The Takeover of the EPA

first_imgThe Environmental Protection Agency made news recently for excluding reporters from a “summit” meeting on chemical contamination in drinking water. Episodes like this are symptoms of a larger problem: an ongoing, broad-scale takeover of the agency by industries it regulates.We are social scientists with interests in environmental health, environmental justice and inequality, and democracy. We recently published a study, conducted under the auspices of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative and based on interviews with 45 current and retired EPA employees, which concludes that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration have steered the agency to the verge of what scholars call “regulatory capture.”By this we mean that they are aggressively reorganizing the EPA to promote interests of regulated industries, at the expense of its official mission to “protect human health and the environment.” How close is too close?The notion of “regulatory capture” has a long record in U.S. social science research. It helps explain the 2008 financial crisis and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In both cases, lax federal oversight and the government’s over-reliance on key industries were widely viewed as contributing to the disasters. Chris Sellers is professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice and Policy at Stony Brook University. Lindsey Dillon is assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Phil Brown is University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences at Northeastern University. By CHRIS SELLERS, LINDSEY DILLON and PHIL BROWN Muting other voicesPruitt and his staff also have sought to sideline potentially countervailing interests and influences, starting with EPA career staff. In one of our interviews, an EPA employee described a meeting between Pruitt, the homebuilding industry and agency career staff. Pruitt showed up late, led the industry representatives into another room for a group photo, then trooped back into the meeting room to scold his own EPA employees for not listening to them.Threatened by proposed budget cuts, buyouts, and retribution against disloyal staff and leakers, career EPA employees have been made “afraid … so nobody pushes back, nobody says anything,” according to one of our sources.Historical trends in EPA’s budget show a spike during the Carter administration, followed by sharp cuts under President Reagan and an infusion of economic stimulus money in 2009. President Trump has proposed sharp cuts. (EDGI, CC BY-ND)As a result, enforcement has fallen dramatically. During Trump’s first 6 months in office, the EPA collected 60% less money in civil penalties from polluters than it had under Presidents Obama or George W. Bush in the same period. The agency has also opened fewer civil and criminal cases.Early in his tenure Pruitt replaced many members of EPA’s Science Advisory Board and Board of Scientific Counselors in a move intended to give representatives from industry and state governments more influence. He also established a new policy that prevents EPA-funded scientists from serving on these boards, but allows industry-funded scientists to serve.And on April 24, 2018, Pruitt issued a new rule that limits what kind of scientific research the agency can rely on in writing environmental regulation. This step was advocated by the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute. How can you tell whether an agency has been captured? According to Harvard’s David Moss and Daniel Carpenter, it occurs when an agency’s actions are “directed away from the public interest and toward the interest of the regulated industry” by “intent and action of industries and their allies.” In other words, the farmer doesn’t just tolerate foxes lurking around the hen house — he recruits them to guard it. RELATED ARTICLES Nuzzling up to industryPruitt’s EPA is staffed with senior officials who have close industry ties. For example, Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler is a former coal industry lobbyist. Nancy Beck, deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, was formerly an executive at the American Chemistry Council. And Senior Deputy General Counsel Erik Baptist was previously senior counsel at the American Petroleum Institute.Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that Pruitt has met with representatives of regulated industries 25 times more often than with environmental advocates. His staff carefully shields him from encounters with groups that they consider “unfriendly.”The former head of EPA’s Office of Policy, Samantha Dravis, who left the agency in April 2018, had 90 scheduled meetings with energy, manufacturin,g and other industrial interests between March 2017 and January 2018. During the same period she met with one public interest organization.Circumstantial evidence suggests that corporate lobbying is directly influencing major policy decisions. For example, just before rejecting the chlorpyrifos ban, Pruitt met with the CEO of Dow Chemical, which manufactures the pesticide.Overturning Obama’s Clean Power Plan and withdrawing from the Paris climate accord were recommended by coal magnate Robert Murray in his “Action Plan for the Administration.” Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act show detailed correspondence between Pruitt and industry lobbyists about EPA talking points. They also document Pruitt’s many visits with corporate officials as he formulated his attack on the Clean Power Plan. What can be done?This is not the first time that a strongly anti-regulatory administration has tried to redirect EPA. In our interviews, longtime EPA staffers recalled similar pressure under President Reagan, led by his first administrator, Anne Gorsuch.Gorsuch also slashed budgets, cut back on enforcement, and “treated a lot of people in the agency as the enemy,” in the words of her successor, William Ruckelshaus. She was forced to resign in 1983 amid congressional investigations into EPA misbehavior, including corruptive favoritism and its cover-up at the Superfund program.EPA veterans of those years emphasized the importance of Democratic majorities in Congress, which initiated the investigations, and sustained media coverage of EPA’s unfolding scandals. They remembered this phase as an oppressive time, but noted that pro-industry actions by political appointees failed to suffuse the entire bureaucracy. Instead, career staffers resisted by developing subtle, “underground” ways of supporting each other and sharing information internally and with Congress and the media.Similarly, the media are spotlighting Pruitt’s policy actions and ethical scandals today. EPA staffers who have left the agency are speaking out against Pruitt’s policies. State attorneys general and the court system have also thwarted some of Pruitt’s efforts. And EPA’s Science Advisory Board — including members appointed by Pruitt — recently voted almost unanimously to do a full review of the scientific justification for many of Pruitt’s most controversial proposals.Still, with the Trump administration tilted hard against regulation and Republicans controlling Congress, the greatest challenge to regulatory capture at the EPA will be the 2018 and 2020 elections. Serving industryFrom the start of his tenure at EPA, Pruitt has championed interests of regulated industries such as petrochemicals and coal mining, while rarely discussing the value of environmental and health protections. “Regulators exist,” he asserts, “to give certainty to those that they regulate,” and should be committed to “enhanc(ing) economic growth.”In our view, Pruitt’s efforts to undo, delay or otherwise block at least 30 existing rules reorient EPA rule-making “away from the public interest and toward the interest of the regulated industry.” Our interviewees overwhelmingly agreed that these rollbacks undermine their own “pretty strong sense of mission … protecting the health of the environment,” as one current EPA staffer told us.Many of these targeted rules have well-documented public benefits, which Pruitt’s proposals — assuming they withstand legal challenges — would erode. For example, rejecting a proposed ban on the insecticide chlorpyrifos would leave farm workers and children at risk of developmental delays and autism spectrum disorders. Revoking the Clean Power Plan for coal-fired power plants, and weakening proposed fuel efficiency standards, would sacrifice health benefits associated with cutting greenhouse gas emissions.A key question is whether regulated industries had an active hand in these initiatives. Here, again, the answer is yes. Market Forces Are Driving a Clean Energy RevolutionEPA Ordered to Speed Up New Lead RuleReport Cites Carbon Impact of Biomass PlantsNew Life for Toxic LandStudy Finds EPA Lax in Protecting California Waterlast_img read more

