White House Ordered to Release Energy Task Force RecordsWASHINGTON, DC, April 2, 2004 (ENS) - The Bush administration has been ordered by a federal judge to open its files and release records of Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from Judicial Watch and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The task force met for several months before President George W. Bush unveiled his National Energy Policy in May 2001. The policy is criticized by environmental organizations because of its reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power instead of renewables, efficiency and conservation.
The two plaintiff groups have been trying since April 2001 to obtain these records, which they believe will show the extent to which the task force staff met secretly with industry executives to develop energy policy recommendations - such as oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and weakening power plant pollution regulations.
The Department of Energy had refused to hand over the records, arguing that federal agency employees were assigned to the Office of the Vice President, and therefore their records could be kept secret.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman ruled that "citizens' right to know what their government is up to ... cannot be defeated by detailing an agency employee to a task force operating out of the White House or some other non-agency."
There are only nine narrowly defined reasons why government documents might not be released to the public, the judge ruled, and assignment to the vice president's office is not one of them.
The Freedom of Information Act "strongly favors openness," Judge Friedman wrote, "since Congress recognized in enacting it that an informed citizenry is 'vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed.'”
In its request for the documents - calendars, notes, minutes of meetings, correspondence - Judicial Watch wrote, "The American people should be made aware of the deliberations that constitute national energy policy proposals – especially in light of the power crisis in California and other parts of the nation."
"The secretive nature of the meetings thus far surely raises questions that we seek to answer," Judicial Watch said.
In addition, the plaintiff groups had requested waivers of the fees the agencies would ordinarily charge for duplicating the documents, a request Judge Friedman granted.
"The court's ruling is a wake-up call to the Bush administration - it's time to come clean about how it is doing the public's business," said NRDC Senior Attorney Sharon Buccino. "Once Congress and the American people finally get the details about what happened at the task force's closed door meetings, the administration's energy plan will be revealed for what it is - a payback to corporate polluters."
While previous court orders forced the administration to release records of the federal agencies that had participated in the task force's work, the administration has refused to release the records of the task force's executive director, Andrew Lundquist, and other federal agency employees who worked under him.
Besides revealing who shaped the administration's energy plan, these records Buccino expects the documents to shed further light on whether the task force violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act. That case is currently pending before the Supreme Court and scheduled for oral argument later this month.
Lead Scandal Drags Down DC Water and Sewer AuthorityWASHINGTON, DC, April 2, 2004 (ENS) - By failing to properly sample tap water for lead and copper, and then failing to use the correct language to notify the public about high levels of lead in the water, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) violated federal law, officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Wednesday.
It is the first formal indication from the federal agency that the water and sewer utility had broken the law since the lead problems were first discovered during routine tests in 2001 and 2002. To date, water has tested unacceptably high for lead in more than 5,000 homes and schools in three districts in the DC metropolitan area.
The EPA's Region 3 has been conducting an audit to determine the utility's compliance with the EPA's Lead and Copper Rule.
In a letter to WASA General Manager Jerry Johnson, the federal agency said the ongoing audit has found that DCWASA failed to comply with the lead service line replacement sampling requirements by failing to conduct followup sampling within 72 hours after the completion of the partial replacement of a lead service line during the compliance period ending September 30, 2003.
In addition, the utility failed to submit tap water monitoring for lead and copper within the first 10 days following the end of the monitoring period ending June 30, 2002, the EPA alleges.
EPA Region 3 Water Protection Division Director Jon Capacasa also faulted DCWASA for failing to use the required language for public service announcements submitted to television and radio stations for broadcasting during the six month compliance periods ending October 2002, April 2003, and October 2003.
The language used on lead warning notices inserted in each customer’s water utility bill during August 2003 was also faulty, Capacasa wrote.
And the utility failed to send written documentation to the EPA within 10 days after the end of each period in which the system is required to perform public education during the compliance period ending October 31, 2002.
Councilmember Carol Schwartz, who chairs the District of Columbia Council's Committee on Public Works and the Environment, Wednesday urged WASA to deliver filters to the 20,000 homes with water service lines whose composition is uncertain.
