US updatePublished by MAC on 2007-06-29
29th June 2007
The Democratic Party seems finally to be winning against the colossal environmental intransigence of the Bush regime.
Among measures passed last week in the House of Representatives were ones which strengthen the Superfund; postpone (though fail to halt) the mining of oil shales; and nullify a new "air toxics" rule which would have allowed some hazardous plants to continue emitting dangerous chemicals and metals.
For the first time in the country's history, the House formally recognised the reality of global warming, while a Senate panel has begun drawing up legislation to "cap" carbon emissions (to which the coal industry is the biggest single contributor).
U.S. House Boosts Spending for Environment, Conservation
By J.R. Pegg
28th June 2007
WASHINGTON, DC, (ENS)
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved legislation to increase funding for environmental protection, national parks and conservation by some $1.2 billion. The White House and Republican leaders called the bill fiscally irresponsible, but Democrats insisted that the increases are critical to bolster programs that have been neglected by the Bush administration.
The $27.6 billion spending bill, which passed by a vote of 272-155, includes funding for the Interior Department, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Forest Service, Indian Health Service and other agencies. The bill is more than four percent above this year's appropriations and some nine percent above the White House request.
The Senate has yet to finalize its appropriations bill for the Interior Department and related agencies. The Bush administration is already on record as opposing the House bill, calling it "irresponsible" and threatening to veto the measure because of its price tag.
The White House also said it strongly objects to several provisions in the bill, in particular one that aims to force oil companies to renegotiate deep water drilling leases for the Gulf of Mexico already issued.
The leases were issued in 1998 and 1999 by the U.S. Interior Department's Mineral Management Service, which failed to include language triggering royalty payments once oil prices reached a threshold of about $34 a barrel. The error has already cost the government some $1 billion in lost royalties and could cost more than $10 billion over 25 years.
The language in the spending bill requires companies to either renegotiate the flawed leases or pay fees on production from those leases or be banned from purchasing new leases in the gulf.
The administration argues the provision will delay future lease sales and favors voluntary renegotiation efforts.
Much of the two day debate over the bill centered on the overall funding levels, as Republicans sought to pare down spending and remove specific earmarks.
Representative Todd Tiahrt, a Kansas Republican, called the legislation "overly generous" and urged members to limit spending closer to existing levels.
"While we have an obligation to be good stewards of our nation's environment and public lands for future generations, we also have an obligation to be good stewards of our tax dollars," he said. "In that respect, I believe this legislation falls short."
Democrats defeated efforts to cut spending in the bill and blamed the Bush administration for shortfalls they contend have undermined federal environment and land management agencies.
"The Bush administration has cut the Interior Department budget over the last six to seven years by 16 percent," said Representative Norman Dicks, a Washington Democrat and chair of the appropriations subcommittee that crafted the bill.
"It has cut EPA by 29 percent. It has cut the Forest Service by 35 percent. It has devastated these agencies," said Dicks. "We are trying to turn the corner, to bring these agencies back."
The spending bill includes an 11 percent increase for the National Park Service, $26 million more to clean up Superfund toxic waste sites as well a $56 million increase for national wildlife refuges and an $8 million boost for the endangered species program.
The legislation nearly doubles the Bush administration’s request for federal funding of loans for water infrastructure improvements and requires the EPA hire more criminal investigators to beef up its enforcement efforts.
It also ramps up spending by the relevant agencies for climate change programs and sets up a new commission to identify lingering scientific questions about the science behind global warming.
"The message of this bill with respect to climate change is it is time to quit talking about the problem and start doing something about it," Dicks said.
Oil shale emerged as a hot topic Wednesday, with Democrats narrowly passing an amendment to slow federal development of the resource in the Rocky Mountains.
The language blocks the Interior Department from issuing oil shale regulations or offering leases in 2008 until it has further studied the environmental impacts of commercial oil shale production.
"The question here is not whether to develop oil shale but how and when," said Representative Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat and author of the amendment.
