Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Senate Hearing On Yucca Mountain Repository Licensing Process

Oct 31: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), held a hearing entitled, Examination of the Licensing Process for the Yucca Mountain Repository. The hearing included testimony from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV); Senator John Ensign (R-NV); Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC); the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, U.S. Department of Energy; the Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. EPA; the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the Attorney General for the State of Nevada; the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners; and the Environmental Working Group. Senators Boxer, Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and James Inhofe (R-OK) all delivered opening statements and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) submitted a letter statement to the Committee.

The Yucca Mountain project is nearing a critical stage of the process and DOE testified that it is preparing to submit a license application for Yucca Mountain to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission "not later than June 30, 2008." EPA testified that its draft final rule was submitted for Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review in December 2006. "We have engaged in productive discussions with other federal agencies about the important and complex issues raised by setting a standard that will protect public health and safety and the environment for up to one million years after the Yucca Mountain repository closes. We look forward to completing those discussions and our analysis of the public comments and issuing the final rule soon."

Senator Boxer said, "My serious concerns about Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository date back many years because my state of California will be severely impacted if it is built and put into operation... Billions of taxpayer dollars could be wasted on a proposal that is fatally flawed because it will put millions of people at risk. If Yucca Mountain becomes operational, radioactive waste will be transported there from across the Nation."

Senator Inhofe said, "Nuclear energy must play a growing part of our nation's energy future, both for the sake of national security and environmental progress. However, I am concerned that the resurgence of the nuclear industry may be hindered if there isn’t sufficient progress toward development of a repository for spent fuel... So far, we have spent over 25 years and $6 billion on this lengthy, thorough, bipartisan process to prepare DOE to file a license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking for authorization to build the repository. Yet there are those who would like to abandon Yucca Mountain and start over without the NRC ever even considering the project... To me, the toughest question is: If not Yucca Mountain, then where are we going to build a repository?... It’s time to proceed with the next step in the rigorous and thoughtful process provided in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act."

Senator Clinton said, "I want to start by stating what the available scientific evidence makes clear: Yucca Mountain is not a safe place to store spent fuel from our nation’s nuclear reactors. Looking forward, scientists have predicted that an earthquake registering 6 or more on the Richter scale is likely to occur in the next 10,000 years, given that Nevada is the third-most earthquake-prone state in the country after California and Alaska. An even greater potential risk at the site is its history of volcanic activity. As an MIT geologist testified to this committee last year, and I quote: 'Though the likelihood of an explosive volcano erupting directly beneath the repository is remote, the outcome would be devastating, spewing radioactive material directly into the atmosphere...' We do need to find a long-term storage solution for our nation’s nuclear waste. But Yucca Mountain is not the answer. It’s time to step back and take a deep breath."

Indicating that the technical and legal issues could delay the repository for at least another 20 years, Senator Obama indicated in his letter that "I believe it no longer a sustainable Federal policy for Yucca Mountain to be considered a permanent repository... the time has come for the Federal government to refocus its resources on finding more viable alternatives for the storage of spent nuclear fuel... In short the selection of Yucca Mountain has failed, the time for debate on this site is over, and its time to start exploring new alternatives... "

Senator Reid testified that, "We are talking about the most dangerous substance known on the face of the earth. And instead of seriously studying whether or not the proposed site at Yucca Mountain is safe to store this waste, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency are cooking up their own set of books to write a radiation standard that can be met at Yucca Mountain."

Senator Ensign testified, "I want to be clear that I am not against nuclear power. I believe that it presents this nation with a viable clean air energy alternative that can help our nation meet its growing needs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil... The proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository is not a responsible solution... On-site dry cask storage is a viable, safe, and secure alternative that is readily available and will allow science and industry the time to catch up... Storing the waste on-site will allow the necessary time to develop a viable reprocessing program using advanced fuel-cycle technologies."

Senator DeMint testified, "While the United States abandoned already built facilities to recycle nuclear waste, the Europeans took American technology, improved it, and have proven the ability to control the entire nuclear fuel cycle. Now, European countries are proposing even more nuclear reactors in order to meet their pollution reduction commitments under their Kyoto agreements... my state of South Carolina embraced nuclear energy, and today more than half of the energy produced in my state comes from nuclear... What I find perplexing is that people argue the environmental standards are not strict enough to justify opening Yucca. However, if Yucca cannot meet these standards, then no other location where nuclear waste currently resides can qualify either... Without Yucca, a nuclear renaissance will not occur, and without nuclear energy we will never see significant improvements to our environment. We should not set our nation back even further like the misguided policies of 30 years ago. I applaud President Bush and the administration of every President since Carter for their strong support of Yucca Mountain."

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony, statements, letter and a webcast (
click here). [*Haz/Nuclear]

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NAS Recommends Scale Back Of Global Nuclear Energy Partnership

Oct 29: A new report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), National Research Council (NRC) says that the research and development component of the U.S. Department of Energy's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), a program that aims to reprocess spent nuclear fuel which could then be shared with partner countries, should not go forward at its current pace. DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, of which GNEP is a part, should instead assign the highest priority to facilitating the startup of new commercial nuclear power plants, a program that is currently falling behind schedule due to funding gaps.

Amid renewed interest in nuclear power, the Office of Nuclear Energy's budget has grown nearly 70 percent since 2003. In light of this growth, the administration's 2006 budget requested that funds be set aside for the Research Council to review and prioritize all of the office's programs, which besides reprocessing and new plant assistance include development of new types of nuclear reactors, the use of nuclear energy to create hydrogen, and the upgrade of facilities at the Idaho National Laboratory.

The purpose of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel is to remove materials from the radioactive waste that can be recycled for use at another plant. In the past, the United States has resisted reprocessing because the methods available at the time created a plutonium byproduct that would have increased the risk of nuclear proliferation. But in recent years the Federal government began to reconsider reprocessing as new technologies emerged that could recycle the spent nuclear fuel without separating plutonium. This process is a main technical goal of GNEP; the committee that wrote the report did not review or comment on the international aspects of the partnership.

However, the committee's report -- Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program -- says the "technologies required for achieving GNEP's goals are too early in development to justify DOE's accelerated schedule for construction of commercial facilities that would use these technologies." DOE claims that the program will save time and money if pursued on the commercial scale, but the committee believes that the opposite will likely be true and found no economic justification. And although a stated goal of the program is to reduce the overall amount of radioactive waste, which would in turn decrease the need for a second geological repository in addition to Yucca Mountain, it was not clear to the committee that such a need currently exists. Moreover, there has been insufficient peer review of the program.

While all 17 members of the committee concluded that the GNEP R&D program, as currently planned, should not be pursued, 15 of the members said that the less-aggressive reprocessing research program that preceded the current one should be. However, if DOE returns to the earlier program, called the Advance Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI), it should not commit to a major demonstration or deployment of reprocessing unless there is a clear economic, national security, or environmental reason to do so. Two committee members advocated holding DOE's spending on reprocessing research to pre-AFCI levels and that DOE should not develop commercial reprocessing technologies beyond the early laboratory stage. In addition, three other committee members believe a technology not currently being explored by GNEP would be better suited for reprocessing.

The committee said that although the GNEP R&D program should be scaled back, the Office of Nuclear Energy should place greater emphasis on the Nuclear Power 2010 program. Key elements of that program include identifying sites for new nuclear power plants, completing the design engineering of advanced light water reactors, and assisting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in its efforts to grant both construction and operating licenses in one action. The office has focused on many parts of the program, such as finalizing designs, and has established a good working relationship with industry, but overall progress has been slower than expected. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and industry need to improve the pace of specific licensing reviews for nuclear power plants, avoiding review of previously settled issues and setting a tighter schedule. If nuclear power is indeed going to play an increased role in meeting U.S. energy needs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Nuclear Power 2010 needs full funding in all aspects of the program, the committee said. While an increase in funding has been proposed in the administration's fiscal year 2008 budget, it would not be enough for the program to meet all of its goals.

