'Bush the Destroyer' and various related articles on miningPublished by MAC on 2004-09-01
Bush: The destroyer
The following is an edited extract from What We've Lost, by Graydon Carter, published by Little Brown on September 9, and printed in the Guardian on September 1 & 3 2004.
George Bush's war on terror may have made the world a more dangerous place. But it is his atrocious record on the environment that poses the greatest threat, says Graydon Carter, in an extract from his new book - which also examines the influence of oil and mining companies in the Bush White House.
'Prosperity will mean little," declared George W Bush while on the stump as presidential candidate, "if we leave to future generations a world of polluted air, toxic lakes and rivers, and vanished forests." By the time Bush departed his job as governor of Texas in December 2000, Texas had - according to a report from within the ranks of his own party - become the number-one state in the nation in manufacturing-plant emissions of toxic chemicals, in the release of industrial airborne toxins, in violations of clean water discharge standards and the release of toxic waste into underground wells. Under Bush's governorship, Houston had even passed Los Angeles to become the city with the worst air quality in America. The Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) study could find not a single initiative by Bush during his term as governor that sought to improve either the state's air or its water. What would he do as president?
On January 20 2001 - Bush's first day in office - he called in the chief of staff, Andrew Card, and told him to send directives to every executive department with authority over environmental issues, ordering them to put on hold more than a dozen regulations left over from the Clinton administration. The regulations covered everything from lowering arsenic levels in drinking water to reducing releases of raw sewage.
Big Republican donors expected a return on their investment following the 2000 presidential election, and Bush was more than willing to deliver. Bush convened his National Energy Policy Development Group nine days after taking office. This was the panel that came to be known as the vice president's Energy Task Force. For four months, Dick Cheney, energy secretary Abraham, other cabinet secretaries and their deputies formulated the nation's energy policy behind the closed doors of the vice president's office and the cabinet room. Eighteen of the Republicans' top 25 donors from the energy industry were invited in and asked to contribute to the plan.
Kenneth Lay of Enron, who had loaned Bush his company jet during his presidential campaign, met the group numerous times. Executives from such companies and organisations as Chevron, ExxonMobil, the Nuclear Energy Institute, Westinghouse, Edison Electric Institute and the American Petroleum Institute consulted with the committee between six and 19 times. Upwards of 400 executives from 150 corporations and trade associations met with the taskforce from February to May 2001.
The Cheney group did not speak to a single environmentalist during the hearings. Abraham said he didn't have time to meet them, and Cheney's office denied their requests for inclusion.
Cheney and his colleagues emerged with a National Energy Plan in May 2001, which included 100 proposals and led to a massive energy bill with tax breaks for US energy interests estimated by Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation at $23.5bn (£13bn) - a pretty good return on the $44m (£24.5bn) it had donated to the Republicans during the previous year's election.
There wasn't a single line in the energy bill requiring an increase in the fuel efficiency of the nation's 204m passenger vehicles. (Nor, for that matter, was there any mention of global warming.) The plan did include proposals that would have a new power plant built every week for the next 20 years, however. Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who joined the Democrats in eventually getting the legislation watered down, called the bill the "Leave-No-Lobbyist-Behind Act". After its passage, McCain said: "With a half-trillion dollar deficit, we're giving tax credits, for guess who, the [oil] industry in America, which last time I checked was doing really well."
The Bush White House has produced its assault on the environment with little in the way of public scrutiny, which is especially remarkable considering the devastating effects its initiatives will have on America's land, air and water for generations to come. Reports or programmes that the administration must by law announce, but would rather go unnoticed, it gives to low-level officials to deliver.
Environmental enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has plunged under Bush. Since 2001, monthly violation notices - the most important tool against polluters - are down 58% compared with Clinton's monthly average.
Partly as a result, three decades after the passage of the Clean Air Act, almost one in three Americans still breathe air filled with nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, coal dust, mercury, and hundreds of other toxic pollutants. The pollution comes from myriad sources, but within the energy business, the prime culprit is coal, which powers half of the US's electricity and causes 90% of the electric power industry's pollution. Two years after Bush took office, the rollbacks of pollution regulations meant that dirty coal plants that upgraded their facilities would not necessarily have also to upgrade their pollution-control equipment.
This easing of controls has been calculated to cause the release of an additional 1.4m tonnes of air pollution. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that the change in the law will result in 30,000 American deaths.
In December 2002, an alliance of attorneys general from 24 states and attorneys from 30 cities and municipalities sued the EPA, arguing that the new rules would violate the Clean Air Act. A year later, the DC circuit court agreed, for now, and issued a temporary injunction preventing the EPA from implementing the new laws until the case is settled.
Undeterred, Bush announced in 2002 that his Clear Skies initiative would lower most power plant emissions by 70% by the year 2018. In fact, environmental groups all say that Clear Skies targets are dramatically lower than those of the existing Clean Air Act. The EPA produced its own programme for reducing power plant emissions that was much tougher than the White House's plan. The White House rejected this proposal. And Congress rejected the Bush administration's plan. The Clear Skies legislation remains stalled in Congress.
The other major source of air pollution, of course, is motor vehicles. The US has 5% of the world's population and uses between 25% and 30% of the world's oil. (The UK, by comparison, has less than 2% of the world's population and uses 2% of the world's oil.) The US imports 63% of that oil, and more than two-thirds of that foreign oil is burned as transportation fuel. Incredibly, overall fuel economy ratings in the US are worse now than in 1988. By comparison, in Europe, petrol mileage in 1998 was already close to 30 miles per gallon, and now averages almost 35mpg. Japan, by 2002, was averaging more than 34mpg, fast approaching its 2010 goal of 35.5 mpg. Even the Republican-controlled EPA estimates that a three-mile per gallon increase in overall fuel efficiency standards would save Americans $25bn a year in oil costs and reduce annual CO2emissions by 140m tonnes. Why is America so far behind? Simple: the 2.5m SUVs sold every year.
SUVs produce almost 45% more air pollution than average cars. The federal government sets fuel economy standards for new passenger cars at 27.5mpg. But this excludes SUVs, which are not even categorised as "cars"; they are on the books as "light trucks" and therefore only have to average 20.7 mpg. Because of the complexities of the regulations, it is technically possible for SUVs to have fuel efficiency standards as low as 12mpg.
Not only did the White House energy bill not set fuel standards for SUVs, the Republican-led Congress maintained a bill offering a tax benefit that encourages the purchase of the largest, least-efficient brands. If you're in the 35% tax bracket, and you buy a $106,000 Hummer for "business" use, the IRS gives you a refund of $35,000 on the purchase in the first year.
Another of Bush's first-day-in-office moves was to order a moratorium on Clinton-era Clean Water Act regulations controlling the discharge of raw sewage from what the waste industry likes to call "sanitary sewers". By November 2003, the administration took the moratorium a step further when the EPA announced a plan to allow sewage treatment plants to release biologically untreated waste into rivers and other waterways. But only on rainy days.
Clean water has been under systematic attack by the Bush administration, whose policies have sought to remove protection from 20m acres of wetlands and allow mountaintop mining companies to dump their waste directly into waterways.
The Clean Water Act, passed by Congress over Nixon's veto, was established in 1972 not only to regulate the nation's drinking water, but to protect its rivers and lakes for activities such as fishing, swimming and other water sports. According to the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), 30 years later, 75% of Americans live within 10 miles of a polluted river, lake or coastal water.
With water safety standards declining, the administration, ever mindful of the next election, was faced with two options: make water cleaner, or just tell the public its water was cleaner. The Bush White House being the Bush White House, it chose the latter. In early 2004, the EPA's own Office of the Inspector General issued a report that said the agency had repeatedly made false and misleading statements about the purity of the nation's drinking water. In 2002, the EPA claimed that 91% of Americans were drinking safe tapwater. In 2003, it upped the number to 94%. According to the NRDC, scientists within the EPA say the percentage of Americans drinking safe tap- water can be estimated at only 81%.
Much of this pollution is due to insufficiently regulated industrial activity. By the 1980s, mining interests had pretty much given up on traditional coalmines, and had come up with a new technique that involved literally blasting the top off a mountain and then digging straight down. In the Appalachia region of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia, millions of tons of mountaintop waste has buried 1,200 miles of streams.
A September 2003 EPA report finds nearly 300 Clean Water Act violations by the mountaintop mining industry. How does the Bush administration react? It moves to change the law by establishing the Mountaintop Mining Self-Reporting Programme, which would allow the industry to police itself and issue small fines for violations. The mining industry donated $3.3m to the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign and other Republican candidates.
