‘Sue and settle’ moniker denigrates necessary right

In its July 16 article “States file lawsuit against EPA over ‘sue and settle’ strategy,” The Hill reports on a legal action challenging the public’s right to insist that government agencies enforce the laws passed by Congress.

“Sue and settle” is a pejorative phrase invented to create barriers to the public’s ability to require agencies to obey the law. A more accurate description would be “enforce and comply.”

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Environmental groups generally sue when an agency like the Environmental Protection Agency misses a statutory deadline. Typically the agency settles when it has no legal argument to stand on, and the settlement simply lays out a schedule for compliance, not a substantive change in the law itself. Some industrial polluters and their Capitol Hill allies have pretended this most basic use of our laws and courts is some new and novel tactic to be denigrated and even impeded. That’s ridiculous.

Over several decades, hundreds of these suits have been filed, often by industrial opponents of environmental protections. Many have been settled out of court, often on terms that industry endorsed.

American citizens have a right to challenge our government when it fails to enforce laws duly passed by Congress. That’s what government by the people is all about. It does a grave disservice to that principle to buy into the industry attack line of slapping a negative label on our right to insist that our laws are upheld.

From John Walke, senior attorney and director, Clean Air Program, Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington, D.C.

A lower blood alcohol limit will save lives

A recent Hill article (“States balk at lower alcohol limit for DUI,” July 14) addresses states’ reluctance to adopt the National Transportation Safety Board’s recently issued recommendation that they lower their per se legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit from .08 to .05. Unfortunately, the article trumpeted the opinions of alcohol and beverage industry trade groups and lobbyists while ignoring the public health perspective: The logic and science behind the .05 recommendation are solid. It’s a reasonable, evidence-based standard with minimal additional enforcement cost that will save lives. 

Nearly one in three of all highway deaths still involves an alcohol-impaired driver, according to the NTSB. In 2011, the national toll was 9,878 lives and 140,00 injuries, including 27,000 life-altering injuries. A national .05 limit would prevent 10 percent of these deaths.

At .05 BAC, virtually all adults exhibit impairment in eye movement, glare resistance, visual perception, reaction time, steering and cognition. This level of impairment significantly increases the risk of vehicle fatalities, particularly among young drinkers. At a .05 BAC, the relative risk of being involved in a fatal crash is 1.38 times that of a driver at .00, according to the NTSB; at .07, the risk has more than doubled to 2.09; and by .08, that risk has risen to 2.69.

Lowering the per se limit from .10 to .08 has resulted in a 5 percent to 16 percent decrease in alcohol-related crashes, fatalities and injuries in the U.S. Countries in which the legal limit was lowered to .05 from .08 have seen decreased alcohol-related vehicle fatalities from 5 percent to 18 percent. 

In fact, most industrialized countries already enforce a .05 or lower limit, including those with strong drinking cultures, such as Germany and Australia. The .05 limit is broadly supported in these countries and does not prevent social drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism say it takes at least 4 drinks for the average 170-lb. male to exceed .05 BAC in two hours on an empty stomach, and 3 drinks for a 137-lb. female. In the U.S., a majority of female drinkers considers themselves too impaired to drive after consuming 2 drinks in 2 hours, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and men say the same about 3 drinks. This is well within the .05 level for most adults.

Along with the American Medical Association, the World Medical Association and the World Health Organization, Alcohol Justice strongly supports a .05 BAC limit. 

From Holley Shafer, senior research and policy analyst, Alcohol Justice, San Rafael, Calif.

National park on moon breaks international law 

While I understand the sentiment behind Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson’s (D-Texas) proposed legislation for creating a national park at the Apollo landing site (“Dems pitch national park on the moon,” July 9), some staffers failed to do their legal research. 

The United States is a party to the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies. Article 2 of the Treaty states: “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” States party to the treaty are required to conduct their activities and uses of outer space in accordance with international law to maintain international peace, security and international cooperation. Attempting to create a U.S. national park on the moon would be an assertion of sovereignty and would be illegal under international law. It would be no more legal than purchasing a moon acre. 

From Jared Hautamaki, Montreal, Quebec, Canada