Similarly, the committee found that another program of the office, called Generation IV, is unlikely to achieve its goal of a next-generation nuclear power plant in operation by 2017 because of the focus on GNEP. The office's Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative, a program to generate hydrogen using nuclear energy, is dependent on the success of the Generation IV program, so its budget and timetable should reflect this connection according to the report. The committee also reviewed the Idaho National Laboratory, which represents a significant part of the Office of Nuclear Energy's management responsibilities and budget. While the site will provide the office with important capabilities for research and development of nuclear technology, funding for the program is substantially less than what is necessary to upgrade the facilities.

DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, Dennis Spurgeon reacted to the NAS report saying, "...the report’s findings related to Global Nuclear Energy Partnership or “GNEP” are based on faulty premises that are inconsistent with the fuel cycle research and development (R&D) program actually being implemented by DOE. The report errantly assumes that DOE has pre-selected the separations technologies to be deployed and the scale of the facilities to be built. A series of critical findings are based on these incorrect premises.

"Furthermore, the Report’s use of the term “GNEP” interchangeably with the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative program is confusing and, as the Committee’s Chairman has noted to me, in no way reflects criticism of the burgeoning international partnership. Through GNEP, we are taking a leadership role with 16 partner nations that share a common vision for need to expand nuclear energy for peaceful purposes worldwide in a safe and secure manner. This partnership agreed to a Statement of Principles that establishes the goals, amongst other things, of developing mechanisms to support infrastructure development as well as creation of reliable fuel services.”

On June 14, 2007, the Keystone Center released a report showing areas of agreement from a diverse -- and perhaps surprising -- group of 27 stakeholders associated with the nuclear industry, environmental groups, consumer advocates, government regulators, consultants, and academics. On the issue of the GNEP the report concluded, "that critical elements of the program are unlikely to succeed." [
See WIMS 6/18/07] GNEP, first announced by President Bush in 2006, is part of his Advanced Energy Initiative. GNEP seeks to develop worldwide consensus on enabling expanded use of "clean, safe, and affordable nuclear energy" to meet growing electricity demand. GNEP proposes a nuclear fuel cycle that enhances energy security, while promoting non-proliferation.

Access a release from NAS/NRC (
click here). Access a report brief (click here). Access links to the full report and an extensive 29-page summary (click here). Access a release from DOE (click here). [*Energy, *Haz/Nuclear]

Monday, October 29, 2007

Eleventh Circuit Interprets Rapanos Definition Of "Navigable Waters”

Oct 24: In the case of USA v. Robison, in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, Case No. 05-17019. Defendants McWane, Inc. (McWane), James Delk (Delk), and Michael Devine (Devine) appeal their convictions for their roles in a Clean Water Act (CWA) conspiracy (Count 1), as well as their convictions for substantive violations of the CWA (Counts 2, 3, 5, 7-19, 21, and 22). After the defendants’ convictions, the United States Supreme Court addressed how to define “navigable waters” under the CWA in Rapanos v. United States [See link below].

The Appeals Court ruled, "The definition of 'navigable waters' in the jury charge in this case was erroneous under Rapanos, and the government has not shown that the error was harmless. Accordingly, we must vacate defendants’ CWA convictions and remand the case for a new trial." The Appeals Court also said that McWane appeals its conviction for making a false statement to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Count 24). Because McWane was entitled to a judgment of acquittal on that charge, we vacate McWane’s conviction on Count 24 as well."

In the case, the parties agree that the definition of “navigable waters” is a key element of the CWA criminal offenses in this case. Based on the Supreme Court’s Rapanos decision, defendants contend that a key discharge point, Avondale Creek, is not a “navigable water” within the meaning of the CWA, and that the district court erroneously instructed the jury as to the definition of the term “navigable waters.” The district court charged the jury that “navigable waters” include “any stream which may eventually flow into a navigable stream or river,” and that such stream may be man-made and flow “only intermittently.”

The Appeals Court said the district court's jury charge relied on the definitions in United States v. Eidson, 108 F.3d 1336 (11th Cir. 1997), however the defendants’ trial occurred before Rapanos, and the Supreme Court indicated in Rapanos that Eidson’s “expansive definition” of "tributaries," "is no longer good law." The Appeals Court said, "Accordingly, we consider Rapanos in detail in order to determine exactly how and to what extent the district court’s 'navigable waters' instruction was erroneous. We then consider whether the incorrect jury instruction was harmless error."

In interpreting Rapanos, the Eleventh Circuit said, "The entire Supreme Court agreed that the term 'navigable waters' encompasses something more than traditionally 'navigable-in-fact' waters... However, five Justices concluded that remand was necessary for consideration of whether the wetlands at issue were 'navigable waters' covered by the CWA, and whether the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers had impermissibly extended their regulatory authority under the CWA. The Eleventh Circuit analyzes in some detail the Rapanos decision in three parts including: Justice Scalia’s plurality opinion; Justice Kennedy’s concurrence; and Justice Stevens’s dissent.

The Eleventh Circuit says the various appeals court circuits are also split on the question of "which Rapanos opinion provides the holding." They say both the Seventh and the Ninth Circuits concluded that Justice Kennedy’s concurrence controls and adopted the “significant nexus” test. But, they said the First Circuit, on the other hand, concluded that because the dissenting Rapanos Justices would find jurisdiction under either Justice Scalia’s plurality test or Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test, “'the United States may elect to prove jurisdiction under either test.'"

The Appeals Court concludes, "in determining the governing holding in Rapanos, we cannot disconnect the facts in the case from the various opinions and determine which opinion is narrower in the abstract. Thus, pursuant to Marks, we adopt Justice Kennedy’s 'significant nexus' test as the governing definition of 'navigable waters' under Rapanos. See Gerke, 464 F.3d at 725; River Watch II, 496 F.3d at 999-1000."

Next the Appeals Court considered whether the district court’s jury charge comported with Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test. Restating that, "under Justice Kennedy’s concurrence, a water can be considered 'navigable' under the CWA only if it possesses a 'significant nexus' to waters that 'are or were navigable in fact or that could reasonably be so made...' Moreover, a 'mere hydrologic connection' will not necessarily be enough to satisfy the 'significant nexus' test." The Eleventh Circuit then rules that, "The district court here did not mention the phrase 'significant nexus' in its 'navigable waters' instruction to the jury... Rather, the district court instructed the jury that a continuous or intermittent flow into a navigable-in-fact body of water would be sufficient to bring Avondale Creek within the reach of the CWA. As such, the instruction did not satisfy Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test and was erroneous..."

Access the complete opinion (
click here). Access WIMS eNewsUSA Blog for various articles related to Rapanos (click here). Access various eNewsUSA blog posts related to the Rapanos decision (click here). [*Water]

Friday, October 26, 2007

UNEP Releases Fourth Global Environment Outlook Report

Oct 25: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that major threats to the planet such as climate change, the rate of extinction of species, and the challenge of feeding a growing population are among the many that remain unresolved, and all of them put humanity at risk. The warning comes in UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook: Environment for Development (GEO-4) report published 20 years after the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) produced its seminal report, Our Common Future.

GEO-4, the latest in UNEP’s series of flagship reports, assesses the current state of the global atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity, describes the changes since 1987, and identifies priorities for action. GEO-4 is the most comprehensive UN report on the environment, prepared by about 390 experts and reviewed by more than 1 000 others across the world. It salutes the world’s progress in tackling some relatively straightforward problems, with the environment now much closer to mainstream politics everywhere. But despite these advances, there remain the harder-to-manage issues, the “persistent” problems. Here, GEO-4 says, “There are no major issues raised in Our Common Future for which the foreseeable trends are favorable.”

