Further articles on 'Bush the Destroyer'Published by MAC on 2001-05-01
George W Bush's 2005 inauguration speech was true to form. It contained absolutely nothing about the environment or worker's rights, instead heralding, not just more of the same but worse.
One of the legendary US "Kennedy clan" is emerging as a front-runner environmental activist against the Bush regime - which he unapologetically characterises as "fascist" for its willful conflation of business and government, backed by virulently nationalistic propaganda.
Kennedy: Fascist America
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
21st Janaury 2005
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wants to run for Attorney General of New York State.
He might announce his candidacy within the next two weeks.
He's the son of Robert F. Kennedy, the former Attorney General under his brother, John F. Kennedy.
In 2001, President Bush named the Justice Department building after RFK.
The young Kennedy attended the ceremony.
We asked him what he thought of President Bush naming the building after his dad.
He said he wouldn't comment on the record.
But he did call President Bush "the most corrupt and immoral President that we have had in American history."
Not that he was enamored with Senator John Kerry.
Early in the campaign, Kennedy endorsed Senator John Kerry for President, but last month he expressed disappointment in Kerry's campaign and in the Democratic Party.
"The Republicans are 95 percent corrupt and the Democrats are 75 percent corrupt," Kennedy. "They are accepting money from the same corporations. And of course, that is going to corrupt you."
He has spent the last 18 years as a sort of private attorney general -- suing polluters to clean up the Hudson River.
Kennedy says that in the late 1960s, the Hudson River was "a national joke."
"It was dead water for 20-mile stretches north of New York City and south of Albany. It caught fire. It changed colors," he said. "Today, it is the richest water body in the North Atlantic. It produces more pounds of fish per acre and more biomass per gallon than any other waterway in the Atlantic north of the equator. It is the last major river system left in the North Atlantic, on both sides, that still has strong spawning stocks of all of its historical species of migratory fish."
He is seeking to close down the Indian Point nuclear power plant 22 miles north of New York City.
"After Chernobyl, 1,000 miles around the plant were uninhabitable. One hundred miles around the plant are permanently uninhabitable," he said. "One hundred miles around Indian Point would be all of New York City. So, imagine a world without New York City. Well, the terrorists already have. According to the 9/11 Commission, Mohammed Atta cased Indian Point before deciding to bomb the World Trade Center. But he believed, erroneously as it turned out, that the plant must be so heavily guarded, that it would be impossible to crash an airliner into it."
Kennedy charges that his appearance on MSNBC's Charles Grodin show in November 1996 got Grodin fired.
Kennedy was invited on the show to talk about his book and group by the same name -- Riverkeepers.
On the show, Kennedy ripped into GE, an owner of the network, for polluting the Hudson with PCBs.
On the show, Kennedy claimed that "every woman between Oswego and Albany has elevated levels of PCBs in her milk because of GE."
Grodin was soon thereafter fired.
Kennedy wrote a book last year that he hoped would change the direction of the country.
But it's a great book, nonetheless.
It's called Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and his Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy (HarperCollins, 2004).
For the past couple of years, he's been giving 40 or so speeches a year, mostly in the red zone, mostly to conservative groups.
He speaks about the corporate attack on the country.
"There is no difference between the reaction I get from Republicans and Democrats, because Americans share the same values," Kennedy told us. "If you talk about these issues in terms of our national values, everybody understands it."
In the book, Kennedy implies that we live in a fascist country and that the Bush White House has learned key lessons from the Nazis.
"While communism is the control of business by government, fascism is the control of government by business," he writes. "My American Heritage Dictionary defines fascism as 'a system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership together with belligerent nationalism.' Sound familiar?"
He quotes Hitler's propaganda chief Herman Goerring: "It is always simply a matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
Kennedy then adds: "The White House has clearly grasped the lesson."
Kennedy also quotes Benito Mussolini's insight that "fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."
"The biggest threat to American democracy is corporate power," Kennedy told us. "There is vogue in the White House to talk about the threat of big government. But since the beginning of our national history, our most visionary political leaders have warned the American public against the domination of government by corporate power. That warning is missing in the national debate right now. Because so much corporate money is going into politics, the Democratic Party itself has dropped the ball. They just quash discussion about the corrosive impact of excessive corporate power on American democracy."
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, http://www.multinationalmonitor.org.
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
Focus on the Corporation columns are posted at http://www.corporatepredators.org.
A "compromise" bill is announced in the long running saga over asbestos claims, though it doesn't seem to please claimants, trade unionists or defendant companies and insurers.
Senator Specter Proposes $140 Billion US Asbestos Bill
Reuters News Service, Story by Susan Cornwell
January 20, 2005
Washington - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said on Wednesday he was proposing a $140 billion fund to compensate asbestos victims and cap the liability of companies paying them damages.
This is the maximum some business interests have said they would pay into such a fund, but about $9 billion less than labor representatives say is necessary to pay asbestos claims.
If the fund runs dry, people sickened by asbestos could return to court, Specter said. The prospect of such a return to court is anathema to many business interests who want the fund to provide certainty and finality to asbestos payouts.
Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said he would introduce legislation to create the fund next week. He is trying to fix a massive problem that has defied solution for years, involving sick and dying people and hundreds of thousands of damage claims in the US courts and sending companies into bankruptcy.
Similar proposals stalled last year as Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist and then-Democratic Leader Tom Daschle were unable to satisfy competing demands of the affected groups.
Daschle and Frist did however agree to a $140 billion fund. Specter, who restarted the asbestos talks among interested groups after the November elections, had not endorsed that amount until Wednesday.
He told a business meeting of his committee he thought $140 billion was "within the parameters of what is realistic to ask the manufacturers and the insurers to pay.
"We have preserved a safety valve for the claimants, that in the event that the funds are insufficient, the claimants can go back to their constitutional right to a jury trial," Specter said. But he gave no details of how this would work.
A spokeswoman for the American Insurers Association, said the group would have to see the fine print on the "safety valve" and other parts of the legislation before commenting. The group is concerned companies should not have to pay damages twice -- first to the fund and then later in court.
"If it's a $140 billion fund that is very tight, so that all the claims are being paid out of the fund, that's quite different from a $140 billion fund where there is a lot of leakage and the tort system is still operating business as usual," said AIA spokeswoman Julie Rochman.
