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Congress Passes Shark Conservation Act to Ban Gruesome Finning Practices

Congress last week passed the Shark Conservation Act, which bans shark finning in U.S. waters.

The measure that cleared the Senate Tuesday will outlaw the common practice in which fishermen cut off the fins of a live shark and then dump it back into the water to die a slow death by asphyxiation, ENN reports. The fins are then frozen or dried and shipped to Asia, where they are in high demand for use in shark-fin soup, which is considered a delicacy.

The Shark Conservation Act was introduced by Reps. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass and will require all sharks caught in U.S. waters to be landed with their fins still attached. Regulations previously prohibited finning practices in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico and now also apply to the Pacific.

Environmental advocates hope that the new legislation will extend to international regulators.

“We’ve finally realized that sharks are worth more alive than dead,” Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, a marine scientist with at the conservation group Oceana, told AP. “While shark fins and other shark products are valuable, the role sharks play in the marine ecosystem is priceless.”

Posted in Fish, Oceans & Coastlines, Policies0 Comments

EPA Takes Over Texas Carbon Emission Permits

The Environmental Protection Agency Thursday announced its plans to take over carbon dioxide permitting of any new power plants and refineries in Texas, citing the state’s refusal to comply with emissions regulations going into effect Jan. 2.

Texas industries have openly opposed the Obama administration’s Clean Air Act, a program designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They claim that the cuts will threaten productivity, and that the economy, in turn, will take a hit.

The EPA said Thursday that it was reassuming the state’s Clean Air Act Permits because “officials in Texas have made clear . . . they have no intention of implementing this portion of the federal air permitting program,” The Associated Press reported.

“EPA prefers that the state of Texas and all states remain the permitting authority for (greenhouse gas) sources,” the agency said in a statement. “In the same way that EPA has worked with other states and local agencies, the agency stands ready to do the same with (Texas).”

The EPA constructed a framework for carbon emissions regulations in seven other states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon and Wyoming.

The agency also devised a timetable for establishing the cuts for all U.S. facilities and power plants. It plans to propose performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions beginning in July for powerplants and for oil refineries by December. The standards will be finalized in May 2012 for powerplants and November 2012 for refineries.

Gov. Rick Perry spokeswoman spoke out against the EPA’s decision to directly issue air permits in Texas.

“The EPA’s misguided plan paints a huge target on the backs of Texas agriculture and energy producers by implementing unnecessary, burdensome mandates on our state’s energy sector, threatening hundreds of thousands of Texas jobs and imposing increased living costs on Texas families,” Cesinger said, according to the San Antonio Express.

An estimated 167 new or expanding projects would be subject to the EPA takeover. Texas lays claim to more oil refineries, chemical plants, and coal-fired power plants than any other state and produces the most greenhouse gas emissions and industrial pollution in the country, AP reports.

The new carbon emissions standards were adopted after a 2007 Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases should be classified as pollutants under the Clean Air Act and EPA research in 2009 revealed that the gases have a harmful effect on human health.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Air Pollution, Coal, Courts & Litigation, Drilling for Oil, Energy Industry, Global Warming, Laws & Regulations, Oil & Petroleum, Ozone, Policies, Pollution Prevention0 Comments

“No More Wilderness” Policy is No More

The Obama administration plans to repeal a Bush-era policy that prevented undeveloped acres of land from being recommended for federal wilderness protection.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Thursday that his agency will undo the “No More Wilderness” policy, which was enacted under former Interior Secretary Gale Norton in 2003.

Congress remains the only governmental body capable of designating new “Wilderness Areas,” but the order will allow U.S. Bureau of Land Management field members to protect areas with “wilderness characteristics,” MSNBC reported.

“Americans love the wild places where they hunt, fish, hike, and get away from it all, and they expect these lands to be protected wisely on their behalf,” Salazar said in a statement.

The 2003 policy was adopted in an out-of-court deal between Norton and then-Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt to remove federal protections for 2.6 million acres in the Rocky Mountain region. The move allowed oil and gas drilling, mining, and other commercial development on land under consideration as wilderness areas.

“I am proud to sign a secretarial order that restores protections for the wild lands that the Bureau of Land Management oversees on behalf of the American people,” Salazar said Thursday in Denver, according to MSNBC.

The policy shift creates a new management category called “Wild Lands,” which will be determined through a public process.

“Because the ‘Wild Lands’ designation can be made and later modified through a public administrative process, it differs from ‘Wilderness Areas,’ which are designated by Congress and cannot be modified except by legislation, and ‘Wilderness Study Areas,’ which BLM typically must manage to protect wilderness characteristics until Congress determines whether to permanently protect them as Wilderness Areas or modify their management,” Salazar explained.

Congress will still make the final call on whether areas of land receive permanent wilderness protection. The BLM has six months to submit new criteria for wilderness evaluations.

Posted in Conservation, Courts & Litigation, Parks by Region, Policies, Politics & Politicians0 Comments

North Korea Threatens “Sacred War”

North Korea threatened to start a “sacred” nuclear war against South Korea Thursday after Seoul staged more artillery drills near the North Korean border.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that defense chief Kim Yong Chun announced that Korea was “fully prepared to launch a sacred war” against its neighbor. Kim said that the North would make use of its nuclear resources if attacked and warned the South against encroaching upon North Korean territory.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have mounted steadily this week as South Korea staged military drills on Yeonpyeong Island. Last month the North shelled the island, killing two civilians and two marines.

