AmeriScan: November 15, 2005

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U.S. Energy Secretary Talks Petroleum on Middle East Visit

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, November 15, 2005 (ENS) – U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman Sunday participated in the release of the Gulf Research Center’s Arabic version of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) International Energy Outlook 2005 in Dubai.

“The International Energy Outlook is an important assessment for international energy markets through 2025,” Bodman said. “Translation of this critical information into Arabic by the Gulf Research Center will contribute to a better understanding of the world’s energy needs.”

The outlook includes information on major energy fuels and associated carbon dioxide emissions. It aims at helping energy managers and analysts, both in government and in the private sector, by providing projections and recent data.

Gulf Research Center Chairman Abdulaziz Sager and EIA Administrator Guy Caruso joined Bodman in Dubai for the release of the Arabic version of the energy outlook.

While in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Secretary Bodman met with UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and Energy Minister Mohammed bin Dha'en Al-Hamili.

During these discussions, Secretary Bodman updated them on hurricane recovery efforts in the U.S. energy sector and discussed ways that the two nations can work together to keep petroleum markets well supplied.

On Monday, the secretary visited Kuwait, as part of his four-nation tour of the Middle East. He paid a visit to the EQUATE petrochemical plant, a joint venture between Kuwait’s Petrochemical Industries Company and U.S. company Union Carbide, a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company.

Bodman also met with Kuwaiti Energy Minister Shaykh Ahmad Fahd Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.

The secretary expressed gratitude, on behalf of the United States, for UAE and Kuwaiti support and contributions to those affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September.

“Our domestic and international oil markets were affected by the uncertainty that was caused by the hurricanes that hit the Gulf of Mexico this summer, but thanks to the leadership in countries like the UAE, the world’s oil suppliers met the need and quickly eased supply concerns,” Bodman said.

Secretary Bodman will now travel to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

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Congressional Approval of Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Denounced

WASHINGTON, DC, November 15, 2005 (ENS) - Conservation and scientific groups Monday condemned provisions of the FY 06 Energy and Water Appropriations bill that set aside $130 million for nuclear fuel reprocessing projects, saying the projects increase the risk that terrorists could acquire plutonium and use it to make a nuclear bomb.

The Senate passed the bill's conference report on Monday, adding its approval to that of the House and sending the bill to President George W. Bush for his signature.

The nuclear fuel reprocessing "will compromise efforts to keep dangerous nuclear technology out of unsafe hands, and substantially increase the flow of nuclear waste for which there is no established means of disposal," warned the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The measure provides $50 million for a pilot program of advanced plutonium separation technology, and $80 million to continue spent fuel reprocessing research under the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative.

“Congress is taking a giant step backward by advancing spent nuclear fuel reprocessing programs. This is just a bad idea for a whole list of reasons,” said Dr. Thomas Cochran, Director of NRDC’s Nuclear Program.

“These projects threaten our national security, our public health and our safety. And they are wildly expensive. This funding would be better spent finding safer sites for deep geologic disposal with strict, protective public health standards.”

The Bush administration had approved deep geologic storage of spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, but the repository has been plagued by a series of setbacks, most recently a complete design retooling, as well as an investigation into the falsification of scientific data by government scientists working on the project.

The Union of Concerned Scientists also is critical of the planned reprocessing.

"Reprocessing separates plutonium in spent fuel from the remaining radioactive waste. Because separated plutonium can be used in nuclear weapons and is highly vulnerable to theft, this plan will greatly increase the risk that terrorists or hostile states will acquire nuclear weapon materials," the Union of Concerned Scientists said.

"The United States needs to take a giant step back from this brink," said Dr. Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director and senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Security Program. "Separating plutonium from spent fuel is not a solution to the nuclear waste problem and would increase the risk that terrorists could acquire plutonium and use it to make a nuclear weapon."

Congressional appropriators claim that reprocessing is needed because of "uncertainties" in the Yucca Mountain plan. But the critics argue that separating plutonium will not avoid the need for geologic repositories to store the remaining radioactive wastes that result from reprocessing spent fuel.

"Reprocessing only amplifies the safety, security, economic and proliferation risks of nuclear waste disposal," said Dr. Edwin Lyman, senior staff scientist at UCS. "A much better approach is to continue to store spent fuel on site in hardened casks with improved security against terrorist attack. This would give the United States plenty of time to seek a truly workable and safe solution to its nuclear waste problems."