Failure to address these persistent problems, UNEP says, may undo all the achievements so far on the simpler issues, and may threaten humanity’s survival. But it insists: “The objective is not to present a dark and gloomy scenario, but an urgent call for action.” Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director said, “The international community’s response to the Brundtland Commission has in some cases been courageous and inspiring. But all too often it has been slow and at a pace and scale that fails to respond to or recognize the magnitude of the challenges facing the people and the environment of the planet”.

“Over the past 20 years, the international community has cut, by 95 per cent, the production of ozone-layer damaging chemicals; created a greenhouse gas emission reduction treaty along with innovative carbon trading and carbon offset markets; supported a rise in terrestrial protected areas to cover roughly 12 per cent of the Earth and devised numerous important instruments covering issues from biodiversity and desertification to the trade in hazardous wastes and living modified organisms.”

“But, as GEO-4 points out, there continue to be ‘persistent’ and intractable problems unresolved and unaddressed. Past issues remain and new ones are emerging -- from the rapid rise of oxygen ‘dead zones’ in the oceans to the resurgence of new and old diseases linked in part with environmental degradation. Meanwhile, institutions like UNEP, established to counter the root causes, remain under-resourced and weak.”

On climate change the report says the threat is now so urgent that large cuts in greenhouse gases by mid-century are needed. Negotiations are due to start in December on a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the international climate agreement which obligates countries to control anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Although it exempts all developing countries from emission reduction commitments, there is growing pressure for some rapidly-industrializing countries, now substantial emitters themselves, to agree to emission reductions.

GEO-4 also warns that we are living far beyond our means. The human population is now so large that “the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available... humanity’s footprint [its environmental demand] is 21.9 hectares per person while the Earth’s biological capacity is, on average, only 15.7 ha/person.“ And it says the well-being of billions of people in the developing world is at risk, because of a failure to remedy the relatively simple problems which have been successfully tackled elsewhere. GEO-4 recalls the Brundtland Commission’s statement that the world does not face separate crises - the “environmental crisis”, “development crisis”, and “energy crisis” are all one. This crisis includes not just climate change, extinction rates and hunger, but other problems driven by growing human numbers, the rising consumption of the rich and the desperation of the poor.

Regarding the future, GEO-4 acknowledges that technology can help to reduce people’s vulnerability to environmental stresses, but says there is sometimes a need “to correct the technology-centered development paradigm”. It explores how current trends may unfold by 2050 in four scenarios. The real future will be largely determined by the decisions individuals and society make now, GEO-4 says, “Our common future depends on our actions today, not tomorrow or some time in the future.”

Access an 8-page release and listing of facts of the report (
click here). Access links to the complete 572-page report, summaries, individual sections, background information, contacts and more (click here). Access links to other GEO resources (click here). [*All]

Thursday, October 25, 2007

BP To Pay Largest Criminal Fine Ever For CAA Violations

Oct 25: BP Products North America, Inc. agreed to pay a total criminal fine of more than $60 million for violations of Federal environmental regulations in Texas and Alaska. In addition to the penalty, the company will spend approximately $400 million on safety upgrades and improvements to prevent future chemical releases and spills. Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance said, "BP committed serious environmental crimes in our two largest states, with terrible consequences for people and the environment. Today's agreement sends a message that these types of crimes will be prosecuted."

EPA said this is the largest criminal fine ever assessed against a corporation for Clean Air Act (CAA) violations and the first criminal prosecution of the requirement that refineries and chemical plants take steps to prevent accidental releases. The requirement was passed in 1990 as part of the Clean Air Act following the explosion at the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India where thousands were killed and injured. BP will pay $50 million for a catastrophic explosion in 2005 that killed 15 people and injured more than 170 others at its Texas City refinery. BP will also pay a $12 million fine for spilling 200,000 gallons of crude oil onto the Alaskan tundra and onto a frozen lake in March 2006, resulting in the largest spill that ever occurred on the North Slope.

In addition to the $50 million fine, the company pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Clean Air Act and will serve three years of probation for the Texas City incident. BP is also required to complete a facility-wide study of its safety valves and renovate its flare system to prevent excess emissions at an estimated cost of $265 million. For the Alaska spill, BP pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor of the Clean Water Act and will serve three years probation, pay $4 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support research and activities on the North Slope, and pay $4 million in restitution to the State of Alaska. BP is required to replace 16 miles of pipeline at an estimated cost of $150 million.

On March 23, 2005, an explosion occurred at the Texas City refinery when hydrocarbon vapor and liquid released from a stack and ignited during the process of increasing octane levels in unleaded gasoline. Investigators learned that operators regularly failed to follow written standard operating procedures for ensuring mechanical integrity of safety equipment. The stack where the release occurred had been in poor operating condition since at least April 2003. Alarms failed to function or were ignored. The Texas City refinery is BP's largest U.S. refinery, which covers more than 1,200 acres and can process as much as 460,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The refinery was previously owned by Amoco, which merged with BP in December 1998.

In March 2006, BP spilled more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil on the North Slope in Alaska. A second spill occurred in August 2006 [See WIMS 8/7/06], but was quickly contained after leaking approximately 1,000 gallons of oil. Investigators determined the leak was caused by a build up of sediment in the pipe, and that BP failed to properly inspect or clean the pipeline, which is required by law to prevent pipeline corrosion. The investigation revealed that in 2004, the company became aware of increased corrosion in the pipeline.

The company also agreed to pay fines and restitution for fraud in conspiring to corner the market and manipulate the price of propane carried through Texas pipelines. Corporate Fraud Task Force (CFTC) Acting Chairman Walt Lukken said, “This case demonstrates that the CFTC will aggressively combat manipulation in the nation’s energy markets. Disrupting the energy markets hurts American consumers, and traders who engage in such misconduct face serious consequences. This announcement marks the largest manipulation settlement in CFTC history and requires the return of approximately $53 million to victims of the company’s misconduct. BP engaged in a massive manipulation -- the magnitude of this settlement reflects that the Commission will not tolerate trading abuses in our open and competitive markets.”

Access a release from EPA with links to additional information (
click here). Access a separate and detailed release from the Department of Justice (click here). Access additional information from the DOJ Environment and Natural Resources Division (click here). [*Air, *Water, *Haz, *Energy]

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Forum Explores Establishing National Environmental Accounts

Oct 24: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled, Measuring Our Nation's Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability: Highlights of a Forum Jointly Convened by the Comptroller General of the United States and the National Academy of Science (GAO-08-127SP, October 24, 2007). GAO indicates that one of the greatest challenges facing the United States in the 21st century is sustaining our natural resources and safeguarding our environmental assets for future generations while promoting economic growth and maintaining our quality of life. To manage natural resources effectively and efficiently, policymakers need information and methods to analyze the dynamic interplay between the economy and the environment.

Enhancing the information to make sound decisions can be facilitated by developing national environmental accounts. These accounts provide a framework for organizing information on the status, use, and value of natural resources and environmental assets, as well as on expenditures on environmental protection and resource management. While many countries have developed and are using environmental accounts, the United States lags behind. GAO and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) convened a forum to discuss developing accounts in the United States. Participants included U.S. Federal agency officials and national and international statistical, energy, environment, and natural resource experts.

Participants suggested four broad criteria to use in determining what components of environmental accounting should be developed. These criteria were identifying the objective of the accounts, considering the availability and quality of data, ensuring that accounts provide information on current natural wealth, and considering the timeliness and regularity with which accounts can be produced. Participants generally agreed that pollution and material flow accounts, which provide industry-level information about the generation of pollutants and solid waste and energy and material use, are most critical for the United States to develop first.

