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The Planet

Politics Trump Women and Children | Nevadans Say No to Nuclear Dump | Dunes At Risk

Politics Trump Women and Children, Bush Halts Family Planning Funds

By Sarah Wootton

President Bush has placed a $34 million contribution to the United Nations Population Fund on hold, threatening international family planning programs that help men and women make decisions that affect the size and health of their families, and in turn, their communities.When President Bush signed the fiscal year 2002 appropriations bill, it included a $34 million contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for international reproductive health and family-planning assistance. The funding was requested by President Bush and approved by the Senate and House when Congress passed the bill.

In December, Bush placed a temporary hold on the funding pending a decision on claims against UNFPA made by the anti-family planning organization, Population Research Institute, and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.). They contend that UNFPA condones China's controversial one-child policy.

"The claims are unfounded," says Annette Souder, senior representative for the Club's Global Population and Environment Program. "The funding is being withheld without any documented proof of the allegations. PRI and Smith are using this funding question to wrongfully promote their anti-family planning, anti-choice political agenda. UNFPA happened to be the most strategically available target."

According to its Web site, UNFPA follows the "Cairo Programme," which states that abortion should not be promoted as a family-planning method. It supports voluntary family-planning programs that provide families with a full range of choices.

In China, UNFPA works in 32 counties where China's one-child policy has been lifted and the country has agreed to permit UNFPA to provide voluntary family-planning programs for those who choose to participate. UNFPA sent independent investigators to study its work in China and found no evidence to support PRI's allegations.

UNFPA, established in 1969, works to educate the public about reproductive health and to provide pre- and post-natal care to families in more than 140 countries around the world. One quarter of all population assistance funding reaches developing countries through UNFPA. The $34 million withheld by the United States represents 13 percent of all government contributions. Abubakar Dungus of the UNFPA estimates that the U.S. contribution would help prevent 2 million unwanted pregnancies, nearly 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, nearly 60,000 cases of serious maternal illness, and more than 77,000 infant and child deaths.

"When money is withheld from family reproductive health under the guise of stopping abortions, it harms women, children and the environment," says George Klein, chair of the Population Committee. "Without funding to provide pre-natal care and reproductive education, more abortions are going to occur and more unwanted births are going to occur."

Take Action: Urge President Bush to send U.S. funds to UNFPA immediately. Visit or send a letter to the address below.

Nevadans Say No to Nuclear Dump

By Laura Fauth

Sierra Club spokesperson Leana Hildebrand at a March rally against a Yucca Mountain waste dump.The Bush administration's plan to turn Nevada's Yucca Mountain into a high-level nuclear waste repository has outraged the state's citizens and political leaders.

While strident objections from Nevada's Democratic leaders - including Senate Democratic Whip Harry Reid, Rep. Shelley Berkley and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman - may not be surprising, the state's Republican leaders have been equally vehement in their opposition to the project. Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons called it "misguided," and said "disaster is a very real possibility." Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn, meanwhile, vowed that state officials would fight the project "in Congress, in the Oval Office, and in every regulatory body we can."

Although public opinion polls show that more than 75 percent of Nevadans strongly oppose the Yucca Mountain dump, in February Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham recommended the project to President Bush, who approved it.

On April 9, Guinn appeared before Congress to veto the project, an unusual right granted to Nevada by Congress in the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act. The final decision rests with Congress, which has 90 legislative days to vote on the veto. A majority vote in both houses would override Nevada's objection and send the project to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for licensing.

Jane Feldman, conservation chair for the Toiyabe (Nevada/Eastern California) Chapter, points out that opposition to the Yucca Mountain project is more than a case of "not in my backyard." Opening the Yucca Mountain dump would launch the largest nuclear waste shipment plan ever undertaken. Over the next 30 years, roughly 100,000 shipments of high-level nuclear waste would travel in trucks and trains to Nevada from nuclear power plants and other facilities around the country. The waste would pass through 43 states on its way to Yucca Mountain.

The Dept. of Energy projects 210 to 354 crashes involving nuclear waste traveling to the mountain over the next 30 years. Fifty million Americans who live within a half-mile of transport routes would face the risk of accident and exposure to nuclear waste, according to Toiyabe Chapter Chair Ellen Pillard.

"People - and I mean the politicians - think of this as Nevada's problem," Gov. Guinn said in a recent New York Times article. "But it's America's problem. God forbid there should be an accident during transport."

There is also uncertainty about the safety of the dump site. As recently as December, 2001, the General Accounting Office concluded that nearly 300 scientific and engineering questions about the Yucca plan remained unanswered.

The site has 32 earthquake faults and sits on top of a freshwater aquifer. Some scientists believe there is a high risk of groundwater contamination. And while the original plan called for a site with "geological barriers" to safely contain the waste, the DOE found too many problems with the natural barrier system at Yucca Mountain and is now planning to use an engineered barrier system.

"We have absolutely no confidence that the site is safe," says Feldman. "If we have to engineer barriers at Yucca Mountain, we can certainly engineer barriers right where the waste is generated - and in the process protect the residents of 43 states from the risks of a massive nuclear waste transportation scheme."

Take Action: Contact your senator and urge him or her to oppose the Yucca Mountain project by voting not to override Gov. Guinn's veto.

Dunes At Risk

By Sarah Wootton

Threatened species such as the California least tern, western snowy plover and steelhead trout are a natural part of the habitat of San Luis Obispo's Oceano Dunes. But the sensitive dunes they call home are managed as a vehicle recreation site by the California State Parks Department and suffer from aggressive off-road vehicle use. Off-roaders tear up nesting, foraging and mating areas for the least tern and others. In 2001, only two snowy plover chicks survived to fledge out of 68 hatched eggs. The state has no plan to protect the snowy plover and other delicate plants and animals that rely on the dunes.

The California Coastal Commission is reviewing the recreation permit and may place restrictions on vehicle use. Help the Santa Lucia Chapter, Environmental Defense Center and local beach activists by urging decision-makers to permanently protect the dunes. Send a letter to Gov. Gray Davis, State Capitol Building, Sacramento, CA 95814. Ask him to urge the coastal commission to protect the environmentally sensitive habitat and water quality and preserve the coastline for all to enjoy.

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