MAC: Mines and Communities

US Updates: December 2005

Published by MAC on 2005-12-15

US Updates: December 2005

30th December 2005

The US minerals industry seems to have failed in its attempt to usurp public lands. Native Americans, joined by environmentalists and others, are pressing the EPA to enforce mandatory limits on mercury emissions from coal fired power plants, while they turn increasingly to wind power as an alternative source of energy.

GOP Withdraws Proposal to Sell Off Public Lands

E-magazine: Reporting by Roddy Scheer

20th December 2005

Opposition from at least 11 Western Senators has caused House majority leaders to drop a proposal that would have allowed the federal government to sell off millions of acres of public land to mining companies eager to expand their operations. The contentious provision was slated to be part of a federal belt-tightening bill now working is way through Congressional committee hearings. Several Democratic Senators had threatened to filibuster the bill when it percolated up to them if it contained the mining land sale proposal.

Even a last ditch effort to water down the provision by eliminating acreage that no longer contained any mineral value was not enough to appease the Senate Democrats opposed to it. House Resources Committee Chair Dick Pombo, who sponsored the contentious provision along with Nevada Republican Jim Gibbons, hinted that the GOP would still be seeking ways to "modernize mining law" during 2006.

Environmentalists have been bracing for a full frontal assault on key environmental laws by the Republican majorities in Congress.

This recent setback for House Republicans, though, coupled with their withdrawal of an otherwise successful bid to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling this past fall, may signal that the GOP's bark is worse than its bite when it comes to green concerns. Or maybe they are listening to their non-corporate constituents, as a majority of Americans still favour stronger environmental protection statutes.

EPA Slammed for Allowing Power Plants to Emit Mercury

WASHINGTON, DC, December 20, 2005 (ENS) - A coalition of conservation groups, Native American tribes, and public health organizations is calling upon the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stay its decision to remove coal-fired power plants from a list of industries requiring protective emission standards.

EPA agreed to reconsider the decision last month, after the agency received petitions from 14 states, four tribes, and five environmental groups. Groups today called upon the agency to stay implementation of the decision and to "fully and fairly assess all the comments it receives and revaluate whether the delisting was lawful and appropriate."

"Power plants are a major source of mercury, lead, arsenic and dioxins," said Ann Brewster Weeks, litigation director for Clean Air Task Force. "EPA has failed to protect the public from these harmful pollutants. The agency should suspend its decision to deprive Americans of the protections that the Clean Air Act is supposed to guarantee."

"The bottom line is this: EPA faces a choice between protecting higher profits for electric utilities and protecting children's health," said John Suttles, an attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center. "So far, EPA has chosen to protect profits over children."

Instead of issuing the protective emission standards that the Clean Air Act requires, the EPA has chosen to require a cap-and-trade regime that critics say will delay mercury reductions from power plants for nearly 20 years. The EPA intends to establish a mercury credit market, where facilities can trade pollution credits. "Three of the top five dirtiest power plants in Texas will actually be able to increase mercury outputs under this program," the coalition says

"Mercury pollution is poisoning our lakes, rivers and streams and poses a serious health threat to millions of Americans," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation litigation director Jon Mueller. "EPA needs to protect our waters and our health from power plant pollution."

"There are fish consumption warnings for the Chesapeake Bay, thanks to mercury pollution from sources such as power plants," Mueller said. "EPA has done a pitiful job of reducing mercury from power plants with this rule."

Last month, the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials released a model rule that provides a menu of options for states to reduce harmful mercury emissions from power plants.

The model rule was written in response to EPA's decision last March to exempt power plants from the protective emission standards that the Clean Air Act requires for all other major sources of toxic air pollution.

"We want the agency to fulfil its legal obligation to write strong nationwide regulations that will at last provide the public health and environmental protections that the Clean Air Act was enacted to guarantee," said James Pew, an attorney
with Earthjustice.

Native Americans try to Reap the Wind for Power

30th December 2005

LOS ANGELES - Twenty-five windmills in San Diego County that stand 20 stories tall began generating electricity this week, offering powerful evidence that Native American tribes are turning to the wind to rebuild their economies.

The Kumeyaay Wind project, with the ability to generate 50 megawatts, is 70 times larger than the next-largest wind project on tribal land. It sits on land leased by the 300-member Campo Band of Kumeyaay Indians off Interstate 8, about an hour east of San Diego and 18 miles north of the Mexican border. The economies of many tribes depend on energy sales and leases of land to coal, oil, and natural gas companies. This takes a toll on tribal land and is often seen as necessary to keep money and jobs on reservations and to protect a fast disappearing way of life. Lawrence Flowers, team leader of Wind Powering America, a US Energy Department-sponsored group assisting tribes to develop wind farms, says it is natural for tribes to turn to the wind for help.

"Wind sits very nicely with the tribal spiritual and cultural values because it's a resource that develops tribal economies," Flowers said. "And it's renewable so it's not extracting from the land like coal or oil. You're not taking something away."

The Kumeyaay tribe will reap royalties of the sale of electricity from the wind farm to San Diego Gas & Electric, but the amount was not disclosed by the utility. The farm is expected to power between 12,000 and 15,000 homes.

The tribe's wind farm stands only a few hundred yards from the Golden Acorn Casino, which represents another revenue-producer for many Native American tribes.

The Hopi and Navajo tribes will each lose a large chunk of their annual revenue -- a third of it for the Hopis who have voted down casino gambling -- when one of the dirtiest power plants in America shuts down this weekend.

Both tribes are looking to wind power projects as a way to replace revenue lost from the extraction of coal from tribal land in Arizona, which fuels the 1,580-megawatt Mohave Power plant in Nevada.

While there are a handful of single-turbine windmills generating electricity on tribal land in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, the new California wind farm is the first with multiple turbines. And in Alaska, five wind-diesel projects are working and dozens more are planned.

"This is a big deal," Flowers said.

"We work with more than 30 tribes in the continental United States to help them develop wind resources and help them understand ownership," he added.

Among the projects in the pipeline are one for 80 megawatts on eight different reservations on Lakota Nation land in North Dakota and South Dakota, and the expansion of a 750-kilowatt project to 30 megawatts on South Dakota's Rosebud Sioux Reservation.

The Rosebud plant, which opened in 2003, had been the largest project on Native American land before the Kumeyaay Wind project opened over the holiday weekend.

Wind power is not consistent. Wind must blow at least five miles per hour to make electricity. Even though the San Diego County plant is in one of the windiest parts of Southern California, it will not produce at capacity like natural gas, nuclear and coal-fired plants can.

US wind power generation capacity is about 9,200 megawatts, up from 6,700 megawatts a year ago, 2,500 megawatts five years ago and 1,500 megawatts in 1990, according to industry advocate American Wind Energy Association.

The Kumeyaay venture cost more than $80 million. Of that, $51 million came from global investment firm Babcock & Brown, which will own the project along with GE Energy Financial Services, a division of General Electric.

The Kumeyaay project will help SDG&E, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, meet a California requirement that power companies generate 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010.

Story by Bernie Woodall


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