MAC: Mines and Communities

US update

Published by MAC on 2007-05-31

US update

31st May 2007

US president Bush's "offer" at the G-8 summit to broker global meetings with the world's biggest greenhouse polluters, has been widely condemmed as a feeble attempt to justify his administration's abject failure to reduce the US's own massive contributions to global warming.

Residents in one of the world's biggest "hot spots" - the derelict uranium mining areas of New Mexico - have resolved to fight the apparent indifference of regulatory authorities to water contamination.

Last week, we critiqued (on this site) plans by Rio Tinto and BP to construct a supposedly "carbon free" coal fired power plant in Australia. Now, the UK's leading oil company has set out plans to drill for coal-bed methane in Canada, and many across the US border in Montana are against it, including some in government. Accessing coal-bed methane is arguably less destructive than mining for coal, but still creates major disturbances to land, and potential threats to water resources.

Ironically, however, Montana has also given permission for a coal-fired power plant to be constructed atop a National Historic Landmark.

Thanks to opposition from the UK, plans to send nine ships contaminated with asbestos, and other toxics, for breaking-up across the Atlantic have been rebuffed.

G8: Bush Proposes Talks on Voluntary Global Goal for Greenhouse Gases


31st May 2007

President George W. Bush today said the United States wants to establish a new framework on greenhouse gas emissions for when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Outlining his plans for the G8 Summit next week in Germany, the President said the United States will propose a series of meetings with nations that produce the most emissions, including India and China.

"By the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases," Bush told a meeting of the United States Global Leadership Campaign, a coalition of more than 400 corporate, humanitarian and development member organizations. In addition to this long-term global goal, "each country would establish midterm national targets," Bush said, as well as and programs that reflect its individual mix of energy sources and future energy needs.

"Over the course of the next 18 months, our nations would bring together industry leaders from different sectors of our economies, such as power generation and alternative fuels and transportation," said Bush. "These leaders will form working groups that will cooperate on ways to share clean energy technology and best practices."

A "strong and transparent system for measuring each country's performance," would be established, Bush said, but gave no indication that his proposal includes binding, mandatory targets for greenhouse gas reductions.

Critics were quick to point out that the international community is already moving towards a post-Kyoto agreement for mandatory emissions reductions under the auspices of the United Nations and does not need this parallel process to discuss voluntary global warming emissions-cutting goals.

"This plan doesn't actually take a large bite out of global warming pollution like we need to, but instead just 're-warms' old ideas," said Congressman Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the newly formed House of Representatives Select Committee on Energy Independence And Global Warming.

"It's vitally important for America and this president to re-engage internationally on this issue, and agree to binding targets for reducing heat-trapping pollution," Markey said. "Instead, all that President Bush is willing to do is engage in fruitless discussions until the very end of his administration, leaving his successor with the task of actually doing something."

President Bush said the new framework would help nations, including the United States, fulfill their responsibilities under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change."

"The United States will work with all nations that are part of this Convention to adapt to the impacts of climate change, gain access to clean and more energy-efficient technologies, and promote sustainable forestry and agriculture," he said.

Long a global warming skeptic, Bush now says, "In recent years, science has deepened our understanding of climate change and opened new possibilities for confronting it. The United States takes this issue seriously."

Reiterating that his administration has spent more than $12 billion in research on clean energy technology, Bush once again emphasized his intention to promote clean coal and nuclear technology.

"If you're truly interested in cleaning up the environment, or interested in renewable sources of energy, the best way to do so is through safe nuclear power," Bush said.

While President Bush and administration officials invariably refer to nuclear power as "clean, safe nuclear power" many problems still exist. The Exelon Braidwood Nuclear Facility in Illinois, for instance, has released radioactive tritium into the groundwater surrounding the power plant.

Critics say that while nuclear power plants may not emit greenhouse gases directly because no fossil fuels are burned to generate power, there is still no good solution to the radioactive waste generated by nuclear plants and they are potential terrorist targets.

"If we can get a breakthrough in clean coal technologies," President Bush said, "it's going to help the developing world immeasurably, and at the same time, help protect our environment."

Bush also mentioned the administration's investments in solar and wind power and hybrid and clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel for transportation.

