MAC: Mines and Communities

US update

Published by MAC on 2007-05-04

US update

4th May 2007

Over the past few years, we've diligently reported criticisms of the Bush regime's attempts to drastically modify clean air and water legislation; and to defy a massive global consensus that the US leads the way in causing negative climate change.

Thankfully it's now clear that the voices of reason are winning, but these would be academic were they not accompanied by successful actions.

This week we welcome the re-introduction of a Bill to restore the prohibition against the dumping of mine wastes into rivers - aimed at several companies, but above all the notorious Massey Energy. It's also encouraging that the Supreme Court's has refused to hear government and power industry objections to undergoing "clean air" scrutiny of new plants. On the table, too, is a piece of legislation that would require 15% of domestic power generation to "go green" by 2020.

Meanwhile, a top employee of the Interior Department, who manipulated scientific data and supplied internal information to industry lobbyists, has finally been forced to resign.

However, some might well think that the present administration can't claim to be "clean" until its commander in chief (who's also ordered the manipulation of data not to his liking) jumps on a horse and gallops into the sunset with the rest of his band of "neo cons".

New Bill Would Halt Waste Dumping in Lakes, Rivers, Streams


4th May 2007

A bi-partisan bill was introduced in the House Thursday to restore a 25 year old prohibition under the Clean Water Act that prevented mining companies and other industries from dumping masses of solid industrial wastes into the nation's waters.

Representatives Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, and Chris Shays, a Connecticut Republican, introduced the Clean Water Protection Act. Already, more than 60 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives have co-sponsored the bill.

The legislation overturns a 2002 rule change by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that allows coal mining companies to create enormous valley fills, burying thousands of miles of streams, to make the practice of mountaintop removal mining cheaper.

That rule change also allows other industries to dump waste in waters under the guise of renaming the waste material as "fill."

"I'm proud to have reintroduced this bill, which protects streams and watersheds and addresses a serious environmental justice concern," Congressman Pallone said. "The federal government should protect the environment and the people living around mountaintop mining operations, not give massive mining companies a free pass to dump fill into waterways."

"It is my hope this legislation signals to the EPA that Congress will not sit silently by as our environment is destroyed," says Congressman Shays. "We cannot afford to waste another day, another hour, another minute if we want our children and our children's children to enjoy clean water. We simply won't have a world to live in if we continue our neglectful ways."

More than 1,200 miles of streams already have been destroyed in Appalachia by the coal companies that have been flouting the Clean Water Act for years while the EPA and the Corps looked the other way.

When citizens took state and federal agencies to court to ensure our environmental laws are enforced, coal companies sought and were granted a legal loophole by the Bush administration.

In May 2002, the Army Corps of Engineers repealed the 25 year old ban under their regulations against allowing waste to be treated as "fill" material that is allowed to be placed in waters.

The Clean Water Protection Act is supported by a large coalition of organizations that includes national groups such as Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, and Sierra Club, and regional leaders to stop mountaintop removal coal mining, such as the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

"Burying Appalachia's streams in mining waste is one of the most egregious forms of environmental destruction taking place in America," said Ed Hopkins, Sierra Club's Director of Environment Quality Program. "It is threatening communities, damaging drinking water supplies, causing flooding and ruining habitat for fish and wildlife. Congress should put a stop to it now."

Supreme Court Lets Air Pollution Equipment Ruling Stand


30th April 2007

Today, the Supreme Court decided not to hear pleas by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the power industry to resurrect a Clean Air Act loophole that the federal appeals court in Washington struck down unanimously in March 2006.

The loophole would have allowed more than 20,000 power plants, refineries and other industrial facilities to replace existing equipment with "functionally equivalent" equipment without first undergoing the required clean air reviews.

The exemption would have applied even if a facility's air pollution increased by tens of thousands of tons as a result of the new equipment.

The 2006 appellate court decision had denounced the EPA for violating the plain terms of the Clean Air Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the administration's loophole contradicted the purposes of the Clean Air Act.

The Clean Air Act's New Source Review program was designed to curb air pollution from these and other industrial facilities by requiring them to install up-to-date pollution controls whenever they made physical or operational changes that increased air pollution.

