MAC: Mines and Communities

US update

Published by MAC on 2007-06-22

US update

22nd June 2007

The majority of members of the San Carlos Apache nation has been fighting Rio Tinto for around two years [see:]

A year ago they chased the company off their reservation. However, Resolution Copper (a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, with BHPBilliton holding a 45% share in the mining joint venture) is bent on exploiting a vast copper resource elsewhere on Apache territory.

Now the San Carlos Apache have called on other tribal leaders to support their new battle against the world's two largest mining companies. For once, the term "David versus Goliath" seems apt.

Last week the U.S. Senate passed energy legislation that mandates a 40 percent increase in fuel economy standards by 2020 and calls for a massive expansion of renewable fuels production. However, the final bill is far less ambitious than most Democrats had originally hoped it would be.

As Bush promotes continues promoting nuclear (uranium) power - envisaging thirty new US power plants from 2010 onwards - a broad-based report pours cold water on the assumption that this form of generating electricity will curb global warming.

The report's authors also claim that such expansion might well lead to further proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Arizona tribes unite against mine

J. Craig Anderson, Tribune

21st June 2007

American Indians from several Arizona tribes set aside centuries-old differences to speak in unison Wednesday against a plan to mine copper underneath land that San Carlos Apache leaders say has been part of their religious and cultural activities since time immemorial.

But San Carlos tribal council Chairman Wendsler Nosie isn't expecting unity among the tribes to keep government and copper mining interests at bay. That's why the tribe has hired a Scottsdale lawyer and plans to fight for the 3,000 acres of Tonto National Forest subject to a proposed federal land exchange with Resolution Copper Mining, the Arizona joint subsidiary of Britain's Rio Tinto and Australia's BHP Billiton.

"This has unified the tribes to start defending the land," Nosie said. "We're looking forward to the days to come."

A protest and blessing ceremony on Wednesday at Oak Flat campground near Superior drew about 300 American Indians from six tribes and their supporters — an event that tribal leaders say has not happened in Arizona's modern history.

The mining company's plan for Superior involves opening the most productive copper mine in North America and pumping 1.8 billion gallons of treated wastewater from previous mining operations into an irrigation district between Florence and Queen Creek. Culling pure copper from the new mine's underground ore deposit would require an additional 6.5 billion gallons of water each year.

The proposed mine "is exclusively driven by the need to obtain the greatest profit for its mostly foreign shareholders," according to a joint resolution addressed to President Bush and signed Wednesday by leaders of the San Carlos Apache, White Mountain Apache, Camp Verde Yavapai Apache, Tonto Apache, Hopi and Hualapai tribes.

The protest is specifically focused on a congressional proposal, HR6373, which would exchange 3,000 acres of national forest for 5,200 acres owned by Resolution Copper. Company President John Rickus has promised to set aside the area's most significant tribal landmark, a towering escarpment known as Apache Leap, as a conservation area.

Rickus attended Wednesday's ceremony and invited American Indian leaders to meet with him to discuss their concerns. He has repeatedly stressed his company's commitment to protecting the local environment and the cultural activities of its residents.

But some protest speakers, such as Hopi Vice Chairman Todd Honyaoma, expressed a deep-seated distrust of white government and industry that transcends any one mining project or congressional action. "My grandfather told me, 'One of these days … they're going to come in and take the land,' " Honyaoma said. "Very scary, what's going on."

Scottsdale attorney Joe Sparks, hired by the San Carlos Apache Tribe to handle land preservation cases, said his clients have several legal avenues at their disposal to fight the proposed land exchange.

"There's many kinds of actions, and we intend to take 'em all," Sparks said. "This is the aboriginal territory of the Apaches."

Senate Approves Energy Bill, Calls for Fuel Economy Increase

By J.R. Pegg


22nd June 2007

The U.S. Senate passed energy legislation late Thursday night that mandates a 40 percent increase in fuel economy standards by 2020 and calls for a massive expansion of renewable fuels production. But the final bill is far less ambitious than Democrats had originally hoped for, as Republicans successfully derailed a plan that would have funded $32 billion in renewable energy tax breaks by increasing taxes on oil companies and blocked a measure requiring utilities generate more electricity from renewable sources.