"WASA acknowledged that nine percent of households with service lines they originally believed to be copper tested above the federal limit for lead," Schwartz said. "Since I can’t in my capacity as an oversight chair demand that WASA distribute these filters, I am appealing to them to do the right thing and get filters out to these homes."
The Lead and Copper Rule requires water systems to optimize corrosion control to prevent lead and copper from leaching into drinking water. Large systems serving more than 50,000 people were required to conduct studies of corrosion control and to install the state approved optimal corrosion control treatment by January 1, 1997. Small and medium sized systems are required to optimize corrosion control when monitoring at the consumer taps shows action is necessary.
While the District of Columbia has had a problem with corrosion, that situation "appears to be unique, the EPA's Acting Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles, told the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform on March 5.
"In surveying states and regions," Grumbles said, "we have not identified a systemic problem of increasing lead concentrations in tap monitoring conducted by public water systems." But the officials said the EPA will continue to investigate this possibility.
Lead has been found to have serious health effects, particularly for children, Grumbles told the committee. "Health effects may include delays in normal physical and mental development in infants and young children; slight deficits in the attention span hearing, and learning abilities of children; and, high blood pressure in some adults, which may lead to kidney disease and increased chance of stroke. But pregnant women and children are our primary concern."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter as the level of concern for lead in children.
Grumbles said the EPA has set a maximum contaminant level goal of zero for lead in drinking water.
Hazardous Waste Burners Face New Pollution ControlsWASHINGTON, DC, April 2, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule Wednesday to reduce air pollutant emissions from five types of combustion sources that burn hazardous waste.
The rule would reduce emissions from incinerators, cement kilns, lightweight aggregate kilns, steam and heat generation boilers, and hydrochloric acid production furnaces.
This proposal would apply to all new and existing hazardous waste combustors, no matter what their size. The EPA estimates the proposal would affect 150 facilities operating 276 existing hazardous waste burning sources.
This proposal could cut up to 4,000 tons yearly of such hazardous pollutants as mercury, lead, dioxin, arsenic, soot and sulfur dioxide.
Hazardous air pollutants produce a wide variety of serious human health effects, including cancer, kidney damage and irritation of the lungs, skin and mucous membranes.
The proposed rule is authorized by Clean Air Act provisions requiring EPA to develop regulations cutting hazardous air pollution emissions from various types of industries that emit one or more of 188 designated contaminants.
These rules, including yesterday's proposal, require the use of maximum achievable pollution control technology (MACT).
Under MACT, new plants must use control technology as good as any being used in the country; existing plants must use technology as good as the average of the top 12 percent of existing facilities.
EPA Would Deregulate Four Types of Gas TurbinesWASHINGTON, DC, April 2, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to remove four of the eight subcategories of combustion turbines from emissions regulation.
The four subcategories are - lean premix gas-fired turbines, diffusion flame gas-fired turbines, emergency stationary combustion turbines, and stationary combustion turbines operated on the North Slope of Alaska. These turbines primarily burn natural gas and use oil as a backup to produce power.
Currently, there are approximately 8,000 stationary combustion turbines operating in the United States.
On August 28, 2002, the Gas Turbine Assocation submitted a petition requesting EPA to create and then delete two subcategories from the Stationary Combustion Turbines source category - lean premix stationary combustion turbines firing natural gas as a primary fuel with limited oil backup capability, and stationary combustion turbines.
After reviewing the industry's request, and evaluating its own internal analyses, the EPA has concluded that the four subcategories meet the health and environmental criteria for delisting as required by the Clean Air Act and can be removed from regulatory consideration.
The law allows EPA to consider petitions to remove source categories and subcategories from the list if no facility in the category:
But meeting those criteria does not mean the substances emitted by the deregulated turbines will be completely safe.
We do not interpret the relevant section of the Clean Air Act "to require absolute certainty that a source category or subcategory will not cause adverse effects on human health or the environment before it may be deleted from the source category list," the agency wrote in its report on the analysis.
