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Living in the Shadow of Danger: Poverty, Race, and Unequal Chemical Facility Hazards

January 18, 2016

Over 12,500 facilities in the United States use or store such large quantities of extremely dangerous chemicals that they must submit a Risk Management Program (RMP) plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for responding to chemical disasters. People living at the fenceline of these chemical facilities face the greatest dangers. Nearly 23 million residents – 7.5 percent of the total U.S. population – live within one mile of an RMP facility. These communities would be hardest hit during a chemical catastrophe and would have the least amount of time to escape the dangers. The Center for Effective Government graded states based on the dangers faced by people of color and residents with incomes below the poverty line living within one mile of dangerous facilities, compared to white and non-poor people in these areas. How did your state score?

Blowing Smoke: Chemical Companies Say "Trust Us"' But Environmental and Workplace Safety Violations Belie Their Rhetoric

January 13, 2016

Large chemical companies and their major trade association and lobbying arm, the American Chemistry Council, say they can maintain high safety standards through self-regulation and voluntary actions. Our report finds this isn't the case. Voluntary standards don't work, and existing regulations are not effectively enforced.Chemical manufacturing uses dangerous substances that can be hazardous to the health and well-being of chemical plant workers and to the residents who live nearby.The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and leaders in the chemical industry have fought stronger government oversight of chemical manufacturing for decades, arguing that the rules currently regulating toxic chemicals are adequate.The ACC runs a program called "Responsible Care®" that purportedly helps member companies meet safety and environmental standards and implement industry best practices. So, is it working? Are these companies representing "the best of the best" in the chemical industry?Our report found that facilities owned by ACC member companies are leaders – in violating our nation's environmental and workplace safety standards.While examining workplace safety and environmental violations, we looked at 12 large companies in the chemical industry that collectively own and operate 644 facilities in the U.S. Seven of these companies (DuPont, Arkema, Mitsubishi, Honeywell, BASF, Dow, and Chemtura) are members of the industry's main trade association, the ACC.While the ACC claims their member companies are meeting safety standards, we found serious violations at these seven ACC member-companies. DuPont topped the list with 125 serious violations at the plants they own. Additionally, 78 serious violations were found at Arkema's inspected plants.

Reducing Our Exposure to Toxic Chemicals: Stronger State Health Protections at Risk

March 20, 2015

In 1976, the United States enacted the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to address public concerns about the impact of a growing number of untested chemicals on human health.The law tasks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with identifying potentially dangerous chemicals, gathering information from the manufacturers of chemicals in commercial use, and issuing rules to reduce or eliminate their risks to human health and the environment.For almost 40 years, this federal law has been the lynchpin of our nation's chemical safety policy, and it has failed to protect the American people from being exposed to thousands of chemicals in commercial use that are known to cause harm to humans.At least 84,000 chemicals are registered for commercial use in the U.S. today. EPA has required testing for only about 250 of them and has banned or placed restrictions on only nine.The law was written in a way that severely limits EPA's ability to regulate chemicals. And even the modest work EPA has done is constantly opposed and challenged in court by large chemical companies and their trade associations.With chemical company lobbyists blocking efforts to establish stronger federal protections, states have stepped up and taken the lead: 38 states have established more than 250 laws or rules regulating the use of toxic substances. And 20 state legislatures are currently considering almost 75 new proposed chemical safety policies.But testing and restricting chemicals is resource-intensive work, and many states do not have the funds, expertise, or will to do it. More federal oversight is needed.

Making the Grade: Access to Information Scorecard 2015

March 9, 2015

A building block of American democracy is the idea that as citizens, we have a right to information about how our government works and what it does in our name.The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires federal agencies to promptly respond to public requests for information unless disclosure of the requested information would harm a protected interest. But implementation of the law since its passage in 1966 has been uneven and inconsistent across federal agencies.This is the second year we have conducted a very detailed comparative analysis of the performance of the 15 federal agencies that consistently receive the most FOIA requests. Combined, these 15 agencies received over 90 percent of all information requests for each of the last two years. We examined their performance in three key areas:The establishment of clear agency rules guiding the release of information and communication with those requesting information;The quality and "user-friendliness" of an agency's FOIA website; andThe timely, complete processing of requests for information.The number of requests each agency receives, the complexity of the requests, and the number of staff assigned within an agency to process them varies widely and can impact performance.The results of our analysis: eight out of 15 agencies improved their overall scores this year, and in each of the three performance areas, more agencies received the highest grades (A). But only two agencies improved their FOIA policy guidelines, and processing scores actually declined in eight agencies. Ten of the agencies failed to achieve a satisfactory overall grade.Fulfilling the promise of full, timely public access to meaningful government information is an ongoing, complex process that requires leadership and commitment. The Obama administration, Congress, and agency leaders need to ensure that agencies have the staff and resources they need to process requests in a timely manner.

