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President Obama announced an $8.33 billion federal loan for construction of a nuclear reactor in Georgia yesterday. Energy Secretary Steven Chu later elaborated that the Georgia project is the first of "at least a half-dozen, probably more, loans." While the backing of nuclear plant construction is an attempt to create bipartisan support for clean energy, the announcement has drawn criticism from both fiscal conservatives and environmental activists. Both cite the nuclear industry's history of hundreds of billions in budget overruns, and the cost of maintaining abandoned plants. Even the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned that the risk of default on new nuclear plants could be as high as 50 percent. Chu responded to the CBO concerns that he expects the risk of default to be "far less than that," without providing a figure.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit science advocacy group, said that the new construction would "shift unacceptable risks from the nuclear industry to U.S. taxpayers" and called the federal loan program "a prime example of pork-barrel politics on behalf of special interests."
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Anyone Can Whistle: The Essential Role of the Whistleblower in American Society
Presented by GAP, Participant Media, and The Paley Center for Media
7 p.m. EST
25 West 52nd St., New York, NY 10019
Dear GAP Supporters:
GAP is proud to announce a major event honoring and showcasing whistleblowers this coming Wednesday, February 17, in New York City. This entertaining evening will feature celebrities and legendary whistleblowers whose heroism has put criminals behind bars and saved countless lives. It will provide an uplifting message of what is needed for whistleblowers to continue safeguarding the public, and what actions you can take to support pending corporate whistleblower legislation.
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An academic inquiry has cleared the climate scientist
at the center of the so-called "climate-gate" scandal of scientific misconduct.
Climate science skeptics had jumped on hundreds of emails and other documents obtained by an unknown computer hacker from a British scientific center, the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, in late November.
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President Obama and his administration are trying to win over Republicans and moderate Democrats on climate and energy legislation
by signaling his support for nuclear energy plant production. However, the support for nuclear reactors has angered many liberals and environmentalists, who do not believe nuclear energy, in its current form, is safe.
One concern this raises at GAP is the potential for a resurrection for the Bush administration's proposal and support of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP. In 2006, the Bush administration Department of Energy put forth a proposal for a GNEP, and international plan that sought to increase and promote the use of nuclear power in both the U.S. and abroad by offering foreign countries to opportunity to import their nuclear waste into the United States, at which point this “spent fuel” would be reprocessed further for American power uses.
With a long history of monitoring nuclear power and waste sites, and knowing the terrible turmoil that undeniably occurs with safety issues and nuclear waste, GAP teamed up with other groups to take a stand against this badly thought-out plan. In conjunction with other groups, GAP released two pivotal reports on the extensive problems with GNEP. Each report, Risky Appropriations: Gambling US Energy Policy on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and Radioactive Wastes and the Global Energy Nuclear Partnership point out the numerous, insurmountable flaws dealing with each program. These included:
- The lack of any economic analysis of the costs and benefits of the GNEP plan.
- None of the proposed GNEP technologies and processes existed in commercially viable applications. Few technologies that GNEP required had ever been shown to be viable in any large engineering-scale demonstration projects.
- The proposed schedule for GNEP was not feasible – the technologies that would be required to implement GNEP successfully would take decades to develop if, in fact, they can be made technically and commercially viable at all.
- GNEP would be an unreasonably expensive and slow option for addressing global climate change.
- GNEP would lock the United States into decisions to deploy certain nuclear technologies and processes much before research and development phases are completed, demonstration projects are tested, and technologies are shown to be feasible.
- GNEP will likely worsen the radioactive waste disposal problem and would make the United States the dumping ground for nuclear waste from the other participating nations.
- In April 2009, the Department of Energy, amidst much resistance from the public-interest and environmental community, announced the cancellation of any domestic part of the GNEP plan.
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New EPA restrictions on mountaintop mining are leaving both environmentalists and the coal industry frustrated. Activists on both sides say the agency hasn't been clear about what criteria it is using for the restrictions, and has approved some mines while denying others, while not clarifying what the difference is between the "good" mines and "bad" mines.
