MAC: Mines and Communities

US Update

Published by MAC on 2006-09-08

US Update

8th September 2006

While railing against terrorism and calling for the severest penalties against civil law breakers, George Bush has overseen a dramatic drop (more than 50%) over the past five years in federal prosecutions for breach of environmental laws. The number of civil suits has gone down even more.

The EPA is responsible for much of this dereliction. Even though its backing an ongoing federal case to enforce clean air legislation against Duke Energy, the world's biggest environmental protection agency is lending support to "reforms" that, say critics, will allow power utilities to avoid installing up-to-date pollution controls.

While California's Republican governer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, last week hit the headlines with an averred plan to make his state "climate friendly", less attention has been paid to some 300 US cities that have pledge to observe the terms of the Kyoto Treaty.

New research from Alaska and northern Canada suggests that, as nothern peatlands dry up, doubtless due to global climate change, so fifteen (sic) times more mercury is being spewed into the atmosphere than was previously estimated.

Environmental Enforcement Dropping Under Bush


6th September 2006

U.S. Justice Department figures show that federal enforcement of anti-pollution laws has steadily and substantially declined since George W. Bush became president. The department's statistics, released Tuesday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), detail that requests by federal agencies for criminal prosecution have dropped by more than half since 2000 while such referrals for civil prosecution have declined by more than a third.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for most of the anti-pollution enforcement - other environmental prosecutions are initiated from cases developed by other federal agencies, ranging from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Referrals for new environmental criminal prosecutions government-wide have dropped by 54 percent from 2000 to 2005.

At the EPA, such requests for prosecution have fallen 33 percent during that same five-year period.

PEER's analysis found that referrals for new civil prosecutions of environmental offenses have declined by 34 percent between 2000 and 2003 - the last year for which statistics are available.

New federal civil court complaints against polluters have dropped even more, with a government-wide decline of 37 percent in new cases filed. EPA civil filings are down by 44 percent in this same period.

Furthermore, the number of federal criminal environmental prosecutions filed in 2005 has decreased 14 percent since 2000 and the number of convictions obtained is down 13 percent.

During the same period, criminal prosecutions filed on EPA cases have declined by 18 percent while convictions are down 6 percent.

"This Bush administration can make no claim to law and order credentials when it comes to pollution," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Corporate transgressors have growing reason for confidence that environmental violations will not trigger federal prosecution."

EPA Proposes Industry-backed Changes to Clean Air Program


8th September 2006

The Bush administration has proposed industry-friendly revisions to air regulations that force power plants, oil refineries and other industrial facilities to install modern air pollution controls when they expand operations. The administration said the proposal would accelerate investments in cleaner, energy-saving technologies, but environmentalists contend it would lead to more pollution.

The proposal targets three specific areas of the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program, which was enacted in 1977 to require owners of older industrial facilities to modernize pollution controls when they make modifications that result in increased emissions.

One revision addresses a type of modification known as a "debottlenecking" project. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the term applies when a plant operator modifies a portion of a facility in a way that increases production elsewhere in the facility. The proposal would allow the unchanged portions of the facility to ignore the requirements of the New Source Review program.

The second change involves a clarification to how the program applies when multiple projects are implemented at a facility - known as "aggregation." The proposal would allow related projects to be treated as one if they are dependent on each other.

According to the EPA, both aggregation and debottlenecking have been implemented through agency guidance on a case-by-case basis in the past.

The third change would revise the formula used by industry to determine if its actions require the installation of modern pollution controls under the New Source Review program. This calculation is known as "project netting" - the primary change would allow industry to avoid a complex analysis if it finds the net effect of a project does not cause a significant increase in emissions. Agency officials did not comment on the proposal, but the announcement by EPA said the changes would not cause any increase in pollution and would help reduce energy costs.

"Existing permit limits on emissions would not be affected, and the proposed changes would encourage investments in refining capacity, improve industries' efficiency and reduce demand for natural gas," EPA said. "The improvements would also lower energy costs to households and consumers." The agency plans to finalize the regulations by May 2007.

Bob Slaughter, president of the National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association said the proposed rules would "provide additional certainty to oil refiners, petrochemical manufacturers and many other key industries as they modify facilities to meet increased demand for their products in a growing American economy."

Furthermore, the proposals will help the industry respond to calls for increased refining capacity, Slaughter said.

Environmentalists are unconvinced and say the revisions are the continuation of a broad effort by the Bush administration to weaken the New Source Review program.

"All of these are different ways to enable companies to avoid going through the New Source Review program and installing modern pollution controls," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. "And it is very telling that the agency would slip this thing out on a Friday to minimize media scrutiny."

According to EPA, the proposed changes are the final set of revisions the agency recommended in 2002 to clarify the New Source Review program, which has long been a thorn in industry's side.