If the U.S. were to reprocess the roughly 50,000 metric tons of spent fuel that it has generated to date, it would produce about 500 metric tons of separated plutonium, enough for tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and an attractive target for terrorists.

Although reprocessing supporters claim that the U.S. would be able to promptly use all the separated plutonium in new reactor fuel, this is not supported by the experience of other countries that have reprocessed spent fuel, where well over 200 metric tons of separated plutonium have accumulated.

The Energy Department estimated in 1999 that it would cost taxpayers $280 billion to reprocess all U.S. spent fuel and reuse the plutonium in fresh fuel called mixed oxide (MOX) because it mixes the oxides of uranium and plutonium.

The same appropriations bill earmarked funds for the start up of the first MOX fuel fabrication facility in the United States to be built at the federal government's Savannah River Site by a private consortium that includes Duke Energy and the French state-owned nuclear services firm Cogema.

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Mercy Corps CEO: Half Pakistan Earthquake Deaths Were Children

PORTLAND, Oregon, November 15, 2005 (ENS) - The CEO of the aid organization Mercy Corps, who has just returned home to Portland after a week-long trip to Pakistan, says that nearly half of the 87,000 people who died in the October 8 earthquake were children.

In a briefing Monday, Neal Keny-Guyer pleaded for more funding and attention to the children's needs as the harsh Himalayan winter begins and threatens to kill more people than the earthquake. The death toll from the quake jumps daily as information from remote communities is added to the total.

"We are most concerned about the health and well being of the children," Keny-Guyer told reporters. "Mercy Corps is working in the foothills of the Himalayas and the earthquake survivors we're helping are living at the same altitude as Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. Imagine your family spending a winter there without adequate shelter, food or medical attention."

Mercy Corps has initiated a cash-for-work jobs program for earthquake survivors in the remote, mountainous villages of Pakistan. The agency's goal is to construct 6,000 new shelters for as many as 50,000 people while providing local employment.

In addition, Mercy Corps is helping to open tent schools in up to 16 villages near the earthquake's epicenter where schools were totally destroyed. This mid-term aid work begins as Mercy Corps continues its emergency relief efforts, which include distributions of lifesaving tents, blankets, food and medical treatment in six basic health units located throughout the North-West Frontier Province.

Keny-Guyer says there are not enough tents in the world to meet the immense shelter needs of Pakistan earthquake survivors.

Mercy Corps' new shelter jobs program pays local people to clear debris for building sites and salvage building materials such as wood and corrugated steel roofing to rebuild winter shelters.

The cash-for-work program began in the village of Saed Abad near the town of Hillkot, and will expand to an estimated 12 additional communities in the next two weeks. This program is on the fast track as the harsh Himalayan winter approaches in the Siran and Konch valleys where Mercy Corps is working.

Mercy Corps is helping to open makeshift tent schools for the first time since the earthquake destroyed school buildings. Aid workers are distributing book bags, text books, coloring books, crayons, and other school supplies to two primary and two secondary schools in the hard-hit town of Battal, where classes are being convened in large winterized tents provided by the Pakistani government.

Mercy Corps is providing recreational equipment such as volleyballs, badminton sets and cricket gear to provide fun and therapeutic after-school activities for students. The agency plans to have four more new tent schools open this week in Hillkot, with more reopening in the coming weeks.

Keny-Guyer's trip also included a visit to Kashmir, which has been disputed territory for decades between Pakistan and India and was the site of recent tensions over access to earthquake victims. The agency plans to start delivering aid to the region.

"Peace and social justice has always been a part of Mercy Corps' mission," said Keny-Guyer, "and we plan to play a central role in the long-term recovery of Kashmir."

Since 1979, Mercy Corps has provided more than $1 billion in assistance to people in 81 nations. The organization's 2,100 staff worldwide currently reach seven million people in more than 35 countries. Mercy Corps allocates more than 92 percent of its resources to programs that assist people in need.

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Judge Halts Logging in Giant Sequoia National Monument

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 15, 2005 (ENS) - A federal judge for the Northern District of California has blocked the U.S. Forest Service from moving ahead with a commercial logging project in Giant Sequoia National Monument in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Criticizing the agency for its "lack of thoroughness" and for its decision to evaluate potential consequences only after logging had begun, Judge Charles Breyer issued a preliminary injunction that halts a timber sale known as the Ice Project.

