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Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Offline Until 6/24/02

I will be away through the weekend and so no additional posting will occur until Monday. See you then!

Posted by Richard
6/19/2002 08:32:14 PM | PermaLink

And You Thought Colorado Had Fires...

Bob Morris at Politics in the Zeros is running this story, which strikes me as important context for what's going on in Colorado:

There are 263 fires burning now in Siberia and the Russian Far East, destroying huge amounts of forest - and global warming is a cause.
[Read more]

Posted by Richard
6/19/2002 12:31:38 PM | PermaLink

Angola's Woes as Symbol and Symptom of Trans-national Globalization

Recently, the Vegan Blog reported on the connections between the Congo's terrible history of environmental destruction, animal murder for trade, war, and related poverty and the international corporate demand for the hi-tech mineral tantalum that is mined there. In fact, the story is more complex. Many African nations have had their own corrupt hand in stirring the Congolese pot, selling weapons to government and rebel forces for natural resources and business rights. Such is the case with the government of Angola, which took hefty off-shore oil concessions in Congo as the price for its military support.

Angola has its own long history of war since its struggle for independence from Portugal from 1961-1975. Rarely has it known peace as a nation. A lot of this has to do with international power and Angola's own rich bevy of natural resources in oil, diamonds, gold, coffee, timber and wildlife. Primarily, oil and diamonds are what led to South African and (top secret) U.S. interventions into the region in 1975. Cuba then also became involved as the MPLA marxist government sought to hold off the conservative UNITA rebel squads.

Throughout the 1990s, international boycotts of Angola were instituted that prevented governments from easily courting favorable relationships with the groups desperate to exploit the country for cash, weapons, food, and territorial bribes. However, a large black market insued in which both the government and rebels plundered natural resources. UNITA, for instance, is estimated to have gained $3.7 billion from diamond sales in 1992-1998 and while its more recent sales have dwindled from the approximate $600 million per year a decade ago, UNITA still sells about $130 million worth of diamonds per year. A large reason for the loss in sales is because the South American diamond giant De Beers continued to buy up diamonds from the rebels until 1999. Despite the fact that Angola's diamond miners are veritable slaves working in the most dangerous of conditions, De Beers pursued a no-questions-asked policy that amounted to Angolan diamonds representing about 1/5th of De Beers's business. Still, despite the embargo, UNITAs many smuggling routes and pay-offs to neighboring governments have allowed the illegal gemstone trade to continue unabated.

The Angolan government, on the other hand, has sought to court the favor of oil-desiring nations, with U.S. governmental agencies and corporations in the lead. Angola exports approximately $2-3 billion per year in oil and U.S. firms like Chevron, BP, and Exxon-Mobil (as well as the French Elf Aquitaine) have a large operating presence. These companies, more or less, fund the war outright in the name of off-shore drilling rights and they do so consciously and complicitly. The following article further documents the implosion of big energy and weapons contractors into the U.S. government's intrests in Angola and how Dick Cheney himself is connected in the most distasteful (and potentially illegal) connections.

For an excellent daily update on Angolan news click here.

Information not cited above is available, amongst other places, in the State of the World 2002 report by The Worldwatch Institute.

Posted by Richard
6/19/2002 11:32:17 AM | PermaLink

Blow to Peace Process as Rebels Flee Demobilization Camps to Avoid Starvation

Luanda, Angola - Angola's peace process suffered a setback as thousands of UNITA rebels fled demobilization camps to avoid starvation, threatening to spark a new wave of instability that could harm a vital source of U.S. oil, news reports said Friday.

Gen. Alcides Chindombe, a regional Angolan army commander told the Portuguese news agency, Lusa, that in the past few days some 6,000 guerrillas have left the camps to look for food. An unknown number of women and children had died of malnutrition in the camps, he said.

Under April's cease-fire terms the government promised to stock the camps with food and medical supplies. However, up to 5,000 UNITA troops have died of hunger or disease in the camps, authorities say.

About 80,000 UNITA fighters and 230,000 family members had arrived in the camps, according to the government, which says it is overwhelmed by the unexpectedly large numbers. The government has appealed for an international relief effort to end the humanitarian crisis.

Political analysts fear failure to feed the rebels who are supposed to be disarming and returning to civilian life could force them to resort to banditry and destabilize the southwest African country further.

Jonathan Stevenson of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank, said further instability could harm U.S. strategic interests in the region.

"Angola is clearly an important source of oil for the United States because of possible instability in Venezuela and doubts about reserves in North America," he said.

The resource-rich country exports a total 800,000 barrels of oil per day and is a bigger supplier of crude to the United States than Kuwait.

