MAC: Mines and Communities

US Update

Published by MAC on 2006-07-10

US Update

10th July 2006

Getting rid of lead in water delivery systems has become a priority for the country's environmental protection agency (EPA) - although the agency is years away from adequately enforcing clean water and air legislatin, according to a recent Congress investigation.

Bush is making a new attempt to penalise Cuba for exporting nickel to the US which, he claims, provides half the island's income. But the action is not likely to succeed for the reason that other (less meritricious) boycotts often fail: how can you identify the source of metals a long way down the supply chain?

EPA Strengthens Rule Governing Lead in Drinking Water


10th July 2006

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to tighten its rules on lead in drinking water according to revisions proposed Thursday to the Lead and Copper Rule.

The proposal would revise monitoring requirements to ensure that water samples show how effective lead controls are. It would clarify the timing of sample collection and tighten criteria for reducing the frequency of monitoring the lead levels in drinking water.

Water utilities would be required to receive state approval of treatment changes so that states can provide direction or require additional monitoring.

Water utilities would be required to notify occupants of the results of any testing that occurs within a home or facility.

It also would ensure that consumers receive information about how to limit their exposure to lead in drinking water. Water utilities also would be required to reevaluate lead service lines that may have previously been identified as low risk after any major treatment changes that could affect corrosion control.

"These revisions will prescribe stronger requirements for water system operators and will ensure the American people have access to the fundamental public service of clean, safe drinking water," said Benjamin Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water.

The proposed rulemaking affects public water systems that are classified as community water systems - systems that provide water to year-round residents in places like homes or apartment buildings.

In addition, non-transient, non-community water systems are affected. These are systems that provide drinking water to people in locations such as schools, office buildings, and restaurants, state agencies, and local and tribal governments.

The proposal is an outgrowth of EPA's March 2005 drinking water lead reduction plan. The agency developed the plan after analyzing the effectiveness of the Lead and Copper Rule and how states and local governments were implementing it.

The agency collected and analyzed lead information required by the regulations, reviewed the states' implementation, held five expert workshops about elements of the regulations, and collected information about local and state monitoring for lead in drinking water in schools and child-care facilities.

Lead is not a natural constituent of drinking water. It is picked up as water passes through pipes and household plumbing fittings and fixtures that contain lead. Water leaches lead from these sources and becomes contaminated.

In 1991, EPA issued the Lead and Copper Rule to reduce lead in drinking water. The rule requires water utilities to reduce lead contamination by controlling the corrosiveness of water and, as needed, replace lead service lines used to carry water from the street to the home.

Even at low levels, lead causes behavioral problems and learning disabilities in children six years old and younger, whose brains are still developing. Children are most often exposed to lead from the paint of older homes. Lead in drinking water can add to the exposure.

Bush plan targets Cuban nickel ALAN FREEMAN

Toronto Globe and Mail

10th July 2006

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration vowed Monday to crack down on nickel exports from Cuba, at least half of which are accounted for by Canada's Sherritt International Corp., alleging that the money from the sales is being “diverted to maintain the regime's repressive security apparatus.”

But Sherritt's chairman, Ian Delaney, immediately labelled the proposed actions as “nothing new” and said that the continuing U.S. embargo on the Communist nation is simply “nonsense.”

With an eye on Florida's vote-rich Cuban-American community, President George W. Bush said Monday he would go ahead with recommendations of a special government-appointed group known as the Commission for Assistance for a Free Cuba. The commission called for a range of policies aimed at strangling the regime of President Fidel Castro, including the expenditure of $80-million (U.S.) to assist political opposition and make it more difficult to provide humanitarian aid and remittances to Cubans.

The report specifically calls for a crackdown on nickel exports, which it says now account for “nearly half of the regime's current foreign income.”

“The revenue from these sales does not go to benefit the Cuban people, but is diverted to maintain the regime's repressive security apparatus and fund Castro's interventionist and destabilizing policies in other countries in the hemisphere,” the report said.

Nickel prices are near all-time highs on world commodity markets, making them an increasingly valuable export.

The commission went on to recommend establishment of “an inter-agency Cuban Nickel Targeting Task Force” whose job it will be to reinvigorate the existing nickel import certification and control regime.

State Department officials did not respond to requests for additional information on the task force's role.