In his ruling the judge explained that the Forest Service had ignored extensive research on how commercial logging would affect wildlife in the region, including the findings of its sister agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"At the very least, a careful scientific analysis would likely entail more than a cursory evaluation of a sprinkling of the recent publications on topic, and would include some explanation for a conclusion that directly conflicts with that of the expert federal agency in this area," the judge wrote.

Giant Sequoia National Monument encompasses two-thirds of all the Sequoia redwoods in the world. The Bush administration's plan for Giant Sequoia as well as the Ice Project specifically includes logging of healthy trees of any species as big as 30 inches in diameter. Trees of that size can be 200 years old or more.

In the six years since the Ice Project was initially proposed, the project area became part of the Giant Sequoia National Monument, and future commercial logging was outlawed.

The Bush administration had tried to "grandfather" that project into the Monument boundaries, and the Forest Service began logging the area in September.

Conservation groups charge that the Forest Service has not taken a hard look at the likely environmental harm that the extensive logging will cause, utilizing the significant research and analysis conducted since the project was proposed in 1999.

Earlier this fall, Judge Breyer ruled that a similar timber sale, known as the Saddle Project, was illegal because it relied on outdated and incomplete data.

"Rather than more broadly addressing the judge's concerns, the Forest Service simply began allowing cutting and repeating the same mistakes somewhere else," said Pat Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program.

Judge Breyer denied the Forest Service claims that the timber sale was urgently needed for public safety reasons. In light of the fact that the timber company "has waited six years to execute the contract because of unfavorable timber prices "an additional delay of less than one year cannot be devastating," the judge decided.

"The Forest Service has not shown that it is up to the task of safeguarding Giant Sequoia despite its status as one of the world's natural wonders," he said. "There is no excuse for the carelessness the Forest Service has exhibited in allowing logging this rare forest," Gallagher said.

Joining the Sierra Club as plaintiffs for this case are the Tule River Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, Earth Island Institute, and Sequoia Forestkeeper.

"Citizens groups have repeatedly been forced into court to get the Forest Service to follow the law," said Deborah Reames of Earthjustice who served as co-counsel in the case. "Protecting Giant Sequoia National Monument, a real gem of America's public lands, really shouldn't require such vigilant oversight by concerned citizens."

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Jewelers of America Opposes Public Land Sales to Mining Companies

WASHINGTON, DC, November 15, 2005 (ENS) - Jewelers of America, the nation’s largest retail jewelry trade association, sent a letter to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert on Monday night urging him to strip controversial mining provisions from the House budget reconciliation bill.

The letter, signed by Jewelers of America President and CEO Matthew Runci, expressed concern that the mining provisions authored by House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, a California Republican, “would result in a massive giveaway of public land giveaway to corporations and private interests.”

Pombo's language would permit private corporations engaged in mining to purchase public lands such as national forests, monuments and wilderness areas. More than 270 million acres of federal public lands in the West would be thrown open for sale if the current version of House budget bill becomes law.

The House Republican leadership pulled the budget reconciliation bill from the floor last Thursday when it became clear that they did not have the votes to pass it, even though they had removed language authorizing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The House is expected to resume discussions on the bill today with a vote possible later this week.

Jewelers of America has a stake in the outcome of this legislative battle because its retail members depend on the consumer appeal of gold and other minerals and metals.

The Jewelers of America letter states, “Any reforms to the mining laws must be done in the ‘light of day’ with full consideration by the committees of jurisdiction and with ample opportunity for the public to examine and comment on the legislation. Disguising major changes in our environmental laws as ‘miscellaneous’ and merely a ‘revenue raiser’ simply does not serve the public interest. These lands have been held in trust for the public and should be treated as such.”

"Thanks to Jewelers of America for standing up for special places like the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area,” said Mary Mitchell, executive director of Rock Creek Alliance, based in Sandpoint, Idaho. “Congress should listen to Jewelers of America and other business and community leaders and take the mining provisions out of the budget bill."

Mitchell and others are concerned that if the Pombo provisions are passed into law, Revett Minerals Inc. could buy public land adjacent to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and construct the mine without any federal agency oversight of the potential impacts that pollution from the mine would have on the nearby Clark Fork River and Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest freshwater lake.

EARTHWORKS, a Washington, DC-based environmental organization, Oxfam America, a humanitarian relief and development organization, and Westerners for Responsible Mining, a coalition committed to protecting public lands and communities in the western U.S. welcomed the unexpected action by Jewelers of America.