The President cited a Department of Energy report last week showing that in 2006, U.S. carbon emissions decreased by 1.3 percent while the economy grew by 3.3 percent. "This experience shows that a strong and growing economy can deliver both a better life for its people and a cleaner environment at the same time," said Bush.

The President is hoping to turn the G8 summit into an economic opportunity to better the U.S. economy by selling U.S. energy technology. "At the G8 summit, I'm going to encourage world leaders to increase their own investments in research and development," he said.

"We're also going to work to conclude talks with other nations on eliminating tariffs and other barriers to clean energy technologies and services by the end of year," Bush said.

If you are truly committed to helping the environment, nations need to get rid of their tariffs, need to get rid of those barriers that prevent new technologies from coming into their countries. We'll help the world's poorest nations reduce emissions by giving them government-developed technologies at low cost, or in some case, no cost at all.

He plans to discuss ways to encourage more investment in developing nations by making low-cost financing options for clean energy a priority of the international development banks. In the case of the poorest nations, he proposes to give U.S. technology without charge.

President Bush said, "The United States is taking the lead, and that's the message I'm going to take to the G8."

But the President has opposed any mandatory targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts in the United States and his administration has a long record of international obstruction on global warming.

Recently administration officials have attempted to cut language from climate statements by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the G8 climate statement, which includes committing to mandatory targets to stabilize heat-trapping emissions.

President of the National Environmental Trust Philip Clapp said, "This is a transparent effort to divert attention from the President's refusal to accept any emissions reductions proposals at next week's G8 summit. After sitting out talks on global warming for years, the Bush administration doesn't have very much credibility with other governments on the issue.

"All the other industrialized nations have been trying for months to get the President to agree to an emissions reduction framework, and the White House has rejected every proposal," Clapp said. "The White House is just trying to hide the fact that the President is completely isolated among the G8 leaders by calling vaguely for some agreement next year, right before he leaves office."

Friends of the Earth USA is circulating a sign-on statement repudiating the Bush proposal announced today and apologizing to nations participating in the G8 meetings for the President's behavior.

The statement says, "On behalf of the United States of America, I apologize for the actions of our president, George W. Bush. His rejection of global warming measures to be endorsed at the upcoming G8 meeting is shameful, and does not represent my views or those of the American people."

Friends of the Earth will send the signatures and statements directly to the participating nations' G8 coordinating teams before next week's meeting - and hand deliver them to the German embassy in Washington on Tuesday, June 5.

All of the other G8 countries are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which means that they are legally bound to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2 percent by the end of 2012.

The G8 countries are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The European Commission attends G8 meetings as well.

This year they will be joined by the leaders of five rapidly developing nations - Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa - and the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

The leaders will gather June 6 to 8 at Germany's Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm.

Residents rip off kid gloves

By Lia Martin

31st May 2007

Residents fight for rights against uranium companies

CIBOLA COUNTY - It is possible that May 30, 2007 might mark a major milestone in fighting water contamination caused by a decade of uranium mining in northern New Mexico, after a handful of citizens rallied together to become rebels for a cause.

"I want you to take this message back to your bosses," Candace Head Dylla said during that meeting on Wednesday night. "Our community is like a big ball that you keep throwing back and forth to each other. We are powerless, out of control. That's how you make people radical."

Residents from Broadview Acres, Felice Acres, Murray Acres, Valle Verde, Pleasant Valley and other communities north of Grants attended their fourth meeting this year called by multiple agencies - federal and state - who are trying to be the answer to a 30-year problem with well water contamination in these neighborhoods.

The culprits, according to neighbors, are the uranium mining operations such as Homestake, and other mills, which had operated up the river from the Milan area.

By 1961, miners familiar with the history, say that the New Mexico Health Service told Homestake they were polluting the aquifer, and warned them.

But, back in those days, regulations involving uranium mill operations were little to none. At the meeting, it was discussed that the Atomic Energy Commission, which was later replaced by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the New Mexico Environment Department, may have had a deal with the mines, or maybe the regulatory protocol was deficient.

According to miners and their families, Homestake had been storing wastewater from the processing mill in an unlined pond, which old-timers say was directly above the Alluvial aquifer. They think it seeped into the various aquifer bands, which means it had infiltrated the water system used for drinking for both livestock and human consumption.

It was not until 1976 that they were approached by state environment department officials and warned that the water in their wells was not safe to drink.