However, much of the country lies in ruins following nearly three decades of civil war.

By Casimiro Siona, Associated Press Writer

Posted by Richard
6/19/2002 10:15:21 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

You Do Have the Right-to-Know!

An important arm of the eco-justice movement has been the "right-to-know" campaign that links a sounder and more sustainable future to the continuance of democratic communities that are well informed on issues and the people, corporations, and governments who produce them. Right-to-know has been inflamed since 9-11 when the Bush administration began pressuring agencies to remove material from websites, etc., that, while unclassified, was deemed "credible information for terrorists." With this precedent set, many large industries and corporations began culling their own files in the name of national security.

However, as Greenpeace has recently reminded us, much of the information that has been (or will be) pulled is of a kind that by failing to dutifully inform the public of the same, the government and related industries are acting anti-democratically. Further, especially as regards the industries hand in all of this, one suspects that the catchy "for American security" is really just a cover for "cloak a potential scandal and stock-holder bailout."

Three new Right-to-Know sites deserve special mention:
1) They Rule -- a flashy interactive site that allows people to investigate and plot maps of the various connections between the world's largest corporate boards of directors and the web of monopolies they control.
2) -- now that nuclear waste is being dumped at Yucca mountain, or South Carolina, or, you know how close you live to waste refineries or the proposed travel routes that will get the stuff from here to there? Type in your address and get informed with full color maps.
3) -- from a Right-to-Know expert up at Santa Cruz, Mike Meuser. Interested by all that data about toxics, industry, capitalist degradation, etc., but not sure what to make of it? Mike breaks it down and plots it on maps (and teaches people how to do the same), so that it can be readily understood and perceived in a more accessible manner. Highly recommended!

Posted by Richard
6/18/2002 09:55:04 AM | PermaLink

Chronic Wasting Disease in Wisconson

As the unprecedented kill of up to 15,000 deer prior to the Fall has been increased toward 25,000, the state has revealed that its policies in the matter are highly questionable and tend more toward attempting to regulate ease with the hunting and gaming industry than with scientific investigation into the problem and/or protection of human and animal populations.

Asked why their tests on deer herds are not being conducted on a state-wide level (to get a more accurate sample for the study), or why the very sorts of livestock farms, those that are highly suspected as being both the initial and primary source of CWD and "Mad Cow," are also beyond the scope of investigation and future action, the state has pled that it lacks the legal and economic resources to conduct such large-scale interventions. All it can do is to grant more hunting licenses and pray for the best.

But to Mad Cow expert John Stauber, author of Mad Cow U.S.A., failing to look seriously at the questionable practices ongoing in the "kill them, render them, and feed them to growing herds" philosophy is tantamount to insanity [read the full article here]:
As you can see by reading this article [below] in this afternoon's Capital Times of Madison, word is slowly leaking out about what has apparently been a massive decade-long feeding of "supplements" (including meat and bone meal as mineral and protein) to wild deer in the heart of the "kill zone," the area of the WI Chronic Wasting Disease outbreak.

Apparently no one in the CWD research community has ever investigated the possibility that CWD may be spreading via rendered feed (mineral, fat and protein supplements), as happened in Britain with mad cow disease. This needs to be investigated immediately as a possible third means of infection for CWD, along with suspected animal-to-animal transmission and environmental contamination.

There is also the related question of what to do with all the bodies. Right now, Wisconson has two options available to it -- render them for feed, and landfills. A crematorium has been contracted for the deer that test positive but it has said that it lacks the capability of handling dead animals in such large numbers and has begged off from any further use. Local renderers have also said that they will not accept deer from the great Wisconson shoot out and landfills have worried that the malformed proteins (prions) responsible for CWD could be leeched into ground water (like landfills notoriously do) and cause widespread pubic contamination.

So far the landfills have garnered the public outcry in the emerging situation, but the rendering industry deserves a much closer inspection. Are state residents really to believe that companies won't buy these deer on the "black market," especially when the state has no where to put them? And even if the industry does refrain from buying deer from this shoot, what about all the other deer and animals that may contain contamination? And what about the practice of selling rendered animals as food? This then involves the entire livestock and pet food industries -- which as this recent VB post noted -- are also deeply implicated in unsavory practices that must now be questioned and transformed in the name of sanity.

Posted by Richard
6/18/2002 09:35:01 AM | PermaLink

Why Half the Planet is Hungry, by Amartya Sen

The world's leading expert on the causes of famine, Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, answers crucial questions on why people starve when democracy falters.

Why, in the twenty-first century, are 800 million people living in the shadow of hunger?

