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Keith Wrightson thumbStatement of Keith Wrightson, Worker Safety and Health Advocate, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

This post was updated May 22, 2015

It appears that state and local government workers in Maine will finally get the full range of workplace protections they deserve.

Today, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a proposed rulemaking to form a new occupational safety and health plan for Maine’s state and local employees. Maine had previously adopted some of OSHA’s safety and health standards to protect state and local employees from hazards on the job, but had not formally established its own state OSHA enforcement agency.

The 1970 federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) established OSHA to protect workers from occupational safety and health hazards, but the OSH Act excluded state and local government employees from protection under the law unless a state creates its own occupational safety and health plan.

As of now, 25 states and two U.S. territories have federally approved state OSHA plans. If approved by OSHA, Maine’s state plan would mean that a majority of states have protections for state and local government employees. In April, Public Citizen released the first-ever comprehensive database of state-level worker health and safety rules.

Today’s announcement by OSHA is a clear indicator that Maine has received preliminary approval to create its own occupational safety and health plan. Maine’s state and local employees have been waiting 44 years for full safety and health protections that workers in the private sector enjoy; these new protections will cover over 81,000 workers.

The OSH Act permits states to substitute their own rulemaking and enforcement agencies for federal OSHA as long as the state programs, also known as state OSHA plans, are “at least as effective” as the federal agency. This flexibility allows states to address local needs and unique industries.

It has been estimated by OSHA that in 1970 approximately 14,000 workers were killed on the job. That number fell to approximately 4,340 in 2009. This is evidence that worker health and safety protections save lives, and it shows why these safeguards should not apply exclusively to private-sector workers.

It is the hope that Maine’s state plan will reduce occupational accidents and work-related illnesses and will save lives. The remaining 24 states and territories that do not offer their state and local employees the safety and health protections afforded to their private-sector counterparts should follow Maine’s example and establish their own occupational safety and health plans.

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"amit Narang" "Public Citizen"Statement of Amit Narang, Regulatory Policy Advocate, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Here are some of the headlines from the past few weeks: 34 million cars outfitted with dangerously defective airbags have been recalled; passenger trains and oil trains have derailed, putting commuters and communities at risk; nail salon workers are being exposed to dangerous conditions and abusive employers. What these stories have in common is a regulatory process that is too slow and too captured by industry to protect Americans. Instead of attacking regulations, Congress should be empaneling committees to investigate why regulations are so slow to be issued and so poorly enforced.

But now a group of U.S. senators led by U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) is calling for a new, permanent, bicameral committee to review and recommend eliminating federal safeguards. The proposed committee could delay rules under consideration for up to one year while it reviews them, provide recommendations for a process to automatically sunset rules and recommend final rules for repeal with a resolution of disapproval – all with subpoena power.

This is exactly the wrong solution at exactly the wrong time. The last thing Congress should be doing is creating more delays for new health, safety, consumer and environmental rules by holding up new rules and forcing agencies to move even slower. The breadth and scope of this committee is vast, encompassing everything from food safety to toy safety to protections from predatory lending and everything in between. The opportunities for mischief against commonsense and popular public protections are endless.

Statement of David Arkush, Managing Director, Public Citizen’s Climate Program

DavidArkush1Note: Today, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introduced the “Affordable Reliable Electricity Now Act of 2015,” which is similar to U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield’s (R-Ky.) “Ratepayer Protection Act.” Among other provisions, the Capito bill would let states opt out of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) – a proposed rule to curb greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants – and would block the CPP from taking effect until after lawsuits against it are resolved.

Today, the coal industry’s allies in the U.S. Senate introduced a bill to undermine the Clean Power Plan, purportedly in the name of protecting consumers. The bill is a shameful giveaway to the dying coal industry. It attempts to extend the use of coal briefly – at the expense of critical action on climate change that would boost the U.S. economy, create jobs and lower electricity costs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projects that the Clean Power Plan (PDF) would lower consumer bills by 8.4 percent by 2030, and that estimate is conservative. Protecting consumers means fighting climate change by boosting energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources like wind and solar – not perpetuating the dirty, expensive and dangerous 18th century practice of digging up rocks and burning them.

