Welcome to "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 receive very little coverage. To make sense of these debates, follow the implementation of health care and financial reform and decipher the minutia of the Federal Register, "The Watchdog" is on the case. If you have any tips, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The tag team of Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) used a secret hold to kill the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) in the last Congress, according to "Blow the Whistle," a groundbreaking project by the Government Accountability Project and NPR's "On the Media."
Over several months, the groups' supporters and listeners teamed up to call their senators to ask them if they were the ones who killed the act, which would have narrowing down the list to Kyl and Sessions.
In this interview, GAP Legal Director Tom Devine reveals that one of those two senators placed the hold at the request of House Republican leadership. Four times now since 2004, Kykl and Sessions took turns placing holds that blocked Senate action on the WPEA.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why would a senator that had ostensibly passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act the first time it was in the Senate place a hold on it the second time around? It was only a very small change, and one that apparently would be more agreeable to Republicans. And the Republican cloakroom told [LAUGHS] you that it was a Republican that had put a secret hold on the bill. So why?
TOM DEVINE: They did it because they were requested by House leadership, which didn't have the political backbone to come out and oppose this taxpayer reform.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do you know, Tom, that the Senate hold was placed on the bill at the request of House leadership?
TOM DEVINE: So many congressional offices told us that was the facts of life behind the public posture.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Congressional staffers told you this was the case, and it was repeated several times to you.
TOM DEVINE: It’s been repeated so many times that it’s almost conventional wisdom.
• Tokyo Electric knew that the amount of radiation in seawater was 7.5 million times the legal limit even before it started dumping radioactive water in the ocean on Monday. "The unstoppable radioactive discharge into the Pacific has prompted experts to sound the alarm, as cesium, which has a much longer half-life than iodine, is expected to concentrate in the upper food chain," reports Japan Times, prompting fears that all of Japan's seafood could be declared unsafe. Here is a chart showing the damaged nuclear plant's problems with radioactive water.
• The FAA orders more airlines to check their Boeing 737s for fatigue.
• Former BP chair Tony Hayward, who was in charge of the company during the Deepwater Horizon disaster, is trying to set up an investment fund for the energy sector.
• The EPA has announced that it will delay finalizing its guidance memorandum on Clean Water Act permitting for mountaintop removal mining projects, pending review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. The move worries those "hoping the Obama administration won’t completely cave to regulated interests," says Berkeley Law professor Holly Doremus.
• The Wilderness Society has a few questions for the oil and gas industry at today's House Natural Resources Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee hearing. Among them: "The oil and gas industry intentionally idled nearly 12,000 natural gas wells in Wyoming, to be brought back into production “when the price of natural gas rebounds." Are the recent well shut-ins an attempt to jack up natural gas prices by withholding supply?
On today's anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia, which killed 29 workers, Mine Safety and Health Administration chief Joseph A. Main resolved to recommit the agency to making sure such an accident never happens again.
Main issued this statement:
“One year ago today, an explosion in the Upper Big Branch Mine took the lives of 29 miners in the worst mine disaster in 40 years. Mine safety and health took on new meaning as we witnessed the devastation and pain of the families, friends and communities of the miners who perished in that catastrophe.
“The anniversary of that tragedy brings us fresh resolve to see that an accident of this magnitude never happens again.
“Over the past year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has been fulfilling the commitment President Obama made to honor those miners and their families by ensuring justice is served on their behalf and taking action so that an accident like this never happens again. As the anniversary of this tragedy so vividly reminds us, we in the mining community must continue to work tirelessly to ensure that miners go to work and return home safe and healthy to family and friends, every shift of every day.”