The despoliation of Appalachia is but a portent of things to come if the Bush administration gets its way. Three months after taking office, Bush announced that all public lands, including wilderness areas and national monuments, would be considered for oil and gas drilling. The industry, by the way, donated $46,620,134 to Bush-Cheney, the Republican National Committee and other Republican candidates in the 2000 and 2002 elections, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics.
In order to prevent hundreds of thousands of acres from being placed under the protection of the Wilderness Act, the Bush administration is allowing the gas industry to stockpile leases and drilling permits on 34m acres of public lands in the Rockies, even though oil and gas is being produced on less than one-third of that land. Once an oil and gas company puts a road on a leased parcel, the land can no longer be protected by the Wilderness Act.
It is something of a mystery, however, why the administration has been so fixated on giving up the 19m-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with its 1.5m-acre coastal plain, to oil interests, since 95% of Alaska's North Slope is already open to drilling. Deputy interior secretary Griles has said that opening it up is his "greatest wish". Naturalists have called the ANWR, which is teeming with all manner of vegetation and wildlife, "America's Serengeti". Interior secretary Gale Norton calls it "a flat, white nothingness".
Proponents of drilling in the ANWR coastal plain claim it "may" contain between 6bn and 16bn barrels of recoverable oil. The Geological Survey estimated that the coastal plain could profitably produce 3.2bn barrels of oil - enough for six months' worth of US consumption. In the end, even the Republican-led Senate felt the administration had overreached. It blocked all the White House's proposals for drilling in the ANWR. Bush vowed to keep on trying.
Bush's attitude can be seen in the favours he has done to the logging firms, which donated $6,854,321 to the Bush-Cheney campaign and the Republicans in 2000, and which gave a further $3,617,921 in the 2002 election cycle. Almost a third of the US is covered in forest - some 737m acres. Only around 6% of that is protected by federal law. According to the NRDC, there are already over 380,000 miles of roads that cut through national forests - eight times more than the entire interstate highway system. The Clinton administration, under the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, sought to protect a third of the true wilderness national forest area from further road- building. In its first month in office, the Bush administration set in motion a programme to reverse that plan. Henceforth, the industry would get logging and road-building permits whenever it asked for them.
And the Bush administration has taken its reckless approach to the environment far beyond American shores, not only causing damage to global ecosystems, but also further eroding the US's already spotty reputation as a responsible superpower. In its first three years in office, the Bush White House has rejected, undercut or ignored many of the world's international environmental treaties.
On February 14 2002, the day Bush announced his Clear Skies proposal, he laid out his plans for tackling global warming. "My administration is committed to cutting our nation's greenhouse gas intensity - how much we emit per unit of economic activity - by 18% over the next 10 years." In fact, the proposal's wording and its accounting would allow emissions actually to increase by 14% over the next decade, according to the NRDC - exactly the rate of increase for the previous decade.
The Bush White House inherited an environment that had been all but saved by the Clean Air and Clean Water acts of the 1970s. The administration thus turned its back on more than 30 years' worth of advances in environmental legislation and global treaties in order to reward its campaign backers from the oil and gas industries - from whose ranks of executives so many important government posts have been filled. As with the environment, so it is for everything else: it is difficult to point to a single element of American society which comes under federal jurisdiction that is not worse off than it was an administration ago. One can only hope that this is not to be the story of our times, a terrible dream from which we will one day awake only to realise what we've lost.
Bush by numbers: Four years of double standards
By Graydon Carter
George Bush And his special friend
$60bn Loss to Enron stockholders, following the largest bankruptcy in US history.
$205m Amount Enron CEO Kenneth Lay earned from stock option profits over a four-year period.
$101m Amount Lay made from selling his Enron shares just before the company went bankrupt.
$59,339 Amount the Bush campaign reimbursed Enron for 14 trips on its corporate jet during the 2000 campaign.
30 Length of time in months between Enron's collapse and Lay (whom the President called "Kenny Boy") still not being charged with a crime.
$44m Amount the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign and the Republican National Committee received in contributions from the fossil fuel, chemical, timber, and mining industries.
200 Number of regulation rollbacks downgrading or weakening environmental laws in Bush's first three years in office.
31 Number of Bush administration appointees who are alumni of the energy industry (includes four cabinet secretaries, the six most powerful White House officials, and more than 20 other high-level appointees).
50 Approximate number of policy changes and regulation rollbacks injurious to the environment that have been announced by the Bush administration on Fridays after 5pm, a time that makes it all but impossible for news organisations to relay the information to the widest possible audience.
50 Percentage decline in Environmental Protection Agency enforcement actions against polluters under Bush's watch.
34 Percentage decline in criminal penalties for environmental crimes since Bush took office.
50 Percentage decline in civil penalties for environmental crimes since Bush took office.
$6.1m Amount the EPA historically valued each human life when conducting economic analyses of proposed regulations.
$3.7m Amount the EPA valued each human life when conducting analyses of proposed regulations during the Bush administration.
0 Number of times Bush mentioned global warming, clean air, clean water, pollution or environment in his 2004 State of the Union speech. His father was the last president to go through an entire State of the Union address without mentioning the environment.
1 Number of paragraphs devoted to global warming in the EPA's 600-page "Draft Report on the Environment" presented in 2003.
68 Number of days after taking office that Bush decided Not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases by roughly 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States was to cut its level by 7 per cent.
1 The rank of the United States worldwide in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
25 Percentage of overall worldwide carbon dioxide emissions the United States is responsible for.
53 Number of days after taking office that Bush reneged on his campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
14 Percentage carbon dioxide emissions will increase over the next 10 years under Bush's own global-warming plan (an increase of 30 per cent above their 1990 levels).
408 Number of species that could be extinct by 2050 if the global-warming trend continues.
5 Number of years the Bush administration said in 2003 that global warming must be further studied before substantive action could be taken.
62 Number of members of Cheney's 63-person Energy Task Force with ties to corporate energy interests.
0 Number of environmentalists asked to attend Cheney's Energy Task Force meetings.
6 Number of months before 11 September that Cheney's Energy Task Force investigated Iraq's oil reserves.
2 Percentage of the world's population that is British.
2 Percentage of the world's oil used by Britain.
5 Percentage of the world's population that is American.
25 Percentage of the world's oil used by America.
63 Percentage of oil the United States imported in 2003, a record high.
24,000 Estimated number of premature deaths that will occur under Bush's Clear Skies initiative.
300 Number of Clean Water Act violations by the mountaintop-mining industry in 2003.
750,000 Tons of toxic waste the US military, the world's biggest polluter, generates around the world each Year.
$3.8bn Amount in the Superfund trust fund for toxic site clean-ups in 1995, the Year "polluter pays" fees expired.
$0m Amount of uncommitted dollars in the Superfund trust fund for toxic site clean-ups in 2003.
270 Estimated number of court decisions citing federal Negligence in endangered-species protection that remained unheeded during the first year of the Bush administration.
100 Percentage of those decisions that Bush then decided to allow the government to ignore indefinitely.
68.4 Average Number of species added to the Endangered and Threatened Species list each year between 1991 and 2000.
0 Number of endangered species voluntarily added by the Bush administration since taking office.
50 Percentage of screened workers at Ground Zero who now suffer from long-term health problems, almost half of whom don't have health insurance.
78 Percentage of workers at Ground Zero who now suffer from lung ailments.
88 Percentage of workers at Ground Zero who Now suffer from ear, nose, or throat problems.
22 Asbestos levels at Ground Zero were 22 times higher than the levels in Libby, Montana, where the W R Grace mine produced one of the worst Superfund disasters in US history.
Meanwhile, back at the mine sites...
Abandoned Mine Cleanup Fees Set to Expire
Environmental News Service (ENS)
September 1, 2004
Washington, DC The federal governments authority to collect fees to pay for cleanup of abandoned mines is set to expire on September 30.
Millions of acres of dangerous abandoned mine lands could go unreclaimed and states would be left to foot the bill if Congress fails to reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Fund, Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson said Monday.
Created by Congress in 1977, the AML authorizes fees on mining companies to raise money for clean up of mines abandoned before 1977.
The program has suffered from chronic underfunding and more than 7,000 mines abandoned before 1977 have not been cleaned up - federal officials estimate more than $3 billion is still needed to make these sites safe.
Watson included her remarks in a letter sent to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the House Resources Committee that urged Congress to act quickly on reauthorization.