The proposed trust would have $40 billion in "startup" money, Specter said, referring to funding needed in the first few years, when the crush of claims is expected to be greatest. Hundreds of thousands of claims are in courts now, and dozens of firms have gone bankrupt after being swamped by claims.
But it would also have another $20 billion in borrowing authority to raise more startup money if needed, Specter said.
He did not mention any Democrats who would join him in sponsoring the bill. A spokeswoman for Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's ranking Democrat, said he would not comment but was in talks with Specter and others on the issue.
Asbestos, a fire-retardant fibrous mineral, was once widely used for insulation and construction purposes. Scientists say inhaled fibers are linked to cancer and other diseases. Many of these diseases take a long time to develop, and some exposed workers have sued out of fear that they will fall ill later.
Stocks in companies with asbestos liabilities were mostly up after Specter's comments. Shares of bankrupt auto parts maker Federal-Mogul were up 10.8 percent, while packaging maker Owens-Illinois saw its stock rise 2.8 percent.
Swiss engineering giant, ABB, is bounced back by a US court in its own attempt to "cap" liabilities for its asbestos-related operations.
Court Denies ABB Rehearing of Part of Asbestos Plan
Planet Ark - Story by Josiane Kremer, additional reporting by Annika Breidthardt in Zurich
January 21, 2005
Zurich - Engineering firm ABB's request for a rehearing on parts of its $1.2 billion asbestos legal settlement proposal has been denied, knocking its shares as uncertainty over the final outcome weighed.
"The third Circuit Court has today issued a decision denying Combustion Engineering's request for a rehearing on the aspects of its original order," ABB said in a statement on Thursday. "We regret but expected this decision." Shares fell 5 percent on the news, but later pared some of these losses to trade at 6.56 Swiss francs by 1212 GMT, down 3.1 percent.
"The uncertainty that hung over ABB before remains now. It is negative," said Zuercher Kantonalbank analyst Mark Diethelm. "It's all about how well ABB as a whole is going to be protected from this issue."
In December, ABB had asked the court to review parts of the original deal to include its US divisions Lummus and Basic in the overall asbestos settlement plan for ABB's Combustion Engineering unit.
"The claims against these companies are insignificant and we are working on a solution for these companies," ABB said after its request was denied.
ABB's asbestos plan was aimed at capping potentially ruinous asbestos claims.
The surprise rejection of the original plan late last year was a major setback for ABB. The maker of electric motors and robots had hoped the deal would end years of legal wrangling and put a cap on asbestos claims filed by thousands of former US workers.
The US court had criticised ABB's plans to include the two divisions in its plan for Combustion Engineering and ring- fence asbestos claims for all three subsidiaries.
The court's decision not to reconsider parts of the ruling dealt another blow to confidence in ABB's ability to resolve the asbestos liabilities quickly and without significant extra cost, as management has repeatedly pledged.
"They are not yet heading for a final solution," said Coutts Bank Switzerland's fund manager Rudi Buxtorf.
"Uncertainties still remain," he said, adding that it was difficult to analyse the stock, and an investment in ABB shares was "high-risk" in terms of lack of visibility. Combustion Engineering, which remains in Chapter 11 creditor protection, made industrial boilers lined with asbestos, a lethal substance that can cause cancer and other diseases.
Lummus and Basic have received far fewer asbestos claims than Combustion Engineering, but all three units made products containing asbestos and they shared production sites.
February 4, 2005
Washington - The US Environmental Protection Agency understated how much coal-fired power plants could reasonably cut mercury emissions and issued proposed rules based on pressure from senior managers, the agency's investigative arm found Thursday
The utility industry and environmental groups have clashed over the EPA's proposed rules to set the first-ever limit on mercury, which contaminates water and fish and has been linked to neurological disorders in infants. The United State's 1,100 coal-burning power plants emit about 48 tons of mercury each year, the largest unregulated US source.
In a review of the mercury rules proposed by the EPA last year, EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley concluded that its planned standard "likely understates the average amount of mercury emissions reductions achieved by the top performing 12 percent of utilities.
That average sets the so-called maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standard, the basis for EPA finding that utilities should reduce mercury emissions by 70 percent by 2018
EPA senior managers instructed EPA staff to develop a standard based on a target maximum emission of 34 tons per year, even though data showed lower levels were possible, the report said
Tinsley said the EPA should reexamine its standards before issuing its final rule by March 15 as required by legal deadline
In a response included in the inspector general's report, EPA Assistant Administrator Jeffrey Holmstead said it "rings hollow" because the agency has not finalized its rules. He said Tinsley's investigation exaggerated the human impact of mercury from power plants and improperly described the way the EPA calculated its standard
Utility lobbyists said deeper cuts in mercury emissions are not technically feasible and accused Tinsley of playing politics.
"This is the continuing saga of the EPA's inspector general becoming the agency's new policy office," said Frank Maisano at the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council.
Environmental groups and lawmakers said the new investigative report showed that the EPA caved to utility pressure to soften its rules.
"This report is further evidence that the Bush administration's environmental policies are written for K Street (lobbyists), not Main Street," said Sen. James Jeffords, a Vermont independent.
"Political operatives at the Bush administration have cooked the books to undermine Clean Air Safeguards," said Angela Ledford at Clear the Air.
As the EPA prepares to finalize its mercury limit rule, the Bush administration has asked Congress to pass legislation that would set a 34 ton mercury emission limit for utilities in 2010. The limit would drop to 15 tons after 2018 through a cap-and-trade system that would allow utilities to trade emission rights.
Wednesday, February 2, 2005
An appeals court has overturned a ruling that would have forced the federal government to pay millions of dollars to a Kentucky company that argued that a 1977 law had illegally stripped it of the right to mine coal under the Daniel Boone National Forest.
If left unchallenged, last Friday's decision by a federal court would establish a national precedent in property rights cases, safeguarding the government's ability to enforce environmental rules.
And it might bring to a close a 25-year legal battle involving Robert Gable, a former head of the Republican Party in Kentucky and a two-time candidate for governor.
Gable, of Lexington, is chief executive officer of the Stearns Co., which had won a 2002 ruling of $5 million, plus 20 years of interest and attorney fees, after his lawyers successfully argued that provisions of a 1977 law regulating surface damage from the mining of coal had effectively taken the coal from him.