In spite of two occasions where water samples have been collected and studied by scientists, no progress has been made to clean the area of contaminants.

However, in recent years, because of time passing and interruption of uranium milling, some cleansing seems to have taken place in some aquifer bands, but not in others.

This last study was brought back to the table this week.

Andy Dudley, who is a non-regulatory environmental health scientist, told residents that out of the 2005 well sample studies, there were 35 wells sampled. Out of those wells, there were 28 wells using Village of Milan water, and six owners using their wells as a primary source. In those six wells, Dudley said, two wells exceeded the uranium MCL safety requirements, which were 39.5 parts per billion and 46.7 parts per billion of uranium.

In the 2006 samples, Dudley said that 10 wells exceeded the uranium MCL safety requirements. He said one well exceeded the uranium MCL safety requirement by 265 parts per billion.

And, in four wells, there was selenium in the water samples, which were 101 parts per billion above the MCL safety requirement.

"The dose makes the poison," Dudley told the residents. "All the concentrations are going down except for a few in the middle Chinle (aquifer)."

New Mexico Environment Department officials say that they are in a Catch-22 situation with the Environmental Protection Agency, which are a federal organization, uranium companies and politicians.

They say they are doing everything they can to help, but that there is little to do when funding is drying up to test the wells they need to test before approaching any of the uranium mines where they can lay the blame.

"To tell a company that you need to clean up," David Mayerson with the state environmental department, "you have to have your ducks in a row."

Dana Behar, also with the Environment Department, agreed with Mayerson.

"We recognize this is your community. I hope we can bridge the gap," Behar said. "We can't arbitrarily set standards. Any action we take can be challenged by the companies."

Resident Art Gebeau seemed shocked by what he was hearing.

"You're a hired gun," Gebeau said. "You saying that this fund is only politics?"

New Montana Power Plant Permit Appealed

HELENA, Montana, (ENS)

30th May 2007

Two citizens groups are appealing the air permit for the Highwood Generating Facility, a new coal-fired power plant proposed for construction on top of the Great Falls Portage National Historic Landmark outside of Great Falls, Montana.

On behalf of the Montana Environmental Information Center and Citizens for Clean Energy, the public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice today filed papers to require a regulation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new coal-fired power plants.

The legal action follow the Supreme Court's April 2 decision in the global warming case, Massachusetts v. EPA in which the court ruled that carbon dioxide is a "pollutant" subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.

According to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, DEQ, the proposed Highwood plant would emit 2.8 million tons of greenhouse gases, including 2.1 million tons of carbon dioxide, CO2, each year.

While the DEQ acknowledged that these emissions will contribute to global warming, the agency declined to require the plant developers to employ any pollution controls for CO2.

"We are very concerned that Montana is giving CO2 a free pass," said Abigail Dillen, an Earthjustice attorney who is representing the citizen groups, "Ignoring CO2 and global warming impacts is not just bad public policy, it's illegal."

"Montana can and should be a leader in the fight against global warming," said Anne Hedges of Montana Environmental Information Center.

In April, the Montana legislature passed a measure requiring the state's default supplier, NorthWestern Energy, to capture and sequester 50 percent of CO2 emissions from new coal plants.

However, for other utilities operating in the state, "it's business as usual," Hedges said. "The DEQ is permitting the same old dirty plants when there are better, cleaner ways to meet our energy needs."

In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, the two organizations are aiming to curb emissions of fine particles that cause premature death, heart attacks, and asthma, among other serious cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses.

Despite new federal rules, which have substantially tightened emissions standards for fine particles, known as PM2.5, the DEQ failed to impose emissions limits, consider pollution controls, or require monitoring for PM2.5.

Proposed Canadian coal-bed methane exploration worries U.S. officials

Canadian Press

31st May 2007

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - A new proposal to drill for coal-bed methane north of Glacier National Park has Montana officials looking for a permanent solution to energy development issues in southeastern British Columbia.

"We're tired of fighting this project after project after project," said Rich Moy, water management chief with Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. "What we need to develop is a long-term solution that protects the integrity of the Flathead River system."

Over the past three decades, Moy has worked with five different governors to buffer the Flathead River Basin from Canadian energy development just north of the border.

The international dispute first surfaced in the 1970s when coal interests sought to expand open-pit mining into the Canadian Flathead. The river flowing south from that valley crosses the border to form the western boundary of Glacier National Park before spilling into Flathead Lake.

