MAC: Mines and Communities

US Update

Published by MAC on 2006-09-13

US Update

13th September 2006

The US Senate is about to pass a so-called "Good Samaritan bill" in an effort to effect the cleanup of more than half a million (sic) abandoned mines, mostly in the Western US. But, as pointed out by Mineweb (September 14 2006), one NGO critical of mining claims this “will do little to solve the problems from old mines." Instead, says Earthworks, " it creates new loopholes in environmental laws for mining companies.”

The legislation is intended to ensure that contaminated abandoned minesites are rehabiliated without calling on taxpayers' contributions. For its part, Earthworks is pushing altenative bills, introduced by Rep. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, which would impose a fee on hardrock mining operations in order to finance a trust fund for clean-up. Says Earthworks: “States, local governments, and local non-profit organizations simply don’t have the resources to act as Good Samaritans to clean up the rivers and streams,”

The title "Good Samaritan" refers to that part of the legislation which ensures that, when mining companies do remediate sites acquired from defunct outfits, they will not have to face comprehensive legal liability for remedying environmental hazards they did not create.

Once again a three-ring circus has developed over implementation of Clean Air legislation - this time the section devoted to particulate matter. Most Republicans and industry are backing Bush's proposal to abide by current standards which only protect the health of a tenth of the population. The EPA proposes to strengthen the legislation - but only for daily limits, not annual ones. For its part the American Lung Association challenges the EPA to "endorse strong new standards that will fully protect Americans from this deadly pollutant or … continue to side with polluting industries and consign our citizens to years of choking pollution."

The EPA itself - the world's biggest environmental protection agency - is now under threat from job cuts and a relaxation of mandatory reporting. "EPA planning is now driven entirely by external fiscal targets without regard to the effects upon public or environmental health," according to the Executive Director of PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsiblity), Jeff Ruch:

"The Bush administration seeks to 'disinvest' in environmental science, pollution control and global sustainability."

U.S. Urged to Set Stricter Particulate Matter Standards


13th September 2006

A federal proposal to set new health standards for particulate matter is too weak and could leave more than 77 million people vulnerable to the hazardous pollution, the American Lung Association said Wednesday. The group is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen federal particulate matter standards before it finalizes them later this month.

"This is the most important public health decision the EPA will make this year," said John Kirkwood, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association. "The decision will impact the health and lives of millions of people nationwide who currently breathe dirty, particulate-polluted air."

Particulate matter is a broad term for tiny airborne particles in dust, smoke and soot, created by a wide array of sources, including cars, factories, power plants and forest fires.

The particles have been linked to respiratory and heart ailments and are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans each year.

In December 2005, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson proposed keeping current annual standards for coarse and fine particulate matter, but tightening daily limits.

Johnson has endured sharp criticism from environmentalists and public health groups over the proposal and has even faced criticism from the very body that advised him on particulate matter - EPA's Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, known as CASAC.

An independent scientific advisory committee, CASAC provided its recommendations to Johnson in August 2005 after reviewing information provided by the agency, but the EPA administrator proposal less stringent standards than the committee suggested.

In an unprecedented move, members of CASAC sent a letter in March to Johnson re-explaining the science behind their advice and urging him to adopt their recommendation for a stricter annual standard for fine particulate matter.

At a Senate hearing July, EPA officials defended the proposal and said the final rule will protect public health.

The report issued Wednesday by the American Lung Association took issue with that assertion.

The organization analyzed the public health consequences of four different pairs of annual and daily standards, using EPA data from particle pollution monitors in counties nationwide from 2002-2004.

It finds that current standards, enacted in 1997, protect only 53 million people. The EPA's proposal would protect 82 million people, whereas standards favored by the American Lung Association and the American Medical Association would protect 159 million people across the nation.

But industry groups and some Republican lawmakers contend EPA's proposal is overly stringent. At the July hearing, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairman James Inhofe questioned the science behind the EPA proposal. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said EPA "cherry-picked" information to justify its proposal and did not fully consider studies that cast doubt on the health risks from particulate matter.

Republicans have raised repeated concerns about the potential economic harm from stricter regulations, given that many communities are struggling to meet the current particulate matter standards.

More than 200 counties are trying to meet the current standards and tighter regulations could affect more than 600 counties.

But public health advocates note that the Clean Air Act prohibits EPA from consider economic impacts when setting health-based standards for particulate matter and other key air pollutants.

Furthermore, researchers are increasingly discovering the dangers of particulate matter.

More than 2,000 scientific studies published in the past decade link particulate matter with adverse health effects. People most vulnerable to particle pollution include children, senior citizens, and people with such chronic conditions as asthma, heart disease and diabetes.

"The EPA has a clear choice - endorse strong new standards that will fully protect Americans from this deadly pollutant or … continue to side with polluting industries and consign our citizens to years of choking pollution," Kirkwood said.

"We hope the EPA will make its decision based on science, not politics."

Memo Shows EPA Budget Faces New Cuts


13th September 2006

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may be laying the ground work for new budget cuts next year, according to an internal agency memo released Wednesday by a government watchdog.

The June 8, 2006 memo from EPA Chief Financial Officer Lyons Gray to agency leadership calls for identifying "larger savings" as part of a series of cuts spread over the next 5 years. It was obtained and released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a national association of employees in natural resources agencies.

The proposed cuts include the closing of 10 percent of EPA's network of laboratories and research centers where much of the agency's basic and applied science concerning pollution monitoring, toxicological effects and other public health issues is conducted. By 2011, the laboratory network, comprised of approximately 2000 scientists, would shrink by 20 percent under the plan.

In addition, the plan would afford EPA regions greater freedom to carry out personnel reductions targeted at higher-ranking scientists, analysts and managers. These cuts would be in addition to anticipated attrition which should be substantial, with 35 percent of EPA staff becoming eligible to retire during the next three years, according to PEER.

Furthermore, the plan calls for reducing the "regulatory burden" on, and reporting requirements for, state and tribal environmental agencies.

The memo calls identified reductions "disinvestments" and concedes that they will undoubtedly have "long-term consequences."

The memo indicates the agency presented its fiscal reduction package to the White House Office of Management and Budget this week.

PEER noted that Congress is still reviewing administration proposals to reduce EPA spending by a record $100 million in fiscal year 2007.

"EPA planning is now driven entirely by external fiscal targets without regard to the effects upon public or environmental health," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.

"The Bush administration seeks to 'disinvest' in environmental science, pollution control and global sustainability."

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