Statement of Bartlett Naylor, Financial Policy Advocate, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Bart-Naylor-004-ws-300x224Note: Today, U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) released a discussion draft of a bill intended for a committee vote next week. The 216-page draft contains 83 sections changing current banking law.

Chairman Shelby proposes major changes that threaten to undermine the already fragile Wall Street reforms intended to prevent another 2008 financial crisis.

The Shelby bill raises the threshold for close supervision of banks from $50 billion to $500 billion. America’s experience with the failure of large financial institutions has been disastrous. Removing safeguards that now apply constitutes a gamble that the nation can ill afford to lose.

The measure also eliminates the Volcker rule prohibition on gambling with taxpayer-backed FDIC deposits for any bank with less than $10 billion in assets. That’s simply an invitation for hedge funds to obtain a bank charter.

The chairman’s draft subjects all the new Dodd-Frank reform rules to a regulatory review process designed to identify and repeal outdated rules. New rules for Wall Street have no place in a review process that is supposed to target old rules. This is nothing more than a thinly veiled and cynical attempt to gut Wall Street reforms under the radar.

The draft legislation also contains a number of other proposed changes that we are continuing to examine.

We urge committee members to remain committed to fundamental Wall Street reform. Any changes should be authored not by industry trade associations, but Americans who are part of the real economy that Wall Street should be serving.

Statement of Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

IMG_3031The Fast Track train went off the rails today. The U.S. Senate vote was supposed to generate momentum for Fast Track in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it’s in deep trouble, with almost every House Democrat and a significant bloc of GOP lawmakers opposing it.

The only reason to upend the required procedures for a “revenue bill” and bring up Fast Track in the Senate first was to get a huge victory to build momentum in the House. But that strategy backfired and Democrats in the House remain committed to standing up for their beliefs that the trade package would do a lot more harm than good.

President Barack Obama would now enjoy broad support for a forward-looking trade agenda if only he had implemented the reforms he announced as a candidate, including to “replace” the Fast Track procedure created by Richard Nixon with a more inclusive, democratic mechanism. Instead, Congress is unlikely to revive the 1970s Fast Track trade authority Obama seeks.

Congress has denied Fast Track for all but five of the past 21 years, with 171 Democrats and 71 GOP rejecting President Bill Clinton’s request in 1998. Since 1988, only Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush have persuaded Congress to delegate Fast Track authority.
Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an especially bad idea. After six years of negotiations, the text is almost complete. Yet under the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track bill, the pact would remain secret from the public until 30 days after its text is locked. That the text would be made public 60 days before the formal signing ceremony is irrelevant, because it would be too late to fight for needed changes.

The rhetoric being used to sell the trade package is really far off from the reality of what is in it. It is like being in the twilight zone. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we know the TPP includes an expanded version of the investment provisions found in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that incentivize the offshoring of high-wage American jobs and the investor-state dispute settlement system that exposes U.S. policies to attack in foreign tribunals.

The administration chose to use the weak labor and environmental standards that President George W. Bush included in his last trade deals. It was the 2007 Peru Free Trade Agreement, not the TPP, that was the first U.S. trade agreement to have labor and environmental standards in core text enforceable by the same terms as the commercial provisions. A 2014 Government Accountability Office investigation found these labor and environmental standards now also used for the TPP failed to improve working conditions.

What has leaked out already is deeply troubling. Many members of Congress who – unlike the public – are allowed to read the TPP are warning us that this is a bad deal.

At Nike, President Obama said that those concerned about the TPP rolling back food safety, environmental or financial regulation “are making stuff up” and no trade agreement can do that.

In fact, these rollbacks have happened repeatedly under past pacts. The “sovereignty” provisions found in Section 8 of the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track bill are nothing new and appear in implementing legislation for past U.S. trade agreements under which U.S. food safety and environmental policies have been rolled back already. Examples of rollbacks due to trade deals include:

  • Gutting rules about importing only food that “meets or exceeds” U.S. safety standards, so we now import food that does not meet U.S. standards; and
  • Rolling back environmental laws and regulations – from Clean Air Act regulations to U.S. labeling of dolphin-safe tuna and more.

Please see the top reasons to oppose Fast Tracking the TPP and the Myths vs. Facts about the Fast Track legislation.

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