Sherritt operates a joint venture with the Cuban government that last year produced 34,000 tonnes of nickel. An expansion of the facility at Moa Bay is under way, which is expected to increase output by about 50 per cent. Sherritt also produces cobalt at the same facility and is involved in oil and gas and soybean operations on Cuba as well.

The nickel is produced as a concentrate in Cuba, shipped by sea to Halifax and by rail to Sherritt's refinery in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., where it is refined into metal and then sold internationally, primarily in Europe. It is illegal to sell it to the United States, either in pure form or included in end products.

Mr. Delaney, Sherritt's chairman, said the proposed crackdown was the “same nonsense that's been touted for years.

“There's always been more heat than light in this discussion,” Mr. Delaney continued, arguing that the idea that Cubans are hiding assets abroad is a “ludicrous joke.”

“We're dealing with a country that really has the moral high ground,” he continued.

Officers and directors of Sherritt, including Mr. Delaney, have been banned from entry into the United States under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act.

David Davidson, a mining analyst at Paradigm Capital in Toronto, said he does not believe the new measures promised by the White House will hurt Sherritt, noting that they seem to be merely a restatement of the measures included in the Helms-Burton Act.

“Sherritt has been under this cloud since 1995 when they first started delivery of the concentrate,” Mr. Davidson said.

He said that tracing Cuban-produced nickel is virtually impossible. He gave as an example Cuban nickel that is turned into stainless steel in Germany and then becomes part of a jet engine made by Rolls Royce or another major manufacturer. “How do you track that? It's impossible.”

Phillip Peters, who studies Cuba at the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based think tank, said that what the Bush administration is attempting to do with its tougher actions against Cuba is “choosing to appeal to the most hard-line segment of the Cuban American community.”

He said he expects stopping the flow of nickel from Cuba will be extremely difficult.

At the Cuban Liberty Council, a Miami-based group that lobbies for the end of the Castro regime, Ninoska Perez decried Sherritt as a company that is using assets confiscated by the Cuban government from their original owners and is aiding a dictatorial regime.

“Obviously, they have no concern about the abuses of human rights in Cuba,” she said in an interview. “They're just out to make a buck.”

She also said she cannot understand why the Canadian government continues to encourage companies like Sherritt to invest in Cuba.

US EPA Suffers From Chronic Management Problems: GAO

PlanetArk US

29th June 2006

WASHINGTON - The US Environmental Protection Agency does not enforce clean air and water laws consistently and is crippled by sloppy record keeping, the investigative arm of Congress told a Senate panel on Wednesday.

And, while the EPA has taken steps to correct these problems, real reform is still years off, the Government Accountability Office reported to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The EPA's regional offices disagree on which environmental regulations to enforce and what penalties to use against polluters, the GAO found after reviewing various reports and studies from the past six years.

The 10 regions vary on the size of fines they assess and also on the number of inspections they make at facilities discharging pollutants. While some offices issue fines, others offer workshops or activities to mend damage.

The GAO called the EPA's data on violations and enforcement "incomplete and inaccurate," again blaming regions for inconsistently reporting to federal headquarters. This scramble made it hard to measure environmental changes over time or plan for the agency's future, the GAO added.

In 2001, the GAO recommended that the EPA create a management plan to organize its employees better. It also suggested the agency develop a budget that accurately reflected where funds were needed. However, in the past five years, the agency has made only marginal changes that have had "minor impact," the GAO said.


Bush Admin to Offer US$170 Million for Solar Energy

PlanetArk US

29th June 2006

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration said on Wednesday it would offer US$170 million to public and private partnerships to make solar energy more competitive with conventional electricity sources by 2015.

The funding would be for three years, beginning in fiscal-year 2007. It would require industry-led teams to match each dollar the government gives them toward the project, which could generate an additional US$170 million.

The US Energy Department said projects would need to focus on improving so-called photovoltaic cell technology which produces energy when exposed to light.

"We will be asking the winning partnerships to focus their work on new manufacturing techniques as well as new component designs that will allow us to bring down the cost of producing photovoltaic fuel cells as quickly as possible," said US Energy Secretary Sam Bodman.

US Energy Department said the projects are part of the administration's Solar America Initiative which seeks in part to reduce photovoltaic costs from 13-22 cents per kilowatt to 9-18 cents per kilowatt by 2010.

The US$170 million contribution by the administration is subject to funding from Congress.


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