Gaming the Rules: How Big Business Hijacks the Small Business Review Process to Weaken Public Protections (Executive Summary)

November 12, 2014

Small businesses are heroic and iconic figures in the American story of opportunity. The vast majority of private enterprises in the U.S. today employ fewer than 100 workers, and many workers aspire to own their own business. So when small businesses argued that the federal rulemaking process should pay attention to their special needs, policymakers listened.By law, three federal agencies – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – are required to convene a small business review panel any time they plan to issue a rule that could have a significant economic impact on small businesses.Who participates in the review panel process? Are these panels representing and protecting the interests of small businesses in federal rulemaking? Does this process allow for the creation of needed public protections while mitigating any impacts on small businesses?To answer these questions, staff at the Center for Effective Government examined 20 Small Business Advocacy Review panels convened between 1998 and 2012.

Gaming the Rules: How Big Business Hijacks the Small Business Review Process to Weaken Public Protections

November 12, 2014

Small businesses are heroic and iconic figures in the American story of opportunity. The vast majority of private enterprises in the U.S. today employ fewer than 100 workers, and many workers aspire to own their own business. So when small businesses argued that the federal rulemaking process should pay attention to their special needs, policymakers listened.By law, three federal agencies – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – are required to convene a small business review panel any time they plan to issue a rule that could have a significant economic impact on small businesses.Who participates in the review panel process? Are these panels representing and protecting the interests of small businesses in federal rulemaking? Does this process allow for the creation of needed public protections while mitigating any impacts on small businesses?To answer these questions, staff at the Center for Effective Government examined 20 Small Business Advocacy Review panels convened between 1998 and 2012.

Kids in Danger Zones: One in Three U.S. Schoolchildren at Risk from Chemical Catastrophes

September 1, 2014

Our report Kids in Danger Zones, examines the number of children who attend a school located within the self-reported vulnerability zone of over 3,400 high-risk chemical facilities in the U.S. and offers ways we can take action today to keep our kids safe.Over one in every three schoolchildren in America today (36 percent of pre-kindergarten through high school students) attends a school within the vulnerability zone of a hazardous chemical facility.Over 19.6 million children in 48 states are in a vulnerability zone. Most of the children, their parents, and their teachers have no idea that they are at risk.Half of these children are in schools located in more than one chemical vulnerability zone. The most at-risk school – San Jacinto Elementary School in Deer Park, Texas – is located in the vulnerability zones of 41 different chemical facilities.Houston, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas are the most high-risk metro areas – they contain many schools in multiple vulnerability zones.The states with the most high-risk counties are Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, and Louisiana

The Bridge to Prosperity: Reverse Reckless Cuts, Restore Our Infrastructure, and Revive Jobs

May 15, 2014

The United States is facing a growing infrastructure crisis and a lingering jobs crisis.Most of America's infrastructure was built in the decades directly after World War II. Each day in America, more than 700 water mains break. Seventeen percent of water pumped by municipal pumping stations never reaches consumers' faucets – a waste of 2.4 trillion gallons of precious water each year. Potholes on the nation's roads cost the average family $355 in additional car repairs annually, deficient roads and bridges will cost businesses an estimated $43 billion a year in transportation delays and shipment rerouting, and too many children attend schools with leaky roofs, rattling windows, and decrepit plumbing.Five years into the economic recovery, nearly ten million Americans remain unemployed, more than a third of them for more than six months. There's only one open job for every three people who want to work.A large portion of America's infrastructure in the U.S. is funded by federal monies. Despite the obvious need for better infrastructure and for more jobs, Congress has failed to invest in important infrastructure repairs that our communities need. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, it would take a sustained annual investment of $125 billion a year to bring our roads, bridges, dams, levees, water systems and sewers, and school buildings up to 21st century standards. Making that sort of investment would create 2.5 million good new jobs and would ensure U.S. cities can compete with those in other modern nations.We can invest in infrastructure and jobs if we recapture the $150 billion of tax revenue that leaks out of the Treasury every year, by plugging the corporate tax loopholes that wealthy individuals and prosperous multinational corporations use to avoid paying taxes. We need to make sure those who benefit most from the public structures and services provided by the federal government pay their fair share of the costs of keeping our nation's infrastructure in good shape.Invest now, build a platform for business growth, and create jobs in the bargain. To build and maintain the public structures that make private economic activity possible, the federal government should increase spending on programs that pave the way for future growth. Such investments would spur immediate job growth, creating a "virtuous circle" of more money circulating in the economy, more job creation, and more tax dollars flowing in to federal, state, and local governments from sales taxes, payroll taxes, and income taxes.