Widespread hunger in the world is primarily related to poverty. It is not principally connected with food production at all. Indeed, over the course of the last quarter of a century, the prices of the principal staple foods (such as rice, wheat etc) have fallen by much more than half in 'real' terms. If there is more demand for food, in the present state of world technology and availability of resources, the production will correspondingly increase.

The demand for food is restrained mainly by lack of income. And the same factor explains the large number of people who are hungry across the world. Given their income levels, they are not able to buy enough food, and as a consequence these people (including their family members) live with hunger.

But it is not adequate to look only at incomes. There is need to look also at the political circumstances that allow famine and hunger. If the survival of a government is threatened by the prevalence of hunger, the government has an incentive to deal with the situation. Incomes can be expanded both by policies that raise overall income and also by redistributive policies which provide employment, and thus tackle one of the principal reasons for hunger (to wit, unemployment in a country without an adequate social security system).

In democratic countries, even very poor ones, the survival of the ruling government would be threatened by famine, since elections are not easy to win after famines; nor is it easy to withstand criticism of opposition parties and newspapers. That is why famine does not occur in democratic countries. Unfortunately, there are a great many countries in the world which do not yet have democratic systems. [Read More]

Posted by Richard
6/18/2002 07:25:48 AM | PermaLink

Monday, June 17, 2002

N.Y. Times Editorial: Bad Bargain on Clean Air

The Bush administration's decision last week to relax air-quality rules governing older coal-fired power plants is exasperating. It would have been one thing if the administration had unveiled its proposals in tandem with a strategy for dealing with the extra air pollution that the rollbacks will inevitably cause. It offered no such strategy, beyond another vague promise to deliver its much-touted "Clear Skies" proposals. In effect, the president has asked the country to trade real health protections now for hypothetical gains later on.

Christie Whitman, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said that her new rules commanded "broad support," but she must have had a rather limited audience in mind. The power companies and the big refineries were thrilled. But the rollbacks inspired virtually unanimous condemnation from environmentalists, from state attorneys general up and down the Eastern seaboard and from James Jeffords, whose Senate committee will consider "Clear Skies" if and when it arrives on Capitol Hill. To Mr. Jeffords, the notion of exchanging existing law for a diaphanous promise represented a "devastating defeat for public health and our environment."

The main retreat involved a section of the Clean Air Act known as "new source review." The provision compels utilities to install modern pollution controls whenever they build new power plants or significantly upgrade existing units so as to produce more power (and, inevitably, more pollution). Written in 1977, the provision was aimed mainly at hundreds of aging, coal-fired plants that were exempted from the act's stringent regulations in the expectation that they would soon be retired.

Most of these "grandfathered" plants are still going strong, contributing heavily to smog and acid rain. Plants in the Midwest send so much pollution eastward on the prevailing winds that it is almost impossible for states like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to meet federal clean air standards. One of the few ways to get a handle on this pollution is to make sure than when the plants upgrade, they install controls.

In 1999, the Clinton administration and Eastern states led by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer of New York sued 51 power plants for illegally making major upgrades without installing the necessary controls. In short order two major producers in Ohio and Virginia agreed to make billion-dollar investments in new pollution controls, while the federal government reached a similar agreement with a Florida utility. Nevertheless, other companies continued to complain that the law punished them for making even routine repairs and discouraged them from expanding capacity to produce more electricity. Though Mr. Spitzer's investigation found no evidence that either charge was true, the complaints found a warm response in Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, which ordered a review.

The net result is new rules that, through various complex definitional changes, will allow the utilities to upgrade their old plants without adding costly new antipollution equipment. The rules will be subject to public comment and, conceivably, court tests. We also recommend Congressional intervention. What the administration is doing is directly contrary to what Congress intended a quarter-century ago.

Posted by Richard
6/17/2002 08:44:36 AM | PermaLink

U.S. Forest Chief Slams Environmentalists' Legal "Gridlock"

See my post on the Colorado fires for further context.
Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. Forest Service is plagued by excessive analysis, cumbersome regulations and an overabundance of public involvement, the agency's chief says in a new report to Congress.

Planning and assessment functions -- including anticipation of potential legal challenges -- make up 40 percent of the agency's workload, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth said.

That kind of "analysis paralysis" causes routine delays that stretch projects out over years, even decades, and prevents the Forest Service from achieving its core mission of restoring ecosystems and managing the forests, Bosworth said.

The Forest Service is "operating with Stone Age rules in a dot-com world," he said.

Testifying before the House Resources subcommittee on forests, Bosworth blamed the gridlock on a hodgepodge of federal laws governing forests -- and frequent legal challenges by environmentalists. As of last month, about 5,000 such challenges were pending against the Forest Service.

