March 4, 2005
In This Issue
President Bush nominated Stephen L. Johnson, the Acting Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to take over the helm of the agency and promote his administration’s goal of rewriting the nation’s air pollution laws.
Bush said that if Johnson is confirmed by the Senate, he would be the first career EPA employee and first professional scientist to head the agency. Johnson, 53, a native of Washington, D.C., has worked at the EPA for 24 years and previously served as assistant administrator of the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, among other posts.
Bush called Johnson “an innovative problem-solver with good judgment and complete integrity” and said he would use his scientific background “to set clear, rational standards for environmental equality and to place sound, scientific analysis at the heart of all decisions.” Bush said that Johnson’s immediate task will be to work with Congress to pass his administration’s Clear Skies initiative. The controversial Clear Skies bill is currently stalled in the Senate.
Johnson, who holds a master’s degree in pathology from George Washington University, would replace Mike Leavitt, who was chosen by Bush in December to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services in his second term.
In brief remarks accepting the nomination, Johnson told Bush”Under your leadership, we have made great strides in environmental protection.” If confirmed, he said, he will continue to advance the administration’s environmental agenda “while maintaining our nation’s economic competitiveness”
The White House is seeking three changes to environmental laws on behalf of the military that it failed to get from Congress in previous years, according to a Jan. 6 document obtained by the Associated Press.
The Defense Department’s efforts to change environmental laws in the name of military readiness are being spearheaded by the White House Office of Management and Budget. The White House memo, circulated among federal agencies, asks Congress to change the Clean Air Act in order to exempt military training exercises from state plans for compliance with air quality requirements for three years. The memo also urges Congress to change the Superfund law and the Solid Waste Disposal Act to loosen requirements on base and bombing range cleanups. The memo states, “It is becoming increasingly difficult to base military aircraft near developed areas.”
In 2002, the Defense Department asked Congress to modify certain environmental laws, saying that some environmental and wildlife protection measures combined with shrinking open lands around the bases create unnecessary — and in some cases dangerous — restrictions on military training. Congress approved only a watered-down change to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the fiscal year 2003 Defense authorization bill, leaving other requested changes out of the bill.
House Republicans said they are waiting for more details on the latest request before proceeding, sources said.
ESA has issued comments in the past on proposed environmental exemptions for the Defense Department:
Funding for poor countries under President Bush’s $3 billion aid initiative will be contingent on whether nations are developing in a sustainable manner, administration officials said.
Congress approved Bush’s Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) last year, providing $1 billion in fiscal 2004 for an initiative in which developing countries compete for aid based on their scores on 16 indicators. Countries are judged, for example, on how much they spend on immunizations, as well as their trade policies and efforts to protect civil liberties.
But the original set of indicators did not judge a country’s progress on environmental issues, so MCC officials are now taking steps to change that. “We would like, if possible, to add an indicator, which really evaluates the management of natural resources in a country,” said Paul Applegarth, the corporation’s Chief Executive Officer.
So far, MCC officials have been unable to find a way to quantitatively judge environmental progress in countries whose landscapes, climates and natural resources vary widely. Indonesia, China, Afghanistan and Papua New Guinea are among the 95 nations eligible for aid this year.
Applegarth said environmental indicators must be verifiable by a third party and should be based on high quality data. To measure economic freedom in eligible countries, MCC checks to see how many days it takes to start a small business in each country, and believes an environmental indicator needs to be similar in its simplicity and accuracy.
A global effort to provide safe drinking water would be treated as a national security issue on Capitol Hill under legislation that Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R-TN) plans to introduce.
The “Water Currency for Peace Act” would make " the global water crisis” a focal point of U.S. foreign policy and assistance, a top aide to Sen. Frist said.
“The legislation would require federal agencies to come up with a strategic plan and to focus the United States on a commitment to global water issues,” said Frist aide Bill Hoagland. The measure would set a 180-day deadline for the State Department and other agencies to develop a national strategy for helping nations short on clean water.
World governments concluded an agreement on reducing production and use of the toxic heavy metal mercury at the biennial meeting of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council in Nairobi.
The agreement stops short of setting up a legally binding global treaty, as the European Union had advocated. Instead, it calls on member countries to establish “voluntary partnerships” to reduce the damaging impacts of mercury pollution. It also mandates UNEP to pursue various avenues of further research, including a project to document mercury use in much greater detail than has been done before.
The discussions in the Kenyan capital brought together two opposing views on how to tackle mercury. One bloc, led by Norway and Switzerland and supported by member states of the EU, argued that a binding treaty would be the most effective way to reduce production and use. This was opposed by the United States and its allies, which advocated instead the “voluntary partnership” approach – although the precise nature of these partnerships between as yet undefined groups of governments, international organizations such as UNEP or the World Bank, and industry has yet to be worked out.
The meeting’s final document makes it clear that the US vision won; the concept of a global treaty is there, but only in the context of an option which might possibly be considered in the future.
President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder presented a joint declaration that focused on bilateral environmental protection efforts, including cooperation on " effective instruments” for national climate change policy.
The two leaders met for about 90 minutes in Mainz, Germany. “The United States and Germany will expand and strengthen their activities to improve energy supply security and to reduce environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in three main areas and with them, also encourage greater economic growth,” said the German-language draft.
The main areas of cooperation cited in the document are efficient technology to promote sustainable development, climate research and policy, energy efficiency and pollution reduction.
The declaration, which contained no specific targets, said that Germany and the United States would continue their efforts in the context of an action plan on sustainable development by the Group of Eight industrialized nations. The United States and Germany have recently been at odds over climate policy, with Germany a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and the United States opposing mandatory greenhouse gas reductions.
Brazilian lawmakers approved legislation that would make it legal to sell genetically modified seeds. The bill, which already has been approved by Brazil’s Senate, passed the Chamber of Deputies. Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva is expected to sign it into law. Biotech giant Monsanto Co. has been pushing for the law to collect royalties on its GM soybean seeds.
Since 2000, Brazil has banned GM soybeans. But Brazilian officials often do not enforce the ban, and farmers have used Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds, which are resistant to herbicides, for nearly a decade. Silva twice has signed executive orders offering temporary exemptions for GM soy.
Despite being illegal, GM soy accounts for about 30 percent of Brazil’s soy and about 90 percent in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state. Brazil is the world’s second-largest producer of soy, and experts have said the country soon could surpass the United States.
Sources: BBC News; Environment & Energy Daily; Greenwire; Terra Daily/Agence France-Presse; Washington Post.