Many of the nation's older power plants have operated beyond their expected lifespans, polluting at high levels, because utilities have rebuilt these grandfathered plants over time. Some have modified these facilities in ways that increased air pollution without complying with Clean Air Act requirements to install modern emissions controls.

The EPA launched enforcement lawsuits against utility and refinery violators during the last few years of the Clinton administration for pollution increases.

The Bush administration wanted to derail these enforcement suits and eliminate future actions by changing the rules to allow companies to rebuild their facilities and boost pollution levels without having to meet New Source Review program requirements by allowing "functionally equivalent" equipment.

The plaintiffs winning the case at the appellate level included Alabama Environmental Council, American Lung Association, Clean Air Council, Communities for a Better Environment, Delaware Nature Society, Environmental Defense, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Michigan Environmental Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, Ohio Environmental Council, Scenic Hudson, Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The groups were represented by Earthjustice, the Clean Air Task Force and NRDC. A group of 15 state attorneys general, led by the state of New York, was also part of the successful lawsuit.

"Today’s Supreme Court announcement marks the close of one chapter of the Bush administration’s lawless campaign to weaken basic clean air protections," said John Walke, director of NRDC’s Clean Air Program. The Bush EPA should stop pretending our laws can be set aside in favor of fictions they write for industry, and instead focus on protecting the American people against harmful pollution."

"We are grateful, but not surprised, that the Supreme Court has once again reminded EPA that the Clean Air Act says what it means and means what it says. "Significant renovations at old dirty power plants cannot avoid requirements to apply pollution controls," said Ann Weeks, legal director with the Clean Air Task Force.

Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell said, "The Bush administration is on notice that it cannot expect our nation’s courts to look the other way while it flouts the Clean Air Act."

Six Critical Air Pollutants Down in 2006


30th April 2007

Preliminary air quality and emissions data for 2006 shows continued improvement in the nation's air quality over the long term, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, released today.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA sets national air quality standards for six key pollutants - nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and lead. Emissions of these six pollutants have dropped by more than half since 1970 and the national average concentration for each criteria pollutant is below the level of its air quality standard.

While national average concentrations of the six key pollutants are below national standards, results vary by site, and annual levels at some individual sites do remain above one or more of the national air quality standards, the EPA said. Annual pollution levels at some monitoring sites do remain above one or more of the national air quality standards, with ozone and particulate matter remaining as the most persistent problems.

Carbon monoxide levels show the greatest improvement, down 62 percent from 1990 levels; lead is down 54 percent and sulfur dioxide is down 53 percent from 1990 levels.

The EPA points out that while emissions of the six key pollutants and the compounds that form them continue to decline, the United States has continued to grow and prosper. To view more detailed figures, click here.

Senate Panel OKs Bill to Increase Green US Power

PlanetArk US

4th May 2007

WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES - The US Senate may vote later this month on an energy bill that would by 2020 require that 15 percent of US electricity be produced by renewable sources such as wind and solar.

The same bill would require 10 percent of federal power purchases to be produced by "green" methods by 2010.

The Senate Energy Committee Wednesday sent to the full chamber a bill that also targets demand for gasoline -- the biggest chunk of US petroleum use -- by increasing fuel economy and boosting production of nonpetroleum fuels like ethanol.

While much of the bill centers around a plan to cut gasoline consumption by 20 percent by 2017, 35 percent by 2025 and 45 percent by 2030, it also would set goals for "green" power production and authorize US$315 million to study carbon dioxide emission storage at power plants, oil refineries and other industrial plants.

This is the fourth time a federal "renewable portfolio standard" for electricity production has been attempted in Congress. Three times before it has passed the Senate, only to be felled by a Republican-controlled House.

The bill's major co-sponsor and chairman of the Senate energy panel, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat from New Mexico, is confident that, with Democrats now controlling the House, a federal standard can be set, his spokesman said Wednesday.

Bingaman said he would try to modify the legislation on the Senate floor to include a requirement that 15 percent of US electricity supplies be generated by solar, wind and other renewable energy sources by 2020.

