11/1999 News Briefs

Published December 1, 1999

Senate Endorses Continued CAFE Freeze

On September 15, the Senate rejected by a 55-40 vote an effort to lift a five-year-old freeze on corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. The freeze, imposed by the House in 1994, prevents the government from even studying possible changes in fuel standards.

Advocates of tighter CAFE standards contend that the growth in truck sales–now accounting for about 50 percent of all vehicles sold in the U.S.–has dropped average fuel economy back to 1980 levels. But the UAW and Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers warned that toughening the standards would benefit foreign automakers at the expense of U.S. firms and their employees.

Bugs Eat Radioactive Wastes

Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories have microbes up to 75 meters beneath the Earth’s surface eating radioactive waste under the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. Researchers are most excited about a particular microbe that turns deadly radioactive chromium into a harmless substance.

EPA Officials Plead Not Guilty

Two Environmental Protection Agency officials charged with falsifying documents have pleaded not guilty in federal court in Milwaukee. Marc M. Radell and Claudia Johnson also pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice and perjury in a case involving the decision of EPA Region 5, headquartered in Chicago, to allow Wisconsin Indian tribes to regulate their own water quality. Justice Department officials said the two were involved in falsifying and back-dating documents related to the decision.

DOE and EPA Push Kyoto Protocol

In apparent violation of the Knollenberg amendment, which prohibits taking actions to advance goals of the unratified Kyoto Protocol, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy have announced two programs that would appear to do just that. EPA has announced a system to reward businesses that excel in environmental management, including controlling emissions. And Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced that his department is offering $18 million for research proposals on methods to sequester carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Clintons Moving to Toxic Dump

The First Family’s new home in Chappaqua, New York is within a mile of “47 known or potential toxic sites,” according to Walter Hang of the Ithaca, New York-based Toxics Targeting. The toxins include methyl tertiary-butyl ether, a fuel additive highly touted by Clinton’s Environmental Protection Agency head, Carol Browner, until it was found to be a pervasive water pollutant, and until the National Research Council found it to be of “little value in reducing air pollution.” Hang concluded his letter conveying this information to the Clintons with, “Best of luck with your new home.”

EPA Can’t Penalize Companies

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot penalize companies for hazardous waste violations if state agencies have already taken enforcement action against them–a practice known as “over-filing.”

The ruling came in Harmon Industries Inc. v. Browner, a case in which EPA fined a Missouri company $2.7 million for illegally dumping toxic waste at the same time the state’s Department of Natural Resources was negotiating a deal with the company to drop any fines as a reward for voluntarily reporting the toxins and cleaning them up.

A representative of the National Mining Association, which had filed an amicus brief in support of Harmon, called the decision “a major victory for an authorized state’s primacy to administer and enforce its own” toxic waste cleanup program. But a Justice Department spokesperson said EPA was concerned that the court’s ruling would harm the agency’s ability to “assist” states in such cases.

Spare That Bear

With “conflicts” between bears and humans on the rise in Colorado, the state’s Division of Natural Resources has issued guidelines to property owners as to when they may and may not kill black bears. State law does not permit killing a bear for destruction of personal property. Dave Croonquist, the Division’s assistant chief of law enforcement, said that individuals can apply for reimbursement for bear damage but may not kill the animals. A bear may be killed only if it threatens human life or livestock.

EPA Sludge Man Challenged

Alan Rubin, who wrote the Environmental Protection Agency’s Sludge 503 rule, endorsing the dumping of sludge from municipal sewage treatment plants on farm fields, has become the subject of a Congressional inquiry. A number of Congressmen, led by Joe Knollenberg (R-Michigan), James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), and Don Young (R-Alaska), want to know if Rubin was guilty of bribery, harassment, and concealing reports in order to prevent negative information regarding the rule from becoming public.