The vote, 65-27, came after more than a week of intense debate that demonstrated deep partisan and regional divides over the nation's energy future, as well as the pervasive lobbying power of electric utilities, auto manufacturers and the oil industry.

Despite ample public pressure to tackle high gasoline and energy prices, the prospects for the legislation are unclear.

The White House has voiced concern over the mandated increase in fuel economy and threatened a veto because of language in the bill imposing stricter penalties on oil companies for price gouging.

The House is also working on energy legislation, with the goal of considering a bill after the July 4th recess, but has thus far avoided tackling the fuel economy question.

Fuel economy is a tricky political issue for U.S. lawmakers, and the Senate bill only passed after a compromise was reached over the fuel efficiency provision. The original language called for raising standards to 35 miles per gallon, mpg, by 2020, with four percent annual increases from 2021 to 2030.

Current standards require automakers to meet an average of 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 for sport utility vehicles and small trucks. Other than a very small increase in requirements for SUVs and trucks, the standards have not changed in two decades.

The compromise eliminated the mandated annual increases, instead calling on federal regulators to increase the standards "at a maximum feasible rate."

"Our message to the domestic auto industry is, 'You can do this,'" said Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat.

U.S. automakers did not comment on the final language, but bitterly opposed the original provision and lobbied fiercely against it. Michigan's two senators, both Democrats, opposed the final bill due to continued concern about the fuel economy issue.

Environmentalists praised lawmakers for mandating an increase in fuel efficiency and criticized the auto industry for their efforts to block higher standards.

"If automakers were half as good at making efficient cars as they are at fighting new environmental and safety laws, they'd all be enjoying record profits," said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming program.

Environmental groups also praised the Senate for rejecting plans to increase production of liquid fuel from coal, but were left disappointed in the area of renewable energy.

Earlier on Thursday Republicans thwarted the inclusion of the $32 billion tax package, which would have benefited renewable energy at the expense of the oil and gas industry.

The plan would have set up tax breaks and incentives for development of renewable fuels and to support energy efficiency programs, clean coal technology and plug-in hybrid cars.

Some $29 billion of the $32 billion price tag for the package would have been paid for by the elimination of a major corporate tax break used by oil companies on domestic manufacturing income and the imposition of a new tax on offshore oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.

That did not sit well with Republicans, who rallied to kill the plan amid criticism the overall bill failed to adequately support domestic production of oil and natural gas.

"It makes absolutely no sense to advocate for independence from foreign oil and turn right around and raise taxes on our domestic companies who are producing America's oil and natural gas," said Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican. "It will mean higher prices for consumers."

Democrats argued that the impacts on consumers would have been modest at worst, noting that the tax break they wanted to rescind only came into effect in 2004. The excise tax, they added, aimed to recoup royalties lost on production due to an error by the U.S. Interior Department under the Clinton administration.

Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, dismissed criticism of the package as "political rhetoric that has nothing to do with the facts."

The plan is needed to jumpstart an aggressive push toward more renewable energy and help the United States become less dependent on foreign energy sources, said Baucus. He added that the package "is very balanced, very fair and will not create the horrible results claimed here.

Proponents fell three votes short of keeping the tax package alive – they also were unable to muster enough votes to include a provision that would have required U.S. utilities obtain 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

The defeat of the renewable energy plans left the fuel economy standards and the increase in biofuels as the centerpieces of the final legislation, which also increases home appliance and federal building energy efficiency standards, and requires the federal government to boost its use of renewable energy and cut its oil consumption.

The bill expands the production of renewable fuels to 36 billion gallons by 2022, with 15 billion to come from corn-derived ethanol.

