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  Sierra Magazine
  January/February 2004
Table of Contents
A Neighborhood Named Desire
A Fine Balance
Circling Back to the Sierra
Interview: William Greider
Old Europe’s New Ideas
Ways & Means
Let's Talk
One Small Step
Lay of the Land
Food for Thought
Good Going
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Grassroots Update
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Sierra Magazine

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Lay of the Land

Air Wars | WWatch | Drinking Water | Bold Strokes

Keeping tabs on the Bush administration

Radioactive Waste | For the Record | A Better Way | By the Numbers

Radioactive Waste by Any Other Name

Here’s the Bush administration’s plan to dispose of 90 million gallons of liquid nuclear waste: change its classification from high-level to "incidental." The change would allow the waste to be left in concrete-covered tanks at old weapons facilities in Idaho, South Carolina, and Washington instead of being shipped to a deep-burial repository. State officials oppose the change, charging that the radioactive sludge could end up in nearby groundwater and aquifers; indeed, some of the tanks are already leaking.

Last summer, an Idaho judge ruled that the administration’s scheme violated the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. But instead of abiding by the judge’s order, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham asked Congress to rewrite the law. It’s not the first time Bush’s team has attempted this type of end-run. To protect companies that dump mining waste in streams from challenges under the Clean Water Act, the administration rewrote the water regulations to classify the debris as "fill." And after a court blocked new oil drilling off the California coast, the Commerce Department proposed revised rules for the Coastal Zone Management Act that would weaken states’ authority over offshore drilling. Why follow the rules when you can just erase the ones you don’t like? —Jennifer Hattam

For The Record

"We simplified the rules. . . . We trust the people in this plant to make the right decisions."

– President Bush, at a Detroit Edison power plant in Monroe, Michigan, explaining his administration’s roll back of "new source review" clean-air regulations. Detroit Edison was previously fined for trying to modify another plant in the state without installing appropriate pollution controls. Bush’s plan would allow the coal-fired Monroe facility to increase its sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 35 percent.

By the numbers

• Minimum fine for factory farms that violate air-pollution standards, under current federal law: $27,500

• Minimum fine under an amnesty deal proposed by the EPA: $3,000

• Percent of women of childbearing age with dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies, according to the EPA: 8

• Percent increase in mercury (above amount allowed by the Clean Air Act) that Bush’s "Clear Skies" initiative would let power plants emit by 2010: 520

• Pounds of CO2 that the average Hummer emits each year: 24,100

• Pounds of CO2 that the average Honda Accord, a midsize car, emits each year: 10,300

• Number of awards General Motors, maker of the Hummer, received from the EPA last year for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions: 2

• Number of times a court has held that the White House must release information on Vice President Cheney’s energy task force: 4

• Number of task force documents released by the White House: 0

A Better Way

Biosafety Takes Root

The Bush administration has berated the European Union as "Luddite" and "antiscientific" for raising concerns about genetically modified organisms, but it’s actually the United States that’s not keeping up with the times.

In September, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety went into effect, with the backing of 57 nations and the European Community. The landmark agreement sets up disclosure standards for exporters and allows nations to reject biotech shipments from other signatory countries. Genes from bioengineered crops can mix with other plants, a process that could disrupt ecosystems by introducing varieties invulnerable to pests and herbicides. Genetically modified food may also plague humans with new allergens and make antibiotics less effective, though studies of these problems remain inconclusive.

The Cartagena treaty covers genetically modified seeds, animals, and crops, but not processed food made from the same sources, an exclusion made under pressure by the United States–a major biotech exporter–and its allies Canada, Australia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. Despite the concession, the United States has not signed the protocol. —Jennifer Hattam

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