"If the AML is not reauthorized before September 30th, the significant progress that has been made to date in reclaiming abandoned mine sites will soon come to an end," said Watson. "As a result, more than $2 billion worth of high priority coal reclamation in primacy states will remain unreclaimed, leaving millions of people who live, work and recreate in the nation's coal fields to continue to be exposed to the many dangers these areas present."
Watson says expiration of the fee authority would first and foremost impact the Appalachian coal states, where most of the work of reclaiming abandoned coal mines is left to do.
Funding in other states for emergency reclamation activities, clean streams programs, maintenance for AML inventory, and technical training and support vital to the AML program, will rapidly diminish or cease to exist.
"These are consequences that can and should be avoided," said Watson.
Abandoned mines present a range of hazards to the public these sites have caused fatal landslides, sinkholes, and floods; destroyed homes and land; and poisoned waterways with acid drainage.
Court Halts Auction of Indian Trust Lands
Environmental News Service
September 2, 2004
Washington, DC A federal judge has placed a temporary restaining order on the sale of Indian lands and the subsurface mineral extraction rights beneath them in the case of Elouise Cobell and some 500,000 other American Indian plaintiffs.
Judge Royce Lamberth in the landmark Cobell v. Norton Indian Trust case issued the injunction Monday to stop the Department of Interior (DOI) from selling parcels of the Indian owned land at issue in the case.
"This land and its subsurface rights lie at the heart of the Individual Indian Trust litigation,"said Keith Harper, attorney for the plaintiffs and member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
"Secretary [Gale] Norton is trying to sell the core asset - the land and its natural resources - of this Trust without giving the court or plaintiffs any idea as to whether prudent steps would be taken to ensure that the sale is consummated at fair market value and solely in the best interests of each trust beneficiary."
"This not only violates every principle of trust law, it also directly violates orders of this Court and Interior's own regulations. That is why Judge Lamberth took the appropriate action and stopped this land alienation until there could be assurance that the rights of Indian trust beneficiaries are fully protected in accordance with law." Harper said.
An invitation for bids for the sale of the Indian owned land was issued on July 30, 2004 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The agency set a deadline for submitted bids of September 1, 2004.
Attorneys for the Indians challenged the sale of the oil rich trust land because of the government's failure to ensure that the auction would bring fair market value and that informed consent of each land and mineral owner is obtained.
Interior Department officials have admitted that they would not perform appraisals prior to bidding.
Nor could the Interior officials show that the Indian trust beneficiaries have been provided the information they need to make an informed consent to the sales of their lands.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton "has refused to provide each trust beneficiary with current appraisals and an accurate survey of the trust lands," Harper claims.
Lead plaintiff Cobell said, "We have no desire to curtail the ability of private Indian landowners to sell their land. We fully support their right to do so. The question is whether the government's auction of trust land will ensure that fair market value is paid to each trust beneficiary who chooses to sell his or her land."
Cobell has tried for years to enforce the trust duties that the United States owes to more than 500,000 individual Indian Trust beneficiaries, including the duty to provide an accurate and complete accounting of all revenues derived from mining, grazing, oil and gas exploration and other uses for more than 100 years.
Both the federal district Court and the Court of Appeals have found that the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Treasury have engaged in "malfeasance" in the management of the Individual Indian Trust and "fiscal and governmental irresponsibility in its purest form."
US environmentalist accuses USAID of complicity in environmental cover up
September 8, 2004
Environmental News Service (ENS)
Washington, DC - A former environmental analyst with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will be granted a full hearing to determine whether he should be reinstated and awarded damages, the federal civil service court decided last week.
The ruling by the Merit Systems Protection Board finds that John Fitzgerald, a former USAID analyst responsible for overseeing environmental compliance in multi-national development bank projects, made disclosures of legal violations and mismanagement protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Fitzgerald filed a whistleblower complaint in September 2002 alleging that USAID blocked congressionally mandated environmental reviews for projects financed by multinational banks.
U.S. delegations to international lending institutions - such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund - are forbidden by law from supporting any financial aid to projects that have not undergone environmental review.
The agency charged with monitoring environmental compliance is USAID.
Fitzgerald says USAID ignored its environmental review requirements in response to pressure from U.S. Treasury officials determined to secure approval for financing of questionable energy projects in Africa, South America and Eastern Europe.
His whistleblower complaint specifically charges that USAID Treasury officials removed sections written by Fitzgerald from draft USAID reports to Congress.
These sections showed that: nearly half the money loaned by multilateral development banks received no environmental review at all; many of the reviews are incomplete and do not meet the law's standards; and reviews are often completed after-the-fact, with little consideration of alternatives and are not readily available to outside groups or native populations.
The ruling by the board agreed that these disclosures played a role in the decision to abruptly abolish his position on September 30, 2002.
"This case is about the Bush administration censoring the information available to the Congress and the American people, who are paying for these loans," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which filed Fitzgerald's complaint.
Ruch added that since Fitzgerald's departure the required bi-annual reports to Congress have ceased.
A hearing date has not yet been set.
September 11, 2004
MOAB, Utah - Interior Secretary Gail Norton on Saturday officially withdrew nearly 200 miles of scenic riverways along the Green, Colorado and Dolores rivers in southeastern Utah from the exploration and location of new mining claims.
The order will provide protection for 20 years of 111,895 acres of public lands along 192 miles of river corridor.
The order also helps protect at last 161 prehistoric sites, habitat for six threatened and endangered species and 32 Bureau of Land Management recreation facilities constructed along the Colorado River.
"This order is an additional layer of protection for some of the most prized recreational riverways in the West," Norton said during Saturday's ceremony at the Big Bend Campground, along the Colorado River east of Moab. "This will ensure that the scenic and natural character of these special places is sustained for years to come."
Maggie Wyatt, with the Moab BLM office, said the withdrawal "will help to maintain the outstanding scenery and outdoor recreational opportunities that are vital to the local economy."
River related tourism is one of the main drivers of the economy in southeast Utah.
Each year, more than 120,000 river runners boat the three rivers, and that doesn't count visitors to other BLM, state and national parks or recreational sites, hiking trails and scenic byways.
Retail sales for river outfitting total about $4 million annually, a figure that doesn't take into the economic impact on surrounding communities.
The BLM said interest and economic benefits from recreational use along the three rivers has far eclipsed former uranium and placer gold mining uses.
Bush administration Seeks to Relax Selenium Standards
Poisonous Metal Causes Deformities in Birds
Kennecott USWA newsletter "Copperhead", September 16 2004
According to a report in the Sacamento Bee, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Bush Administration has proposed raising the allowable amount of Selenium to a concentration of 7.91 parts per million in fish, which many government and other scientists could affect waterfowl significantly.
Mining companies like Kennecott, power companies, factories and farmers have been complaining that the current standard of five parts per billion in water is too restrictive.
However, according to the article in the Bee, Joseph Skorupa, a researcher with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says studies show birds lose 10 percent of their offspring after eating food containing four parts per million selenium.
"At eight parts per million, we are talking about a situation where more than 50 percent of the eggs would fail to hatch," said Skorupa, who has investigated selenium poisonings for more than two decades. In recent months, Skorupa and other scientists have been alerting EPA officials to what they call "fatal flaws" in evaluating selenium.
Bush Wilderness Legacy Worst in 40 Years
by Roddy Scheer, Environmental Magazine
According to critics like the Wilderness Society, George W. Bush has distinguished himself as the President most at odds with wilderness preservation since passage of the Wilderness Act 40 years ago. Bush has signed off on adding just 530,000 acres to America's wilderness legacy, the least of any President since Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law in September 1964. Additionally, the Bush White House has lobbied extensively for increasing oil and gas drilling on wilderness lands throughout the nationwide 106-million acre wilderness system.
The Wilderness Society would like to see another 200 million acres, most of it in Alaska, given wilderness designation. A mere five percent of the nation is so protected.
While only Congress has the power to designate wilderness, most such proposals originate with the White House. By definition, pristine parcels of federal land 5,000 acres and larger can be considered for wilderness protection, whereby motorized vehicles and equipmentnot to mention resource extraction and road-buildingare prohibited. The Wilderness Act does allow for camping, hiking, climbing, fishing, hunting, canoeing, horseback riding and livestock grazing in designated wilderness areas.
In 2003, the White House directed the Interior Department to allow resource extraction on lands proposed for wilderness but not yet designated by Congress. Environmental groups are attempting to block the order, but the Interior Department has issued oil and gas leases on tens of thousands of acres, primarily in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
Today nearly five percent of the American land base is designated as wilderness. The smallest parcel is Florida's five-acre Pelican Island, and the largest is the nine million acre Wrangell-Saint Elias area in Alaska. The land Bush has designated for wilderness is mostly in Nevada, with some additional acreage in Colorado.