Judge Loren Smith subsequently raised the award to $10 million, and Gable yesterday estimated the total owed him under the original ruling to be about $80 million.
Gable said he's uncertain whether he'll appeal the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. It handles appeals of cases from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which deals primarily in monetary claims involving the government.
"Stearns is deeply disappointed with the . decision," said Gable's Frankfort attorney, Bruce Clark, in a statement. "We are reviewing our options."
Justice Department lawyers who took the lead in defending the government against Stearns' lawsuit could not be reached for comment.
But officials at the Daniel Boone National Forest are pleased, said forest geologist Corey Miller. He said the forest has not banned underground mining, but seeks to minimize damage to water and other natural resources.
Two environmental lawyers involved in the case, and another who has watched it closely, called the ruling a significant victory in the national battle over property rights.
They said they are not surprised because it upholds well-established legal tenets from earlier cases, and said it could have been devastating had the ruling gone the other way.
If the lower-court ruling had been upheld, "the surface mining law would have been gutted, and rendered unenforceable," said John D. Echeverria, who had filed a friend of the court brief in the case for the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental group.
Such a ruling would have "dramatically impacted the ability of state, local and federal governments to protect the public," said Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky group.
"It wipes off the books some support for these very adventuresome (property rights) claims," added Glenn Sugameli, a lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice, which tracks property rights cases.
Because the appeals court of the Federal Circuit handles appeals from across the country, the ruling is binding on federal cases nationally involving the taking of private property, Sugameli said.
A long legal battle
Gable said he has been fighting the case for more than a quarter of a century.
His family sold the surface rights to land in McCreary County in 1937 for the establishment of the national forest, but retains mineral rights under about 55 square miles.
In 1980, the Stearns Co. leased some of its mineral rights to another company, which began to remove coal from under national forest land. But the U.S. Office of Surface Mining shut down the operation because it had not obtained a determination of whether the activity was compatible with other uses of the land.
Such a determination is required by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.
Gable sued in 1981, and in 2002, Smith of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims had ruled that the government's actions under the reclamation law had resulted in a physical taking of the company's property.
But the three-judge appeals panel reversed that ruling, writing that no physical taking had occurred. It is premature to say whether rules under the surface-mining law would produce a "regulatory taking," where government rules significantly reduce the value of the company's mineral rights.
Judges note refusal
The panel also wrote that Stearns, "by refusing to seek a compatibility determination . prevents this court from knowing whether or to what extent the (government) will restrict the use of the property at issue."
Gable said he has not wanted to ask the federal government for a compatibility determination because he shouldn't need one to gain access to coal that his company has owned since before the 1977 law was enacted.
"The court failed to address the reasoning of the lower court, . which found that the United States Office of Surface Mining had unilaterally extinguished Stearns' right to remove its coal -- appropriating unto the government the control of Stearns' mining rights," Clark said in his statement.
"Stearns believes that the court's opinion will signal an opportunity for any government agency to appropriate private property rights, eliminating value in the marketplace, without the financial obligation required by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."
Although CO2 emissions are generally reckoned to make the largest single contribution to adverse climate change, a Republican "clean air" bill before the US Senate would omit carbon "capping" altogether. But its proponents have a fight on their hands.
US Senate Panel May Deadlock on Utility Emissions Planet Ark
February 3, 2005
WASHINGTON - A Senate panel fight over whether carbon dioxide should be included in a plan to limit pollutants emitted by US utilities threatened on Wednesday to derail a Bush administration push for a bill this year.
A senior administration official defended the "Clear Skies" proposal at a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which faces a 9-9 split when it votes on a utility air pollution bill on Feb. 16.
Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island is expected to vote with panel Democrats against the bill because it lacks measures to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, which has been linked with global warming.
Some Republican members of the panel have threatened to abandon the proposal if the deadlock remained over the bill written by James Inhofe of Oklahoma, chairman of the committee, which closely mirrors the administration proposal.
Faced with passing a carbon-free bill, or Inhofe's, "I would recommend we do nothing," said Democrat Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Lieberman made previous attempts with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona to pass mandatory carbon caps.
The United States is the world's biggest emitter of heat- trapping gases such as carbon dioxide, which many scientists blame for a gradual warming of the earth's climate.
The Bush administration refused in 2001 to participate in the United Nations-backed Kyoto Treaty to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, saying it was too costly.
Inhofe's bill is designed to reduce three major pollutants spewed by coal-burning power plants by 70 percent by 2018. It would use a cap-and-trade system allowing utilities to buy and sell permits to emit sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury but would not include any cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.
"Carbon mandates cannot pass the Senate," Inhofe said at the panel hearing, pointing to numerous failed attempts in recent years to move legislation.
Democrats and Independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont say the bill as written gives utilities too much time and not enough protection for public health under the Clean Air Act, which has been in force since the early 1990s. Inhofe's bill is "the biggest rollback of the act ever presented to this committee," Jeffords said.
With the panel deadlocked on whether to approve the bill, Inhofe could use a Senate rule to bypass the committee and call a full Senate vote as a last resort, an Inhofe aide said.
James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the administration's front-man on air issues, touted the plan as a health advancement that would prevent asthma and respiratory diseases linked to emissions.
US utilities would spend $52 billion to install pollution- reduction equipment, reducing emissions at 1,300 US coal plants and removing 9 million tons per year of pollutants when the plan was fully enacted, Connaughton said.
The legislation would also provide rules that are less likely to be mired in lengthy legal challenges, he said.
John Walke, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Inhofe's bill "turns its back on the public and embraces polluters." The legislation would delay some reductions until after 2025 because of "safety valve" features in the bill, Walke said.
US Senator Specter's bill, to limit asbestos claims from thousands of victims and their dependents, is in deep water. Other Republicans, asbestos companies and insurers claim that even the limit to liability that he's proposing goes too far. And those affected by silica dust should have to prove they were not suffering from asbestos-related diseases.
All in all, these are further intolerable manoeuvres, aimed at denying justice and compensation to those affected by the world's most rampant industrial disease
Companies Write to Oppose Draft US Asbestos Bill
February 3, 2005
WASHINGTON - A group of asbestos defendant companies and insurers has declared its opposition to a Senate proposal curbing asbestos claims, and warned that industry groups working on the plan do not necessarily represent them.