Bosworth said that the sheer length of the legal cases often makes the original dispute moot. He cited a bridge repair project in Michigan's Hiawatha National Forest as an example. The bridge was falling apart and chunks were falling into a creek below.

Preliminary work on the repair began in 1995. After an appeal was filed in 1998, the Forest Service shelved the project while it considered other alternatives.

After years of delay, an environmental assessment was begun last year and construction could begin in 2005, Bosworth said.

"So, a single appellant overrode broad public support . . . and pushed the bridge replacement back almost 10 years," he said. "Is this what Congress wants? Is this what the public wants? It's something I'd like to change."

Bosworth's comments echoed remarks he has made since taking over the job last year, when he pledged to simplify regulations that govern the nation's 192 million acres of national forest and grasslands.

The timber industry has applauded Bosworth's plan, saying it is a means of throwing off a suffocating bureaucracy.

But conservation groups say that the report could be used as an excuse to circumvent environmental laws, even though the 40-page document does not suggest specific changes.

"Today's hearing is a setup for the Bush administration to cook up a 'solution' to the problem that will undoubtedly be a timber industry 'wish list' to weaken our environmental safeguards," said Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "The bottom line is that the Bush administration is doing industry's bidding by attacking environmental safeguards to make it easier for the timber industry to destroy our public land legacy."

Matthew Daly, Associated Press

Posted by Richard
6/17/2002 08:38:02 AM | PermaLink

New Voluntary Power Plant Controls Helped Pollution to Increase Six-fold in a Year

Sulfuric-acid releases from the Gen. James M. Gavin power plant increased nearly sixfold after American Electric Power turned on new pollution controls last summer, according to a company document obtained by The Dispatch.

AEP reported that releases of sulfuric acid into the air could jump as high as 64,213 pounds a day, up from 10,969 pounds a day before the company installed equipment to control another form of air pollution.

"The upper values of this range are only expected to be reached during the five-month ozone (smog) season when pollution-control technology is in use,'' Matthew P. Curtis, an official in AEP's environmental services division, wrote in an Aug. 2 letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The letter, obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act, quantifies the dramatic increase in air pollution that plagued the Gavin plant's neighbors in Cheshire, an Ohio River village about 85 miles southeast of Columbus.

AEP announced in April that it plans to buy the village for $20 million. The deal was announced two months after federal health officials confirmed that blue sulfuric clouds from the plant endangered Cheshire's 221 residents in the summer.

Soon after stagnant, humid weather conditions began pushing acidic clouds from Gavin's twin 830-foot smokestacks into Cheshire, residents complained about breathing problems, burning eyes, headaches, sore throats and white-colored burns on their lips and tongues.

"You see numbers like that, and you know it can't be good,'' Lori Hammond said of the sulfuric-acid releases reported by AEP.

Hammond, her husband, Ron, and their two daughters are among the Cheshire residents eager to get paid by AEP to sell their house and move away from the Gavin plant's shadow.

The Hammonds helped draw the utility into the cross hairs of federal regulators with e-mail messages that described how the acidic clouds affected their youngest daughter, 8-year-old Abby, who suffers from asthma.

On Oct. 9, when Abby's breathing problems were bad enough to require a trip to an emergency room, air tests showed that sulfur compounds released into the air increased dramatically. The levels remained high for the next three days.

"We had to go inside and shut all the windows when the clouds came,'' Abby said last week. "It was scary.''

Some of the clouds contained sulfur compounds that were five times higher than the level that can trigger an asthma attack, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

AEP is testing various methods to curb the acid releases as the latest smog season gets under way.

Under an agreement brokered by the EPA, the company also will burn low- sulfur coal if tests show the Gavin plant's emissions violate the Clean Air Act.

However, it is unclear if AEP is required to do anything if the blue clouds return. The act doesn't regulate sulfuric acid, the chemical that created them.

"Our intent is to return the plant back to the conditions before the (pollution controls) were turned on,'' said Pat Hemlepp, an AEP spokesman.

In the August letter to the EPA, the utility said it was reporting the acid releases even though it disagreed with an EPA directive to report them.

Daily releases could be lower depending upon the plant's hours of operation and the type of coal burned, the letter stated.

The clouds were an unintended byproduct of a $200 million system AEP installed in May 2001 to reduce emissions of another pollutant, nitrogen oxide, one of the main ingredients in smog.

During summer months when smog is a problem, exhaust from burning coal is pumped through the nitrogen-oxide controls before it is passed through scrubbers designed to reduce sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain.