A coalition of North American environnnental groups claims that the Bush administration's refusal to implement the Clean Air Act is endangering the health of Canadians, through mercury poisoning.
NAFTA Commission Asked to Investigate U.S. Mercury Emissions
Environmental News Service (ENS)
September 17, 2004
MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, - A coalition of American and Canadian environmental groups is using the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to force the United States to reduce its emissions of mercury from coal burning power plants.
The coalition filed a formal complaint with NAFTA's environmental commission on Thursday demanding an investigation into the increase in mercury contamination of U.S. lakes and rivers.
NAFTA's Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is responsible for investigating and reporting on countries that fail to enforce their own environmental laws. The CEC Secretariat, based in Montreal, must now determine if the United States will be asked to respond to the allegations and whether an international investigation is warranted.
The Waterkeeper Alliance and Canada's Sierra Legal Defence Fund, which represent the coalition, allege that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is failing to effectively enforce provisions of the U.S. Clean Water Act against coal-fired power plants, "degrading water bodies and leading to widespread fish consumption restrictions."
Coal-fired power plants like this one emit mercury into the air. (Photo by Phillip Redman courtesy USGS)
U.S. coal burning power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in North America, emitting 43 metric tons each year. Canada emits just 2.5 metric tons.
The Canadians object that they are downwind of the U.S. coal burning facilities. The province of Ontario is next door to Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois, which all rely heavily on coal-fired power, and the prevailing winds carry contaminants into Canada from seven of the 12 worst mercury emitters - power plants in the Ohio Valley.
"We are more exposed to U.S. pollution than many Americans," said Albert Koehl, staff lawyer with Sierra Legal Defence Fund in Toronto.
U.S. coal plants are using our waters as toxic waste dumps, said Robert Kennedy, Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance.
The Bush administrations refusal to enforce the Clean Water Act gives these companies an unfair advantage over their law abiding competitors, our international trade partners under NAFTA," Kennedy said. "We are asking this NAFTA Commission to take action to stop a corporate handout and to protect the health of children in the U.S. and Canada.
Public utilities are increasing their profits at the expense of world health, said Scott Edwards, Waterkeeper Alliance Legal Director. The international health crisis caused by lax enforcement of mercury emissions is the very type of practice the CEC was created to address.
The coalition maintains that mercury is contaminating an increasing number of fish. In the past decade, the number of U.S. states issuing warnings against eating fish because of mercury poisoning jumped from 27 to 45.
Over the same period, the number of mercury related fish consumption advisories issued for particular waterbodies more than doubled. One-third of all U.S. lakes and hundreds of thousands of river miles are affected by these advisories today.
Trout caught in the Great Lakes which are bordered by the United States in the south and Canada to the north. Great Lakes fish are increasingly contaminated. (Photo courtesy U.S. EPA)
Mercury released by power plants lands in lakes, rivers, and coastal waters where it is converted to methylmercury, its most toxic form. It is a toxic, persistant pollutant that accumulates in the food chain and builds up in fish and animal tissues. People are exposed to mercury primarily by eating fish.
"Mercury, in massive amounts, goes up into the air from U.S. coal-fired power plants. Gravity brings that mercury back down, much of it in our treasured lakes and streams, said Koehl. "We don't expect U.S. EPA to interfere with the laws of gravity but we do expect them to enforce the laws that protect our shared water resources from contamination."
The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury, according to the U.S. government's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Methylmercury and metallic mercury vapors are more harmful than other forms, because more mercury in these forms reaches the brain, the agency says.
"Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus. Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems."
Earlier this year the CDC issued a finding that one in 12 U.S. women of childbearing age has blood mercury levels at or in excess of what is considered safe by the EPA.
In the province of Ontario, 98 percent of all fish consumption restrictions for inland lakes are due to mercury contamination. It is estimated that 38 percent of mercury deposition in the Canadian portion of the Great Lakes originates from U.S. sources. Most of the rest is from international sources, the Canadians say.
Signatories to the petition include the Centre for Environmentally Sustainable Development, Earthroots, Friends of the Earth Canada and Friends of the Earth U.S., Great Lakes United / Union Saint-Laurent, Grands Lacs, Pollution Probe, the Sierra Club in the U.S. and in Canada, and the Waterkeeper Alliance.
The Commission for Environmental Cooperation is showing an interest in the issue of transboundary mercury pollution. A CEC report on industrial pollution issued in June says that 64 percent (43,384 kg) of mercury air emissions in North America came from coal-fired power plants in 2001. The CEC published an article on mercury pollution in the Summer 2004 issue of its newsletter "Trio."
American Electric Power Company's coal burning power plant in Conesville, Ohio, released 413 kilograms of mercury into the air in 2001. It ranked 11th in North America. (Photo courtesy CEC)
The environmental groups are opposed to the U.S. EPA's new direction for dealing with mercury emissions, espoused by the Bush administration. On December 15, 2003, the EPA signed the Utility Mercury Reductions proposal would cut mercury emissions by nearly 70 percent when fully implemented, but environmentalists point out that will not happen until 2018.
If the Clean Air Act were enforced instead, they say, the mercury would disappear from the environment at least a decade before that.
The EPA proposed two alternatives for controlling mercury. One approach would require power plants to install controls known as maximum achievable control technology under the Clean Air Act. If implemented, this proposal would reduce nationwide mercury by 14 tons or about 30 percent by early 2008, says EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt.
A second approach proposed by EPA would create a market-based "cap and trade" program that, if implemented, would reduce nationwide utility emissions of mercury in two phases. When fully implemented mercury emissions would be reduced by 33 tons, nearly 70 percent.
Miners' Health Funded Even if Abandoned Mine Fee Expires
Environmental News Service (ENS)
September 22, 2004
WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) has published a final rule to enable the agency to continue collecting fees to help cover the costs of health benefits for coal miners even if Congress allows the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fee to expire September 30.
Under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, the agency's authority to continue collecting fees to pay for reclamation of abandoned coal mines will expire on September 30 unless reauthorized or extended.
"This is a precaution we have to take," said Jeff Jarrett, OSM director. "We are continuing to work for reauthorization of the AML reclamation fee, but time is running out and we have a responsibility to make sure we can continue to transfer funds to the United Mine Workers of America's Combined Benefit Fund (CBF) even if Congress allows the reclamation fee to expire."
The Act also provides that even if the AML fee expires, operators must continue to pay fees to fund annual transfers to the Combined Benefit Fund . Under act, transfers can take place only in years in which operators pay fees.
Because collections would no longer be used to reclaim abandoned mine lands and would only fund the Combined Benefit Fund, the fees would be lower than current fees.
The United Mine Workers of America fund provides medical benefits for 17,394 coal miners living in 45 states who worked for companies that no longer exist. States with the most miners receiving benefits are Pennsylvania (4,935), West Virginia (3,957), Kentucky (2,507), Virginia (1,200) and Ohio (883).
The Bush administration has proposed legislation to extend the Office of Surface Mining's authority to collect the fee for abandoned mine lands (AML) reclamation and to change the distribution of AML funds so that more of the fees being collected would go to the worst AML problems.
If Congress reauthorizes the AML reclamation fee before it expires September 30, the rule OSM is publishing will not be needed immediately. But if Congress does not act before the fee expires, the necessary rules will be in place to ensure that fee collection and transfers to the mine workers' fund continue.
Because of the urgent need to have a rule in place before the date that the current reclamation fee rates expire, OSM is invoking the "good cause" exemptions of the Administrative Procedure Act and is adopting the rules immediately on an final basis without prior notice or opportunity for public comment. Still, OSM is also publishing a proposed rule inviting the public to comment on the final rules after publication. OSM will evaluate those comments and if necessary publish a revised final rule.
Title IV of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) created an abandoned mine reclamation program funded by a fee assessed on each ton of coal used, sold, or transferred - 35 cents for surface-mined coal, 15 cents for coal from underground mines, and 10 cents for lignite.
Money from these fees is placed in a fund, which, subject to appropriation, is used to reclaim lands and waters adversely impacted by mining conducted before the enactment of SMCRA and to mitigate the adverse impacts from these sites on individuals and communities.
Montana tribes oppose return to cyanide mining
September 14, 2004
by: Brenda Norrell / Southwest Staff Reporter / Indian Country Today
FORT BELKNAP, Mont. - While the Bush administration pressed for a record number of oil and gas leases in the West, American Indians in Montana opposed new legislation that would permit mining companies to return to cyanide leach gold mining.