Participants broadly agreed that the greatest challenge to developing environmental accounts in the United States is the need for support from policymakers and others. Other key challenges include institutional differences based on agencies’ varying missions; the need for funding; data availability, compatibility, and reliability; and methodological uncertainty. Participants suggested the following strategies, among others, for overcoming these challenges: • Identify policymakers, experts, and others who support the effort. • Build an economic business case for environmental accounting. • Use an incremental approach. • Take the time necessary to develop high quality accounts.

In terms of general observations and next steps, participants generally agreed that developing environmental accounts is important for both our nation’s environmental and economic sustainability. Several participants offered to be partners in an effort to develop U.S. environmental accounts but noted that they would need congressional support and a designated lead agency to spearhead the effort.

The United Nations (UN), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and other international institutions have recommended that countries develop environmental accounts. Environmental accounts provide a framework for collecting and organizing information on the status, use, and value of the nation’s natural resources and environmental assets, as well as on expenditures on environmental protection and resource management. To support the development of such accounts, the UN, European Commission, International Monetary Fund, OECD, and the World Bank issued a handbook in 2003 for use by both national and international agencies for compiling environmental accounts reflecting their information needs and priorities.

Many industrialized countries, such as Australia, Canada, and France, and some developing countries, including Namibia and the Philippines, have developed some components of environmental accounting and continue to refine their accounts. For example, to better understand how to make the most of Australia’s limited water resources, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the National Water Commission have produced three water accounts since 2000 that track the supply and use of water in the Australian economy. In addition, since the early 1990s, Canada has annually produced environmental accounts, which have been used, among other things, to develop environment-economy indicators such as urban-rural land use change and annual stock estimates for timber, energy, and mineral resources. The United States, however, lags behind these and other countries.

Access the complete 38-page report (
click here). [*All]

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Roadmap For Sustainable Development Of Global Energy Resources

Oct 22: A new report from the InterAcademy Council -- made up of over 100 of the world's science, engineering, and medical academies -- lays out a roadmap for sustainable development of global energy resources. It recommends that governments provide research and financial incentives for the development of renewable energy sources, impose prices to discourage carbon emissions, and take steps to meet the basic needs of the 1.6 billion people worldwide who currently live without modern energy services. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences is a member of the IAC.

The report, Lighting The Way, commissioned by the governments of Brazil and China, identifies a scientific consensus framework for directing global energy development. It lays out the science, technology and policy roadmap for developing energy resources to drive economic growth in both industrialized and developing countries while also securing climate protection and global development goals. The report was produced by a study panel of 15 world-renowned energy experts, co-chaired by Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in the United States, and José Goldemberg, former Secretary of State for the Environment for the State of São Paulo, Brazil.

The report establishes the best practices for a global transition to a clean, affordable and sustainable energy supply in both developing and developed countries. The report addresses incentives that can accelerate the development of innovative solutions, provides recommendations for financial investments in research and development and explores other transition pathways that can transform the landscape of energy supply and demand around the globe.

In addressing mitigation of the environmental impacts of energy generation and use, the report informs global action on climate change, such as implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, agenda setting for the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, and ongoing multinational talks on future global action to reduce greenhouse emissions. The report also confronts the unequal access to energy experienced by the one-third of the world’s population without access to basic energy services, and makes recommendations for addressing this disparity as well as for promoting national and global energy security.

Access an overview and link to the report by sections or in total (
click here). Access a 15-page executive summary (click here). [*Energy, *Climate]

Monday, October 22, 2007

Energy Bill Tensions; Senators Want Conference & Changes To CAFE

Oct 18: Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues including Mark Pryor (D-AR), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Christopher Bond (R-MO), George Voinovich (R-OH), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) wrote to Senate leaders and the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee to call for a House-Senate conference on the energy bill and to highlight four issues related to fuel economy standards that would need to be satisfactorily resolved in the conference. The Senators said, “We agree that CAFE standards must be increased and support aggressive yet achievable new standards, and we are wiling to work with you to find a compromise that accomplishes this goal. While we support efforts to go to conference, for the same reasons we opposed the Senate provisions on CAFE, we would strongly object to a conference report that adopted these provisions because they would have a needlessly detrimental effect on the auto industry and its workers.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) criticized the Senators' action, and particularly Senators Levin and Stabenow saying they had asked Senate leaders to weaken the vehicle fuel economy provision in the energy bill. UCS said the Senators' "laundry list of complaints are based on tired auto industry rhetoric that has been debunked by multiple critics, including the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute." The group also pointed out that the Senate rejected a nearly identical attempt to weaken the provision, which would require automakers to meet a 35-miles-per-gallon fleet average by 2020, when it passed its version of the energy bill this summer.

Eli Hopson, Washington representative for the UCS's Clean Vehicle Program said, "The auto industry and its allies in Congress have long since lost any credibility when it comes to fuel economy legislation. It's time for Michigan's senators to acknowledge that what's good for America is good for Detroit. A 35-miles-per-gallon fleet average would generate hundreds of thousands of domestic jobs, save consumers tens of billions of dollars at the pump, and dramatically cut our dependence on oil. With oil now at more than $80 a barrel, we're sending a billion dollars a day out of the country to pay for oil imports."

UCS said the weak, automaker-backed proposal Senators Levin and Stabenow favor also would extend a flex-fuel loophole allowing automakers to earn fuel economy credits for vehicles that can run on alternative fuels, but which, in practice, run on conventional gasoline 99 percent of the time.

On October 18, U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for a formal Senate-House conference committee to finalize an energy bill. Domenici was joined on the letter by Senator Ted Stevens, ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Senator James Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

In their letter, the three Senators said, "We are writing in regard to energy legislation pending before the Congress. As you recall, the Senate passed H.R. 6 on June 21st [
See WIMS 6/22/07]. On August 4th [See WIMS 8/4/07], the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3221. Last Wednesday, Speaker Pelosi announced her intention to bypass the appointment of a conference committee to reconcile the differences between these two bills. We regret the Speaker’s decision to do this and we are deeply concerned about the integrity of long-standing procedures in the Congress if the Speaker’s decision is allowed to stand. Upon the commencement of the 110th Congress, the Senate Majority Leadership stated that the Congress would have 'real, public, conferences in which public issues would be debated and voted upon.' Today, the Majority Leadership in the House of Representatives is putting that promise to the test."

Access a brief announcement from Senator Levin (
click here). Access the Levin, et al letter (click here). Access a release from UCS (click here). Access the release and letter from Senators Domenici, et al (click here). [*Energy]

Friday, October 19, 2007

Electrical Demand Projected To Double Resource Commitment

Oct 16: Electricity usage in the United States is projected to grow more than twice as fast as committed resources over the next 10 years, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and its annual 2007 Long-Term Reliability Assessment 2007-2016. Unless additional resources are brought into service, some areas could fall below their target capacity margins within two or three years. In parts of western Canada, demand is projected to outpace resource growth within about two years.

Rick Sergel, president and CEO of NERC said, “We are at the stage where emergency situations are becoming more frequent. Though some improvements have been made, we are requiring our aging grid to bear more and more strain, and are operating the system at or near its limits more often than ever before. As operating margins decrease, we are limiting our ability to manage unplanned events like equipment failures and extreme weather."

NERC’s primary roles in providing this assessment are to identify areas of concern regarding the reliability of the North American bulk power system, and to make recommendations for their remedy. This is the second such assessment prepared by NERC in its capacity as the U.S. Electric Reliability Organization. NERC cannot order construction of additional generation or transmission or adopt enforceable standards having that effect, as that authority is explicitly withheld by Section 215 of the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005. In addition, NERC does not make any projections or draw any conclusions regarding expected electricity prices or the
efficiency of electricity markets.