“We applaud Jewelers of America for their strong stand against this sneak attack on our western public land heritage,” said Steve D’Esposito, president of EARTHWORKS.

“All of us who have a direct stake in this issue, including local communities, jewelry companies, mining professionals and mining companies, should stand together," D’Esposito said. "By allowing the reckless privatization of our public lands, Pombo’s provisions would promote land speculation and real estate development, which could threaten the interests of responsible mining companies.”

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Lawsuit Filed to Protect Katrina Victims From Eviction

WASHINGTON, DC, November 15, 2005 (ENS) - The Advancement Project, a national racial justice organization, filed a lawsuit Monday seeking a temporary restraining order to protect the interests of Louisiana residents, displaced and evicted as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

The case against the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Clerks of the courts, and Constables contends that there are several ways to increase the likelihood that residents will have a chance to know that they are subject to eviction proceedings.

The organization seeks a declaration that Louisiana's eviction notice procedures are unconstitutional because they do not provide survivors an opportunity to be heard.

"Two months after Katrina, the residents of New Orleans most traumatized by the hurricane and its aftermath are now traumatized by the prospect of being evicted from their homes and losing all of their personal effects, without proper notice," said Judith Browne, co-director of the Advancement Project.

"We merely want to establish fair rules, so that people can defend themselves, protect their personal property and their housing opportunities," said Browne. "Too many people are having their belongings thrown on the streets without due process as our Constitution requires."

Because Louisiana law merely requires that lessees whose whereabouts are unknown receive notice by tacking it to the door of the premises, tens of thousands of residents will be evicted without an opportunity to be heard.

The Advancement Project points to the case of Janeice Sylvester who resided in a rental apartment in Orleans Parish before Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29. Due to the hurricane, Sylvester is displaced and now lives in LaPlace, Louisiana. When Sylvester visited her New Orleans apartment in early October, her belongings were in place and intact.

During the time of her displacement from her apartment, Sylvester has made several attempts to contact her landlord, but has been unable to establish contact because the phone number was not functioning. On November 4, Sylvester returned to her apartment to find a notice of eviction posted and a court date of November 3. Sylvester has not been contacted by her landlord at any time, nor was there any known effort to establish contact with her, the Advancement Project says.

"Renters in New Orleans are facing evictions from landlords who want to renovate and charge higher rents to the out of town workers who populate the city," said Bill Quigley, lead counsel in the lawsuit. "Some renters have offered to pay their rent and are still being evicted. Others question why they should have to pay rent for September when they were not allowed to return to New Orleans."

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San Francisco Requires Mercury in Fish Warnings in Chinese, Spanish

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 15, 2005 (ENS) - The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has unanimously passed an ordinance requiring warnings in English, Spanish, and Chinese posted in markets and restaurants to inform consumers that certain fish may contain harmful levels of mercury.

The Supervisors passed the measure on November 1. Monday it was returned from Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office not vetoed, so it is now law in San Francisco and the first law of its kind in the country.

The measure is authorized under Proposition 65, which requires warnings about toxins, such as mercury in fish, that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.

The need for mercury in seafood warning signs is based on the March 2004 advisory on methylmercury in fish from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi introduced the measure earlier this year.

Public health and environmental groups support the ordinance as a step toward giving Latina and Chinese mothers the right to know about mercury in seafood. The public health ordinance addresses the environmental justice concern that only English speakers were getting information crucial to protecting women and children.

"Supervisor Mirkarimi and the Board of Supervisors should be applauded for extending California’s Prop 65 warning signs to Spanish and Chinese speakers,” said Eli Saddler of "San Francisco's ordinance gives Latina and Chinese mothers an equal right to know so that they can also protect their children from mercury in fish, like swordfish and tuna."

Mercury is a neurotoxin that can harm developing fetuses and young children. Some fish contain more mercury than others so it is important for women to select seafood carefully. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, one in six women of childbearing age in the United States has unsafe blood levels of mercury.

The Turtle Island Restoration Network and the As You Sow Foundation filed the original notice of intent to sue supermarkets and restaurants for failure to post Prop 65 warnings in 2002. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer took up the lawsuits against supermarkets and restaurants failure to warn consumers. In February, the attorney general settled with major restaurant chains, but the lawsuit against grocery stores continues.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health will enforce the new ordinance during routine health inspections.

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