The increased mandate was strongly supported by lawmakers from farm states, who also fought off an effort by New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg to repeal the 54 cent tax on foreign ethanol. Gregg argued that the tax hurt east coast communities keen to expand their use of ethanol, which is too volatile to be shipped through existing pipelines.

"People from the east coast cannot get ethanol from the Midwest," Gregg said, adding that U.S. corn producers, who have been granted massive incentives to produce ethanol, no longer need protection for foreign competition.

"That may have had some resonance a few years ago, but it certainly does not have any resonance any longer," Gregg said. "It does not have any credibility any longer."

Critics said the recent growth of the domestic ethanol industry does not mean it can survive without government protection.

"Just because all of a sudden we have a burgeoning production of ethanol from grain corn doesn't mean this industry is mature to a point where we are going to be as energy efficient as we should be, as energy independent as we should be, and that is why it is still necessary to keep the tax incentives," said Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican. "That is why it is still necessary to have this import duty."

The Senate did respond in part to concern about the environmental impacts of ethanol, adding an amendment that gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, the authority to mitigate any adverse air or water quality impacts from the increased use of renewable fuels.

"We say to the EPA: Make sure that whatever these fuels are, they are real good for our people, good for our air, good for our water, good for our land use, and also our long-term ability to produce biomass feedstocks," said Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat.

Debate over the bill also foreshadowed the difficulty the Senate is likely to have tackling the issue of climate change. Lawmakers declined to even consider the inclusion of a provision to set up a federal greenhouse gas registry, much to the disappointment of Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, who authored an amendment requiring the registry.

"This is an opportunity that the Senate should be willing to put its head up and vote for," Klobuchar told colleagues. "It is an opportunity to at least get the accurate data so we can start talking about climate change reform. It doesn't dictate what the policy will be. It simply asks that we collect accurate information."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.

US Senate Debates US$15 Bln in Energy Incentives

PlanetArk US

19th June 2007

WASHINGTON - The Senate Monday pressed ahead with a Democrat-driven rewrite of American energy policy that would strip nearly US$15 billion in tax breaks from large companies and put the money toward making energy from clean, renewable sources like wind, solar and soybeans.

With US pump prices above US$3 a gallon and crude oil near US$70 a barrel, US lawmakers are keen to show that they are acting to take pressure off consumers and get tough on Big Oil. The Senate bill would take tax incentives away from oil companies over a decade and dole them out as incentives to turn corn, soybeans and "cellulosic" sources like switchgrass and woodchips into gasoline.

It would also sharply raise US vehicle mileage standards for the first time in 30 years and require US utilities to get 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2020.

Both provisions have elicited howls of protest from industry and Republican lawmakers are likely to try to weaken or strip them out in debate this week.

Harry Reid, the Senate's majority leader, on Monday said the measures are "two of the most crucial parts of this legislation," and called for the chamber to pass the bill by Thursday so it can move to a debate on immigration policy.

To help reduce America's reliance on foreign oil, the bill would increase the amount of ethanol and other renewable fuels used in motor vehicles to 8.5 billion gallons in 2008, then steadily boost it annually to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

Lawmakers from coal states like Kentucky are fighting for equal treatment for liquid fuel derived from coal. Many Democrats have objected to coal incentives, warning that increased use will increase US emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, is pushing an amendment that would give US$10 billion in federal loan guarantees to build "coal-to-liquid" facilities and sock away carbon dioxide emissions in underground reservoirs.

The centerpiece of the energy bill is a package of tax incentives that the Senate Finance Committee is expected to approve on Tuesday, setting the stage for full Senate debate this week.

The package extends for two years - until the end of 2010 - tax credits to produce electricity from windmills as well as geothermal facilities that use steam from deep inside the earth to produce power.

That alone is estimated to cost the US Treasury US$5.6 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, and renewable energy developers say it is essential to assure that new projects get built.

Other big ticket items in the package are tax credits for utilities to build new "clean coal" plants, valued at US$1.3 billion over a decade, and incentives for homeowners to make energy efficiency overhauls valued at US$1.1 billion.