Although numerous hazardous air pollutants (HAP) may be emitted from combustion turbines, the EPA wrote, a few account for essentially all the mass of HAP emissions from stationary combustion turbines - formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, and acetaldehyde.
The pollutant emitted in the largest quantity is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a probable human carcinogen and can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, coughing, dry throat, tightening of the chest, headache, and heart palpitations.
Benzene is a known human carcinogen. Acetaldehyde is a probable human carcinogen. Toluene causes dysfunction of the central nervous system
Other emissions are of potential concern not so much because of the emitted amounts, but due to their high potency via the inhalation route, the EPA wrote. These include arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).
Four of the emitted pollutants are of potential concern from the ingestion route: PAH, which are of concern for cancer; and cadmium, lead and mercury which are of concern for noncarcinogenic effects.
The agency says there are 120 stationary combustion turbines located on the North Slope of Alaska. Of these, 112 are diffusion flame gas-fired units, and eight are lean premix gas-fired turbines. Diffusion flame gas-fired turbines produced the highest risk of cancer, the EPA wrote.
But the agency said that facilities burning oil for fewer than 1,000 hours per year meet the statutory criteria for delisting, and these turbines do not run for more than 1,000 hours per year, they are eligible for delisting.
"We concluded that stationary combustion turbines located on the North Slope of Alaska also meet the delisting criteria," the agency wrote, without giving reasons.
In a separate but related action, the EPA proposed to stay, or delay, the enforcement of the combustion turbines hazardous air pollutant emissions standards for new turbines in the lean premix gas-fired turbines and diffusion flame gas-fired turbines subcategories.
This action will allow the companies that use these turbines to avoid spending money to install emission controls which will not be required if these subcategories of turbines are delisted for regulation.
This proposed action constitutes a “significant regulatory action” because it may raise novel policy issues and is therefore subject to review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Buffalo Advocates File Civil Rights LawsuitMISSOULA, MONTANA, April 2, 2004 (ENS) - The Buffalo Field Campaign has filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Missoula against numerous agents of the Montana Department of Livestock, as well as the Gallatin County Sheriff's Department and one Forest Service officer. The group charges that its members are being treated as terrorists while they are exercising their constitutional rights.
The group claims that years of harassment escalated after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and now includes government spying such as that authorized by the Patriot Act to monitor suspected terrorist organizations.
The Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) is a nonprofit group of activists that works to publicize and halt the hazing, trapping, and slaughter of the Yellowstone buffalo, members of America's only continuously wild herd. State and federal agencies have killed 2,778 Yellowstone buffalo in the past 10 years due to fears by Montana cattle ranchers that their animals will become infected with brucellosis, an abortive disease that has never been transmitted from buffalo to cattle.
BFC volunteers gather video footage for distribution to national media outlets, in the hopes of bringing political pressure to bear on the agencies to stop the killing. Activists have engaged in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience to call attention to and halt bison slaughter operations.
The BFC complains that its volunteers have been subjected to "a pattern and practice of illegal detentions, seizures of videotapes used to document controversial bison hazing, capture, and slaughter operations, and false arrests on vague charges, such as obstruction of justice, allegedly for the purpose of discouraging them from engaging in constitutionally protected activities."
Included among the allegations are claims of deadly assaults by Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL) agents. In one instance during the summer of 2002, the lawsuit claims that MDOL agent Shane Grube dragged a dead moose carcass next to one of their patrol stations in the Gallatin National Forest, positioning the carcass between volunteers and an active grizzly bear closure area. At the time of the incident, BFC volunteer Greg Marin was stationed there with his three year old son Dakota.
Also in 2002, BFC volunteers Chris May and Summer Nelson allege that MDOL agent Rob Morton attempted to hit May on a National Forest road with his snowmobile, forcing May to dive out of the way, and then dismounted and shoved May off the road, threatening to arrest him if he didn't get off "my side of the road."
BFC Campaign Coordinator Mike Mease says it is these kinds of "outrageous incidents" that prompted the group to consider legal action to protect its members.
