MAC: Mines and Communities

US Update

Published by MAC on 2006-05-16

US Update

16th May 2006

The world's biggest producer of sodium cyanide used by the mining industry has been named the worst toxic air polluter in the United States. Among the other top five culprits is US Steel.

The state of Minnesota has passed a bill which would allegedly reduce mercury pollution from its largest coal-fired power plants by 90%.

In another state-sponsored decision which cuts across the Bush administration's attempts to dilute historic environmental provisions, the US Supreme Court has ruled that hydeoelectric dams (many of which serve almininium and other industrial plants) must
conform to the Clean Water Act.

The Court is also to hear a claim that Duke Energy has violated clean air laws by modernizing eight coal-burning power plants in North and South Carolina without obtaining a permit.

Dupont Tops List of 100 Most Toxic Air Polluters

AMHERST, Massachusetts, ENS

15th May 2006

Which are the most toxic air polluters in the United States? The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts has answered that question with the Toxic 100, an updated list of the top corporate air polluters issued Thursday.

The Toxic 100's top five companies are E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., US Steel, ConocoPhillips, General Electric, and Eastman Kodak.

"The Toxic 100 informs consumers and shareholders which large corporations release the most toxic pollutants into our air," says James Boyce, director of PERI's environment program.

"We measure not just how many pounds of pollutants are released, but which are the most toxic and how many people are at risk," Boyce said. "People have a right to know about toxic hazards to which they are exposed. Legislators need to understand the effects of pollution on their constituents."

The Toxic 100 index is based on air releases of hundreds of chemicals from industrial facilities across the United States. The rankings take into account not only the quantity of
releases, but the relative toxicity of chemicals, nearby populations, and factors such as prevailing winds and height of smokestacks.

The Toxic 100 index identifies the top air polluters among corporations that appear in the "Fortune 500," "Forbes 500," and "Standard & Poor's 500" lists of the country's largest firms.

A new feature of the online list is that readers can see the details behind each company, such as individual facilities owned by the corporation, specific chemicals they emit, their
toxicities, and their contributions to the company's overall Toxic Score.

The data on chemical releases come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). But PERI says that reports based on these data alone have three limitations:

Raw TRI data are reported in total pounds of chemicals, without taking into account differences in toxicity.

Pound-for-pound, some chemicals are up to ten million times more hazardous than others.

TRI data do not calculate the numbers of people affected by toxic releases - the difference between facilities upwind from densely populated urban areas and those more sparsely populated.

TRI data are reported on a facility-by-facility basis, without combining plants owned by one corporation to get a picture of overall corporate performance.

The Toxic 100 index tackles all three problems. It includes toxicity weights and the number of people at risk using 2002 data, the most recent available from the EPA's Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators project. PERI researchers added up facility-by-facility data from the EPA to get corporate rankings.

"In making this information available, we are building on the achievements of the right-to-know movement," Boyce explains. "Our goal is to engender public participation in environmental decision-making, and to help residents translate the right to know into the right to clean air."

For further information, contact Professor Michael Ash at 413-545-6329 or visit PERI's Corporate Toxics Information Project.

Minnesota Enacts Mercury Reductions Law

ST. PAUL, Minnesota, (ENS)

15ht May 2006

After years of public pressure, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, Thursday signed a new law that will reduce the mercury pollution coming from Minnesota's largest coal-fired power plants, lowering their mercury emissions by 90 percent.

"This legislation is likely the most aggressive mercury reduction initiative in the country. Our lakes, our environment, and our health will benefit immeasurably. I am proud of the work of our Administration and all of the stakeholders in getting this legislation passed," the governor said.

Minnesota joins nine other states that are moving forward with mercury protections, including Maine, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York. "Unlike the federal government, state leaders are doing the right thing for families by reducing mercury pollution," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "Now, it's up to other governors and state leaders to take similar action."

Governor Pawlenty's actions come after recent announcements by Governor Blagojevich of Illinois and Governor Granholm of Michigan of initiatives that will reduce mercury pollution in their states by 90 percent.

Most mercury comes from coal-fired power plants, where it falls into rivers and streams and then finds its way into our bodies via contaminated fish.