Udall said his provision would not stop oil shale development "in its tracks" but direct it onto "a gentler and more sustainable route."
Western Republicans said delaying oil shale production undermines the goal of energy independence and will hurt local economies keen to develop the resource.
"Any program that would retard the leases or the royalties that would come from those will harm education in western states," said Representative Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican.
The amendment passed by a vote of 219-215, but only after Democrats held the vote open several minutes longer than scheduled to assure its passage.
That irked Republicans, who failed with a measure to exempt Utah and Wyoming from the Udall amendment to Colorado.
Democrats also defeated Republican attempts to expand offshore oil and gas production and to end the reintroduction of wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.
The House agreed to an amendment prohibiting the EPA from finalizing a controversial air toxics rule, authored by Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson.
The proposed regulation would change how industrial plants are classified for purposes of regulating hazardous pollutants, allowing sources of pollutants formerly classified as "major sources," which are beholden to stricter oversight, to be considered lesser regulated "area sources."
Under the current policy, once a facility is a major source, it is always to be considered a major source.
"EPA has done very little to justify such a dramatic shift in congressional intent or the agency's own long-standing interpretation," said Johnson, whose amendment passed by a vote of 252-178.
A bid by Representative Jay Inslee to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from allowing American hunters to import the heads and hides of polar bears killed in Canada failed Wednesday by a vote of 188-242.
Inslee, a Washington Democrat, argued the policy makes little sense at a time when the U.S. government is considering placing the polar bear on the endangered species list.
"This creature is dependent on ice, and the ice is disappearing," he said. "If we don't get serious about recovering polar bears, we will not be able to hunt anything because they will not exist."
Critics said the amendment would actually harm conservation efforts, as funds generated by the polar bear hunts and import permits are funneled into programs to protect the species. Individuals pay upwards of $30,000 for the right to hunt Canadian polar bears as well as a $1,000 fee to the U.S. government to import a carcass.
The ban would risk "crucial conservation funding streams and habitat protections for the very polar bears that we're all interested in protecting," said Representative Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat. Representative Dan Boren, an Oklahoma Republican, questioned the motives behind the proposal, calling it "one step further in the campaign to ban hunting."
Inslee rejected that premise. "There is nothing wrong with hunting or any suggestion of that in this amendment," he said. "But the truth is this – at this moment of risk to these bears, polar bear cubs need their parents in their dens more than we need their skins in our dens."
Environmentalists hailed the addition of a bipartisan amendment to block federally funded road building in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, the planet's largest remaining temperate rainforest.
Proponents said the federal timber program in the Tongass is a dead loss for taxpayers, costing some $30 million annually, and noted that the Forest Service faces an estimated $900 million road maintenance backlog in the forest.
Alaska Republican Don Young said the amendment would harm his state's economy and blamed "radical environmental groups" for driving up the costs of the timber program by filing lawsuits to block logging in the forest.
The amendment will cause further job losses to the logging industry that has shrunk from 15,000 jobs to less than 200 in the past two decades, Young added.
"The timber industry supports the best paying, year-around jobs in Southeast Alaska, and even though environmentalists have already succeeded locking up over 96 percent of the Tongass and eliminating most of these jobs, they're now after the remaining four percent and the last few hundred jobs," Young said. "This is nothing less than economic terrorism."
But among the organizations supportive of this amendment is Republicans for Environmental Protection, REP, hardly a radical group, who called the measure "a great step forward for conservation and fiscal responsibility."
"For too long, the American people have been subsidizing wanton mismanagement of our largest and wildest national forest, which this year is celebrating the centennial of its establishment by Theodore Roosevelt," said REP Government Affairs Director David Jenkins. "We're proud of the 72 Republicans who remembered what true conservatism means and supported this important amendment."
The amendment passed by a vote of 283-145 and some proponents questioned Young's criticism of environmental groups.
Federal studies have found that only two percent of the cost of the Tongass timber program is related to litigation, according to Representative Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican who sponsored the amendment.