Making the Grade: Access to Information Scorecard 2014

March 10, 2014

A building block of American democracy is the idea that as citizens, we have a right to information about how our government works and what it does in our name. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires federal agencies to promptly respond to public requests for information unless disclosure of the requested information would harm a protected interest. Unfortunately, since its passage in 1966 and reform in 1974, federal agencies have failed to implement the law consistently, which can make it challenging for citizens to gain access to public information as the law guarantees.This analysis evaluates the performance of the 15 federal agencies that received the greatest number of FOIA requests in fiscal year 2012. These agencies received over 90 percent of all information requests that year. We examined their performance in three key areas:Processing requests for information (the rate of disclosure, the fullness of information provided, and timeliness of the response);Establishing rules for information access (effectiveness of agency policy on withholding information and communicating with requesters); andCreating user-friendly websites (facilitating the flow of information to citizens, online services, and up-to-date reading rooms).The results are sobering. None of the 15 agencies earned exemplary scores (an overall A grade), and only eight earned "passing grades" (60 or more out of a possible 100 points). The low scores are not due to impossibly high expectations. In each of three performance areas, at least one agency earned an A, showing that excellence is possible. But the fact that no agency was able to demonstrate excellence across all three areas illustrates the difficulty agencies seem to be having inconsistently combining all the elements of an effective disclosure policy.

Best Practices for Agency Freedom of Information Act Regulations

December 9, 2013

Of the 100 agencies in the federal government subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), dozens of agencies have not yet updated their FOIA regulations to reflect requirements in the OPEN Government Act of 2007. The OPEN Government Act required federal agencies to better assist people who make requests for public information under FOIA – for instance, by providing individualized tracking numbers in order to check the status of a request. Despite additional direction from President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to improve FOIA processing, six years later, most agency regulations include few of the best practices described below.FOIA regulations should be easy for both requesters and agency staff to understand and should promote transparency by highlighting existing practices in federal agencies. The Obama administration has committed to developing common FOIA regulations and practices applicable to all agencies. This report is designed to be a practical guide for the administration and agency staff engaged in improving FOIA regulations and practices.

The Corporate Tax Rate Debate: Lower Taxes on Corporate Profits Not Linked to Job Creation

December 3, 2013

The American corporate tax system is badly broken. Some corporations pay more than a third of their profits in federal income taxes, while other equally profitable firms pay nothing at all. On average, corporations pay just 12.6 percent of their profits in federal income taxes, according to a recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.Corporate and political leaders keep telling us that cutting corporate tax rates will create jobs.Our examination of the evidence found no relationship between cutting tax rates on corporate profits and job growth.We examined the job creation track record of 60 large, profitable U.S. corporations (from a list of 280 Fortune 500 companies) with the highest and lowest effective tax rates between 2008 and 2010 and found:22 of the 30 corporations that paid the highest tax rates (30 percent or more) on their reported profits created almost 200,000 jobs between 2008 and 2012. Only eight of the 30 firms paying high tax rates reported reducing the number of employees between 2008 and 2012.The 30 profitable corporations that paid little or no taxes over three years collectively shed 51,289 jobs; half of these low-tax firms created some jobs, and half shed jobs between 2008 and 2012.Lowe's, the nation's second-largest home improvement store, paid over 36 percent in taxes on reported profits of $9 billion between 2008 and 2010, and hired an additional 28,820 employees between 2008 and 2012.Verizon, the nation's largest wireless provider, reported $32 billion in U.S. profits between 2008 and 2010, yet received tax refunds totaling $951 million and reduced the number of employees by almost 56,000 between 2008 and 2012.In 2004, when a temporary "tax holiday" on offshore profits was put in place, 58 firms brought $218 billion in profits back to the U.S. under the program, for a savings of $64 billion on their taxes. In the following two years, those 58 firms eliminated 600,000 jobs.In 2012, U.S. corporations reported earning nearly $1.8 trillion in profits. Had they paid the 35 percent tax rate on those profits, total corporate tax receipts would have been $630 billion (rather than the $242 billion they actually paid), and the deficit would have been reduced by nearly a third.Today, large U.S. corporations report more than $1 trillion in cash or liquid assets. They have the funds to invest in new jobs, should they choose to do so. We found no evidence that cutting the tax rate on corporate profits induces firms to create new jobs in the United States. However, several legal loopholes and deductions do discourage job creation in the U.S. and should be eliminated. This would raise significant revenue and make the tax code fairer.

ALEC’s Latest Trojan Horse: The Attack on Standards and Safeguards Moves to the States

November 13, 2013

In recent years, special interests and their allies in Congress have pushed a number of dangerous proposals to "reform" the rulemaking process to undermine the standards and safeguards that guarantee clean air and water, safe workplaces, healthy food, and safe medicines. Now, these same special interests are pushing similar proposals in the states.