In order to keep the energy bill "revenue neutral," Senate tax writers have proposed stripping an equal amount of tax incentives from big oil companies like Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and Chevron Corp.

The tax portion of the bill as written would repeal reduced tax rates for companies defined as major integrated oil companies, which could raise US$9.4 billion in extra revenue over a decade.

It would also drop foreign income tax deductions for companies that produce oil and natural gas overseas - worth US$3.2 billion over 10 years.

Story by Chris Baltimore


Bush Says US Could Build 30 New Nuclear Plants

PlanetArk US

22nd June 2007

ATHENS, Alabama - President Bush Thursday said US utilities could build up to 30 new nuclear power plants and start construction by 2010 in order to keep up with growing electricity demand without spurring more global warming.

"It's time for the country to start building nuclear power plants again," Bush said at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant near Huntsville, Alabama, which is operated by the federally owned Tennessee Valley Authority.

Bush said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will likely get 20 applications from utilities to build up to 30 new reactors, and said construction could begin by the end of the decade. No new licenses have been filed at the NRC since 1973.

"We're beginning to make some progress," Bush said, prodding the NRC to act on the applications. "That's good news for the American consumer."

It was Bush's third visit to a nuclear power plant since June 2005. The United States will need three new nuclear power plants to come online each year starting in 2015 to keep pace with soaring electricity demand, Bush said.

He said nuclear power plants are well-suited to feed future power needs because they do not emit the heat-trapping greenhouse gases that are produced by power plants that run on coal.

"There can be no solution (to global warming) without nuclear power," Bush said.

The nation's 104 nuclear plants currently account for about 20 percent of US power generation.

Bush spoke to TVA employees after receiving a tour of the 1,150-megawatt Unit 1 of the Browns Ferry nuclear plant which reopened last month after being shuttered for 22 years.


Nuclear Power Can't Curb Global Warming - Report

PlanetArk US

18th June 2007

WASHINGTON - Nuclear power would only curb climate change by expanding worldwide at the rate it grew from 1981 to 1990, its busiest decade, and keep up that rate for half a century, a report said on Thursday.

Specifically, that would require adding on average 14 plants each year for the next 50 years, all the while building an average of 7.4 plants to replace those that will be retired, the report by environmental leaders, industry executives and academics said.

Currently, the United States, the world's top nuclear power producer, has 104 plants that generate 20 percent of the country's electricity.

Nuclear power, which has near-zero emissions of carbon dioxide, has recently come back into fashion as an alternative to generating electricity from coal and other carbon-based sources that contribute to global warming.

While the report also supported storing US nuclear waste at power plants until the long-stalled Yucca Mountain repository opens, 10 dumps the size of Yucca Mountain would be needed to store the extra generated waste by the needed nuclear generation boom.

That outlook was too optimistic in light of how many new nuclear plants are currently on the drawing board, the report said.

The needed rate of expansion would be faster than during the industry's first 40 years and than the Energy Information Administration's forecast for the next 30 years in the United States.

Some individuals differed, though, on how much the industry will expand, and said it could still make some type of impact.

Twenty-seven individuals from organizations spanning a broad ideological spectrum, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and GE Energy, spent nine months on the report, called "The Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding."

The group, which was brought together by the nonprofit Keystone Center, said that as companies limit generating electricity from coal and other fossil fuels, there will be more financial incentives to build nuclear power plants.


The Keystone panelists also said that President George W. Bush's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership could help countries and groups interested in building nuclear weapons obtain plutonium, the key ingredient in those munitions, which could help spread nuclear weapons.

While the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit organization of scientists focused on the environment and security, had trouble with most of the report, it agreed with assertions on GNEP.

"By promoting the commercial production and use of plutonium, the Bush administration is facilitating the spread of nuclear bomb materials around the world," said Edwin Lymann, a scientist working on security issues for the group.

Story by Lisa Lambert



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