South Korea staged the largest live-fire drills on Thursday, mobilizing missiles artillery, attack helicopters, rocket systems, and fighter jets. About 800 troops participated in the exercise, UPI reported.

South Korean officials said the display was meant to dissuade North Korea from provocative action.

UPI reported that the White House maintains its support of South Korea.

“I think exercises that have been announced well in advance, that are transparent, that are defensive in nature should in no way engender a response from the North Koreans,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. “Everybody, I think, in the world is aware that they’re happening. And they are exercises that are defensive in nature. The United States is obviously supportive of the Republic of Korea.”

Posted in International Relations & Treaties, Military, Policies0 Comments

START Treaty Passes in 71-26 Vote

The U.S. Senate cleared the New START treaty Wednesday in a 71-to-26 vote.

The U.S.-Russian nuclear arms treaty, one of President Barack Obama’s top priorities for the lame-duck Congress, will reduce the number of U.S. and Russian missiles by a third and implement on-site inspections of nuclear weapons facilities after a one-year suspension.

The agreement was signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on April 8 last spring.

Vice President Joe Biden acted as Senate president during the final vote on the treaty, which will last 10 years.

“This is one of those rare times in the United States Senate where we have it within our power to safeguard or endanger humankind,” Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, Foreign Relations Committee chairman and one of the floor debate managers, said prior to the ratification vote.

56 Democratic senators and two independents voted in support of the treaty.

13 Republicans also joined in voting to approve the treaty, including: Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Robert Bennett of Utah, Richard Lugar of Indiana, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, George Voinovich of Ohio, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

President Obama said Wednesday that the arms control agreement will help the U.S. stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

The international community has also praised the Senate’s ruling. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the treaty “a firm and clear message in support of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation,” AP reported.

Posted in International Relations & Treaties, Laws & Regulations, Policies, Politics & Politicians0 Comments

Hexavalent Chromium Carcinogen Found in Tap Water of Most Cities

Hexavalent chromium, the cancer-causing chemical at the center of the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich,” was found present in the tap water of 31 of 35 cities tested in a recent survey.

The findings, released Monday by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, are the first study of hexavalent chromium to be made public.

Researchers with the advocacy group have released the study at a time when the Environmental Protection Agency is debating whether to set a cap on the “probable carcinogen”‘s levels in tap water, the Washington Post reports.

Jane Houlihan, EWG’s senior vice president of research, says the toxin has been linked to stomach cancer and leukemia along with other health problems, CBS News reported Monday.

Hexavelent chromium, also known as chromium-6, originates as refuse from steel and pulp mills as well as metal-plating and leather-tanning facilities, EWG said in a statement. It can also contaminate tap water through erosion of natural deposits.

The carcinogen first came into the public eye in 1993, when Erin Brockovich famously sued Pacific Gas & Electric for polluting the drinking water of Hinkley, Calif. The lawsuit eventually yielded $333 million in damages.

Today, the highest levels of chromium-6 can be found in Norman, Okla.; Honolulu; and Riverside, Calif., EWG claimed.

“Every single day, pregnant mothers in Norman, Oklahoma, school children in Madison, Wisconsin, and many other Americans are drinking water laced with this cancer-causing chemical,” EWG senior scientist Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D said in the statement. “If the EPA required local water utilities to test for hexavalent chromium, the public would at least know if it was present in their local water. Without mandatory tests and a safe legal limit that all utilities must meet, many of us will continue to swallow some quantity of this carcinogen every day.”

With regulations on the water supply possibly in the works, what can consumers do to reduce their intake of the toxin?

“With levels this high, it’s critically important that people begin to think about filtering their water,” Houlihan told CBS News. Unfortunately, inexpensive carbon filters commonly found in filtration pitchers and faucet attachments don’t do much to remove chromium-6. Reverse osmosis filtration systems should do the trick, but they can cause hundreds of dollars.

There are no legal restrictions for hexavalent chromium in bottled water, so plastic water bottles may not be a safe option either.

“It is sometimes difficult to understand why I still have to warn the public about the presence of hexavalent chromium in drinking water 23 years after my colleagues and I first sounded the alarm,” Brockovich said in EWG’s statement. “This report underscores, in fairly stark terms, the health risks that millions of Americans still face because of water contamination.”

Posted in Carcinogens, Chemicals, Drinking Water, Groundwater, Springs & Aquifers, Policies, Water, Oceans, & Ice0 Comments

Ethanol Fuel Additive Law Brings Automakers to Appeals Court

U.S. carmakers and engine manufacturers have filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over its decision to allow the sale of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol.

The EPA ruled on Oct. 13th that filling stations could start selling gasoline containing more of the corn-based additive for vehicles built in 2007 or later. The current blend contains 10 percent ethanol.

The various organizations Monday asked a federal appeals court in Washington to review the October decision. They claim the approval of the E15 blend violates the Clean Air Act, and that the fuel could damage engines.

“We want to be sure that any new fuel will not increase air pollution, harm engines or endanger consumer safety,” Michael J. Stanton, president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, said in a joint statement with the other members of the Engine Products Group, according to BusinessWeek.

The Renewable Fuels Association,  an ethanol trade group, said the EPA should have allowed E15 for more models.

“The only way to meet the nation’s energy, economic and environmental goals as put forth in the Renewable Fuels Standard is to increase ethanol consumption,” the group said in a statement.

The suit, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 10-1414, was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Drilling for Oil, Energy Industry, Laws & Regulations, Oil & Petroleum, Policies0 Comments

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