"I am not opposed to logging when it's done on the timber company's dime," Chabot said. "But in this case, they are using the American taxpayer to subsidize these 200 jobs at the tune of $200,000 per job. That just makes no sense."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.
Key US Senators Reach Deal on CO2 Emissions
29th June 2007
WASHINGTON - A US Senate panel Wednesday began drawing up a sweeping law that would put mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions after a key Republican endorsed the idea.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Environment Committee, wants Congress to pass legislation that would for the first time place caps on emissions of heat-trapping gases from power plants, cars and factories.
Those efforts moved forward after Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican and one of the most senior committee members, agreed to work with Democrats "to craft a comprehensive climate bill." The United States is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Boxer called the accord "a groundbreaking moment," saying Warner was the first Republican on her committee to back the idea of economy-wide reductions.
"This will be the first time that any committee or subcommittee of Congress has attempted to pass comprehensive climate change legislation," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
A "cap-and-trade" approach -- backed by Warner and Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, would set industry-specific reduction targets and require those that exceed them to buy permits to pollute.
Coal-burning power plants emit the most US carbon dioxide, about 40 percent of the total, and cars emit about a third of the total.
Boxer said her committee could vote on the plan -- which was still under negotiation -- after Congress returns from its August recess, and the full Senate could vote on it this year.
Boxer's efforts jibe with those of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who wants to halve US emissions by 2050 through a cap-and-trade system. Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a key climate-change negotiator, said on Wednesday the issue would be addressed in "comprehensive climate change legislation" the House will weigh in the fall.
Stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions at a safe level will require a reduction of between 60 percent and 80 percent by 2050, Dingell said.
Dingell's views are key because he is a long-time ally of Detroit automobile makers, who have resisted attempts in California and other states to regulate vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide. In a landmark decision, the US Supreme Court ruled this year that the Environmental Protection Administration has the authority under the federal Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles.
President Bush opposes mandatory limits on emissions, saying they would harm the economy. Instead, Bush has set a goal of reducing the intensity of emissions -- as measured against economic growth -- by 18 percent by 2012.
Story by Chris Baltimore
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
US House Passes Bill Affirming Global Warming Exists
29th June 2007
WASHINGTON - The US House of Representatives on Wednesday, aiming to put an end to the debate over whether global warming is actually occurring, passed legislation recognizing the "reality" of climate change and providing money to work on the problem.
By a vote of 272-155, the House approved an environmental funding bill for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 that would increase federal investments in basic research on climate change and establish a new commission to review scientific questions that need to be addressed.
The White House has threatened a veto of the US$27.6 billion bill because its overall spending would exceed President George W. Bush's request by about US$2 billion. The Senate has not yet debated the bill.
The bill also would require oil companies to renegotiate faulty drilling contracts issued by the government in 1998 and 1999 that have allowed them to avoid paying billions in royalties, or be barred from receiving any new leases to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
The White House "strongly opposes" the provision, saying it could produce legal challenges that might delay future lease sales and would set a bad precedent coming nearly a decade after the government signed the contracts.
By inserting a declaration in the bill that climate change is a "reality," the Democratic-controlled House was trying to move US policy-makers beyond a debate, long stimulated by the Bush administration, over whether there was scientific proof that global warming really is occurring.
A leading promoter of that debate has been Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, who has referred to global warming as a "hoax." He chaired the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee until Republicans lost control of Congress this year.
Many scientists worry global warming will produce a series of environmental catastrophes, from more violent storms and the collapse of many species, to worsening food shortages and diseases in some regions.
The climate change commission envisioned by the House bill would make its first recommendations by July 1, 2008 and the panel's work would end in 2009.
A White House statement said the Bush administration was committed to addressing "the important issue of climate change," but that the commission would duplicate government efforts already under way.
Environmental groups have lambasted the Bush administration on global warming, saying it has slowed international progress on controlling emissions thought to cause the buildup of greenhouse gases.