The group sent a letter dated Jan. 28 to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, complaining the latest draft of his plan for a compensation fund to replace asbestos suits "raises serious concerns.
"We cannot currently support this legislation as proposed," said the letter from a dozen insurers and asbestos defendant companies calling themselves the Coalition for Asbestos Reform. Copies of it were circulating on Capitol Hill.
Rather than set up a $140 billion fund, as Specter's plan suggests, it was time to consider other solutions, the group said -- such as legislation setting medical criteria for asbestos victims to bring claims against companies. Among the signatories to the Jan. 28 letter was American International Group Inc., an insurer that has long opposed the concept of creating a multi-billion-dollar trust fund to handle claims for asbestos-caused illness.
The signatories also included Chubb Corp.; General Re Corp., a unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. run by billionaire Warren Buffett; A.W. Chesterton Co., a manufacturer of industrial fluids; and the Associated General Contractors of America.
Asbestos was widely used for fireproofing and insulation until the 1970s. Scientists say inhaled fibers are linked to cancer and other diseases, and hundreds of thousands of injury claims have clogged US courts and bankrupted companies.
Two groups -- the National Association of Manufacturers' Asbestos Alliance and the Asbestos Study Group -- have worked with lawmakers for two years to try to find a legislative solution to limit asbestos liability. But the authors of the Jan. 28 letter said these groups "do not necessarily speak for us".
Several other businesses also wrote to Specter earlier this month to complain that the payments companies would have to make to the fund proposed by Specter would exceed the asbestos-related costs they already face.
Specter plans to hold a hearing on Wednesday on his draft legislation, examining how to distinguish asbestos exposure from exposure to another mineral, silica, that also has been blamed for causing illness in workers.
Silica Issue Clouds Outlook For US Asbestos Bill
Planet Ark, story by Susan Cornwell
February 3, 2005
Washington - A bill to establish a $140 billion asbestos compensation fund was undergoing a rewrite Wednesday after warnings that a provision affecting claims for silica, another lung-scarring mineral, could derail the legislation.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said he thought he could solve the problem and save his plan to set up a trust fund to replace asbestos litigation. But other Republicans expressed exasperation with the process, charging Democrats were moving the goalposts each time bipartisan agreement on the fund seemed close.
"Right now I don't think it (Specter's proposal) has much support on the part of a number of Republicans," Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and former Judiciary Committee chairman, said after a hearing on the silica issue. "We've got to work out how to bring both sides together and pass a bill that has a real shot," said Hatch.
Companies and insurers that would contribute to the fund have complained that trial lawyers are repackaging asbestos claims as injury from silica dust.
Lester Brickman, a Yeshiva University law professor, testified Wednesday that more than half of 8,629 silica claimants in a Texas case had also filed asbestos claims.
Specter last month inserted a provision requiring claimants of injury from airborne substances other than asbestos to prove their injury was not caused by asbestos -- thus keeping them from collecting twice.
But Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee's ranking Democrat, said asking victims of silica to "prove a negative" was unfair. His grandfather, a stonecutter, died of silicosis, a scarring of the lungs from inhaling silica dust.
"Some special interests are trying to limit their liability on cases not related to asbestos through a last-minute, overly- broad provision," Leahy told Wednesday's hearing.
Asbestos was used for fireproofing and insulation until the 1970s. Scientists say its inhaled fibers are linked to cancer and other diseases. Hundreds of thousands of injury claims have been filed in US courts, bankrupting dozens of companies.
"It is a potential deal-breaker," California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein said of the silica provision. Specter told interested parties to get together immediately and start trying to rewrite the silica language. "I think we are on the track to solving it," Specter said.
EPA Official: Mercury Rule Written to Favor Industry
By J.R. Pegg, Environmental News Service (ENS)
February 7, 2005
WASHINGTON, DC - The Bush administration manipulated the development of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to cut mercury emissions from coal fired power plants in order to ease the impact of the rule on the industry, the agency's inspector general said Thursday.
The development of the rule "was compromised," said EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley, "... inconsistent with expected and past practices, including a failure to fully assess the rule's impact on children's health."
Nikki Tinsley has been EPA Inspector General since 1998. She was the recipient of the 2004 Distinguished Federal Leadership Award from the Association of Government Accountants. (Photo courtesy EPA)
Tinsley called on the agency to revise the rule and delay implementation if necessary in order to develop more accurate analysis of the costs and benefits of the options.
In a written response to the report, administration officials said the report contains a slew of "inaccuracies and flaws" and the overall critique of the rule's development "rings hollow."
The rule is still under development, officials said, but will proceed as planned - the EPA is under a court order to finalize a mercury rule for utilities by March 15, 2005.
Mercury emissions from the nation's 1,100 coal fired power plants are currently unregulated - these facilities emit some 48 tons of mercury each year, accounting for about 40 percent of the nation's mercury pollution.
Exposure to mercury, usually through eating contaminated fish, can cause permanent harm neurological damage in humans and reproductive harm in wildlife - 45 states now have fish consumption advisories for mercury.
Young children whose brains are still developing, and women of childbearing age are most at risk.
The EPA says one in six U.S. women already have unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies, putting an estimated 630,000 newborns at risk each year from the adverse effects of the toxic metal.
Under the Clean Air Act, the agency must develop a floor for its regulation based on emission reductions achieved by the top performing 12 percent of utilities.
The EPA said this analysis found the industry could cut emissions to 34 tons by 2008 using maximum available control technology (MACT).
That figure was then used to justify the Bush administration's favored approach, which would set an unspecified cap in 2010 on mercury emissions and employ a trading plan to bring emissions under a cap of 15 tons by 2018 - a 70 percent reduction.
Tinsley said the 34 ton finding was the result of pressure from "EPA senior management" who instructed agency staff to match the number to the standard.
"The standard likely understates the average amount of mercury emissions reductions achieved by the top performing 12 percent of utilities," according to the report.
"It does not provide a reasonable basis for determining whether the MACT or cap-and-trade approach provides the better cost benefit."
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat - one of seven lawmakers who asked for an investigation of the mercury proposal - said the report "confirms the rule violates the Clean Air Act and put special interests ahead of protecting the public." Leahy features a "Mercury Primer" on his website with and overview of basic facts about mercury emissions.