According to AEP, the blue clouds were created when sulfur compounds came in contact with water from the scrubbers.

Gavin is one of the first coal-fueled electric plants in America to be outfitted with the latest pollution controls. With two 1,300-megawatt generators, it also is one of the largest.

AEP's search for a solution is being watched closely by other utilities installing similar controls to comply with tougher federal regulations.

Cheshire residents say blue smoke occasionally poured out of the Gavin plant before the latest pollution controls were installed. But the clouds were never as intense, nor as threatening, as they were in the summer.

The numbers reported by AEP back up what the residents felt.

"Now we know why their eyes burned every time they went outside,'' said Teresa Mills of the Buckeye Environmental Network, who helped the villagers draw attention to their plight. "It's a wonder the whole village didn't just melt last summer.''

Michael Hawthorne
Columbus Dispatch, Environment Reporter

Posted by Richard
6/17/2002 08:27:43 AM | PermaLink

Bush Catches Some Heat

WASHINGTON -- Pressure is mounting on President Bush at home and abroad, even from inside his own party and within his own administration, to do more to fight global warming.

Over the past few weeks, Bush's go-slow policy has been widely dismissed as inadequate. Japan and the European Union endorsed instead the Kyoto Protocol, which would coordinate international efforts to restrain global warming. Bush rejects it.

Several U.S. states took steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions on their own. The Senate repeatedly pressed Bush to take more aggressive action. And an inter-agency report from the administration itself acknowledged for the first time that global warming is a real, largely man-made and serious problem.

A showdown looms later this month in the Senate, where the Environment Committee will vote on a bill sponsored by its chairman, Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, to curb power plant emissions of four pollutants, including carbon dioxide. The bill would turn into law a Bush campaign pledge that he abandoned shortly after taking office in 2001.

Then in late August, world leaders will meet in South Africa at an Earth Summit. If Russia and a few east European nations endorse the Kyoto Protocol before then, as expected, the summit will include a ceremony putting the treaty into effect.

Mother Nature is turning up the heat on Bush, too. Two of the first four months of 2002 set global records for heat, while the other two months were the second-hottest on record for those months. Meanwhile, a new United Nations study found that the famous Himalayan glacier that explorers Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed 49 years ago has melted so much that it has retreated three miles.

Independent experts say such signs cannot be ignored.

"You may not like what the science is telling you, especially on the issue of climate change, but sooner or later it's going to rear its head and you can't repress it," said Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "Nature will do what it has to, regardless of what politicians want."

"The pressure is building," said Paul Joskow, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology. "I think the federal government will eventually adopt a comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions control policy, but I don't think it's going to happen tomorrow."

So far, Bush shows no inclination to rethink his policy. He opted out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, saying it would wreck the U.S. economy. It called on the United States to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels, but made no such demands on developing giants, including China and India. Cutting back emissions so severely would require expensive economic adjustments.

In February 2002, Bush proposed an alternative to Kyoto, setting voluntary emission targets pegged to economic growth. His plan would let emissions increase, but at a reduced rate. He also proposed to spend more on global warming technology and research -- $4.5 billion next year.

Voluntary efforts have been tried for 12 years, however, and failed to relieve the problem. Independent scientists say that Bush's plan requires little action.

Many efforts are under way to produce a more aggressive U.S. global warming policy.

By far, the most galling prod to the White House came from within, when on May 31 six agencies, led by the Environmental Protection Agency, issued a report warning of dire consequences from global warming, which it said was very real and largely man-made. Previously, the Bush administration had hedged on both questions.

The EPA-led "U.S. Climate Action Report" concedes that temperatures in the United States probably will rise 3 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit in this century because of global warming. It also predicts more frequent heat waves, reductions in snow pack and water supplies, and loss of wetlands and delicate ecosystems.

Balancing those ill effects somewhat, the report also predicts that warming will lead to increased food production and forest growth.

Earlier this month, Bush called the EPA-led report a document "put out by bureaucrats" and dismissed questions of whether he might change his policy.

Economic conservatives who have resisted measures to reduce global warming for years like Bush's stand, but they're angry that the administration issued the EPA report.

"The pressure is so much on the president, I think that this report has really weakened the president's position," said the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Myron Ebell, chairman of the Cooler Heads Coalition, an industry group that tries to debunk global warming. "The administration has basically just handed (Senate Majority Leader Tom) Daschle and (Senate Environment Committee Chairman James) Jeffords an awful lot of ammunition. It's now up to the White House to clean up the mess they created."

By Seth Borenstein of Knight Ridder Tribune

Posted by Richard
6/17/2002 08:20:13 AM | PermaLink