Featured stories in this issue...
By Ted Nace[For more details about The Twigs, who they are, and their local fights, see "Resources for Coal Fighters by Ted Nace in the same issue of Orion Magazine, and see the list of 59 coal plants that bit the dust in 2007.]
On a chilly night in February 2007, a criminal justice consultant named Nancy LaPlaca sat on a bare bench under the bright lights of the Denver County Jail. Four other women sat sullenly beside her, two arrested for public inebriation, a third brought in on suspicion of crack possession, the last for driving while intoxicated. In her day job, LaPlaca had seen many such rooms. But now she was on the wrong side of the bars.
LaPlaca had begun the evening at the Denver Marriott, relaxing in the hotel bar with friends after the close of a small conference that she and her group, Coloradoans for Clean Energy, had organized for activists from across the country who are opposing new coal-fired power plants. Next to her chair she had carefully placed her NO NEW COAL PLANTS sign so that it faced the wall, after a request to do so from a hotel manager. A utility industry conference was taking place in the same building, and the manager was eager to avoid offending the executives and engineers in attendance. But as LaPlaca prepared to leave, she briefly turned her sign so it was visible to the bar.
"Suddenly," she later recalled, "there was this 250-pound policeman in my face demanding to talk with me privately. I told him that whatever he had to say, he could say in front of my friends. And that's when he grabbed me."
After her night in the poke on charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace, LaPlaca returned home and read the latest messages posted on the No New Coal Plants e-mail list, an Internet watering hole initiated in April 2006 by Philadelphia organizer Mike Ewall. Ewall founded the group Energy Justice in 1999 and has organized electronic mailing lists around other issues, including tire incinerators and nuclear power. Whatever the topic, the elements of each list are identical: messages from any member are forwarded to the entire group, responses may be directed either back to the group or to the original author, and archives of group messages are kept on the Energy Justice website.
Of course, to be useful to participants, a list has to achieve a critical mass, and for the first few months messages among No New Coal Plants participants were few and far between. But by midsummer 2006, Ewall had recruited several dozen members and the list had taken on a life of its own. Over the next year, it grew to include 140 people. A few, such as Matt Leonard of Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco, and Ted Glick of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council in Takoma Park, Maryland, are staff members with national environmental groups. Others, such as Drusha Mayhue in Bozeman, Montana, are volunteers with the Sierra Club or other membership-oriented groups.
Most, however, are involved with small, locally based, mainly rural groups. Typical among these are Greg Howard, an attorney with the nonprofit Appalachian Citizens Law Center, a law firm in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, that represents miners suffering from black lung disease; Mano Andrews, a Hopi/Dine native affiliated with the Western Shoshone Defense Project in Nevada and the Save the Peaks Coalition in Arizona; and Leslie Glustrom, a biochemist in Boulder, Colorado, opposing Xcel Energy's Comanche 3 coal pant. Most members of the list live in areas that have already felt the effects of coal projects and are facing more development. Elisa Young, an activist in Meigs County, Ohio, can count four coal-fired power plants within ten miles of her home and faces five more that are planned. Mary Jo Stueve grew up in South Dakota across the Minnesota border from the Big Stone I power plant; she's now a staff member with South Dakota Clean Water Action, fighting a proposed second unit of the plant.
For the list participants, No New Coal Plants serves as research assistant, clipping service, and water cooler. Postings announce conference calls, float ideas for group projects, celebrate victories. "This is hard work, with low pay and lots of frustrations along the way," says Alan Muller, a member who serves as the one-man staff for Green Delaware. "I can't stress enough the encouragement factor as a main value [of the list]."
At first glance, No New Coal Plants has every appearance of a single- issue environmental group, if "group" is the right word for an entity with no office, no board of directors, no letterhead, no bank account, no organizational structure. "Swarm" might be a better term.
As fighting forces, swarms both preceded and eventually vanquished the orthogonal ranks of legionnaires that forged the Roman Empire. In a swarm, the emphasis is not on discipline, experience, and orderliness but rather on fighting spirit and individual initiative. Swarms are known for their tactical flexibility, sometimes using guerrilla-style harassment, as did the farmers who routed the British at Lexington and Concord; other times prevailing with overwhelming numbers in the manner of the Arapaho, Lakota, and Northern Cheyenne fighters who overran the U.S. Seventh Cavalry at the Little Bighorn.
The contrast between No New Coal Plants and Big Coal is obvious, but the contrast between such low-profile, leaderless entities and the large national groups typically identified with the environmental movement is equally striking. The largest of these groups, sometimes known as Big Green, include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense, and the National Wildlife Federation. Typically based in Washington DC or New York and sporting annual budgets in the tens of millions of dollars, these groups, not unlike the corporate and governmental entities they oppose, are hierarchical, highly organized, and reliant on trained and seasoned attorneys, scientific experts, and lobbyists.
Yet the "Twigs," as some small-scale activists have taken to calling themselves in a pointed distinction from Big Green, have lately taken more militant positions and have, in many cases, been more effective in stopping new coalfired power plants.
In the spring of 2007, a split between these two currents in the U.S. environmental movement broke into view over the prospect of a vast expansion in the use of coal in the United States.
With the encouragement of the Bush Administration and coal subsidies in the 2005 Energy Act (variously estimated at between $4.8 billion and $9 billion), the number of coal-fired power plants either newly built or in various stages of proposal or construction had leaped from 92 in 2004 to over 150 in May 2007. Many climatologists noted the expansion with alarm.
Speaking before the National Press Club in Washington DC on February 26, 2007, James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Sciences and one of the country's most widely published and outspoken climate scientists, told the audience that the opportunity to avoid runaway global heating -- wherein human-induced "forcings" would trigger enough amplifying feedback loops to ultimately produce "a different planet" -- was rapidly fading. To address the problem, Hansen made five recommendations, the first of which was an immediate moratorium on the construction of any new coal-fired power plants until such plants are capable of capturing their carbon dioxide releases.