The 2007 Assessment provides a high-level assessment of future resource adequacy, an overview of projected electricity demand growth and generation and transmission additions, an analysis of two scenarios that could affect future reliability, and regional self-assessments. This year’s report also includes an in-depth discussion of long-term emerging issues and trends that, while not posing an immediate threat to reliability, will influence future bulk power system planning, development, and system analysis. Specific reliability findings, as detailed in the report, include findings on: wind, solar, and nuclear generation; capacity margins; transmission; aging workforce; and natural gas reliance.

The NERC mission is to ensure the reliability of the bulk power system in North America. To achieve that, NERC develops and enforces reliability standards; assesses adequacy annually via a 10-year forecast and winter and summer forecasts; monitors the bulk power system; audits owners, operators, and users for preparedness; and educates, trains, and certifies industry personnel. NERC is a self-regulatory organization, subject to oversight by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and governmental authorities in Canada.

As of June 18, 2007, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted NERC the legal authority to enforce reliability standards with all U.S. owners, operators, and users of the bulk power system, and made compliance with those standards mandatory, as opposed to voluntary. NERC has similar authority in Ontario and New Brunswick, and is seeking to extend that authority to the other Canadian provinces. NERC will seek recognition in Mexico once the necessary legislation is adopted.

Access a release from NERC (click here). Access the complete 237-page report (click here). [*Energy]

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lieberman-Warner Introduce America's Climate Security Act

Oct 18: Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner (R-VA) formally introduced their America's Climate Security Act (S. 2191). The two Senators, who are the Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection, originally announced their intention to develop the bill on June 28 [See WIMS 6/29/07]; then unveiled a more detailed proposal for the bill on August 2, 2007 [See WIMS 8/2/07].

Senator Lieberman said, "With all the irrefutable evidence we now have corroborating that climate change is real, dangerous, and proceeding faster than many scientists predicted, this is the year for Congress to move this critical legislation. If we fail to start substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the next couple of years, we risk bequeathing a diminished world to our grandchildren. Insect-borne diseases such as malaria will spike as tropical ecosystems expand; hotter air will exacerbate the pollution that sends children to the hospital with asthma attacks; food insecurity from shifting agricultural zones will spark border wars; and storms and coastal flooding from sea-level rise will cause mortality and dislocation."

Senator Warner said, "In my 28 years in the Senate, I have focused above all on issues of national security, and I see the problem of global climate change as fitting squarely within that focus. Today we introduced a balanced bill. Senator Lieberman and I found a good, sound, starting point that sends a significant signal that the U.S. is serious about taking a leadership role in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions."

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, delivered a floor statement on the introduction of the bill. Boxer said, "today will be remembered as a turning point in the fight against global warming. Here's why:

"First, it represents a bi-partisan breakthrough on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. I have made restoring bipartisanship one of my priorities as Chairman of the Committee. And second, if enacted it would be the strongest global warming program in the world in terms of its reach...

"Today, with the introduction of this bill, we are taking the first, immensely important legislative step to meet the challenge of global warming with hope not fear and with approaches that are carefully thought out and some already successfully tried a cap and trade system that has been so successful in addressing acid rain, and energy efficiency which has been so effective in lowering per capita energy use, costs and greenhouse gas emissions in states like California.

"I have been working closely with Senators Warner and Lieberman as they have assembled their bill. I have been very impressed with the effort they have invested in seeking out the views of other Senators and other groups, and in the work they have put into examining the other global warming bills that have been proposed. In my own conversations with them, I have laid out some important principles that I believe must be reflected in legislation to address the challenge of global warming.

"1) The first, most important thing is that any bill has to include real, mandatory cuts in global warming pollution. Any bill we pass must set the nation on the path to achieving the emissions reductions that will avoid dangerous climate change. Under the Lieberman-Warner bill, we anticipate reaching 1990 emissions levels in the U.S. by 2020. That will send a strong, early signal to the marketplace - a very important part of getting where we need to go.

"2) The second necessary element is the flexibility to respond to new information. I like to call it "look backs." The bill must include provisions for continuing to review the science and the results of our policies at regular intervals. We also must know if we need to do more, and we must always reflect the most current science.

"3) Third, we must establish a cap-and-trade program for global warming pollution like the one that has worked so well in curbing acid rain. A cap and trade system will put a market price on carbon, driving greater efficiency and new technologies while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"4) Fourth, we must protect the pioneering state efforts that are already underway. The states have been leading the way on this issue. My home state of California has been the trail blazer on this issue, and other states are also making tremendous progress. Of course, California's AB 32 -- passed by the state's Democratic legislature and signed by a Republican governor -- is the gold standard. A total of 29 states have completed comprehensive Climate Action Plans and many have set mandatory reduction targets.

"5) Fifth, it is a moral imperative to do what we can to ease the impacts of global warming -- not only on the American consumer, but on world populations suffering from droughts, floods and famine. I look forward to working with communities of faith and others as we work to address theses issues.

"6) Finally, a bill must take into account the actions of countries that are not making progress toward a clean, sustainable energy future and must help level the playing field. Countries that want to export their goods to the U.S. must take steps consistent with our global warming policy or be held accountable for their emissions.

"These elements are all included in the Lieberman Warner bill... The bipartisan progress made in this bill is a reflection of how far we have come, and brings us closer to the day when we enact comprehensive legislation to deal with the challenge of global warming."

Environmental Defense, a key supporter of the bill, issued a release saying that the bill would require that covered sectors (about 80% of the U.S. economy) reduce emissions by 15% below 2005 levels in 2020, a "strong target" that they say "helps put the U.S. on the path to much deeper reductions by the middle of the century." The sponsors estimate that energy-efficiency policies also included in the bill would generate additional reductions, for a total economy-wide reduction of up to 18% by 2020. Responding to environmental concerns the senators tightened their short-term target from earlier proposals. Environmental Defense said, "This new target is at a level that would send a clear signal to companies and markets to begin investing now in new low-carbon technologies, and would make sure America is on the path necessary to achieve the long term goals required by global warming science." They said the centerpiece of the bill is a mandatory cap on emissions from the electric power, transportation, and manufacturing sectors, coupled with emissions trading provisions that will help companies meet the cap at the lowest cost. The cap requires a 70% reduction from these covered sources. The sponsors estimate that the bill's energy-efficiency policies, when combined with the cap, would produce overall reductions of up to 63% compared to 2005 levels.

In a second release, Environmental Defense said bipartisan support for the bill was growing. Steve Cochran, national climate campaign director at Environmental Defense said, “The momentum has never been greater and the path forward has never been clearer. These Senators deserve real credit for recognizing the need for action and bringing their vital support to an approach that promises to deliver environmental and economic results.” Cosponsors included: Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

In a release from Lieberman and Warner, the two also highlighted support statements for the bill from: National Wildlife Federation; Exelon Corporation; PGE Corp; Natural Resources Defense Council; and the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies.

Access a release from Senator Lieberman (click here). Access the complete statement from Senator Boxer (click here). Access an webcast of Senators Lieberman, Boxer and Warner, on introduction of the bill (click here). Access legislative details on S. 2191 (click here, posted soon). Access two releases from Environmental Defense (click here); and (click here). [*Climate]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hearing On Major Implications Of The Illegal Timber Industry

Oct 16: The House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans, Chaired by Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), held a hearing on H.R. 1497, sponsored by Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a bill to amend the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981 to extend its protections to plants illegally harvested outside of the United States (aka Legal Timber Protection Act).

Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: Representative Blumenauer; Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources Division, Department of Justice; VP Public Affairs, International Paper Company, On behalf of American Forest & Paper Association; President and CEO, Coastal Lumber Company, on behalf of Hardwood Federation; the Environmental Investigation Agency; Vice President and General Manager, Rex Lumber Company, on behalf of International Wood Products Association.