"This rule violates the Clean Air Act and it fails millions of pregnant women and young children, because it allows too much toxic mercury to pollute our air, water and fish, for far too long," said Leahy.
Environmentalists note that 34 tons is the amount of mercury pollution power plants would emit if they installed no new mercury controls, but merely complied with provisions of the Clean Air Act that require pollution cuts of other emissions.
That figure is also the amount included in the administration's "Clear Skies" plan, which Senate Republicans are currently trying to push out of committee.
Opponents of the plan say there is evidence the EPA could impose a far more stringent MACT standard. They cite a presentation in 2001 by EPA officials to an industry trade group that indicated a MACT standard could reduce utility mercury emissions 90 percent - to 5.5 million tons - four years after a rule is finalized.
"EPA's proposed mercury rule is an illegal farce designed solely to benefit an energy industry that gives millions of dollars each year to the Republican Party," said Scott Edwards, legal director of the environmental group Waterkeeper. "There is not a court of law in the land that will allow this rule to stand as written."
Critics also argue that an emissions trading program is an inappropriate form of regulation for mercury, given the public health concerns from the toxic metal.
A cap-and-trade program does not require individual power plants to cut emissions of the toxic metal; instead it calls on the industry as a whole to cut emissions.
Several studies indicate this could create local hot spots of mercury pollution, disproportionately impacting some communities - a concern Tinsley said the agency did not fully consider.
Proponents of the mercury cap and trade plan questioned the accuracy of the 54 page report and criticized the EPA's inspector general.
"[Tinsley] has no policymaking or legal background, and yet the report opines in those areas," said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an electric utility lobbying group.
Segal said the 70 percent reduction called for by the Bush cap and trade plan "frankly pushes the envelope of technical feasibility" and further reductions would cause greater fuel switching to natural gas, a shift that would harm the economy.
At least one group of Repubicans agrees with Tinsley's report. REP America, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for environmental protection, said the EPA should go back to the drawing board and develop power plant mercury controls based on science, not politics.
"EPA should tell the political operatives to butt out and develop power plant mercury emissions reduction standards that are based on a thorough, rigorous scientific analysis of how far mercury emissions can be reduced cost effectively and how much public health, especially children, would benefit," said Jim DiPeso, REP America policy director.
"We are disturbed that EPA allowed politics to interfere with setting mercury emissions standards for power plants," DiPeso said. "EPA succumbed to political pressure and short circuited the technical and health benefits analysis necessary for setting a defensible pollution reduction standard."
DiPeso said the EPA should follow the inspector general's recommendations, do a more thorough analysis, and "develop mercury emissions reduction standards that protect the health of our children, families, and communities."
Bush Mercury Plan Rests on Flawed Analysis
By J.R. Pegg, Environmental News Service (ENS)
March 9, 2005
Washington, DC - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agencys economic analysis of its proposal to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants is seriously flawed and should be revised, the Government Accountability Office said Tuesday. Shortcomings in the analysis make it useless for comparing policy options for regulating mercury pollution, the nonpartisan investigative arm of the U.S. Congress concluded.
The EPA analysis presents a biased case for the Bush administrations controversial plan to implement a mercury emissions trading plan, said the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
"Unless EPA conducts and documents further economic analysis, decision makers and the public may lack assurance that the agency has evaluated the economic trade offs of each option and taken the appropriate steps to identify which mercury control option would provide the greatest net benefits," the GAO said.
The report comes only a week before the agency is set to finalize the mercury rule under the terms of a court order and in the wake of recent report by the EPAs Inspector General that found senior agency officials manipulated the development of the mercury rule in order to favor the emissions trading plan.
The nations 1,100 coal-fired power plants emit some 48 tons of mercury each year, accounting for about 40 percent of the nation's mercury pollution, and are the largest remaining unregulated source of mercury emissions.
Exposure to mercury, usually through eating contaminated fish, can cause permanent harm neurological damage in humans and reproductive harm in wildlife.
Young children whose brains are still developing, and women of childbearing age are most at risk from the toxic metal.
In December 2003, the Bush administration offered two proposals a cap and trade emissions trading plan and a regulation that would require power plants to install maximum available control technology (MACT).
Proposed MACT standards are supposed to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants to 34 tons nationwide by December 31, 2007. This would achieve a 29 percent reduction in mercury emissions, as compared with 2001 levels.
The cap and trade program would proceed in two phases, with the first phase achieving the proposed MACT control levels by 2010. The second phase would cap nationwide emissions of mercury at 15 tons by 2018.
It is no secret that the administration and the utility industry favor the emissions trading plan.
A cap and trade program does not require individual power plants to cut mercury emissions but instead compels the industry as a whole to cut the toxic emissions.
Proponents say it is more efficient and cheaper than forcing each plant to cut emissions at the same time, but the cap and trade plan is opposed by environmentalists, public health officials, state pollution control officers and some lawmakers.
Critics argue the Bush plan is too lenient and say a MACT standard is a more appropriate and effective form of regulation for mercury.
The Government Accountability Office report finds the EPAs analysis failed to consistently analyze each option or provide a complete accounting of costs and benefits.
For example, the analysis of the cap and trade plan included benefits from the proposed Clean Air Interstate Rule a separate regulation also announced in December 2003 and set to enter into effect this month.
That EPA analysis predicted annual net benefits of $55 to $68 billion, compared to predicted annual net benefits of only $13 billion from the MACT proposal.
But the EPA's analysis of the MACT standard did not included the benefits of the Clean Air Interstate Rule, the Congressional investigators found.
As a result, EPAs estimates are not comparable and are of limited use for assessing economic trade-offs, the GAO report said.
The Congressional investigators also criticized the EPA for failing to fully estimate the human health benefits of mercury reductions and for not following principles of "full disclosure and transparency.
The EPAs written response to the report indicated additional analyses are being conducted and cited time and resource constraints for the different comparisons of the emissions trading and MACT proposals.
EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said the report unfairly characterized the process as incomplete before the process has even finished.
The rule is still under development, Bergman said, and will be the first to require power plants to reduce their mercury emissions.
No one argues the proposal is the first official attempt by the federal government to curb these emissions, but there is widespread disagreement about the approach the administration favors.