Downstream interests have long argued that development north of the border will impact water and wildlife south of the international line. Several coal and coal-bed methane proposals have been shot down amid repeated international controversies.

Now federal officials from both countries are discussing the possible fate of a large coal mine proposed for the headwater reaches of Canada's Flathead River.

More recently, the BP Canada Energy Co. wrote to Gov. Brian Schweitzer announcing the company's intent to evaluate "the potential development of coal-bed natural gas resources in the Crowsnest coal field."

The letter calls the 57,000-hectare Crowsnest a "tremendous opportunity," and promises to minimize social and environmental impacts associated with coal-bed methane drilling. The field is thought to contain some 27.7 billion tons of coal and 12 trillion cubic feet of coal-bed methane gas.

BP Canada's plans include the upper reaches of the Flathead drainage, said company spokeswoman Anita Perry.

The company's initial $100-million investment plan includes drilling up to two dozen coal-bed methane test wells over the next five years. If the wells produce enough gas, Perry said, the company would pursue full development.

She said the letter was sent to Schweitzer's office on May 15 as a courtesy to alert Montana that the evaluation was beginning.

"It's a place of considerable interest to a lot of people," Perry said. "We want to open the talks now, early in the process, because we know there's a lot to talk about."

On June 8 and 9, at a meeting of regional governors in South Dakota, Moy said Schweitzer hopes to meet with B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell to discuss a long-term strategy for managing the Canadian Flathead in a way both countries can accept.

Montana might ask that future energy development be banned, or might ask for a 50-year moratorium on mining and drilling, or could ask that the Flathead be made a "primitive area" with a focus on recreational use.

In turn, Moy said, Montana and the U.S. government might offer technical assistance in developing British Columbia's emergent recreational and tourism economy, or might offer financial assistance in developing the infrastructure for that economy.

"There are many, many options for how to get there," Moy said.

Already, municipal leaders in Canadian towns adjacent to the proposed developments have expressed concerns about mining and drilling there.

"It's time to settle this once and for all," said Will Hammerquist, Glacier program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "We need some stability for future negotiations."

Export of Toxic Ghost Ships to UK Ended


31st May 2007

The Bush administration's plan to export nine ex-naval "Ghost Fleet" vessels from the James River in Virginia to Teesside, England for scrapping has itself been finally scrapped, according to British ship-breaker Able UK.

American environmental groups responsible for first blocking the deal in 2003 applauded its end as a victory for American recyclers, and for national environmental responsibility and self-sufficiency in toxic waste management.

In October 2003, the Basel Action Network and the Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Maritime Administration, MARAD, to prevent the resumption of U.S. exports of contaminated decommissioned naval vessels for scrapping abroad.

The suit alleged violations of the Toxics Substances Control Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The U.S. District Court in Washington, DC ruled that four vessels could cross the Atlantic as their export was mandated by Congress, but prohibited the departure of the remaining nine until MARAD completed an Environmental Impact Assessment, obtained proper authorization to export toxic PCBs, and ensured the existence of an adequate dismantling facility in the UK.

Now, after three and a half years, MARAD has decided to annul the contract because the intended ship-breaker, Able UK, has been unable to obtain the permits required to conduct its business in Teesside, England.

"The death of this contract is good news for the environment and for American workers," said Martin Wagner of Earthjustice. "The management of U.S. toxic waste is a U.S. responsibility. Why dump our trash in other countries when we can take care of it here and create new jobs at the same time?"

It is expected that the nine ships in the James River will now be put up to bid for domestic ship recyclers.

It is unclear what will happen to four U.S. ships that sit rusting in Teesside. The vessels contain tons of materials contaminated with carcinogenic and toxic substances such as PCBs, asbestos, mercury, and used fuel.

Currently there are 238 old ships in the National Defense Reserve Fleet, most located in Texas, Virginia and California, that will need to be dismantled. The groups warn that some of the ships are in dangerous condition and pose an environmental threat as they have never been emptied of fuels, oils and other hazardous substances.

"Our precious Chesapeake and San Francisco Bays are no place for floating toxic time bombs," said Michael Town of the Sierra Club in Virginia. "The budget to remove these vessels and have them properly recycled here in America should have been appropriated long ago."


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