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Policy News Update

April 14, 2006

In this issue: [Contract All : Expand All]

SENATE BILL WOULD AUTHORIZE $13B FOR GREAT LAKES RESTORATION

Two senators introduced legislation to authorize about $13 billion for Great Lakes restoration projects. Most of the money would be drawn from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF), which the bill would reauthorize.

Sens. Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Carl Levin (D-MI) are sponsors of the "Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Implementation Act of 2006," which addresses many recommendations by a group of U.S. and Canadian officials. The group's report last year warned the ecosystem had reached its "tipping point," and urged lawmakers to push for a single strategy and greater coordination among the several hundred state and federal agencies involved with cleanup efforts.

The House and Senate versions of the SRF bill, which are nearly identical, are expected to authorize funds over the next five years for projects ranging from invasive species protection to mercury reduction grants. Most notably, the bill would reauthorize the SRF to assist communities with upgrading and improving wastewater infrastructure.

The House version of the bill is cosponsored by Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI.) and Rahm Emanuel (D-IL).

The bill is certain to face an array of bureaucratic and budgetary roadblocks, but Great Lakes officials said they are more optimistic than in years past, due to the support of 16 senators and more than 100 House members from the region.

WHITE HOUSE UNVEILS NUCLEAR WASTE REPOSITORY LEGISLATION

The Bush Administration unveiled legislation that asks Congress to lift the 70,000 ton limit on the amount of spent nuclear fuel that can be sent to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

The Department of Energy (DOE) says the billís chance of winning final passage in Congress are better than average. "We believe it is very important to get Yucca Mountain open so we can start moving waste from the communities all around the country where it exists," Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell told reporters.

The bill would fund the repository by giving DOE easier access to future annual Nuclear Waste Trust Fund contributions, allow for permanent withdrawal of 147,000 acres of land at and around the repository from public use, and authorize construction of a rail line to connect Yucca Mountain with the nation's rail system. The measure also includes language lifting the 70,000 metric ton cap on the capacity at the repository in favor of the 120,000 metric ton capacity called for in the Environmental Impact Statement for the repository.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) said he would introduce the bill at the White House's request, but added he expects to work on his own version with the expectation of moving the package through Congress this year.

Domenici plans to work with his committee's ranking member, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and eventually plans to bring into the fold Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), a staunch opponent of the Yucca Mountain repository. Reid frequently spars with Domenici on Yucca appropriations and has blocked Domenici's efforts to get more annual appropriations for the project.

Reid has called for legislation to allow for long-term storage of the waste at reactor sites, noting that Yucca Mountain and related projects involve long-distance travel that could be dangerous.

INTERNATIONAL PAPER SELLS 5 MILLION ACRES

In a deal that could transform the U.S. timber industry, International Paper announced the sale of more than 5 million acres to several investor groups for $6.1 billion.

The company will sell 3.8 million acres in the South and 440,000 acres in Michigan. Combined with two large land sales to a coalition of conservation groups and investment management organizations announced in March, International Paper will have sold about 85 percent of its U.S. forests, which the company believes is the largest sale of private forestland in U.S. history.

Critics fear the sale is a precursor to increased development, especially in the South. "The development pressure in the South is just tremendous," said Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center. "Much of the growth has occurred and is expected to occur in areas in which the timber companies own vast acreage," such as the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast.

More than 44 million acres of private forest land nationwide is expected to be sold over the next 25 years, due partially to increasing development and housing pressures, according to a 2005 Forest Service report. Most of the land at risk is in the Southeast, Pacific Northwest and California, as development and economic pressures converge to force out private landowners.

FARMING ASSOCIATIONS SIGN U.N. PACT ON METHYL BROMIDE

The United Nations (U.N.) Environment Program announced that over 5,000 farming associations agreed to stop using methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting chemical, as pesticide on their farms, under the U.N.'s International Partnership for Phasing-out Methyl Bromide.

The agreement -- drafted after the 1998 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which created a worldwide program to phase out use of the agricultural pesticide -- is a voluntary measure designed to bring together farms and companies that have shown leadership in protecting the ozone layer from methyl bromide.

Participants in the U.N. agreement will receive subsidies starting next year designed to continue to encourage them to grow and supply products produced without methyl bromide.

CANADA WILL NOT PULL OUT OF KYOTO DESPITE FLAWS

Although its ascendant Conservative Party has criticized the Kyoto Protocol for years and just last month said it would not meet its targets under it, Canada is not planning to abandon its participation in the climate pact, government officials said.

"There's flaws to Kyoto and we realize that ... and we're going to work within Kyoto to build a made-in-Canada solution," said Ryan Sparrow, spokesman for Environment Minister Rona Ambrose. "We're working within it, so we can't be pulling out of it." The Conservatives ran on a "made-in-Canada" platform that promised to produce concrete emissions reductions.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: "I am noting the same thing as several other heads of state all around the world, which is to say that the international community won't attain the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol." Harper has advocated strategies such as requiring all gasoline to contain 5 percent renewable material by 2010 and giving tax breaks to public transit users.

After 2012, countries that failed to meet the first phase of the treaty's targets will be penalized. Canada announced in March it would probably not meet its goal of reducing emissions by 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

AUSTRALIA AND CHINA SIGN URANIUM DEAL

Australia and China signed a landmark treaty enabling China to receive uranium exports from Australian uranium mines.

Currently, China has 11 nuclear plants and gets about 2.3 percent of its energy from nuclear power. The country produced 50.4 billion kilowatt hours of nuclear power last year. But China is expected to become the world's biggest developer of nuclear power stations in an effort to meet surging demand for electricity and to decrease pollution from coal-fired power plants.

China is planning to build about 30 nuclear power plants by 2020. Uranium prices have more than quadrupled since 2002, partly due to expectations of Chinese demand. Australia holds about 40 percent of the world's known uranium reserves .

China already imports uranium from nine other countries, according to Australian mining industry officials. Exports from Australia will likely begin after 2008, with supplies projected to increase by 2010 as more uranium mines open to meet demand, said Australian Resources and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane.


Sources: Environment and Energy Daily; Greenwire

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