Skin Smoothing in FCPX, AE & Premiere with Beauty Box 2

first_imgMake your video subjects look 10 years younger with the updated Beauty Box plug-in for Final Cut Pro X, After Effects and Premiere.Skin smoothing in post-production can be tricky to pull off successfully.  It often results in your subject looking blurry or even worse, plastic.  Since it’s original release a few years back, Digital Anarchy’s Beauty Box has been an essential skin smoothing plug-in for video editors, automating much of the process.  Beauty Box isolates and smooths the skin tones in a shot, akin to “Photoshoppping” the video image.The previous version of Beauty Box delivered impressive skin smoothing results, but at the cost of extremely slow processing.  However, the recent release of Beauty Box 2 addresses this concern with a complete rewrite of the skin smoothing algorithm…making rendering times up to 300% faster!Support for Final Cut Pro X has been added.  Beauty Box 2 runs in FCPX, After Effects, Final Cut Pro 7 and Premiere Pro – including the new CS6.   Additional support for Sony Vegas, Assimilate Scratch and the Foundry’s Nuke is set to be added later this year.Beauty Box 2 also features a shine removal tool to take away hot spots from shiny skin – a lifesaver when the footage was shot in less than ideal lighting conditions.I’ve used Beauty Box extensively in the past, and to great effect.  Even introducing it subtly into video footage can and will make a noticeable difference in skin smoothing.  After a few projects using it, some of my clients actually started requesting it.  With the processing improvement of Beauty Box 2, every video editor could benefit from having this impressive effect in their digital toolbox.Beauty Box is $199, but is on sale for $139 until June 1st, 2012.Get more information, download a demo or purchase at Digital Anarchy.Current support for the following applications:last_img read more

SM Line to Enter the Market with Six Services

first_imgzoom South Korea’s newly established SM Line is making a bold entry into the container shipping trades with an initial suite of six services covering the North East Asia – South East Asia, Far East – India and Transpacific routes, Alphaliner informed.The company, which was incorporated on December 15, 2016 with a capital base of KRW 37 billion (USD 33 million), is scheduled to launch the new services successively over the months of March and April 2017.SM Line will operate an initial fleet of 11 ships of 1,100-6,600 TEU, six owned and five chartered units, which feature a total capacity of 41,381 TEU.This will place SM Line as the 37th largest container carrier in the world, according to Alphaliner’s carrier rankings.The company has acquired 12 containerships of 1,100-6,600 TEU, eight of which are intended for deployment on the carrier’s own services, including as replacements for chartered ships, while the remaining units are expected to be chartered out.SM Line will operate independently on its core services, covering the East Asia and Far East-US West Coast routes, while the shipping line will rely on slot charters from other carriers only on the Far East – India routes.last_img read more