Montana Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, said American Indians have a sacred responsibility to protect nature and points out the water and soil has already been poisoned by cyanide leach mining in Montana.
"It is the fight that we have to do to protect nature, what was left here for us. We don't own anything; it is not our place to tear up what does not belong to us.
"We don't even own our lives; we are here only on borrowed time. It is up to us as humans to protect what was put here for us to protect," Windy Boy told Indian Country Today.
Windy Boy, Rocky Boy Chippewa-Cree tribal councilman, opposes new legislation, Initiative 147, which would repeal Montana's ban on cyanide leach gold and silver mining, if passed by voters in November. Although the new legislation adds some environmental protections, tribal members say it is not enough.
Windy Boy pointed out that Zortman-Landusky Gold Mines declared bankruptcy, leaving behind poisoned streams for Montana tribes and an enormous clean-up bill for Montana taxpayers.
Zortman-Landusky Gold Mines were operated by Pegasus Gold Corporation in the Little Rocky Mountains, at the southeast end of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Fort Belknap Reservation.
Catherine Halver, 74-year-old Gros Ventre tribal member in Lodgepole, helped lead the fight to halt cyanide leach mining, which destroyed burial grounds and poisoned streams.
"Most of our water is contaminated and will be for years and years to come because of the way they were mining," said Halver, vice-chairman of the local Native grassroots group Island Mountain Protectors.
Spirit Mountain was destroyed before the mining operations of Zortman-Landusky Gold Mines were halted. "A lot of our ancestors in the past used this mountain for vision quests and prayers. That was a very sacred mountain to our people. Now you go up there and it is just a little pile of rubble.
"It really affects the old people; a lot of our burial sites were destroyed. There were people buried all over that mountain. They were just digging up the dead."
Halver lives 15 miles from the mine sites and cyanide waters flow by, down Little Warm Creek, through her property. She had the water tested and cyanide was found years ago; now it is too expensive to have the test performed again. "The mine always said it would come out and test it and they never did."
Urging voters to oppose I-147, she said, "Do not bring it in! We have got contaminated water running into our reservation every day. We have to live with all this destruction. Everything needs water.
"Who is stuck with all this contamination? It is the Native Americans. It has affected our Native roots we use for medicine." Along with the medicine roots, she said tribal members wonder how much cyanide is in their sage and chokecherries. "We don't know if it contaminated our berries and no one is helping us find out.
"It has affected our way of living, our soil, the water, everything. The list goes on and on of the destruction. It will never in our lifetimes be cleaned up. The mining companies will say they are going to reclaim it, they claim there are new processes with new technology that they will use, but they are not going to use those, because they are too expensive."
The cyanide spills and groundwater contamination from acid mine drainage from the Zortman-Landusky were documented. In 1982, 780 gallons of cyanide-tainted solution leaked from a containment pond when a section of piping used in the mine's cyanide sprinkling system ruptured and released 52,000 gallons of cyanide solution onto lands and into creeks. There were at least eight other cyanide spills.
Julie King, Assiniboine of Fort Belknap, remembered playing in those same mountains as a child in north central Montana. She said the waters no longer flow the way they did where the family fished when she was a child. Now, they have been diverted.
Opposing passage of I-147, she said her concern is the contamination of the groundwater. King said American Indians and other residents are always promised reclamation after mining, but there is no way to reclaim lost living creatures.
Pegasus' Zortman-Landusky Gold Mines were sued under the Clean Water Act and faced a $36 million clean-up settlement in 1996. The company declared bankruptcy in 1998.
Windy Boy said Zortman-Landusky made more than $250 billion before declaring bankruptcy. Now, the cost of cyanide leach mining cleanup is projected to be $60 million and required into perpetuity.
"The state has determined that water treatment will be required forever." Further, he said very few tribal members in Montana ever benefited from the jobs, often claimed in publicity to support the push for new mining.
Tribal members in Montana say the devastation is not worth it. During cyanide leach mining, a cyanide solution is trickled over crushed rock. After the gold dissolves into the cyanide, it is recaptured and processed to extract the metal.
The new legislation, I-147 to overturn Montana's ban on cyanide leach gold mining, is backed by the mining industry, which raised more than $1 million to press for passage. Of $1,057,805, 97 percent came from cash and in-kind contributions from Canyon Resources Corporation of Golden, Colo., which has joined forces with a Montana mining group.
"The people of Montana have made it abundantly clear that they want the opportunity to vote on I-147," said Tammy Johnson, campaign manager for Miners, Merchants and Montanans for Jobs and Economic Opportunity.
Windy Boy, however, urges American Indians to get out and vote against I-147 in Montana, pointing out that their vote can make a difference. "The Native vote has made a big difference in a number of key races."
Now, with drilling and mining leases at a record high, the last pristine wildernesses of the West are at risk.
Windy Boy points out waterways in the West are already contaminated with high levels of PCBs and mercury. Fish in many areas have been found unsafe for human consumption and PH levels in water near cyanide leach mines are the equivalent of battery acid.
"Montana is the last of the Western frontier," Windy Boy said, pointing out the purity of the water in the region's aquifer.
"This water is the purest in the world. If the aquifer becomes polluted, we might as well kiss our human existence goodbye."
©2004 Indian Country Today
CEC receives submission on mercury emissions from US power plants
Montreal, 21 September 2004
On 20 September 2004, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America (CEC) received a citizen submission asserting that the United States is failing to effectively enforce the federal Clean Water Act against coal-fired power plants for mercury emissions that are allegedly degrading thousands of rivers, lakes and other waterbodies across the United States.
The Secretariat received the submission Coal-fired Power Plants, SEM 04-005) from Friends of the Earth Canada, Friends of the Earth-US, Earthroots, Centre for Environmentally Sustainable Development, Great Lakes United, Pollution Probe, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Sierra Club (US and Canada).The submitters assert that the number of fish consumption advisories for mercury has risen from 899 to 2347 since 1993, and that, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 35% of the total lake acres and 24% of the river miles in the US are now under fish consumption advisories. They contend that the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) "is allowing both nonpoint and point source discharges of mercury from coal-fired power plants that are contributing to a steady degradation of the nation's waterways as evidenced by increasing mercury fish advisories and the effective withdrawal of existing uses (fishable) of many of these water bodies." According to the Submitters, these discharges include both air emissions of mercury that fall back to the earth in the form of precipitation or as dry particles and direct discharges to water.
The submitters assert that mercury discharges to air and water contravene provisions of the Clean Water Act enacted to prevent degradation of national waters, in National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) provisions under section 402 of the CWA and Water Quality Standards provisions under section 303 of the CWA. They assert that the United States, through the EPA, is failing to effectively enforce these provisions by issuing NPDES permits or delegating the issuance of State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permits that allow for ongoing point source discharges of mercury into US waterways; approving inadequate state antidegradation policies and implementation procedures that fail to safeguard water bodies; and failing to use its authority to require states to pass Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for mercury where WQS are not being met or a beneficial use has been lost, and to issue its own TMDLs where state action is inadequate.
The Secretariat of the CEC is analyzing the submission to determine whether it meets the requirements of Article 14 of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC).
The citizen submissions mechanism of the CEC enables the public to play a whistle-blower role on matters of environmental law enforcement. Under Article 14 of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), any person or nongovernmental organization may submit a claim alleging that a NAFTA partner has failed to effectively enforce its environmental law. Following a review of the submission, the CEC may investigate the matter and pursue a factual record of its findings.
Last week, George Bush tried defending his administration's environmental "policies" in terms which would have left a five-year old gasping...
Presidential Debaters Clash on Environment
October 11, 2004
Environmental News Service (ENS)
WASHINGTON, DC - The response of President George W. Bush to a debate question about his environmental record was met with disbelief by his challenger, the Democratic nominee Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts at the second of three presidential debates Friday night in St. Louis.
In keeping with the Town Hall meeting format for the debate, the environmental question was put by audience member James Hubb, who asked, "Mr. President, how would you rate yourself as an environmentalist? What specifically has your administration done to improve the condition of our nation's air and water supply?"
The President said his administration has proposals on the table to reduce pollution from off-road diesel engines, increase the wetlands, fix inner city brownfields, and "a Clear Skies Initiative to reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury by 70 percent."
"Over time technology is going to change the way we live for the good for the environment," said the President. "That's why I proposed a hydrogen automobile - hydrogen-generated automobile. We're spending $1 billion to come up with the technologies to do that."
