Friday, April 02, 2004


The Bush administration is an environmental disaster in the making. Stay tuned as the Unofficial Kerry Blog begins a new series on Bush and the Environment...

Bush officials accused of mine whitewash
Whistle-blower appearing on '60 Minutes'

NEW YORK - A whistle-blower has accused the Bush administration of trying to protect the company responsible for a 2000 coal slurry spill for political reasons, according to CBS Television’s “60 Minutes.”

Jack Spadaro, former head of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy, said on the show to be aired on Sunday that the Department of Labor whitewashed a report that held mining company Massey Energy Co., a contributor to the Republican Party, responsible for the spill.

The Oct. 11, 2000, spill from the mining company’s containment pond poured 300 million gallons of coal sludge into water supplies in Kentucky and West Virginia.

Inquiry 'considerably shortened'
“The Bush administration came in and the scope of our investigation was considerably shortened,” Spadaro, who helped investigate the spill for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said on the CBS show.

He called it “interference with a federal investigation of the most serious environmental disaster in the history of the eastern United States.”

CBS said the Richmond, Va., company was a “generous” contributor to the Republican Party.



Bush mercury proposal hit on two fronts
Some Senate Republicans join Democrats and 10 states

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration’s plan for reducing mercury emissions from power plants came under criticism on two fronts Thursday as nearly half of the Senate and 10 states urged the Environmental Protection Agency to propose stronger requirements.

The agency’s administrator, Mike Leavitt, has promised to re-examine a plan that envisions a 70 percent cut in mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants by 2018.

The plan has been attacked because of the time given to utilities to reduce emissions and because the EPA would let some companies buy pollution credits from utilities rather than substantially cutting contaminants.

Mercury, a toxic substance, can cause neurological and developmental problems, especially in children. Once in the environment, it can remain an active toxin for thousands of years.

Seven Republicans join Democrats
The government’s mercury proposals “fall far short of what the law requires and they fail to protect the health of our children and our environment,” the senators said in a letter Thursday to Leavitt. The group of 45 lawmakers included seven Republicans.

The senators urged Leavitt to scrap the regulation and “take prompt and effective action to clean up mercury pollution from power plants.”

Attorneys general from 10 states, mostly in the Northeast, said the EPA proposal does “not meet the minimum requirements” of the federal Clean Air Act and should be withdrawn immediately. They said the Clean Air Act requires each plant to make stringent reductions.

The EPA, in a statement responding to the letters, reaffirmed that Leavitt considers mercury exposure a serious health issue and is determined to complete a final regulation by year’s end that will cut those emissions from power plants by 70 percent.

The statement said Leavitt has asked for additional analysis to ensure that cutting mercury emissions is done “in the most efficient and effective way possible” given the available technology.

Power plants account for 48 tons of mercury a year; these emissions are unregulated.



Mountaintop mining neighbors protest in D.C.
Industry lawyer only proponent at Interior hearing

WASHINGTON - Tales of floods and flattened peaks and of homes swept away or devalued in central Appalachia were laid out Tuesday by opponents to the Bush administration’s plan to ease a buffer-zone regulation protecting streams from coal mining operations.

Testifying at an Interior Department hearing on the proposal, Mary Miller of Sylvester, W.Va., said the value of her home had dropped from $144,000 to below $12,000. Residents in her coalfield town won economic damages last month suing a mining company over coal dust covering their homes, vehicles and other property.

“I’m out here now trying to save my home,” said Miller. “I don’t have much left anyway. I don’t have many years left. But I’m thinking about the water shortage for my children.”

The department in January proposed easing a 1983 rule that set limits on coal mining near streams. Current policy says land within 100 feet of a stream cannot be disturbed by mining unless a company can prove it will not affect the water’s quality and quantity.

The new rule would require coal operators to minimize only “to the extent possible” any damage to streams, fish and wildlife by “using the best technology currently available.”

Industry's view
In a small auditorium at the department’s headquarters, nearly all of the more than two dozen speakers opposed the plan. A lawyer for the National Mining Association was the only one to praise it.

“Our preference is that the rule be deleted entirely,” said Bradford Frisby, the trade group’s associate general counsel. “There are other regulations that protect streams.”

His group has described the current buffer zone rule as confusing and going beyond the intent of Congress when it passed a 1977 law on environmental impacts of coal mining.

Citizens, environmentalists, religious leaders and public health advocates turned out to demand that the department drop its proposal and instead more vigorously enforce current law. Four other hearings on the issue were held Tuesday in Charleston, W.Va.; Greentree, Pa.; Hazard, Ky., and Harriman, Tenn.



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