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Monday, 06 Dec 2004

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States Hafta NAFTA

International trade treaties hamper states on environmental protection

When the U.S. signed on to international trade treaties like NAFTA, enviros warned that it could hamper efforts to pass and enforce eco-friendly laws and regulations, and there's mounting evidence to support those dark predictions. After a period of caution and reticence, U.S. trading partners are more often using international enforcement mechanisms to scuttle state-level environmental (and labor, and social) laws. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in September vetoed a bill calling for use of the state's massive piles of spare tires as material for asphalt, fearing that Canadian and Mexican rubber exporters would sue before the World Trade Organization. The fears are grounded in similar suits filed over laws phasing out MTBE (which was contaminating groundwater) and restricting open-pit mining. "It's very disconcerting to think the federal government can make agreements that can compromise the state's ability to regulate for the health and welfare of its citizens," said California Deputy Attorney General Susan Durbin.

straight to the source: Los Angeles Times, Evelyn Iritani, 05 Dec 2004
New in Grist

All You Need Is Lovera

Food-safety crusader Patricia Lovera InterActivates

When Patricia Lovera moved from environmental issues into food issues, joining consumer-advocate group Public Citizen's campaign against irradiation and other icky industrialized food processes, she found out that the two veins of activism have much in common. She talks about what we eat, the indignities that initially drew her to environmental-justice work, and the amazing amount of stuff required to outfit her new house -- in InterActivist, today on the Grist Magazine website.

Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Poison Spray

Afghan poppy fields mysteriously sprayed with chemicals

Recently, planes have been flying over the poppy fields of Afghan farmers, spraying them -- along with houses, orchards, and perhaps even families -- with toxic chemicals apparently intended to kill poppy crops and keep them from being converted to heroin. Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed shock at the spraying, which his government has vowed never to support, and called on U.S. and U.K. ambassadors to explain the abrogation of Afghan sovereignty. The U.S. recently announced that it will provide $780 million to battle illegal drug production in Afghanistan, it still has a substantial military presence in the country, and it has control over Afghan airspace (says provincial governor Hajji Din Muhammad, "not even a bird can fly without them knowing"). Nonetheless, both the U.S. and the U.K. denied involvement and claimed they didn't know who was responsible. What a puzzler!

straight to the source: The New York Times, Carlotta Gall, 05 Dec 2004

Grousal Abuse

Sage grouse unlikely to receive protection under ESA

A panel of biologists and managers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended against listing the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. FWS Director Steve Williams will make a final decision by Dec. 29, but observers say he's likely to follow the panel's advice. The recommendation is seen as a victory for oil and gas companies, ranchers, and farmers in the U.S. West, whose activities would be curtailed by habitat protections if the grouse were listed. Enviros who have pushed for the listing will not be pleased to read in a New York Times article that a Bush administration political appointee at the Interior Department (with, as it happens, no background in wildlife biology and a strong record of pushing for property rights) was heavily involved in crafting an internal review of scientific knowledge of the grouse and its territory that was used in formulating the recommendation. The appointee, Julie MacDonald, harshly critiqued many biologists' conclusions, deleted sections she found unappealing, and sought to include industry comments.

straight to the source:, Associated Press, 03 Dec 2004
straight to the source: The New York Times, Felicity Barringer, 05 Dec 2004

Up the Leak Without a Paddle

New documents point to Union Carbide culpability on Bhopal

Since the Bhopal disaster in 1984, Union Carbide Corp. (UCC), owner of the leaking chemical plant, has denied responsibility, saying that its Indian subsidiary (Union Carbide India Limited, or UCIL) was solely responsible for the plant's design and management. But newly uncovered documents cast doubt on that claim, indicating that UCC provided substantial help in procuring safety equipment and other parts and providing technical consultation on the plant, and also engaged in cost-cutting at its Indian subsidiary. In light of what followed, the final line of one document is chilling: "Union Carbide's know-how, technical support, and majority ownership of UCIL provide assurance of technical competence." Meanwhile, last week an enterprising activist embarrassed Dow Chemical, which now owns UCC, by posing as a representative of the company on BBC TV news and pledging $12 billion to help the suffering survivors in Bhopal. Dow was then forced to do damage control and explain that it had no intention of giving a single penny to the victims.

straight to the source: The Independent, Saeed Shah, 06 Dec 2004
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