"That's why I'm a big proponent of clean coal technology, to make sure we can use coal but in a clean way," he said. "I guess you'd say I'm a good steward of the land."
"The quality of the air's cleaner since I've been the President. Fewer water complaints since I've been the President. More land being restored since I've been the President," Bush said.
"Boy, to listen to that," exclaimed Kerry. "The President, I don't think, is living in a world of reality with respect to the environment."
"When it comes to the issue of the environment, this is one of the worst administrations in modern history," Kerry charged.
"The Clear Skies bill that he just talked about, it's one of those Orwellian names you pull out of the sky, slap it onto something, like 'No Child Left Behind' but you leave millions of children behind. Here they're leaving the skies and the environment behind."
"If they just left the Clean Air Act all alone the way it is today, no change, the air would be cleaner than it is if you pass the Clear Skies act. We're going backwards," Kerry said. "They're going backwards on the definition for wetlands. They're going backwards on the water quality," said Kerry.
Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for President, called the Bush administration the worst ever for the environment.
"They pulled out of the global warming [agreement], declared it dead, didn't even accept the science," Kerry challenged. "I'm going to be a President who believes in science."
The leaders of Environment 2004, a Democratic environmental advocacy organization, which could be expected to back Kerry's position, does so because, they say, the President's assertions contained "numerous inaccuracies" and amounted to a "gross misrepresentation of the President's real record."
The group released a detailed comparison of Bush's representation of his record during the debate compared with what has actually taken place. Environment2004 counted more than 350 actions of past administrations to protect the environment that have been rolled back by the Bush administration, and they accuse the President of "abandoning the Republican party's conservationist roots dating back to Teddy Roosevelt."
President Bush said, "Off-road diesel engines - we have reached an agreement to reduce pollution from off-road diesel engines by 90 percent."
Environment2004 points out that the decision the president was referring to was originally proposed under the Clinton administration.
Then the President said, "I've got a plan to increase the wetlands by three million [acres]."
Environment2004 reminds voters that, in October, 2001, President Bush's administration reversed the policy his father, President George H.W. Bush, called "no net loss" of wetlands. This means that for every acre of wetlands destroyed by development, at least one more acre would be created.
Yet in 2003, the Bush administration announced its intent to eliminate Clean Water Act protections for isolated waters that are not connected to a navigable waterway, "threatening the ecological health of 20 million acres of wetlands, and rivers and steams nationwide that would lose protection of their headwaters," Environment2004 says.
Following a meeting with hunters and anglers groups, Bush announced that he would reinstate the no net loss of wetlands policy, yet he has not withdrawn the new rule to eliminate wetlands protections. His administration has weakened the environmental standards for general permits to fill wetlands and streams, Environment2004 says.
On the Clear Skies Initiative, Environment2004 says the proposal "would allow five times as much mercury into the environment from dirty coal-burning power plants as the current Clean Air Act would allow for at least 10 years longer, through the year 2018 - 26 tons a year versus five tons - and three times as much mercury after that - 15 tons a year versus five tons."
Even Republicans agree with Environment2004's assessment of George w. Bush's environmental record as President. In an Op-Ed piece in the New Hampshire newspaper, the "Concord Monitor," published on September 23, 2004, two prominent Republicans criticized the President's "sorry environmental record."
"Except in a few instances," they write, "the environmental policies of the Bush administration are a disgrace."
"The administration's policies to promote energy, mining and timber interests with little regard for the interests of common citizens represent a throwback to an era of exploitation," write Train and Russman. "The administration's assault on the environment has increased pollution and health threats in New Hampshire, according to a report by Environment2004."
"The administration weakened the Clean Air Act to allow aging power plants to continue spewing sulfur, mercury and other contaminants into the skies," write Train and Russman. "These end up in New Hampshire's air and waters. This pollution from Midwestern power plants and other sources forms smog that threatens the 65,000 New Hampshire residents who suffer from asthma. It falls as acid rain that damages New Hampshire's forests and waters."
"Mercury pollution has forced New Hampshire to establish a fish consumption advisory that covers all its lakes and rivers. Infants, children, pregnant women and women of child-bearing age are particularly vulnerable to mercury. Mercury affects a child's ability to learn, most notably impairing memory, attention and fine motor function," Train and Russman write.
On Friday night during the debate, President Bush responded to the environmental question by saying, "We proposed and passed a Healthy Forest Bill, which was essential to working with, particularly in Western states, to make sure that our forests were protected."
"What happens in those forests because of lousy federal policy, is they grow to be, they, they are, they're not harvested," he stammered. "They're not taken care of. And as a result, they're like tinderboxes. And over the last summers, I've flown over there. And so this is a reasonable policy to protect old stands of trees and at the same time make sure our forests aren't vulnerable to the forest fires that have destroyed acres after acres in the West."
But in reality, Environment2004 says, "The Bush administration has launched a three-pronged attack on our National Forests for the benefit of timber companies that engage in unsustainable logging practices which cannot support long term jobs."
It has dismantled the Roadless Rule, which was to protect 58.5 million acres of America's last remaining wild, but unprotected National Forests from logging and road building.
It has eliminated protection for old growth-dependent species and salmon in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, making it easier for logging to take place there.
Its "misleadingly named Healthy Forest Initiative" threatens the national forests by reducing the level of environmental analysis and public participation required for logging projects on 20 million acres. In fact this initiative does little to protect communities from wildfires, since it allows logging to continue targeting the largest, most valuable trees.
Experts say logging can increase the intensity and frequency of forest fires because logging debris is highly flammable, logging roads allow people into forests where arson or accident is a frequent cause of fires, and logging dries out forests, Environment2004 points out as have many environmental and forest conservation groups.
During Friday night's debate, the President defended his much criticized decision not to send the Kyoto climate protocol to the U.S. Senate for ratification. Signed under the Clinton administration, the agreement limits the emission of greenhouse gases linked to global warming by industrialized countries.
The United States is the world's biggest greenhouse gas polluter, but the President defended his position, saying, "Well, had we joined the Kyoto treaty, which I guess he's referring to, it would have cost America a lot of jobs." "It's one of these deals where, in order to be popular in the halls of Europe, you sign a treaty. But I thought it would cost a lot - I think there's a better way to do it."
Kerry replied by saying, "The fact is that the Kyoto treaty was flawed. I was in Kyoto, and I was part of that. I know what happened. But this president didn't try to fix it. He just declared it dead, ladies and gentlemen, and we walked away from the work of 160 nations over 10 years."
That is why it is that people in some parts of the world do not like the United States, Kerry said. "The president's done nothing to try to fix it. I will."
The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has given the Bush administration a failing grade on environmental performance. "Deceptively named initiatives such as 'Healthy Forests' and 'Clear Skies,' mask the Bush administration's agenda of allowing industry to increase their profits at the expense of environmental protection and public health, the LCV said. "In particular, the Bush administration has attacked, weakened or undermined laws providing clean air, clean water, and toxic waste cleanups."
Lead Hazard Control Funded for Lower Income Housing
September 30, 2004
Environmental News Service (ENS)
WASHINGTON, DC - Grant funding of nearly $168 million to remove toxic lead from lower income homes and raise public awareness of the dangers posed by lead was announced Monday by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson.
"Every family deserves a safe and healthy home to raise their children," said Jackson. "The funding we announce today will help protect children from dangerous lead, fund important research into healthier housing and will create other public and private investment to improve the living conditions of thousands of homes."
Lead paint is no longer used in the United States, but it still exists in older homes. Lead is present in batteries, solder, ammunition, and roofing materials.
For children five years old and younger, lead levels of 10 micrograms or more in a deciliter of blood can damage their ability to learn. A microgram is one millionth of a gram. A deciliter is about half a cup of liquid.
At levels higher than 10 micrograms per deciliter, lead can damage people's kidneys and reproductive systems. At very high levels, lead poisoning can cause mental retardation, coma, convulsions, and death.
The grants awarded this week will fund 72 local projects in 28 states.
More than $145 million will be spent to eliminate lead paint hazards in thousands of privately owned, low income housing units.
HUD's Lead Elimination Action Program will provide $8.9 million to stimulate private sector investment in lead hazard control.
In addition, $1.9 million in Lead Outreach grants will be spent to support public education campaigns on the hazards of lead-based paint and what parents, building owners and others can do to protect children.
Grants totalling $1.7 million will assist local research institutions to study ways to drive down the cost and increase the effectiveness of lead hazard identification and control. HUD is also investing more than $2.6 million to support scientific research into new ways of identifying and eliminating health hazards in housing.