Environmentalists are expected to file suit to block the rule if the administration finalizes it, and there is growing pressure on the White House to scrap its mercury plan.
"The current EPA proposals are not going far enough to address this pressing public health issue, putting millions of Americans - especially women and children - at risk of serious harm, said Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican.
The Snowe and 28 other senators sent a letter Monday to EPA Acting Administrator Steven Johnson urging him to strengthen the mercury rule.
"This report and our letter demonstrate the very real and continuing concern that the Bush administration's mercury proposal was written for and by the big energy companies," said Senator James Jeffords, a Vermont Independent. Everything we have seen and heard from this administration amounts to delaying enforcement of the Clean Air Act and ignoring the resulting public health damage.
But American Electric Power, the nation's largest electricity generator, says if the MACT option is chosen, "it will be nearly impossible for the industry to meet the EPA's compliance deadline, regardless whether it is the end of 2007 or the end of 2008."
A number of utilities have warned that reliability issues could arise from plants being taken off line to have emission reduction technology retrofitted; or plants being prematurely retired without sufficient time to build replacement capacity.
"Reducing mercury emissions is a tremendous challenge inasmuch as there are no commercially available technologies that are specifically designed to capture mercury emissions from the wide range of coal-fired units and variety of coal types used in the industry," says American Electric Power (AEP.
New technologies are being developed, but their reliability is still being evaluated in field studies, although AEP projects they should be ready in time for compliance with the second phase of the cap and trade program in 2018.
The GAO report comes as new evidence is published that mercury pollution from Midwest coal-fired power plants is contaminating ecosystems in New England.
Dr. Eric Miller, president of the Ecosystems Research Group in Vermont, coauthored the four year study, encompassing 21 peer reviewed papers. Appearing in the April 1 issue of the journal Ecotoxicology, it identifies nine New England hot spots where fish, birds, and mammals are contaminated with high levels of mercury.
Miller says his study illustrates that atmospheric mercury deposition is much higher in rural areas of the New England than previously estimated by the U.S. EPA and other groups and is linked to air arriving from areas with high mercury emissions."
Research reported by Miller found mercury contamination in the Bicknells thrush, a bird that inhabits forests high in the mountains far from potential aquatic sources of the toxic metal.
Metallic mercury and inorganic mercury compounds enter the air from mining ore deposits, burning coal and waste, and from manufacturing plants. It is deposited on soil and water where bacteria transform it into methylmercury, which then builds up in the tissues of fish. Larger and older fish tend to have the highest levels of mercury.
The findings of Miller's study demonstrate that no ecosystem is sheltered from mercury, said Felice Stadler, a policy specialist with the National Wildlife Federation, and provides a compelling case for reducing mercury pollution today.
Every other industry in the United States is doing their part to reduce mercury pollution," Stadler said. "It is time to make power plants do the same.
March 8, 2005
Reporting by Roddy Scheer
U.S. delegates to the mercury pollution summit meeting in Nairobi, Kenya last week reported that their vision for a non-binding agreement based on voluntary cutbacks by industry prevailed over the position taken by the European Union and others calling for mandatory restrictions.
Mercury, shown here in elemental form, continues to reside at the center of international debate over toxic pollution.
"We were able to convince the EU, Norway and Switzerland that we need immediate action," said Claudia McMurray, leader of the U.S. delegation. "We can get started on this quickly, whereas agreeing a treaty could take years; but we do have other language saying we will look at this again after a period of time."
Not surprisingly, European delegates accuse the U.S. of railroading the proceedings, which were organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to hammer out a binding international agreement, and diluting the outcome accordingly.
One European delegate who spoke under the condition of anonymity told reporters that the U.S. "does not like binding treaties. It generally hates bureaucracy [and] it fears that such a move would weaken its industries."
While mercury is a naturally occurring element in the environment, industrial activitiesespecially coal-fired power generationcan cause build-ups of the toxic pollutant to unsafe levels. The effects of mercury contamination can cause serious health problems for pregnant women and children, not to mention wildlife.
By Shankar Vedantam, The Washington Post
Tuesday 22 March 2005
When the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a rule last week to limit mercury emissions from U.S. power plants, officials emphasized that the controls could not be more aggressive because the cost to industry already far exceeded the public health payoff.
What they did not reveal is that a Harvard University study paid for by the EPA, co-authored by an EPA scientist and peer-reviewed by two other EPA scientists had reached the opposite conclusion.
That analysis estimated health benefits 100 times as great as the EPA did, but top agency officials ordered the finding stripped from public documents, said a staff member who helped develop the rule. Acknowledging the Harvard study would have forced the agency to consider more stringent controls, said environmentalists and the study's author.
The mercury issue has long been the focus of heated argument between utilities and environmental advocates. Health advocates say mercury is so harmful to fetuses and pregnant women that steps are needed to sharply control emissions; industry groups and the Bush administration have warned that overly aggressive measures would impose heavy costs.
Announcing the new rule last Tuesday, officials used charts to emphasize that most mercury toxicity in the United States comes from foreign sources, and they used their cost-benefit analysis to show that domestic controls had minimal impact.
Asked about the Harvard analysis, Al McGartland, director of the EPA's National Center for Environmental Economics, said it was submitted too late to be factored into the agency's calculations. He added that crucial elements of the analysis were flawed.
Interviews and documents, however, show that the EPA received the study results by the Jan. 3 deadline, and that officials had been briefed about its methodology as early as last August. EPA officials referred to some aspects of the Harvard study in a briefing for The Washington Post on Feb. 2.
The Harvard study concluded that mercury controls similar to those the EPA proposed could save nearly $5 billion a year through reduced neurological and cardiac harm. Last Tuesday, however, officials said the health benefits were worth no more than $50 million a year while the cost to industry would be $750 million a year.
"They are saying if they fail to regulate mercury from power plants at all, it really wouldn't make a difference," said John Walke, clean air director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.
"To acknowledge the real benefits would be to raise the next question: Why didn't you go further?" James Hammitt, director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and co-author of the study, agreed: "If you have a larger effect of the benefits, that would suggest more aggressive controls were justified."