Mease said, "We understand that these people have a job to do, and while we happen to believe that their mission is immoral, we have always tried to respect the humanity of the government employees involved." Mease added, "Over time it has become very clear that they don't have mutual respect for American citizens who are exercising their rights and also trying to do a job - which is to gather news and document government operations."
In a right-to-know suit filed by BFC against MDOL in 2002, the state agency filed an "Index of Withheld Documents" including 14 "Investigative Reports" from MDOL agents, all but one of them post-dating the terrorist attacks. Also withheld were 121 photographs of BFC "members, supporters, and activities."
Mease said that, in addition to securing protection for BFC volunteers, "It is our hope that by filing this suit, we will be able to re-gain reasonable access to government operations so Americans can see the senseless slaughter that their tax money is being wasted on."
Grand Canyon Trust Sues to Help Endangered FishPHOENIX, Arizona, April 2, 2004 (ENS) - The Grand Canyon Trust, represented by Earthjustice, Thursday filed a lawsuit against the federal government to safeguard the humpback chub, a four million year old species of fish now on the brink of extinction.
In March 1967, the humpback chub was designated as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but despite a recovery plan and critical habitat set aside for it, the species has not recovered.
In the past 13 years alone, the humpback chub in Grand Canyon have declined by two-thirds, from 10,500 in 1989 to just 3,500 fish in 2002. The federal plan released in 2002 to recover the endangered fish defines a population as recovered at only 2,100 adults.
Earthjustice attorney Robert Wiygul says that conclusion is not supported by the best available science, and is a lower number than when they were first listed as endangered.
“These recovery goals are based on politics, not sound science,” said Wiygul. “This is a one-way ticket to extinction.”
Threats to the survival of humpback chub and their native riverine ecosystem arise from the many dams on the Colorado River and its tributaries. In Grand Canyon, it is Glen Canyon Dam, located just upstream.
“Sandy beaches, once replenished every year with sediment carried during flood flows, are eroding to bedrock and eliminating native streamside habitats, irreplaceable cultural resources, and recreational opportunities,” warned Grand Canyon Trust scientist Rick Johnson.
Ten years after Congress passed the Grand Canyon Protection Act in 1992, critical natural resources within Grand Canyon are still in serious decline, Johnson explains.
“The Grand Canyon is one of America’s premier natural resources. No one wants to see the native species that evolved there over millions of years go extinct because of human carelessness,” said Neil Levine, attorney for Earthjustice.
“The humpback chub is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Nikolai Ramsey. “Four of eight native fish have already been lost from Grand Canyon; the humpback chub is poised to become number five. It’s time to recover this fish and restore Grand Canyon.”
Army Promises Not to Set Makua Valley AflameHONOLULU, Hawaii, April 2, 2004 (ENS) - Hawaiian community group Malama Makua and the federal government have reached an agreement that will allow 100 U.S. Marines on their way to Okinawa to train in Makua Valley using live ammunition.
Live-fire training and prescribed burns have set the west Oahu valley ablaze often in the past, and the community group is determined that it should not happen again.
To protect the 45 endangered and threatened species and hundreds of acres of critical habitat present in the area, Malama Makua filed a lawsuit earlier this month seeking to limit military activities at Makua Military Reservation (MMR) pending completion of the U.S. Army’s ongoing formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.
Under a settlement agreement approved by the court Wednesday, the military will not conduct any prescribed burns and would limit its use of mortars, rockets and other weapons posing substantial risk of starting fires until the consultation is complete.
Judge Susan Oki Mollway has decided to lift the temporary restraining order she issued on March 19, 2004, and the Marines will begin a five day live-fire exercise beginning April 5, 2004.
“I’m glad that the military has chosen to seek common ground with the community in the spirit of our 2001 agreement,” said Malama Makua board member Sparky Rodrigues, citing the settlement in 2001 of a previous Malama Makua lawsuit, in which the Army agreed to limit training and prepare an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“We’ve said all along we prefer no training at Makua and the eventual cleanup and return of the valley to a cultural and traditional use, but, following the spirit of the 2001 agreement, just want the military to respect the community, environment, and the law,” Rodrigues said.