More than 20 states have established "renewable portfolio standards" requiring green power production. At least 12 of them are at least as stringent as the Senate proposal, and this bill would not trump state-level renewable power efforts.

"This is an issue where the states are ahead of the federal government," said Bill Wicker, spokesman for Bingaman and the Senate Energy Committee. "There is no federal preemption of existing state renewable portfolio standards."

Existing hydropower projects or any nuclear power plants would not be considered renewable power, Wicker said. New output at hydropower projects would count, he said.

Wicker said Bingaman got a letter Tuesday signed by 50 of the chamber's 100 senators. Add the letter's recipient to the count and a Senate majority "is on the record saying they will support it," Wicker said.

Bingaman said Democratic leaders may have the Senate take up the bill this month. If the legislation is accepted by the Senate, it still must be approved by the House and signed by President Bush before it could become law.


US Has 'Implicit' Price on Carbon Emissions - DOE

PlanetArk US

4th May 2007

NEW YORK - Utilities in the United States are factoring in an "implicit" price for carbon emissions that may push them to clean up or scrap coal-fired power plants, a top ranking US Energy Department official said on Thursday.

Many scientists, analysts, brokers and academics say regulating the gases linked to global warming would put a stiff explicit price on emitting them.

A price of about US$30 a ton for carbon emissions would stimulate utilities to install expensive technology to capture and bury carbon dioxide from plants that burn coal, according to a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study.

Coal produces more of the heat-trapping gas than oil and natural gas.

The United States emits more heat-trapping gases than any other country, but does not regulate them.

"One could argue that there is an implicit pricing of carbon going on in the US market," Andrew Karsner, assistant secretary at the Department of Energy in charge of renewable energy, said in an interview. "And it affects valuations, so people do account for what is the potential risk relative to time, permitting, siting and emissions changes of law."

Focus on US greenhouse emissions has intensified this year after scientists who advise the United Nations released reports that human-induced global warming will cause more hunger, droughts, heat waves and rising seas. Their report on how to combat emissions is due on Friday.

Karsner said power company TXU Corp.'s decision in February to scrap plans for eight of 11 coal-fired plants in Texas was an example of how the implicit pricing has made companies think about coal.

Still, more than 150 coal-fired power plants are being planned in the United States, the most in decades. About 12 of those are under construction, with another six close to being built. None of the plants plan to add carbon capture and sequestration equipment.

Karsner would not estimate how many plants might be scrapped, but said companies could feel pressure to clean up. "I think the bar will be very high for cleanliness of output and I think that the coal industry will find it in their interest to reach that bar."

The United States has the world's top coal reserves, while output of natural gas and oil is falling.

"It is not going away as a substantial source of power generation," Karsner said. How to cut coal's output of pollutants like mercury and smog and acid rain components as well as carbon "is almost the exclusive focus" of the Department of Energy's fossil fuel department now, he said.

He said it would not be logical for the United States to make mandatory emissions cuts unless rapidly growing China and India also cut them. "Let's come up with a policy that addresses the fact that China added as much generation capacity last year as all of France ... and most if it dirty coal," he said.

US 2008 presidential candidates from both major parties say they would regulate greenhouse gases.

Story by Timothy Gardner


State Air Pollution Officials Urge National Climate Law


4th May 2007

The professional association of state and local air pollution control officials this week took aim at global warming.

At its spring membership meeting in Louisville, the National Association of Clean Air Agencies formally adopted a statement calling on Congress to "promptly enact a mandatory economy-wide greenhouse gas emission reduction program with quantifiable and enforceable limits."

The goal of this legislation should be to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions substantially below current levels "to lessen dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate," the group said.

The legislation should set interim milestones, including short, medium and long-term greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, and recognize the benefits of significant early reductions.

The program should reduce greenhouse gases in a cost-effective manner, utilizing, among other approaches, market-based strategies, the group said.

Executive Director Bill Becker said the membership supports a mandatory program "but one that is flexible enough to allow for a portfolio of strategies to be adopted in addition to such a program."