Mercury is a toxic metal emitted by industrial sources. U.S. power plants emit 48 tons a year, and the new rule establishes an emissions-trading program that is expected to lower emissions to about 31 tons by 2010 and to about 15 tons by 2026. The Harvard analysis was based on similar targets in President Bush's "Clear Skies" legislative proposal.
In most cases, mercury toxicity results from eating fish: Industrial emissions fall from the air into water and are taken up by fish. Because the metal does not break down, it moves steadily up the food chain to species that people consume. A major reason for the dramatic difference in the health benefit estimates was that the EPA looked only at the effects of reducing mercury levels in freshwater fish, but most of the fish Americans eat comes from oceans.
"Some very large share of mercury exposure comes from tuna," Hammitt said. "And while it's true that our power plants have less effect on tuna than on [freshwater] northern pike, if you ignore the saltwater pathway you'll miss a lot of the benefit."
Even though U.S. power plants contribute only about 1 percent of the mercury in the oceans, reducing even that small amount makes a difference, he said. The EPA has said that ocean species such as tuna, pollock, shrimp and halibut account for two-thirds of the mercury Americans consume, while catfish, the largest source of mercury among freshwater fish, accounts for only 3 percent.
Hammitt's analysis also factored in recent evidence that mercury causes heart attacks among adults. The EPA said other studies contradicted that finding and therefore it quantified only the impact of mercury's better-known neurological hazards. Spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman called Hammitt's cardiac analysis "flawed."
The EPA's McGartland, an economist, said that the preliminary Harvard results sent to the agency on Jan. 3 were inadequate, and that the full study did not become available until February. He questioned the Harvard findings about marine mercury, arguing that ocean levels of mercury do not easily change. No EPA draft of the rule ever discussed the Harvard results, he said.
But the EPA staff member involved with developing the rule said the reference deleted from rule-making documents would have told the public about the Harvard results. "The idea was to say Harvard School of Public Health had quantified these [cardiac] benefits and the amount of these benefits was - " a blank that was to be filled in with a figure in the billions once the final report became available, said the staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
EPA scientist William Farland, who is the agency's deputy assistant administrator for science in research and development, said he had not seen the Harvard analysis and could not comment on its quality. He said the EPA had not quantified the cardiac costs of mercury because "the science is just not strong enough at this point." While mercury could well damage the heart, he said, that harm might be offset by the known cardiac benefits of eating fish.
Although EPA spokeswoman Bergman said last Tuesday that the "costs of this rule outweigh the benefits," officials said later in the week that the cardiac benefits could change the equation. "We say the costs are bigger than the quantified benefits," McGartland said. "No one can definitively say the costs are bigger than the benefits."
Harvard's Hammitt, who was cautious in describing his findings, readily acknowledged the uncertainties in such analyses. But he questioned the EPA's decision to ignore a study that the agency had paid for and that agency scientists Jacqueline Moya and Rita Schoeny had reviewed.
"If they think there is no significant effect of U.S. power plants on the marine fish we eat, they ought to make that case as opposed to just ignoring it," he said. The fact that U.S. contribution to mercury in oceans "is a small part of the problem doesn't mean it is a part of the problem that should be ignored."
Hammitt's Harvard Center for Risk Analysis has been widely cited by the Bush administration on various science issues. Hammitt assumed leadership of the center from John D. Graham, who is now the administrator of the Federal Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House Office of Management and Budget. Hammitt noted that Graham was criticized during his confirmation hearings for being "pro-industry."
"I didn't think that was terribly fair," Hammitt said. "Now here we are, doing the same kind of analysis and it comes out in a more environmentally protective direction than EPA is, and they ignore it. There is an irony in that."
The Harvard study was commissioned through EPA grants to an independent nonprofit organization of northeastern-state governments that works on regional environmental issues. Praveen Amar, director of science and policy at the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, said the EPA provided about $270,000 in funding for the project. Amar said that scientist Glenn Rice, Hammitt's co-author, is an EPA employee who had been given time to work on a doctoral thesis at the Harvard center.
"Are you saving the industry a billion dollars but taking away $10 billion worth of benefits for the general public?" Amar asked.
Squashed Science - EPA air pollution rules ignore own studies
The Sacramento Bee Editorial
Wednesday 23 March 2005
The environmental scientists who labor in the Bush administration must truly be dedicated to public service. Otherwise, why would they continue to work for bosses who deep-six their studies, blacklist those who complain and often intervene on behalf of the coal industry and other polluters? The latest example of squashed science was revealed Tuesday by the Washington Post. The Post story focused on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new rules on airborne mercury, a toxic pollutant that comes largely from coal-burning power plants.
For five years, health advocates have pressured the EPA to set across-the-board pollution controls that, in the view of some scientists, would reduce mercury emissions 90 percent nationwide within three years. Instead, the administration chose last week to rescind a Clinton-era directive that would have labeled mercury a toxic pollutant under the Clean Air Act of 1990. Instead of regulating mercury under that law (signed by Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush), the administration has proposed a "cap-and-trade" program. The new rule sets a national cap on mercury emissions and allows companies to either reduce emissions or buy credits from industries that do so.
In unveiling the new rule, EPA officials said they rejected tougher controls because the costs to industry would have exceeded the estimated health benefits. According to the Post, a Harvard University study actually concluded the opposite. The study, commissioned by the EPA and co-authored by an agency scientist, concluded the health benefits of across-the-board pollution cuts could be 100 times higher than the costs of the EPA proposal. Yet the EPA stripped the Harvard study from its public documents in unveiling the rule. Congress needs to find out why.
To be sure, mercury is a challenging pollutant. Released into the air from power plants and incinerators, it falls to water and transforms into methyl mercury. There it builds up in fish. People who eat such fish expose themselves to a potent neurotoxin, one that can cause brain damage in developing fetuses and young children.
In California, much of our mercury-tainted fish is a legacy of the Gold Rush, when miners used mercury to process ore. The Bush proposal may have little direct impact on California, but it could end up fouling waterways across the West.
According to energy analysts, the coal industry is planning new plants in Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico. Many of these plants are likely to buy credits from plants in the Midwest that must install new pollution controls for other regulatory reasons. As a result, emissions of mercury could actually decrease nationwide - by an estimated 21 percent in five years - while local emissions of mercury could increase in several Western states.