The House-passed bill also would beef up funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by giving the agency over US$8 billion next year, US$887 million more than Bush sought, mainly for water cleanup and clean air programs. (Additional reporting by Tom Doggett)
Story by Richard Cowan
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
Pennsylvania Superfund Cleanup to Cost $22 Million
29th June 2007
WASHINGTON, DC, (ENS)
The Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement that will ensure the expedited cleanup hazardous chemicals in the soil and groundwater of the Foote Mineral Superfund Site, in Chester County, Pennsylvania.
The settling defendant, Frazer Exton Development, which has expended about $7 million on cleanup actions already, will pay approximately $15 million to complete cleanup work of the site. In addition, Frazer Exton has agreed to reimburse the EPA for a portion of the cleanup costs incurred for response actions at the site.
Per the terms of the agreement, Frazer Exton will submit a work plan for the design of the remedial action. The remedial plan will include excavating and removing contaminated soils and other waste materials, long-term monitoring of groundwater to determine if the source control measures are effective in reducing contaminant concentrations, and implementing institutional controls to prevent residential use of impacted groundwater and preserve the integrity of the remedy.
The plan requires the approval of the EPA and allows Pennsylvania an opportunity for review and comment before the plan is implemented. The site in East Whiteland Township, Chester County, is a 79 acre property formerly owned by the Foote Mineral Company. The property was the location of Foote Mineral’s Frazer Facility, which produced lithium chemicals and processed a variety of ores.
As a result of the activities conducted on the site, the groundwater beneath the site is contaminated with boron, lithium, chromium, bromate, and organic chemicals, including carcinogens benzene and tetrachloroethylene.
The soils are contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons and hazardous wastes from the processing of ores as well as with low-level radiation believed to be residual from mineral ores.
The Foote Mineral Facility was closed in 1991 and the buildings were demolished. The Frazer Exton acquired the property in 1998, for the purpose of residential development, with knowledge of the contamination and with the agreement to assume the liabilities associated with cleanup of the site.
The site was added to the EPA’s National Priorities List in October 1992. Under the proposed settlement, the settling defendant will conduct the remedial action selected in the EPA’s March 2006 Record of Decision. The settlement was lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and is subject to a 30-day public comment period. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice website at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.
Groups Sue BLM Over Broken Wilderness Promise
29th June 2007
DENVER, Colorado, (ENS)
By granting oil and gas leases on Colorado's South Shale Ridge, the Bureau of Land Management, BLM, is sacrificing the wilderness qualities of thousands of acres in western Colorado, Earthjustice attorney Keith Bauerle argued today in federal district court.
Bauerle was presenting the case for a coalition of conservation groups that is suing the BLM to force the federal agency to keep its promise of protecting the wilderness, wildlife, and natural beauty of this area from oil and gas development.
The coalition is composed ot the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, and Center for Native Ecosystems, Colorado Environmental Coalition, and Colorado Mountain Club.
The groups claim that to allow leasing the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife violated the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Federal Land Management and Policy Act.
The multicolored badlands of South Shale Ridge feature remarkable geological formations hidden within miles of twisting canyons, the groups say. The area is popular for backcountry recreation such as hiking, and its wildlife provides good opportunities for hunting.
In addition, South Shale Ridge is inhabited by bald eagles and rare plants.
BLM management plans were criticized 20 years ago because they did not account for the area's wilderness, recreational, and biological values. In 1998, during the Clinton administration, the BLM initiated a multiyear review process led by a committee of citizens, interest groups, and agency professionals.
BLM's official findings in 2001, at the start of the Bush administration, recommended that South Shale Ridge be reconsidered for protection as a Wilderness Study Area. The BLM then publicly committed to amending its 1987 management plan to account for and properly mange South Shale Ridge's wilderness features.
In 2004 nearly 9,000 citizens sent comments urging the BLM to protect the area for its wilderness, recreational, and biological values. Yet in November 2005 BLM leased almost the entire area for oil and gas drilling.
Meanwhile, the agency continues to lease millions of acres of public lands. As of January 2004, the BLM had issued more than 4,378 leases in Colorado, amounting to over 3.4 million acres of Colorado public lands.