The principles also support sector-specific strategies for the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States - electric power and motor vehicles.

The principles recognize that the federal government would have the lead on an economy-wide program but that there should be a strong role for states and localities.

"In particular," Becker said, "federal legislation should not preempt state or local governments from taking more stringent actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

The air pollution control officials urged Congress to seriously consider the greenhouse gas recommendations of other state and local organizations, such as the National Governors Association, the Environmental Council of States, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and The Climate Registry.

Reign of Bush Fish and Wildlife Official Ends in Disgrace


1st May 2007

Monday's resignation of a high-ranking Interior Department official who manipulated the work of government scientists was applauded today by environmentalists and scientists, but they cautioned that this single resignation does not solve the problem of political interference with the work of scientists at federal agencies.

Julie MacDonald left her position as the Department of Interior’s deputy assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks, from which she controlled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species program.

Her resignation follows a finding March 29 by the agency's Inspector General Earl Devaney that she violated federal ethics rules by sending "nonpublic information" to industry lobbyists.

MacDonald repeatedly leaked internal Fish and Wildlife Service documents to business groups who opposed the Service and its environmental decision making in court. Some of these internal documents later surfaced as evidence in lawsuits filed against the Service.

She sent draft studies and preliminary discussions about application of the Endangered Species Act to the California Farm Bureau Federation and the Pacific Legal Foundation; to two people with e-mail addresses at Chevron; and to the father of an online role-playing game partner, who had no legitimate reason for access to internal Interior Department records.

In addition, the Inspector General's report criticized Macdonald, a civil engineer with no formal education in the natural sciences, for overriding recommendations of Fish and Wildlife Service scientists about how to protect endangered species.

The Inspector General found that MacDonald interfered with field reports such as the sage grouse risk analysis, a critical habitat decision for endangered bull trout, a designation of California's northern and southern tiger salamanders as distinct populations, a decision about California's delta smelt, and an analysis of California's vernal pools as critical habitat.

MacDonald stepped down days before a May 9 congressional oversight hearing by the House Resources Committee into the Bush administration's violations of the Endangered Species Act and censorship of endangered species science.

Citing serious ethics transgressions committed by MacDonald, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said Monday that he will place a hold on Senate confirmation of Lyle Laverty, the president’s nominee as assistant interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, until he is satisfied that such transgressions will not happen again.

"Ms. MacDonald has betrayed the mission she swore to uphold," said Wyden, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"Her actions have undermined both the work and the integrity of the Fish and Wildlife Service and its many dedicated employees. By placing a hold on Mr. Laverty’s nomination, I want the administration to get the message that this behavior must come to a stop for the duration of the Bush administration.”

In a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne sent Monday, Wyden says Macdonald forced Fish and Wildlife Service scientists and staff to alter their findings, often with no scientific basis.

"In one case, she demanded that the determined nesting range of the Southwest Willow Flycatcher be shrunk from a 2.1 mile radius to 1.8 miles, so that it would not cross into the state of California, where her husband’s family owned a ranch," said Wyden.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, UCS, a nonprofit group based in Washington, said Macdonald's departure does not solve the "pervasive problem" of political interference with scientists employed by federal agencies.

"We welcome Julie MacDonald's resignation," said UCS Scientific Integrity Program Director Francesca Grifo, "but she represents a much larger problem of widespread political interference at federal agencies."

UCS is calling for Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to take action to ensure the work of federal scientists will not be subject to political manipulation.

"Secretary Kempthorne should guarantee Interior Department scientists final review of their work before it is released," said Dr. Grifo, who will testify May 9 about political interference in the work of federal scientists before the House Natural Resources Committee.

"Julie MacDonald's reign of terror over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is finally over," said Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation group based in Tucson, Arizona. "Endangered species and scientists everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief."

"But MacDonald was the administration's attack dog, not its general," Suckling said. "The contempt for science and law that she came to symbolize goes much deeper than a single Department of Interior employee."

"When I woke up this morning and I thought I heard the birds and wildlife cheering," said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles, who faced MacDonald in her official capacity on many occasions. "Now I know why."

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