Is pollution trading a bad idea? Not in all cases. Trading programs have effectively reduced pollutants that are carried long distances - such as sulfur dioxide, a cause of acid rain. But mercury is a different matter. Mercury is a neurotoxin that builds up in the food chain, and unlike sulfur dioxide, it quickly falls out into streams and lakes after being released from industry smokestacks.
Such concerns were raised by the EPA's own child health advisory group, but the agency ignored that panel. The EPA's inspector general and the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office have also criticized the agency's mercury regulations, the apparent brainchild of a coal industry law firm. Last year it was revealed that sections of the EPA's regulations were lifted verbatim from memos prepared by Latham & Watkins, a Washington law firm.
Along with working for coal companies, Latham & Watkins used to employ Jeff Holmstead, the EPA's top air pollution official. For five years, this pattern of silencing federal scientists and letting industry regulate itself has been a hallmark of the White House. The Bush administration has intervened to allow more air pollution near national parks and more toxic selenium to drip from coal mines. Agency scientists need to hang in there and fight the good fight. They can only look forward to a day when the White House is occupied by people who actually care about public health and the environment.
Mercury Pollution, Autism Link Found - US Study
Planet Ark - Reuters
March 18, 2005
San Antonio, Texas - Mercury released primarily from coal-fired power plants may be contributing to an increase in the number of cases of autism, a Texas researcher said on Wednesday.
A study to be published on Thursday in the journal "Health and Place" found that autism, a developmental disorder marked by communication and social interaction problems, increased in Texas counties as mercury emissions rose, said Claudia Miller, a family and community medicine professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
"The main finding is that for every thousand pounds of environmentally released mercury, we saw a 17 percent increase in autism rates," she said in an interview.
About 48 tons of mercury are released into the air annually in the United States from hundreds of coal-burning plants.
The study looked at Texas county-by-county levels of mercury emissions recorded by the government and compared them to the rates of autism and special education services in 1,200 Texas school districts, Miller said.
"The study shows that there may be a very important connection between environmental exposure to mercury and the development of autism," she said in an interview.
The US Centers for Disease Control has said it does not know how many cases of autism there are in the country or whether the number has increased, but that the issue is under study.
Some experts estimate there are 1.5 million people in the United States with autism, most of them children, and say the number of cases has risen rapidly in recent years.
"Autism has increased dramatically over the last decade or so and the reasons for that have really stumped the medical community," Miller said.
"Now we think that due to the rising exposures in pollutants like mercury, they may be at the root of some of these cases," she said.
The Bush administration this week ordered power plants to cut mercury pollution by 50 percent within 15 years, but environmentalists said the action fell short of what was needed. They have called for a 90 percent cut in mercury emissions.
"This research has implications for toxic substance regulation and prevention policies," said Raymond Palmer, an autism expert at the San Antonio school who helped in the study.
"Policies regarding toxic release of mercury and the incidence of developmental disorders should be investigated," he said.
Planet Ark, Reuters
April 5, 2005
New York - A US judge has ruled that building materials company Owens Corning owes a potential $7 billion to thousands of people sickened or killed by asbestos used to insulate pipes in homes and offices.
The estimate, determined by US District Judge John Fullam last week, is a crucial step in the company's emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which began more than four years ago. The judge's $7 billion estimate fell between claims as high as $11 billion from asbestos litigants and $2 billion from bank creditors, according to the judge's 12-page decision, dated March 31.
The parties have fought over the liability figure since they are trying to prevent their bankruptcy recovery money from being diluted by rival claims, legal sources have said.
The Toledo, Ohio, company filed for bankruptcy protection in October 2000, weighed down by hundreds of thousands of lawsuits stemming from its main asbestos-containing product, Kaylo brand insulation, sold from the late 1950s to early 1970s.
Now that the judge has determined asbestos costs, creditors can try to settle on a final restructuring plan.
Asbestos was once widely used as insulation and fire retardant but scientists found in the 1960s and 1970s that its inhaled fibers could cause cancer and other diseases
Environmental Groups Blast New Bush Forest Rule
Planet Ark, Reuters - Story by Christopher Doering
May 6, 2005
WASHINGTON - Environmental groups criticized President George Bush Thursday for reopening 60 million acres of federal forests to logging and road building after the administration formally overturned a Clinton-era rule that protected the land from development.
A new US Forest Service final regulation will exempt states from federal restrictions on road construction in environmentally sensitive forest areas unless a governor asks for specific land to be protected. The regulation is supported by logging, energy and mining companies, which need to build roads to operate in federal forests.
Green groups and Democratic lawmakers said the proposal was a complete reversal of a 2001 rule developed by former President Bill Clinton that would have kept these forests under federal control.
"The minute this rule is put into effect, the 2001 rule as we all know it is wiped off the books. Federal protections are gone," said Robert Vandermark, director for the Heritage Forests Campaign. "These lands are now at immediate risk to any kind of development from the logging, mining and drilling industries."
Signed just days before leaving office, the Clinton rule virtually halted development on 58.5 million acres of federal forest deemed worthy of special protections to save endangered species or local habitats from irreversible damage.
Under the new rule, governors have 18 months to submit a request to the federal government for any forest land they want protected. A national advisory committee composed of groups "interested in conservation" will review each petition.
The Forest Service, a division of the US Agriculture Department, first proposed the current plan in July.
"The reality on the ground tomorrow will remain the same as it was yesterday," said Mark Rey, the US Agriculture Department's undersecretary of natural resources. "These areas will remain protected ... and that will continue to be so as we move ... to develop state specific rules," he said.
The controversial Clinton rule has been the subject of nine lawsuits since its adoption, mostly from western states where the vast majority of the land is located. Boise Cascade Co., a major paper products company, also was involved in litigation.
Rey said the Clinton rule faced, "at best, an uncertain legal future" and would be mired in litigation that prevented it from being implemented effectively.
A 2001 decision by an Idaho federal judge halted the plan, but it was later overturned by the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco. The rule also was blocked by a Wyoming federal judge and has been appealed to the 10th Circuit Court in Denver, which heard arguments this week.
"Early in his presidency, the Bush Administration announced their support for President Clinton's roadless rule," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the US House Democratic leader.
"Since then, they failed to defend the rule from the lawsuits of the timber industry, and in fact worked hand in hand with opponents to overturn the rule in court," she said.