The funding includes more than $6.7 million in demonstration grants to identify and eliminate housing conditions that contribute to children's disease and injury, such as asthma, lead poisoning, mold exposure, and carbon monoxide contamination.
While the Bush administration claims to be using "regulation" rather than litigation to control US pollutive industry, its been doing neither. A new report shows that environmental lawsuits have actually been cut back by an astounding 75% - and more - under the current regime.
Polluters Face Fewer Lawsuits Under Bush EPA
By J.R. Pegg, Environmental News Service (ENS)
October 14, 2004
WASHINGTON, DC - The Bush administration has not vigorously enforced the nation's key environmental laws and has allowed polluters to escape litigation over alleged violations, according to a former top enforcement official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"The Department of Justice and the EPA have gotten shy about taking polluters to court lately," said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former head of the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement.
Schaeffer, who resigned from the EPA in 2002 in protest of the Bush administration's air pollution policies, has emerged as a constant thorn in the side of the administration.
His organization has released a slew of reports blasting the Bush administration's environmental policies - this latest study directly compares the enforcement track record of the first three years of the Bush administration with the final three years of the Clinton administration.
The review of publicly available data "shows that civil lawsuits for violation of anti-pollution laws have declined more than 75 percent," said Schaeffer, who blamed "White House decisions to rewrite environmental rules and put the brakes on enforcement actions" for the decline.
The Environmental Integrity Project report finds that the Justice Department filed 36 lawsuits against companies for violations of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and federal hazardous waste laws in the first three years of the Bush administration.
The Bush administration has moved to ease clean air rules for the nation's oldest and dirtiest power plants. (Photo courtesy NASA)
This compares with 152 lawsuits filed in the last three years of the Clinton administration against companies for violations of the same environmental laws.
EPA Press Secretary Cynthia Bergman called the report "an inaccurate characterization of our enforcement efforts."
The number of new lawsuits is not a key indicator for the success of the nation's pollution laws, Bergman said, and "enforcement is just one tool in our clean energy strategy."
Bergman said the administration is focused on regulatory - rather than litigious - solutions to improve the nation's environment.
"There is an ongoing tension among environmental professionals on the respective benefits of litigation as a means of reducing pollution and those who believe in creating a mandatory market-based approach," she said.
The Environmental Integrity Project report adds to the conflicting pictures of the Bush administration's record on enforcement of environmental laws.
Last week the U.S. Justice Department touted fiscal year 2004 as a record breaking year for environmental enforcement, with polluters agreeing to spend more than $4 billion to remedy shortcomings and actions that harmed public health and the environment.
These actions include a recent $320 million Clean Air Act settlement with oil giant Citgo and a landmark $3.1 million Clean Water Act settlement with retailer Wal-Mart.
"We are steadfast in our mission to require polluters to take corrective measures that will protect the public health and environment and to pay for the consequences of their non- compliance," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Sansonetti.
But that announcement came on the heels of a report by the EPA's Inspector General that blasted the administration's enforcement of the Clean Air Act's New Source Review provision, which governs the nation's oldest and dirtiest power plants.
The EPA Inspector General found the Bush administration's revisions to New Source Review have "seriously hampered EPA settlement activities, existing enforcement cases, and the development of future cases" against coal-fired electric utilities.
The Inspector General's report echoed many complaints of the Bush rule revision made by environmentalists, public health advocates and state pollution control officers.
It is utilities that have benefited the most from the Bush administration, environmentalists say. Last November, the agency's enforcement staff was told to "set aside" investigations against more than 70 power companies.
President George W. Bush has touted the economic benefits of his environmental policies, in particular his revisions to clean air regulations. (Photo by Tina Hager courtesy White House)
The agency had earlier referred 14 cases against power companies to the Justice Department for prosecution, but only one new case has been filed since January of 2001. According to EIP's report, enforcement actions under the Clean Air Act have dropped dramatically - with only nine suits filed by the EPA during the Bush years, compared to 51 filed in the final three years of the Clinton administration.
"What is disturbing is that while EPA and the Department of Justice have completed some of the cases they inherited, very few new enforcement actions are being taken," the EIP report says. "Companies that refuse to settle voluntarily are now much less likely to be taken to court."
Bush officials contend they are working to settle or litigate existing suits against more than 20 power companies and note that only one New Source Review settlement was finalized under the Clinton administration.
Environmentalists, however, have been less than pleased with some of the settlements brokered by the Bush administration for alleged New Source Review violations. A widely touted $600 million settlement with Wisconsin Electric Power Company, announced in April 2003, was stayed last month by a federal judge.
Local and national public interest groups are challenging the settlement because it does not require the company to clean up two of the five power plants that allegedly violated the law.
Judge Blocks Limestone Mine in Florida Panther Habitat
By J.R. Pegg, ENS
August 23, 2004
WASHINGTON, DC A federal judge has revoked a federal permit for a Florida limestone mine because of concerns about the impact on habitat used by the critically endangered Florida panther.
Environmentalists hailed the ruling as an important victory for a species in serious peril - only 78 adult Florida panthers are believed to remain in the wild.
The decision issued Friday by Judge James Robertson invalidates a development permit approved by the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers for the Florida Rock Industry mine outside Fort Meyers in Florida's Lee County.
Three conservation groups contested the permit in June 2003, citing concerns that neither the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nor the Army Corps had fully considered the impact of the mine development on panther habitat.
They argued the planned development of the 6,000 acre site would either ruin or fragment habitat needed for the species to survive.
The site is within an area that has been identified by federal and state wildlife officials as Florida panther habitat.
One radio collared panther was recorded on the site of the proposed mine site in May 2001 and four others were recorded within two miles of the site.
Conservationists worry the Florida panther recovery effort is being undermined by decisions that offer little protection for the species long-term future. (Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth courtesy Fish and Wildlife Service)
The Fish and Wildlife Service said the proposed mine would not jeopardize the survival of the species - the Army Corps issued a "dredge and fill" permit based on that "no jeopardy" finding.
Judge Robertson ruled that the finding reached by the Fish and Wildlife Service was "arbitrary and capricious."
In his decision, the jduge said the agency "failed to provide a proper analysis of the cumulative impact of development upon the panther."
Judge Robertson remanded both decisions for reconsideration with the requirement that cumulative impacts of development be considered.
Neither agency had immediate comment on the decision - the ruling does allow the company to reapply for the permit.
"The Corps and the Wildlife Service have been acting in concert for years by basically rubber stamping development permits in panther habitat," said John Kostyack, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation, one of the plaintiffs in the suit.
"For the panther, it has meant a death by a thousand cuts, as more and more land is carved out of the cat's essential habitat," Kostyack said. "The court is saying these agencies must take off the blinders and look honestly at what their cumulative decisions mean for panther survival."
There is no doubt the future is bleak for the Florida panther - the species was listed as endangered under federal law in 1967. Once found throughout the southeastern United States, the species has been decimated by hunting and habitat destruction over the past two centuries.
Currently the single confirmed reproducing population of 78 Florida panthers exists only within a 2.2 million acre range in south Florida.
The primary threat to the species is habitat loss and fragmentation - a problem that has worsened as development in Southwest Florida has boomed in recent decades. And it is unlikely to improve. Some 50 percent of occupied panther habitat now consists of private lands and much of this lies in three Florida counties - Lee, Collier and Henry.
Recent housing research indicates Lee and Collier are among the top four hottest housing markets in the country.
Conservationists have long questioned the federal government's commitment to saving the Florida panther and their concerns have been echoed by a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.
In May biologist Andrew Eller, Jr. filed a complaint against the agency for knowingly using flawed science in its assessment of the habitat and population of the endangered Florida panther.
Eller said the Fish and Wildlife Service knowingly uses faulty studies to inflate the Florida panther population and minimize the species' habitat needs in order to put the interests of developers ahead of one of the nation's most endangered species.
Eller has worked as a Fish and Wildlife biologist for 17 years and has spent the past decade working in the Florida panther recovery program
In a July 7 response to Eller's complaint, the Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that "despite being published in peer reviewed scientific journals, some of the information you are challenging has, over time, been determined to have limitations."
But the agency said it would keep relying on flawed data until 2006.
By that time critics fear several major developments in Southwest Florida may be approved for construction within shrinking panther habitat.
On July 13, the Fish and Wildlife Service served Eller with a notice of proposed termination for "unacceptable" performance.
