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.
05/20/2011 1:17 PM EDT
Another Big Firm Fights A Small Fine Over Safety Violations
In the wake of Walmart's ultimately futile million-dollar legal effort to fight the $7,000 safety fine it was slapped with after a worker was trampled to death by shoppers in 2008, another violator is going to court over a small penalty.
When Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors looked at the Tyler, Texas refinery of Delek Refining Ltd.’s in February 2008, they issued seven serious citations and fined $32,850. One citation was for systemic violations of their safety management standard, which is intended to prevent unexpected releases of hazardous chemicals. About nine months after the inspection, an explosion at the refinery killed two workers and injured others. After an additional inspection in the wake of the fire, OSHA fined the company $200,000, which Delek appealed. The fire is still being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA.
The Israeli-owned company's US subsidiary, which had revenue of $1.1 billion in the first quarter of 2011, disputed the initial fines of $32,850 before a federal review commission. After the three-week trial, with extensive testimony and documentary evidence, Administrative Law Judge Dennis L. Phillips upheld the fine.
More companies seem to be disputing such penalties, judging by OSHA's annual report. Since 2008, the number of new cases heard by the commission has nearly doubled from 13 to 24 in 2010. That number is estimated to increase to 29 in fiscal year 2012. The workload of administrative law judges has also dramatically increased, from 1,962 new cases in FY 2008 to 3,250 in FY 2011.
05/20/2011 1:14 PM EDT
The Wake-Up Call: Insurance Companies, Mutual Funds Push Back Decision
• Here is ML Strategies' ever-useful roundup of what's new in financial regulatory reform, including the decision by the Financial Stability Oversight Council that it will push back its definition of systemically important financial institutions. That's a clear victory for insurance companies, asset management firms, mutual funds and others concerned about being regulated by the Fed.
• Two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Henry Waxman (Cali.) and Bobby Rush (Ill.) are demanding that the Energy and Commerce Committee request documents from Koch Industries relating to the company’s interest in Canadian tar sands and the extent to which it will benefit if the Keystone XL pipeline is constructed.
• A bipartisan group of lawmakers have signed a joint letter to President Barack Obama, expressing concern over the number of watchdog vacancies -- currently nine inspector general positions are open. These include vacancies at the departments of State, Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and Housing and Urban Development.
• The Securities and Exchange Commission nominated Vanderbilt University Professor Craig M. Lewis as its chief economist and director of the Division of Risk, Strategy and Financial Innovation. These are some of his academic papers and studies.