Mercury poisoning can cause severe learning disabilities and developmental problems, especially in babies and small children. In response to growing awareness about the dangers that mercury poses, and concern that the Bush administration plan does not do enough to protect women and children from this toxic pollution, Midwest governors are passing laws to protect residents in their states.

Minnesota's total mercury emissions are estimated at 3,340 pounds a year, with some 1,650 of these pounds from utility coal plants. Coal-burning power plants are the largest source of uncontrolled mercury emissions, both in Minnesota and nation-wide.

The mercury issue created headlines earlier this year when a recent study by the University of North Carolina in Asheville showed that one in five American women of childbearing age who were tested had unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies.

"The good news is that we already have the technology to clean up mercury pollution by 90 percent," said Pope. "These governors and state leaders are showing us that states can take the lead and solve these problems."

Mothers who are concerned about mercury can order a hair-testing kit to find out how much mercury is in their bodies, and download a list of which fish are safe to eat. An online calculator at shows how the fish one is already eating stacks up against a safe level of mercury as determined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds States' Right to Regulate Dams


15ht May 2006

In the first of three closely watched Clean Water Act cases, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that states have the right to to establish requirements for dams on their rivers.

In a unanimous decision in the case of S.D. Warren v. Maine Board of Environmental Protection, the nine justices rejected a South African company's bid to exempt five hydroelectric dams it owns in Maine from the Clean Water Act.

Delivering the opinion of the court, Justice David Souter wrote, "The issue in this case is whether operating a dam to produce hydroelectricity 'may result in any discharge into the navigable waters' of the United States. If so, a federal license under §401 of the Clean Water Act requires state certification that water protection laws will not be violated. We hold that a dam does raise a potential for a discharge, and state approval is needed."

The decision was immediately hailed by the 33 states that filed briefs in support of Maine's position. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said today, "The brief urged the court to respect the states' independent legal authority to regulate projects affecting the quality of rivers and streams. I am pleased the Court has agreed with our position and upheld these important powers."

"Many of the more than 1,500 hydroelectric dams throughout the country affect entire river systems," said Spitzer. "While hydroelectric dams generate electricity without air pollution or global warming emissions, they can also alter the natural ecology of rivers and wetlands. Since the 1970s, states have used their regulatory authority to help minimize adverse impacts from such projects. In today's decision, the Supreme Court ruled that such actions are not pre-empted by the federal government."

Environmental groups were pleased with the ruling. American Rivers called it "a common sense decision that recognized well established science that dams can have a huge impact on water quality."

As formal parties to the case, American Rivers and Friends of the Presumpscot River filed briefs in support of Maine's right to establish requirements for dams on its rivers. They were joined by more than four dozen conservation and fishing groups, American Indian tribes, river scientists and engineers.

"It was beyond ludicrous for S.D. Warren to argue that its dam didn't have to comply with the Clean Water Act," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. "This is a victory for rivers, for the clean water, and most of all for good old common sense."

The Presumpscot River, a navigable water of the United States, runs for 25 miles through southern Maine from Sebago Lake to Casco Bay. Along that stretch of river, the petitioner, S.D. Warren Company, operates five hydropower dams to generate electricity for its paper mill.

The dams are licensed every 50 years by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) after a review that looks at environmental issues and the demand for power.

Over 30 years ago, Souter wrote, "Congress enacted a specific provision for licensing an activity that could cause a "discharge" into navigable waters; a license is conditioned on a certification from the State in which the discharge may originate that it will not violate certain water quality standards, including those set by the State's own laws."

In 1999, S.D. Warren applied for renewal of its licenses for the five dams in Maine.

The company applied for water quality certifications from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection under protest, claiming that its dams do not result in any "discharge into" the river.

The case turns, wrote Souter, on the definition of the word "discharge."

The Supreme Court chose to define it in the ordinary way as found in Webster's New International Dictionary as a "flowing or issuing out," whether or not the flow contains a pollutant.

"In resort to common usage under §401, this Court has not been alone, for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and FERC have each regularly read "discharge" as having its plain meaning and thus covering releases from hydroelectric dams," Souter wrote.

"The alteration of water quality as thus defined is a risk inherent in limiting river flow and releasing water through turbines," wrote Souter. "Warren itself admits that its dams 'can cause changes in the movement, flow, and circulation of a river . . . caus[ing] a river to absorb less oxygen and to be less passable by boaters and fish.'"