Citizens Petition New York Attorney General to Open 9-11 Inquiry
October 29, 2004
Environmental News Service (ENS)
New York - Jenna Orkin, who chairs the World Trade Center Environmental Organization, is one of five New York City citizens who signed a complaint and petition Thursday demanding that the New York State Attorney General open a criminal inquiry and/or a grand jury investigation into unsolved crimes of September 11, 2001 over which he has jurisdiction.
In the Office of the Attorney General at 120 Broadway, Chief Investigator William Casey Thursday accepted the complaint and petition on behalf of New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
At a press conference Thursday to explain the reasoning behind their complaint and petition, Orkin predicted that those who will die of exposure to toxic dust from the destroyed World Trade Center towers will ultimately "far exceed" the 2,626 people who died in New York City on the day of the attacks.
Orkin said there is "strong evidence" suggesting that the Executive Office of the President was responsible for last minute changes to a press re;ease issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that confirmed the safety of the air in lower Manhattan, clearing the way for the re- opening of Wall Street. "Here it appears that the government was willing to sacrifice the lives of Americans for purely economics ends," she said.
To support their demand for a new investigation, the complainants cite the findings of an August 30 Zogby poll that found 49 percent of New York City residents and 41 percent of New Yorkers overall believe "there was official foreknowledge and conscious acceptance of the 9/11 attacks."
Sixty-six percent of city residents and 56 percent overall want a new investigation, the pollsters found.
"These findings are stunning," the complaint states, "and provide conclusive evidence that the People of New York are not satisfied that official investigations and news media have adequately addressed the truth of the events of that fateful day."
"Nearly half of New Yorkers believe that serving U.S. leaders deliberately permitted the killing of thousands of Americans by foreign enemies. If that is the case, the responsible officials would be guilty of both mass murder and treason, as well as conspiring to inflict untold suffering upon the people of New York and violating a host of New York State laws, in addition to federal terrorist, treason and other laws. However, no independent official investigation into these alarming, recurring and evidentially plausible allegations has ever been held or is now contemplated," the complaint states.
The complainants are looking to Spitzer for "a fearless independent inquiry" and, "where fault and liability is found, recovery of the billions of dollars of resulting damages that have been sustained and continue to accrue."
The lead complainants include Bob McIlvaine, who lost his son Robert in the World Trade Center collapse; Patricia Perry, who lost her son John, a New York City Police officer; and Dr. Faiz Khan, Ground Zero triage physician, and ambulance first responder.
Megan Bartlett, founder of Ground Zero for Peace, who was recently hospitalized with malignant reactions to toxic World Trade Center dust and unable to attend, is the fourth complainant.
The fifth is William Rodriguez, a World Trade Center maintenance worker who single-handedly rescued 15 people on September 11, 2001, according to his attorney, Philip Berg, a former deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania.
On October 22, Rodriguez, represented by Berg, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia against President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act for their actions in connection with September 11, 2001.
The Rodriguez lawsuit is parallel to the New York complaint in that it alleges that the defendants and others were "complicit in the 9-11 attacks, and either planned the attacks, or had foreknowledge of the attacks and permitted them to succeed," in order to exploit a "New Pearl Harbor" to launch wars against Afghanistan and Iraq.
Berg explains that the phrase "New Pearl Harbor" comes from a declaration of principles by the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century, in which it is proposed as an event needed to steel American public opinion to support the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and support U.S. military domination of the Middle East.
Berg acknowledges that these legal actions will shock and offend many Americans. He urges people to read the detailed complaint posted on the Internet at: www911forthetruth.com, before forming any conclusions.
Rodriguez said he felt that he must learn the truth of what happened on September 11 because he survived when so many others did not. "If what the government has told us about 9-11 is a lie," he says, "somebody has to take action to reveal the truth. Since that plane hit the North Tower on 9- 11, like it or not, my life's meaning has become to reduce the number of victims, and the amount of suffering from those attacks. If suing President Bush is what I have to do to accomplish that, so be it."
With respect to the citizens complaint accepted by Casey in New York, it is signed by five complainants now, but more are expected to sign on in the future, the complainants' attorneys said.
Attorney Carolyn Betts, legal consultant for the complaint, observed that this is the first citizens' complaint filed with a state's attorney general that would become what she called a "living document," an evolving compilation of argument and evidence posted on the Internet in full public view.
The complainant group vowed to press their case regardless of upcoming election results, insisting that the search for 9/11 truth, justice and accountability is hardly a partisan concern, as shown by the Tuesday release of the 9/11 Truth Statement, available online at: http://tinyurl.com/3jg4x.
The 9/11 Truth Statement also demands deeper new investigations and is signed by 100 prominent Americans spanning every faith and party, including former Republican officials, military officers, and three presidential candidates.
The Justice for 9/11 Steering Committee includes representatives from 9/11 CitizensWatch, at http://www.911citizenwatch.org/,
911truth.org at: http://www.911truth.org/,
and the World Trade Center Environmental Organization, http://www.wtceo.org/.
It was organized this month in New York City.
October 29, 2004
Environmental News Service (ENS)
WASHINGTON, DC - Toxic emissions are still issuing from cement kilns four years after a federal court ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate them. To force the agency to comply with the court order, on Thursday Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club filed a motion asking the court to compel the administration to obey.
The nation's 137 cement kilns emit mercury, hydrogen chloride and organic hazardous air pollutants (organic HAPs). The motion cites the EPA's own estimates that the cement kiln industry emits five tons of mercury, and more than 15,000 tons of hydrogen chloride each year.
In addition, the kilns emit 580 tons of organic HAPs, including "365 tons of hexane, thirty-two tons of benzene, thirty tons of toluene, sixteen tons of naphthalene, and twelve tons of chlorobenzene," the motion states.
"It is undisputed," the motion states, that emissions of all these toxics by existing cement kilns "are not subject to emissions standards."
In December 2000, the federal Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ordered the EPA to issue regulations under the Clean Air Act to limit the amount of mercury, hydrogen chloride and organic hazardous air pollutants that cement kilns can emit.
"In spite of the fact that 45 states have fish consumption advisories due to mercury contamination and even though one in six American women of childbearing age has mercury levels in her blood high enough to put her baby at risk, the Bush administration continues to ignore science and is letting these facilities off the hook for cleaning up this poison," said Navis Bermudez, director of Sierra Club's Clean Water Campaign.
The cement kiln industry operates facilities in thirty- seven states spanning every region of the country. Cement kilns release toxins during the cement manufacturing process, which involves burning fossil fuels and various types of waste-derived fuels. "By ignoring the court's order, the Environmental Protection Agency has shown contempt for the rule of law and blatant disregard for human health," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew.
"Cement kilns emit large amounts of mercury and other air pollutants and they need to have the best air pollution control technology available if public health is to come before profits," Jane Williams of Sierra Club said. "The Bush administration's refusal to properly regulate these kilns puts at risk every single person living near these facilities. For the agency to neglect protection for these citizens is unacceptable."
Mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause adverse reproductive and developmental health effects and is dangerous in small amounts. Hydrogen chloride, also known as hydrochloric acid, is an irritant to the eyes, nose and throat.
Organic HAPs can have harmful effects, the complaint states, ranging from respiratory disturbances, effects on the central nervous system, disorders of the blood, toxicity to the immune system, increased risk of spontaneous abortion, developmental effects; gastrointestinal irritation; liver injury, and increased cancer risk.
The EPA has not only failed to issue the emission standards identified in the court's opinion, the Sierra Club complains, the agency has failed even to take the first step of proposing such standards.
But the Cement Kiln Recycling Coalition, an industry association, says that the combustion of hazardous waste in cement kilns has been regulated by the EPA since 1991. "No other form of combustion is regulated more stringently than the use of hazardous waste as fuel in cement kilns," the coalition says.
Cement is produced in huge rotary kilns by heating a mixture of minerals to over 2600 degrees F, the coalition explains. This is a very energy intensive process and cement manufacturers have developed technology that allows the use of waste created by other industrial processes to replace non-renewable fossil fuels.
These waste fuels include used paint solvents, discarded paints and coatings, inks and ink solvents, various resins and organic sludges, as well as petroleum refining chemical manufacturing by- products.
In September 1999, under the Clean Air Act, the EPA published new, more stringent regulations governing hazardous waste combustion. These rules, called Maximum Available Control Technology (MACT) standards, were developed by EPA over a six year period, says the coalition.
The MACT standards "contain strict technology- based limits on emissions of particulate matter and also of hazardous air pollutants, including metals, dioxins, chlorine, hydrochloric acid, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons," the coalition says. "EPA is updating those standards in a revised MACT rule that will be finalized in 2005."