shocking findings of the three-day National Transportation Safety Board hearing into last year's deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., which killed eight and leveled a community.

The hearing has not received much coverage, except for reports in San Francisco newspapers -- so any aspiring muckrakers or journos should do their own sleuthing and pore through the NTSB's extensive list of files on the incident.

Here is one of the NTSB's images, clearly showing the extent of the damage to that neighborhood:

03/03/2011 10:53 AM EST

UPDATED: Watchdog Uncovers Ethics Concerns at Interior's BLM

The Interior Department may have ignored possible ethical violations in the Bureau of Land Management and allowed oil and gas regulators to get too cozy with the industry they are supposed to oversee, according to a letter the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) sent Tuesday to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

The group's executive director Danielle Brian pointed out Interior IG reports in 2006 and 2009 about the bureau's field office in Casper, Wyoming, writing:

Furthermore, we are concerned by details in the 2009 report that seem to indicate a lax attitude towards ethics compliance continued after the Secretary’s revised ethics guidance, and that perhaps there is even a lack of understanding of basic ethics rules by an ethics official—the authority employees rely on to interpret the rules and provide guidance and advice—at BLM’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

UPDATE: Today, POGO reveals new evidence of coziness between a regulator and a Wyoming business tycoon.

03/03/2011 10:42 AM EST

The Wake-Up Call: Natural Gas Drilling Regulation Hindered By Politics

- The NYT's Ian Urbina follows up on his natural gas drilling expose with a story about how political pressure from Congress and government regulators has hindered the EPA’s attempt to regulate the practice.

The nut graf: "More than a quarter century of efforts by some lawmakers and regulators to force the federal government to police the industry better have been thwarted, as E.P.A. studies have been repeatedly narrowed in scope, and important findings have been removed.

For example, the agency had planned to call last year for a moratorium on the gas-drilling technique known as hydrofracking in the New York City watershed, according to internal documents, but the advice was removed from the publicly released letter sent to New York."

- History lesson: on this day in 1849, the Interior Department was created. Among its mandates: management of the D.C. jail and water system.

- GAO official Gene Dodaro testified at 9:30 a.m. today before House Oversight & Government Reform on GAO's recent report about overlap and duplication in government.

- Tweet Beat: #publici EPA has backlog of assessments meant to warn the public of health risks from dangerous chemicals: http://bit.ly/fcHkYw

03/02/2011 11:27 AM EST

More Than Half Of Pharma Plants Cited For Violations In 2010

In an alarming development, the percent of pharmaceutical plants cited for violations during FDA inspections rose dramatically in recent years, from 20% in 2007 to 54% in 2010. And 80 drugmakers failed more than half of their inspections.

The worst offenders?

- Pacira Pharmaceuticals, which makes painkillers sold in hospitals, had an 82 percent failure rate during 11 inspections

- Abbott Labs failed 59 percent of 111 inspections

- Pfizer flunked 57 percent of 202 inspections

- Merck bombed out on 52 percent of 134 visits

- Johnson & Johnson failed 48 percent of 161 inspections

The data was compiled by the criminally under-appreciated reporters at Bloomberg News, who reviewed almost 10,000 inspections at US plants between 2000 and September 30, 2010. The agency visits each of the 2,567 plants registered in the US almost once a year.

Key point in the story -- there are no fines now, so the White House is proposing a fee to generate about $16 million from anticipated reinspections to pay for the agency's work.

Major hat tip: Pharmalot

03/02/2011 11:00 AM EST

Proposed Budget Cuts To Food Safety Alarm Some Lawmakers

Budget cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture could have an impact on food safety inspections, according to testimony before a House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing yesterday.

House lawmakers grilled Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about Republican-proposed budget cuts to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) budget.

When asked by House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA) whether the budget cuts could lead to furloughs and plant closures, Vilsack "confirmed that any quick action would affect FSIS employees because the food safety budget "is predominantly personnel," but added he hoped there would not be a government shutdown," reports Food Safety News.

Food safety hawk Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), former chair of the subcommittee, pressed Vilsack on the issue.

"We can't just hope for the best that will come out of this process. How many inspectors would have to be furloughed? How many chickens destroyed? What is in place to assure us we do not want another inspection failure?" Hagstrom quotes DeLauro as saying.

By DeLauro's account, the cut proposed in HR 1 of $88 million for the rest of the fiscal year--an 8 percent cut from FY 2010 funding levels--would affect the states of Republicans serving on the subcommittee. DeLauro said 15 plants would be closed in Georgia, a shot at Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), the current chair of the ag appropriations subcommittee. She added that 44 plants would be closed in Iowa, a number intended to get subcommittee member Rep. Tom Latham's (R-IA) attention.

03/02/2011 10:26 AM EST

EPA Fires Back, Says Clean Air Act Will Save $2 Trillion By 2020

In a report that seems intended for critics of Environmental Protection Agency regulation, the EPA released a study Wednesday concluding that cutting ozone pollution through the Clean Air Act will have saved $2 trillion by 2020 and prevented at least 230,000 deaths annually. The EPA was targeted by more than half of the businesses and industry groups that complained about burdensome regulations in letters to new House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) last month.

Per Bloomberg News:

Tougher emission restrictions adopted in 1990 helped avoid more than 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, 13 million lost work days and 1.7 million asthma attacks last year, according to today’s report, which measured only the impact of amendments from 1990. By 2020, complying with the amendments would prevent 200,000 heart attacks, 17 million lost work days and 2.4 million asthma attacks, according to the report.

03/02/2011 10:20 AM EST

The Wake-Up Call: Chamber's Messy Chart Of Dodd-Frank Rules

- Check out the Chamber of Commerce's interactive feature on Dodd-Frank's regulatory authority -- from model disclosures for mortgage loan transactions to net worth adjustments that exclude the value of a principal residence.

- Here is the agenda for today's SEC open meeting, which includes a discussion of rules for the "operation and governance of clearing agencies" per Dodd-Frank.

- GAO's new report address EPA's management challenges, from reducing pollution in the nation's waters to fixing problems inherent in the 30-year-old Superfund program.

- Tweet Beat: House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa retweets @RepShimkus VIDEO: What will EPA's proposed GHG regs do for jobs and the economy? Hint: Nothing good! http://youtu.be/YRtnxLcAUxY

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