In his testimony, Representative Blumenauer outlined the significant impacts resulting from illegal timber harvest and sales. He said: "...illegal logging threatens some of the world’s richest and most vulnerable forests and cost the U.S. forest products industry over $1 billion every year in lost opportunities and lower prices. Half of the world’s forests have already disappeared, and the illegal removal of high value threatened tree species destined for the international trade is often the first step leading to forest clearance. The tracks and roads built to access and remove timber become entryways for further illegal cutting, hunting and burning.

"As illegal logging contributes to deforestation, the local and regional climatic systems are dramatically altered and the water balance and dynamics of this fragile ecosystem disrupted. The resulting soil erosion induces floods and landslides. In fact, deforestation accounts for 20% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions – more than the entire global transportation sector.

"Trade in illegally harvested timber undermines democratic governance and threatens indigenous populations as bribery, fraud and, in some cases, extreme violence are all part and parcel of illegal timber trafficking. Moreover, it causes losses to up to $15 billion for low-income countries. By avoiding export duties, timber royalties and taxes on their profits, companies operating unlawfully are robbing national governments of millions of dollars every year.

"In our domestic industry, since as much as 30% of hardwood lumber and plywood traded globally could be of suspicious origin, responsible U.S. companies lose an estimated $460 million in export opportunities every year because of displacement caused by illegally harvested timber. On top of that, the annual value of U.S. exports is between $500 - $700 million lower due to downward pressure on prices from illegally harvested timber. For my home states of Oregon, that means losses of up to $150 million each year..."

In describing the bill, Blumenauer indicated that H.R. 1497 is designed to prohibit trade in illegally harvested timber in the United States. The mechanism by which it does so is by extending the protections of the Lacey Act to timber and other plants. The Lacey Act, which dates back to 1900, prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold. In this way, Lacey strengthens and supports other federal, state, and foreign laws protecting wildlife by making it a separate offense to take, possess, transport, or sell wildlife that has been taken in violation of those laws.

He said, "What our legislation means is that, if wood has been stolen from a forest reserve in Brazil or taken without paying the appropriate royalties in Indonesia, the U.S. government will now have the authority to prevent its importation into the United States and punish those responsible. This bill is designed to go after the worst of the worst. It asks companies to take very basic responsibility that shouldn’t be a problem to any legitimate importers: know your sources and be able to document what species from what countries are you importing. Civil and criminal liability is limited only to those who don’t take due diligence or those who knowingly import illegal wood. This is a free-market solution, helping companies move to more responsible suppliers, instead of requiring burdensome inspections or certifications..."

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony (
click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 1497 (click here). [*Land]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Study Raises Concern Over Bt Corn Effect On Aquatic Insects

Oct 16: Corn, genetically engineered (GE) to tolerate the pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), has been found to harm non-target aquatic insects and disrupt the connected food web. A new study -- Toxins In Transgenic Crop Byproducts May Affect Headwater Stream Ecosystems -- by researchers at Indiana University, funded by the National Science Foundation and published in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, suggests that the crop, which has been licensed for use since 1996, poses an unforeseen risk to aquatic ecosystems.

According to the study, roughly 35 percent of American corn acreage is Bt corn. Pollen and other parts of the plants are traveling much farther than the fields in which they are planted, carrying Bt toxins through watersheds and being consumed by close relatives of the corn’s targeted pests. Caddisflies experience high mortality and stunted growth as a result of exposure. As researcher Todd Royer observed, they “are a food resource for higher organisms like amphibians and fish. And, if our goal is to have healthy, functioning ecosystems, we need to protect all the parts. Water resources are something we depend on greatly.”

This effect went unnoticed for ten years because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in its registration trials, tested Bt on a crustacean, rather than the aquatic insects that are being affected. “Every new technology comes with some benefits and some risks,” said Royer. “I think probably the risks associated with widespread planting of Bt corn were not fully assessed.”

The Center for Food Safety voiced concern regarding a study. Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety said, "This is yet another example of a government agency granting clearance for a GE organism without requiring meaningful or stringent testing. Bt corn is planted widely throughout the U.S. Had a study like this been done prior to the government's approval, we would not be looking at a popular crop that has the potential to broadly disrupt the environment." The Center said that Caddisflies are imperative to healthy, normally functioning stream ecosystems; they serve as food for fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

Access a release from Beyond Pesticides (click here). Access a release from the Center for Food Safety (click here). Access the published paper (click here). [*Toxics]

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hard-Nosed Business Look At Climate Change

Oct 15: The latest October 2007, Harvard Business Review's Forethought is a Special Report entitled, Climate Business: Business Climate. In the introduction to the issue, the Editors note, "We don’t know precisely how climate change will alter the planet, but two things are certain: Its complex environmental impact will directly affect business, society, and ecosystems; and governments will seek to mitigate its effects with far-reaching regulations. Until recently, companies have for the most part freely emitted carbon, but they will increasingly find that those emissions have a steep price, both monetary and social. As a result, businesses that continue to sit on the sidelines will be badly handicapped relative to those that are now devising strategies to reduce risk and find competitive advantage in a warming, carbon-constrained world.

"In this month’s Forethought, we’ve invited leading thinkers from business and academia to help our readers address climate issues by framing strategy, strengthening security, shaping policy, protecting reputation, and engaging customers, employees, and markets. This special section provides a hard-nosed look at a tough new environment. There will be winners and losers. Companies that get their strategy right will find vast opportunities to both profit and create social good on a global scale."

Articles in the issue include: Grist: A Strategic Approach to Climate; Risk: Investing in Global Security; Forecast: How Will a Warmer World Look?; Transparency: What Stakeholders Demand; Conversation: Global Reporting Initiative’s; Regulation: If You’re Not at the Table, You’re on the Menu; Reputation: When Being Green Backfires; Balance Sheet: Accounting for Climate Change: A Window on the Future; Markets: Investors Hunger for Clean Energy; Business to Business: Leading Change in Latin America; Leadership: Walking the Talk at Swiss Re; and Opinion: Place Your Bets on the Future You Want.

The opinion piece at the end by Forest L. Reinhardt, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School in Boston, summarizes with some thoughts on: "Which firms will gain and which will lose as governments and businesses begin to take climate change seriously?... Ultimately, though, success in a carbon constrained world will be determined not by short-term balance sheet effects or efficiency initiatives but by innovation, management acumen, and leadership... Business leaders must be courageous in betting on the long-term future that will benefit their companies the most -- that is, on a future where governments constrain, in transparent and reasonable ways, the human impact on the climate... Strong business leaders should want a transparent system that prices the right to generate carbon emissions as though it were any other scarce resource and lets firms get on with the business of competing."

Access the complete 18-page report (click here). [*Climate]

Friday, October 12, 2007

Water Quality & Quantity Issues With Corn-Based Ethanol

Oct 10: A new report from the National Academy of Sciences' (NAS), National Research Council (NRC) says that if projected increases in the use of corn for ethanol production occur, the harm to water quality could be considerable, and water supply problems at the regional and local levels could also arise. The committee that wrote the report examined policy options and identified opportunities for new agricultural techniques and technologies to help minimize effects of biofuel production on water resources.

According to the report -- Water Implications of Biofuels Production in the United States -- recent increases in oil prices in conjunction with subsidy policies have led to a dramatic expansion in corn ethanol production and high interest in further expansion over the next decade. Indeed, because of strong national interest in greater energy independence, in this year's State of the Union address, President Bush called for the production of 35 billion gallons of ethanol by 2017, which would equal about 15 percent of the U.S. liquid transportation fuels. The NRC committee was convened to look at how shifts in the nation's agriculture to include more energy crops, and potentially more crops overall, could affect water management and long-term sustainability of biofuel production. Based on findings presented at a July colloquium, the committee came to several conclusions about biofuel production and identified options for addressing them.

