November 03, 2006

In This Issue

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“Nuclear power is renewable, and there are no greenhouse gases associated with nuclear power,” President Bush declared in a wide-ranging energy policy speech in October. As questions surround Bush’s potential home-stretch energy plans and bills in the next Congress, one place his rebranding of nuclear power could play out is in debates over efforts to craft a national renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Now in place in over 20 states, an RPS requires utilities to provide a certain percentage of power from renewable sources.

Ken Bossong, coordinator of the Sustainable Energy Network, argues that federal subsidies and incentives for new nuclear power plants- including federal risk insurance, loan guarantees and production tax credits- would hinder an RPS. “You would be giving nuclear power a grossly unfair advantage over traditional renewables- solar, wind, biomass geothermal and hydro- and destroy the entire concept of a renewable portfolio standard,” he said.

In response to the question of whether nuclear is truly renewable, Department of Energy (DOE) spokesman Craig Stevens stated, “It’s renewable because we can recycle the material time and time again — reusing the old and making it new again. In addition, it’s emissions-free — like other renewable energy sources like solar and wind.” Reprocessing nuclear fuel is part of DOE’s ambitious and controversial Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, a plan to both develop proliferation-resistant reprocessing technologies and foster nuclear power in other countries.


The Bush Administration, nine states and a collection of industry, legal and scientific interests urged the Supreme Court to reject Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a lawsuit designed to force the first-ever nationwide regulations addressing global warming.

In a 49-page brief, U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement said the Constitution should not allow the climate change case poised before the Supreme Court to go forward. Clement insisted there is no way to prove a new U.S. rule to limit heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that come from automobiles would do anything to stem the effects of man-made climate change.

Too many other factors are in play, Clement said, including the emissions from cars in other countries.
A coalition of 11 states, including Massachusetts and California, Washington, D.C., and environmental groups successfully convinced the Supreme Court in 2006 to hear the case. The group wants the Supreme Court to overturn a split decision from a lower federal appeals court and order U.S. EPA to begin a study and rulemaking that leads to lower carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.


A President Bush political appointee to the Interior Department has rejected scientists’ recommendations on federal protection for imperiled species at least six times in the past three years, according to documents from the agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The documents showed that in addition to refusing to go along with staff scientists’ recommendations on listings under the Endangered Species Act, Interior Deputy Secretary Julie MacDonald frequently overruled scientific findings on behalf of impacted landowners or industry. In two instances, MacDonald refused to concur with staff reports that the Gunnison sage grouse and the white-tailed prairie dog are at risk of extinction. MacDonald’s actions prompted several staff complaints that led Interior’s OIG to investigate. Interior officials then contacted Rep. Rahall (D-WV), who plans to hold oversight hearings if Democrats retake the majority in November’s midterm elections.


The Interior Department will not pursue tens of millions of dollars in potential royalty revenues from Chevron Corporation for natural gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico, according to an Aug. 3 letter from the agency to Chevron. Many fear that Interior’s decision will set a dangerous precedent for allowing large companies to skirt their federal royalty payments. Last month, the Interior Department announced it would not seek more than $1 billion in back royalties from offshore energy producers with leases that mistakenly allowed royalty waivers regardless of oil and gas prices. Instead, the agency said, it would focus on ensuring that correct royalty payments are paid in the future.


Per 14 senators’ request, Inspectors General (IG) at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are investigating whether the Bush Administration suppressed scientists’ global warming research. Fourteen senators sent a letter to Commerce IG Johnnie Frazier and NASA IG Robert Cobb on Sept. 29 asking them to investigate reports of officials blocking publication of research supporting the theory of human-caused global warming. Among the allegations are that NOAA officials blocked publication of a report linking global warming to the strength of hurricanes and that NASA blocked scientist James Hansen from speaking publicly after he advocated cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.


The Supreme Court exceeded expectations of legal scholars by delving into details of Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy Corp., a longstanding dispute over how much air pollution a refurbished coal-fired power plant can emit.

From the start of the one-hour oral argument, justices pressed for answers on how U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came to its decision when it filed the New Source Review (NSR) case in 2000 in federal district court accusing Duke Energy Corp. of violating the air pollution law at eight power plants. Justice Antonin Scalia began by raising concern over whether EPA had issued regulations adopting one test for power plant modifications before reversing course and recommending that the Department of Justice (DOJ) bring a lawsuit against Duke more than two decades later for violating a different threshold. Scalia’s question went to the heart of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision issued last summer in favor of Duke. The 4th Circuit found EPA had used an illegal interpretation of the law when it brought the lawsuit against Duke.

Challenging the 4th Circuit’s opinion, attorneys for the advocacy group Environmental Defense and the Justice Department insisted the Appeals Court in Richmond, VA, overstepped jurisdictional boundaries that allow only the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., to rule on the legality of an EPA rule. But Scalia signaled such a jurisdictional dispute could leave industry vulnerable.

Arguments also revolved around whether EPA has the right to pursue one test for enforcing the Clean Air Act in areas where the air quality meets federal standards but a different, more stringent test in areas where there are pollution violations. Justice Breyer said he read the Clean Air Act as allowing EPA to do what it needs to do in the different areas of the country depending on the severity of air quality problems. Phillips, the attorney for Duke, said EPA needs to be more explicit.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing to ban the import and interstate transport of all forms of silver carp and largescale silver carp, plus each of their various hybrids. By listing these species as “injurious” under the Lacey Act, no live animal, gamete, viable egg, or hybrid could be imported or moved between states, except in limited circumstances and with a permit.

This listing has been considered for several years. In 2002, twenty-five members of Congress’ Great Lakes Task Force petitioned the FWS to list three species of Asian carp, including silver carp. A larger group repeated this request in 2004, asking for a decision “soon.” The proposed rule is FWS’ response.

Silver carp, native to eastern Asia, were imported into the United States in the early 1970s, probably to control algae in sewage lagoons or commercial aquaculture ponds. Soon thereafter, fish escaped and moved to new locations. Now silver carp have been collected throughout the Mississippi River Basin and in 16 states- and continue to spread. Biologists are concerned that these carp will compete with native species for food and habitat; carry serious diseases to native species; affect water quality; damage boats and equipment; hurt boaters; and have other negative impacts.

Largescale silver carp are similar, and also native to eastern Asia. Because of the species narrower biological tolerance, they may not become established except in subtropical and tropical areas of Florida, Hawaii, and Texas. However, largescale silver carp hybridize with silver and bighead carp and hybrids tolerate temperate regions.

FWS is taking comments until November 6, 2006. Comments can be submitted by e-mail: vog.swfnull@pracrevlis, with “RIN number 1018-AT29” in the subject line of the message; or via the web:

The Ecological Society of America recently released a new position paper on invasives: click here

Sources: Associated Press; The Washington Post; Environment and Energy News PM; Greenwire; The New York Times; The Australia; Anchorage Daily News; Union of Concerned Scientists.