The mountain-top mining removal is a horrific practice, in which the peaks of mountains in Appalachia are blasted off to access coal, and valleys are then filled with the resulting debris. The method has been proven to be significantly harmful to the environment. By law, the coal companies are required to rebuild the mountains. However, debris is usually left in nearby valleys, and when rainwater runs over the rock that had previously been far underground, it can release toxic metals, which can destroy the life in Appalachian streams and cause significant health problems for people who drink the water. Environmentalists condemn the mining and are angry that while the Obama administration called for its end, the EPA has analyzed about 175 proposed mines and still signed off on almost 50 of the mines.
The coal industry has argued that restricting the mining will harm the Appalachian economy.
Last week environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and CEO of Massey Coal Don Blankenship contentiously argued the issue. Massey Coal is the fourth largest producer of coal in the United States and the largest in Appalachia.
Kennedy called the mining a "sin" that damages the Appalachian ecosystem and helps only a few people get rich. Blankenship responded that the environmentalists are trying to attack the "people who are teaching your Sunday schools and coaching your Little League."
The debate in West Virginia over this issue is so contentious, that city officials stationed 40 uniformed police officers at the event. Although they encountered no serious trouble, an October Federal featured parties shouting each other down and threatening one another.
On Monday, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin III issued an appeal for an end to intimidation of people fighting mountaintop mining. "We will not in any way, shape or form in this state of West Virginia tolerate any violence against anyone on any side. If you're going to have the dialogue, have respect for each other."
However, at a march last year, a woman in coal-mining gear stepped past guards and slapped local environmental activist Julia Bonds. "They don't seem to understand the difference between nonviolence and violence," Bonds said.
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In news from Capitol Hill today:
Despite a promise from President Obama that his administration would be the most open in history, more than 300 individuals and groups have filed lawsuits in order to get public records in the past year. Many of the plaintiffs argue that the lack of transparency remains the same since the Bush administration, as 298 public-records lawsuits were filed in 2008, the last year of Bush’s tenure.
Embattled Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will face many tough questions today during his testimony in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The specific issue at hand is Geithner's role in the bailout of AIG as president of the New York Federal Reserve, and his possible role in its decision not to disclose information about AIG's "back-door" bailout of other firms. Geither has faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans.
A coalition of nonprofit groups, including GAP, sent a letter to President Obama asking for a revision in the year-old executive order than restricts lobbyists from jobs in the administration. The order does not cover many special interest insiders, while still restricting non-profit or charity lobbyists, who do not have a particular financial interest in policy.
In public safety news:
New technology for radiation, and the nature of overworked hospital workers, has created new avenues for human error in the therapies. And because of the nature of the therapies, mistakes can be repeated multiple times, causing serious damage to patients.
And finally in climate science news:
Following the Massachusetts special election win by Republican Scott Brown, advocates of a climate policy are creating a more modest proposal, believing their more comprehensive cap-and-trade based plan would not pass the Senate. Instead, they are turning to a plan involving more "job-creating energy projects and energy efficiency measures."
In recent months, two cases against big producers of heat-trapping gases, including ExxonMobil and Shell Oil, have gone ahead in federal court after previous decisions to dismiss them were reversed. The cases, and others, are part of a climate change litigation movement that could eventually bring large industries to the negotiating table.
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After producing a study of mountaintop coal mining, a group of scientists concluded that the controversial practice should be stopped due to its destructiveness and long-term effects. Central to the study is the fact that mountaintop mining destroys the ecosystems in Appalachian steams. The report details how the ecological damage could last hundreds or even thousands of years. From NPR:
“Even after a site has been reclaimed and attempts have been made to re-vegetate it,’ a biologist with the study says, ‘the streams that remain below that, that weren't filled, have high levels of all sorts of nasty things’ Things, she says, like selenium, which in high amounts can harm fish and other aquatic life; and sulfates, which alter the water chemistry… Many animals in these valley streams — from algae to fish and birds — could be seriously harmed.”
The study was released in the same week that the Environmental Protection Agency supported a new mine permit for a site in West Virginia. From the L.A. Times:
“The permit that the EPA just released this week is not consistent with what the scientists are saying,’ said Joan Mulhern, counsel to Earthjustice, which has taken legal action to halt the practice. The Obama administration has pledged in general to…do what the science dictates. This unequivocal new study has got to drive them to phase out the practice,’ Mulhern said.