In terms of water quantity, the committee found that agricultural shifts to growing corn and expanding biofuel crops into regions with little agriculture, especially dry areas, could change current irrigation practices and greatly increase pressure on water resources in many parts of the United States. The amount of rainfall and other hydroclimate conditions from region to region causes significant variations in the water requirement for the same crop. For example, in the Northern and Southern Plains, corn generally uses more water than soybeans and cotton, while the reverse is true in the Pacific and mountain regions of the country. Water demands for drinking, industry, and such uses as hydropower, fish habitat, and recreation could compete with, and in some cases, constrain the use of water for biofuel crops in some regions. Consequently, growing biofuel crops requiring additional irrigation in areas with limited water supplies is a major concern.

Even though a large body of information exists for the nation's agricultural water requirements, fundamental knowledge gaps prevent making reliable assessments about the water impacts of future large scale production of feedstocks other than corn, such as switchgrass and native grasses. In addition, other aspects of crop production for biofuel may not be fully anticipated using the frameworks that exist for food crops. For example, biofuel crops could be irrigated with wastewater that is biologically and chemically unsuitable for use with food crops, or genetically modified crops that are more water efficient could be developed.

The quality of groundwater, rivers, and coastal and offshore waters could be impacted by increased fertilizer and pesticide use for biofuels. High levels of nitrogen in stream flows are a major cause of low-oxygen or "hypoxic" regions, commonly known as "dead zones," which are lethal for most living creatures and cover broad areas of the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and other regions. The report notes that there are a number of agricultural practices and technologies that could be employed to reduce nutrient pollution, such as injecting fertilizer below the soil surface, using controlled-release fertilizers that have water-insoluble coatings, and optimizing the amount of fertilizer applied to the land.

Nutrient and sediment pollution in streams and rivers could also both be attributed to soil erosion. High sedimentation rates carry financial consequences as they increase the cost of often-mandatory dredging for transportation and recreation. The committee observed that erosion might be minimized if future production of biofuels looks to perennial crops, like switchgrass, poplars or willows, or prairie polyculture, which could hold the soil and nutrients in place better than most row crops. The committee also identified other ways that farming could be improved, such as conservation tillage and leaving most or all of the cornstalks and cobs in the field after the grain has been harvested.

For biorefineries, the water consumed for the ethanol production process -- although modest compared with the water used growing biofuel crops -- could substantially affect local water supplies. A biorefinery that produces 100 million gallons of ethanol a year would use the equivalent of the water supply for a town of about 5,000 people. Biorefineries could generate intense challenges for local water supplies, depending on where the facilities are located. However, use of water in biorefineries is declining as ethanol producers increasingly incorporate water recycling and develop new methods of converting feedstocks to fuels that increase energy yields while reducing water use.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a brief statement on the report saying, “The NAS report makes it clear that unless Congress acts decisively through the Farm Bill and comprehensive energy bill, increased biofuels production will increase water pollution from agriculture and intensify many regional and local water shortages. The report also details many agricultural practices, technologies, and other biomass crops that could help reduce total water use and pollution while we increase the production of biofuels. But to deliver on the promise of biofuels, Congress must dramatically increase funding for Farm Bill conservation programs and reform them to get more conservation per dollar. We also need to shift our biofuels policies to improve environmental and energy security performance rather than simply increasing the volume of production.”

Access a release on the report (
click here). Access a 4-page report brief (click here). Access the complete report and a 17-page summary (click here). Access the statement from NRDC and link to further information (click here). [*Energy, *Biofuels]

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Government Financial Liabilities For Commercial Nuclear Waste

Oct 4: The House Budget Committee, Chaired by Representative John Spratt, Jr. (D-SC) held a hearing entitled, Issues in Federal Government Financial Liabilities: Commercial Nuclear Waste. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included representatives from the: Congressional Budget Office (CBO); Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, U.S. Department of Energy; and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The CBO testified that, by law, the Federal government is responsible for permanently disposing of spent nuclear fuel generated by civilian facilities, which pay fees for that waste disposal service. Regardless of how the government meets that responsibility, discharging those liabilities will require significant Federal spending over many decades. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) authorized a system to manage radioactive waste, including an underground repository to permanently dispose of spent nuclear fuel from civilian facilities. Currently, the Federal government is 10 years behind schedule in its contractual obligations to remove and dispose of such waste; by the time the repository might be opened, it is likely to face at least a 20-year waste backlog.

In the absence of a federal underground repository to accept nuclear waste for storage, taxpayers are now starting to pay -- in the form of legal settlements with utilities -- for a decentralized waste storage system at sites around the country. (Those payments are being made from the Department of the Treasury’s Judgment Fund.) The Department of Energy (DOE) currently estimates that payments to utilities pursuant to such settlements will total at least $7 billion, and possibly much more if the program’s schedule continues to slip. Regardless of whether or when the government opens the planned repository, those payments are likely to continue for several decades.

Ultimately, the repository that is now authorized under NWPA will not provide sufficient capacity to store all of the waste for which the federal government is responsible. The statutory cap on the amount of waste that can be stored there is significantly lower than the volume of waste that DOE expects will be generated during the lifetimes of existing nuclear facilities, let alone the additional volume from any new facilities that may be built. Without a change in law to allow construction of disposal facilities with sufficient capacity to accommodate all of the waste that will be generated, taxpayers will need to pay utilities to dispose of a substantial amount of additional waste in the future. Contractual liabilities associated with nuclear waste from civilian power plants are one component of the government’s broader liabilities for remedying environmental contamination, much of which results from operating the nation’s nuclear weapons complex.

Access links to all witness testimony (
click here, scroll down to 10/4/07). [*Nuclear]

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Law Firm Surveys Business Views On Climate Change & Sustainability

Oct 10: While U.S. businesses are concerned about compliance costs related to climate change legislation, those same companies still believe that the federal government should be doing more to combat global warming, according to a recent survey (released September 24, 2007) sponsored by the law firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and their Climate Change & Sustainability practice group. Though 60% of survey respondents said they worry about compliance costs related to climate change rules, 56% of private company respondents (and 66% of public ones) think the federal government should do more to help reduce or limit global warming, including the development and use of alternative and renewable energy.

San Francisco partner Michael Steel, co-head of Pillsbury’s Climate Change & Sustainability practice group said, “This reflects the dilemma that Congress and Americans as a whole face. Most people would like to see greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduced to help curb the effects of climate change, but serious questions remain about how best to do it and pay for it.” Steel said that these questions may help explain why some companies may be struggling with what type of green practices to employ, therefore delaying adoption, even as they are increasingly aware of environmental issues, including global warming.

The survey was conducted by the Research and Analysis Center of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Nearly 600 American businesses participated in the survey, which is believed to be the first to assess the impact of climate change issues across all industries and U.S. company demographics today, gathering responses from small family-owned businesses, large public multinationals and every size company in between. Pillsbury said it plans to repeat the survey periodically to track the progress U.S. businesses are making.

Some of the findings indicate that 57% of those surveyed say that in the past 12-24 months they have switched to using or selling more recycled materials or products, and nearly 49% have reduced their use of electricity. Another 48% participate in programs to properly dispose of computers and other technologies that leak radiation and other contaminants. Just 23% of those surveyed have upgraded or converted to cleaner technologies or equipment, while 21% have reduced their use of fossil fuels.

Only 13.3 % of survey respondents have conducted such an energy audit. Of those companies that have adopted one or more green practices, 64% say the switch has not raised operating costs, and one quarter report that their costs of operations have actually been reduced. Regarding new opportunities that climate change issues may offer, 35% of those surveyed responded favorably.

Regarding proposals related to carbon trading, Pillsbury said both public and private companies surveyed expressed disinterest. Just 2% of those surveyed have invested in carbon credits, and 25% of the respondents, mostly smaller business owners, were not familiar with any carbon credit program, which Pillsbury said "suggests far more education about carbon trading may be warranted for it to succeed as a viable alternative for emissions-heavy companies."