Army spokesman Troy Griffin said in a written statement, "Although this agreement limits the ability of our soldiers to train as completely as they will fight in the global war against terrorism, the Army and Marine Corps will continue to do whatever it takes for soldiers and Marines, our nation's sons and daughters, to train for combat in Makua."
The agreement restricts use of mortars to times when the official “burn index,” or fire danger rating, is in the “green” zone, defined as conditions presenting a “low” fire risk. The military may use “low” risk weapons, such as rifles and other small arms, as long as the burn index remains in the low or medium risk zone.
MMR’s range control personnel will provide burn index calculations every 15 minutes - as opposed to the usual one-hour intervals - while using “medium” risk weapons. All training with these weapons must stop if range control cannot obtain a positive “green” burn index reading.
All training will stop if either a fire is observed or a mortar or rocket lands outside the firebreak road, and may not resume until safe conditions are confirmed. If a fire starts outside the firebreak road, training will cease altogether pending further consultation with the Service.
All units training at Makua will provide two firefighting helicopters on-site instead of the one usually provided, and a firefighting vehicle, and will dedicate 20 soldiers as firefighting personnel, in addition to the federal firefighters already present. The training units will also place clearly visible markers at the limits of the zone of fire to reduce the risk of misfires.
No prescribed burns will take place pending completion of the consultation.
“We appreciate that the military has again agreed to work with the community to safeguard the precious natural heritage at Makua,” said Malama Makua board member Fred Dodge. “I am hopeful that the military is learning. It is not too early to increase efforts to clean up the valleys, not only for endangered species and cultural sites, but also for the community's health.”
New York City Back to Recycling at Half the CostNEW YORK, New York, April 2, 2004 (ENS) - New York City is once again in the glass recycling business. Glass and plastic recycling in the city were suspended in July 2002 because of severe budget cutbacks. Plastic recycling returned in July 2003, but glass recycling was still not affordable - until Thursday.
Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty then was able to announce the restoration of glass recycling and the resumption of weekly recycling collection throughout the five boroughs.
Weekly recycling collection of metal, glass, plastic and mixed paper returns citywide this week. New York City residents must now put glass bottles, jugs and jars in with their metal and plastics.
Commissioner Doherty said, “I am pleased that glass recycling and weekly recycling collection are returning April 1st. Sanitation is ready to assist New Yorkers with information on how they can comply with the new recycling rules. I feel that New Yorkers will continue to embrace the recycling program as they have in the past, and with a much better recycling processing plan than before the suspension in July 2002.”
Starting now, glass bottles and jars can be placed in clear plastic bags or blue labeled containers along with aluminum foil, metal cans, plastic bottles and jugs, beverage cartons and juice boxes.
Mixed paper and cardboard should continue to be placed in clear plastic bags or green labeled containers.
The Sanitation Department has placed recycling ads and flyers announcing the restoration of glass and the resumption of weekly recycling collection in daily and weekly newspapers, placed posters on collection trucks, and mailed brochures to building managers and owners as well as to residents.
New York City residents will be given a 60 day moratorium from receiving summonses for not recycling glass bottles, jugs, and jars only. Sanitation will continue to issue summonses for mixing metal, plastic, and mixed paper with household refuse or improperly recycling the materials.
"Two years ago the city faced the most severe fiscal crisis in a generation," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "We made the difficult decision to suspend a portion of our recycling program because costs were skyrocketing, and materials that should have been recycled ended up in landfills."
Bloomberg said the city has found a more cost effective and environmentally friendly way to recycle."
When the glass and plastic program was suspended, the New York was faced with paying more than $100 per ton for vendors to take the city's recyclables. The suspension allowed some vendors to reconfigure their operations, increase efficiency and offer the city a considerably better deal on its metal, glass and plastic recyclables.
Now, all metal, plastic and glass recyclables collected by the Sanitation Department will be delivered to the city's vendor for only $51 per ton, or roughly half of what the city would have paid if the program was not suspended.