Even environmentalists acknowledge that the program can be cumbersome, but the Bush administration's revisions have been widely criticized by a variety of stakeholders bar industry and most of its efforts have been rejected in court.

Last month EPA sent a proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review that would change how it measures emissions from coal-fired power plants under the New Source Review program. The proposal, which is strongly supported by industry, would shift emissions measurements that are used to determine compliance with the program from the current annual basis to an hourly basis.

The proposal is, however, at odds with the position the EPA has taken in a Supreme Court case involving the New Source Review program. A case brought against Duke Energy by EPA in 2000 alleged the utility had modified operations and increased yearly emissions without adding new pollution controls.

Duke Energy argued that its hourly emissions had not increased and therefore new controls were not needed - the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld a lower court ruling that sided with the utility. Environmental groups, who had joined EPA in the case, Defense appealed the decision. The Supreme Court will consider the case this fall.

How American Cities Have Bypassed Bush On Kyoto

Andrew Gumbel, The Independent (London)

1st September 2006 It is not just the state of California that is bypassing the authority of the US government to take action on global warming.

The mayors of more than 300 cities across the country have signed a Climate Protection Agreement in which they have pledged to meet the emissions-cutting timetable laid down by the Kyoto Protocol - regardless of what the Bush administration decides.

Some of those cities, such as Seattle, which took the lead on drafting and lobbying for the agreement, are bastions of liberal politics and environmentalism, acting out their ideological convictions. Others, though, such as the exclusive Colorado ski resorts Vail and Aspen, are also motivated by a powerful self-interest. If global warming continues unabated, the Rocky Mountain snowpack will melt and there will be no skiing in Vail, Aspen or anywhere else by the end of this century.

Seattle's Mayor, Greg Nickels, proposed the mayors' agreement whenKyoto came into effect at the start of last year. By June 2005, he had 140 signatories, and the number has more than doubled since.

The goal is to "meet or exceed" the Kyoto target of cutting global warming pollution to 7 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The agreement also contains a 12-point action plan, urging signatory cities to discourage sprawl, promote public transport, car-pooling and bicycle lanes, turn to alternative energy sources including alternative fuels for the municipal vehicle and bus fleet, plant lots of trees and introduce environmental education programmes in schools and community colleges.

Seattle, in the Pacific Northwest, is the perfect poster-child for many of these initiatives, since it sits between two heavily forested mountain ranges and is surrounded by water. Despite a long history of environmentalism and commitment to public transport, it has been struggling with smog problems in recent years because of heavy car commuter traffic from the ever-expanding suburbs.

The Colorado ski resorts, meanwhile, have taken robust action to convert to renewable energy to power their ski lifts, shops, hotels and administrative buildings.

Vail just signed a deal to buy more than 150,000 megawatt-hours of wind power per year - the greenhouse gas-saving equivalent of taking 18,000 cars off the roads. Aspen, meanwhile, commissioned a study in April that revealed the severe damage done to the environment by private jets landing at its airport. It is now working to curtail air traffic.

Aspen's top city lawyer, John Worcester, described the city earlier this year as the global-warming equivalent of "the canary in the miner's cage". "It is incumbent on all of us," he said, "to face the potential threat upon our economy and way of life as we would any other potential threat".

Increased Burning of Peatlands Boosts Mercury Emissions


7th September 2006

The boggy and cold peatlands of Alaska and northern Canada have long acted as atmospheric sponges, absorbing carbon and mercury from the atmosphere. But peatlands are becoming drier and burning more often, a new study finds, and toxic mercury is spewing back into the atmosphere, making its way to the land and waters of the northern hemisphere.

The study´s authors estimated global mercury emissions as 15-fold greater than previous studies that did not account for the vast amount of mercury stored in northern peat soils.

"With pervasive drying of peatlands, probably due to climate change, much of the carbon and mercury that took thousands of years to accumulate may simply go up in smoke," said Jennifer Harden, a U.S. Geological Survey researcher and co-author of the study. "It is important that researchers account for this increased mercury being unleashed into the atmosphere as we assess the possible effects of global warming."

The researchers reconstructed 20 years of mercury emissions and concluded that drought, water table, and fire severity governed as much as a 15-fold increase in mercury and carbon emissions across boreal forests in North America.

"Over a 20-year period from 1980 to 1999, fire-caused mercury emissions across the northern region averaged about 23 metric tons a year; during drought years, however, emissions approached industrial emissions of mercury in North America - about 210 tons of mercury per year," the study's authors said.

The research was published this week by American and Canadian scientists in the "Geophysical Research Letters."

They note that ongoing and projected increases in boreal wildfire activity due to climate change will increase atmospheric mercury emissions.

"While we´re being pretty careful to account for carbon emissions and energy-carbon feedbacks to global warming, perhaps our other eye should be on mercury, the toxic twin," Harden said.


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