One surprising result was that 28% of public companies responding to the survey said they would prefer one federal law governing climate change rules while 22% favor individual state laws. Among the private companies, 31% would prefer one federal law and 19% individual state ones. Pillsbury indicated that they expected that public companies would favor a Federal law over individual state rules "because it generally costs far more to comply with numerous differing rules than a set of consistent laws and regulations.”

Access a release from Pillsbury (click here). Access the complete 12-page results report on the survey (click here). Access the Pillsbury Climate Change & Sustainability practice group website for additional information (click here). [*Climate, *Sustainability]

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Critical Minerals: Data Lacking & Cache Is "Wholly Ineffective"

Oct 5: To make the products people use every day, from mobile phones and computers to toothpaste, TVs, and cars, the United States relies on a variety of nonfuel minerals that have limited global availability. However, a new report from the National Academy of Sciences' (NAS) National Research Council (NRC) finds that neither the Federal government nor industry leaders have enough accurate information to know how secure the supplies of these minerals are. This lack of information also extends to the area of national defense; a second Research Council report finds that the National Defense Stockpile (NDS), a cache of material in place to deal with national emergencies, is wholly ineffective for responding to modern needs or national security threats. The two new report are entitled: (1) Minerals, Critical Minerals, And The U.S. Economy; and (2) Managing Materials For A 21st Century Military.

NRC researchers that wrote the reports said, "Industries dependent on minerals can be significantly influenced by supply disruptions, which might be avoided with better information. Consumers and producers would both greatly benefit from a systematic framework for evaluating minerals that are critical to the economy... "In order to operate well, a stockpiling system needs to have detailed information about the specific material needs of the military and about any possible restrictions on the supply of those materials. The NDS neither collects nor has access to these types of data, which essentially removes the stockpile as an effective component of our nation's defense. We need a more comprehensive approach to managing the U.S. defense material needs."

To determine supply needs, the NDS currently relies on economic models that have changed minimally since they were first instituted decades ago. However, global material supply chains have changed drastically since then, as have the threats faced by the U.S. The stockpile committee called the economic models "gross estimates that do not capture specific information relevant to the 21st century military needs" and found little connection between NDS' stockpiling policy and the nation's security objectives.

The stockpile report (second report above) recommends that instead of improving NDS' systems, a new systematic approach should be adopted to manage the nation's defense material needs. Stockpiling could still be used within the new system, but other techniques such as planning ahead and building robust supply chains for essential materials, would better mitigate the impact of supply shortfalls or sudden surges in demand, vastly improving military's ability to respond to changing technologies and threats. The report offers a number of additional guiding principles for how the new system could operate, including the option of partnering with private industry.

Any mineral could at some point become critical to the economy or national security, depending on its uses and availability. Using a new tool that it developed specifically for its report, the critical minerals committee determined that platinum group metals, rare earth elements, indium, manganese, and niobium -- minerals used to make LCD TVs, catalytic converters, pacemakers, and other products Americans rely on daily -- are currently highly critical, meaning they are difficult or impossible to substitute, essential in their use, and have potentially "at-risk supplies." Although committee members only had time to examine a limited number of minerals, they said their tool could be adopted by Federal agencies to similarly classify minerals.

Decision makers in both public and private sectors need continuous, unbiased, and thorough information on the uses and possible supply restrictions of nonfuel minerals, but currently the federal government and the industries that use these minerals do not collect these data with enough detail or frequency, the report on critical minerals (first report above) notes. Market fluctuations, limited sources, and even political shifts in foreign countries could drastically, and quickly, alter the price or availability of many essential minerals. The U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS's) Minerals Information Team is the most comprehensive source for this sort of information, but the quantity and quality of its data are not sufficient because the Agency lacks the resources, authority, and autonomy of a principal statistical agency. The critical minerals report recommends that the Federal government give the necessary authority and funding to USGS, or whichever agency will ultimately be responsible, to collect minerals information.

Access a release from NAS (
click here). Access a 4-page brief of the Critical Minerals report (click here). Access the Critical Minerals complete report and a 25-page summary (click here). Access a 2-page brief of the Managing Materials report (click here). Access the Managing Materials complete report and a 17-page summary (click here). Access more information about the USGS Mineral Resources Program (click here). [*Overall]

Friday, October 05, 2007

Senate Passes Ban Asbestos In America Act

Oct 4: The United States Senate unanimously passed Senator Patty Murray's (D-WA) bill to ban asbestos, bringing the legislation closer to enactment than at any point since Murray launched her effort to protect families and workers six years ago. Murray worked closely with Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Environment and Public Works Chairman Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to reach this "historic milestone." The bill passed the Senate with an amendment and an amendment to the Title by unanimous consent.

Murray said, "This is a historic day in the fight to protect Americans. Workers and their families deserve a future free of deadly asbestos exposure, and I'm not stopping until this bill is signed into law. I'm very pleased that Senators from both sides of the aisle came together to unanimously support my bill. I especially want to thank Senator Johnny Isakson for his bipartisan leadership in moving this bill forward. I also want to commend Senator Barbara Boxer who championed this bill from the start and led its quick passage through her Environment and Public Works Committee."

Isakson said, “It was a pleasure to work with Senator Murray on crafting this legislation. This bill is the culmination of months of bipartisan work to find common ground on this important issue, and I extremely pleased the Senate acted so quickly to approve it. For the few areas where asbestos is still used in the United States, this bill provides a reasonable transition so that Americans can rid themselves of asbestos once and for all.” U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works said, “Because of this bill, America is poised to join the more than 40 nations that have banned asbestos because it is deadly. This bill is long overdue... This bill will take asbestos off the shelves, and will also ensure we continue to study and treat the health effects asbestos has already caused.”

Murray's bill would ban asbestos, invest in research and treatment, and launch a public education campaign. Murray started working to ban asbestos six years ago. This March, she re-introduced her legislation as S. 742, the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007. The bill prohibits the importation, manufacture, processing and distribution of products containing asbestos. The ban covers the 6 regulated forms of asbestos and 3 durable fibers. U.S. EPA will issue rules to ensure asbestos products are off the shelves within 2 years of the bill's enactment. The bill creates a $50 million "Asbestos-Related Disease Research and Treatment Network;" Creates a New National Asbestos-Related Disease Registry; Directs the Department of Defense to Conduct Additional Research; Identifies the Most Promising Areas for New Research; and Launches a Public Education Campaign to protect Americans.

The National Association of Manufactures (NAM), who opposed the ban and the bill, commented on the Senate passage on their blog saying, "Good grief. NIOSH and EPA and also OSHA and the CPSC have been all over the asbestos case for 35 years beginning with hearings at the Labor Department in 1972. Here are the facts. Asbestos is a useful mineral common throughout the world. Everyone has been exposed to it. There are different kinds of asbestos. The most common type, chrysotile, does not appear to be particularly hazardous to people. The majority of asbestos-related illnesses stems from excessive exposures that occurred during ship construction in World War II. After many years of intensive study, the EPA concluded that intact asbestos in buildings should be left alone.

"Asbestos has marvelous fire-retardant properties that save lives. The politically driven mania to ban asbestos creates serious hazards where none need exist. The crash of the shuttle Challenger, for example, was caused by the failure of critical O-rings which, because of a CPSC ban on asbestos products, were not sealed with the standard putty containing asbestos. Many useful products are safe for humans because they contain asbestos. This bill, if it becomes law, will create hazards where none exist."

Access a release and brief summary from Senator Murray (
click here). Access Senator Murray's Asbestos website for extensive information and links (click here). Access the Senate Committee hearing on the bill and witness testimony (click here). Access the NAM blog comments (click here). Access legislative details for S. 742 (click here). [*Toxics]