In findings that led to this appeal to the Supreme Court, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection wrote, "The record in this case demonstrates that Warren's dams have caused long stretches of the natural riverbed to be essentially dry and thus unavailable as habitat for indigenous populations of fish and other aquatic organisms; that the dams have blocked the passage of eels and sea-run fish to their natural spawning and nursery waters; that the dams have eliminated the opportunity for fishing in long stretches of river, and that the dams have prevented recreational access to and use of the river."

Souter wrote, "Changes in the river like these fall within a State's legitimate legislative business, and the Clean Water Act provides for a system that respects the States' concerns."

"State certifications under §401 are essential in the scheme to preserve state authority to address the broad range of pollution," Souter wrote. "Reading §401 to give 'discharge' its common and ordinary meaning preserves the state authority apparently intended."

"The Presumpscot was once one of the most prolific salmon rivers in Maine and home to several migratory species, including Atlantic salmon, American shad, rainbow smelt, blueback herring and alewife," wrote Dusti Faucher, president of Friends of the Presumpscot River, and board member of the environmental group Maine Rivers, in the Winter 2006 issue of "Maine River News."

"As is the history of most industrial rivers in the northeast, these runs were extirpated by uncontrolled pollution and the building of dams that lacked fish passage," Faucher wrote.
"S.D. Warren Co., now owned by South African Pulp and Paper, Inc. (or SAPPI), located in Westbrook, Maine, began the relicensing procedure for five consecutive hydropower dams on the Presumpscot River in 1996."

"Through the intervention of Friends of the Presumpscot River and our national partner, American Rivers," wrote Faucher, "we succeeded in convincing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that these dams should not be allowed to operate in the environmentally destructive way that they had previously, and warranted water quality improvements and the installation of fish passages."

FERC granted new federal licenses to S.D. Warren in 2003 requiring the installation of fish passage on all five dams. The licenses include a State of Maine section 401 Clean Water Act Certification, which requires minimum flows for several stretches of the river to rectify dissolved oxygen violations below the dams.

US Court to Review Duke Energy Clean Air Ruling

Planet Ark US

16th May 2006

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court said Monday it would hear an appeal by environmentalists of a ruling that Duke Energy Corp. did not violate clean air laws by modernizing eight coal-burning power plants in North and South Carolina without obtaining a permit.

The justices agreed to review a US appeals court ruling that the utility did not violate the Clean Air Act when it undertook the modernization program at the plants between 1988 and 2000. The appeals court ruled that Duke did not need a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency because hourly emissions from the plants would not increase.

It rejected the government's argument that the law also applied to changes that result in a plant operating more hours each year. The appeals court upheld a decision by a federal judge in North Carolina.

Attorneys from an environmental group involved in the appeal hailed the US Supreme Court's decision to hear the case.

"Over 160 million Americans, more than half of the country, live in communities out of compliance with the nation's health standards and today the Supreme Court took a big step toward aiding those communities in their efforts to restore healthy air," said Environmental Defense attorney Vickie Patton.

"We're very pleased that the court agreed to review the Duke Energy decision, which rests on a flawed interpretation of the Clean Air Act, and which industry has been citing in numerous other cases in an effort to undermine essential pollution controls applicable to some of the nation's largest sources of air pollution" said another attorney, Sean Donahue.

The lawsuit was brought by the Clinton administration's Justice Department in 2000 in an effort to require power-plant operators to upgrade pollution equipment as part of projects that expand their facilities.

Several environmental groups intervened in the lawsuit. They appealed to the Supreme Court and said the case presented "recurring issues of national importance."

Thirteen states -- California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma and Vermont -- supported the appeal. Even though it lost before the appeals court, the Justice Department told the Supreme Court to reject the appeal. It said the EPA under the Bush administration has proposed new regulations that "can address any difficulties caused by the court of appeals' decision." Duke Energy also opposed the appeal. The high court will hear arguments in the case and then issue a decision during its upcoming term that begins in October

Story by James Vicini


Home | About Us | Companies | Countries | Minerals | Contact Us
© Mines and Communities 2013. Web site by Zippy Info