Coal plants are among the largest industrial facilities on the planet and collectively generate about 32 percent of America's carbon dioxide emissions. A single 500 megawatt plant can burn its way through a 125- car trainload of coal in two days, releasing into the atmosphere nearly twice the weight of that trainload in carbon dioxide. To offset the global heating produced by that much carbon dioxide, two million SUV drivers would have to switch to Priuses. Even that comparison understates the consequences of a new power plant, since a car lasts about a decade, while a typical coal plant will continue to spew climate-torquing gasses for sixty years or more. Faced by the new coal boom, four groups -- the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Clean Air Task Force -- prominently advocated an approach that centered around a technical fix with the ungainly acronym IGCC/CCS, for Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle with Carbon Capture and Sequestration.
While coal gasification technology is not new (it helped power the German air force during World War II), its use for power generation is relatively recent. Four such plants are now operating in Europe and the United States, all built with government subsidies. Because it involves converting solid fuel into gas prior to combustion, IGCC technology is more readily suited than conventional coal plants for capturing waste products. As much as 88 percent of the coal's carbon dioxide can be captured in an IGCC plant, along with 99 percent or more of its sulfur oxides and particulates, and 95 percent of its mercury.
Once the carbon dioxide has been removed from the exhaust stream it can be liquefied under pressure and injected into deep underground formations. Over a dozen IGCC plants are under development in the United States. Currently leading the pack is EURORA Group's Cash Creek, Kentucky, facility, which could go online as early as 2011. But notably, none of the demonstration plants in operation, nor any of the proposed IGCC plants, actually includes carbon capture and sequestration.
The most outspoken advocate for IGCC/CCS has been David Hawkins, director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. According to Hawkins, IGCC/CCS would allow the United States to continue using coal without heating the planet, since plants using the technology could store the captured carbon dioxide in geological formations thousands of feet underground. Hawkins' support for IGCC/CCS is based on the pragmatic calculation that coal enjoys too much political support for it to be taken out of the climate equation. In April 2007, he told the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee that "we will almost certainly continue using large amounts of coal in the U.S. and globally in the coming decades."
For that reason, he concluded, "it is imperative that we act now to deploy CCD [carbon capture and disposal] systems."
Proponents of coal gasification typically call it "clean coal," though Hawkins and other environmentalists avoid that term.
After all, using IGCC/CCS would not eliminate destructive stripmining or mountaintop-removal practices. And critics have other objections: a big one involves how much we don't know about sequestering carbon dioxide underground. While such pumping has been done to facilitate oil extraction by repressurizing oil fields, it has never been attempted at anything close to the scale that would be required to render the coal industry climate-friendly.
According to MIT's 2007 "Future of Coal" study, capturing and compressing just 60 percent of the carbon dioxide produced by U.S. coal-fired power plants would demand a new pipeline network big enough to move 20 million barrels of liquefied carbon dioxide each day from power plants to suitable sequestration sites (which depend on particular geology) -- a volume equal to all the oil piped daily throughout the country. Sequestration sites would have to be honestly administered, closely monitored, and tightly sealed.
Such demanding technical requirements led journalist Jeff Goodell to write that "the notion of coal as the solution to America's energy problems is a technological fantasy on par with the dream of a manned mission to Mars."
But there's a more straightforward objection to IGCC/CSS: cost. The cost of building such plants is expected to be around 40 percent higher than conventional coal plants. And the cost of operating them would also be higher, since huge amounts of power are needed to separate and liquefy carbon dioxide, then pipe and pump it underground -- in all, each plant would have to burn about 25 percent more coal to generate the same amount of electricity for market. Once those expenses are totaled up, this way of using coal may end up being more costly than solar thermal power plants or wind turbines backed up by natural gas generators that would make them as reliable as coal plants.
As it waits for IGCC/CCS to reach commercial readiness, Big Green has signaled a willingness to make deals with industry over new coal plants. The most widely reported compromise was reached in March 2007 between two large environmental groups and an investor group led by private equity firm KKR, which was in the process of buying Texas utility TXU Corp. In return for a promise by the new owners to cancel eight of eleven planned new coal plants in Texas, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense agreed to drop their opposition to the remaining three. Many grassroots environmentalists complained that the deal was nowhere near sufficient.
Sidebar: Can We Do Without Coal at All? Yes.
In November 2005, S. David Freeman gave a speech titled "Nuclear Power and the Global Warming Agenda" at a conference in Warrenton, Virginia, sponsored by the Nuclear Power Research Institute. In the speech, Freeman advocated abandoning both coal and nuclear power altogether in favor of a society-wide transition to renewable energy. Freeman is no wild-eyed idealist. Over the course of a five-decade career in the electricity business, he has variously served as California's energy czar and as head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and the New York Power Authority. He also served as President Carter's energy advisor.
After the speech, Arjun Makhijani, an electrical engineer who had once worked for Freeman at TVA, confronted him at the podium. Makhijani dismissed his no-coal, no-nuclear proposal as tantamount to economic suicide:
"You are proposing a course that is so costly that it would drive every industry we have to China." Freeman challenged Makhijani to conduct a full technical review of the scenario, and Makhijani spent the next year doing exactly that. The resulting booklength analysis, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy (RDR Books, 2007), makes Freeman's case. "I surprised myself," said Makhijani. "I was sympathetic toward Freeman's vision, but until I looked into the numbers for myself, I didn't think the facts supported it. Now I do."
To reach the goal of eliminating carbon emissions by 2050 without resorting to nuclear energy, the Makhijani scenario relies on economywide efficiency improvements along with combinations of diverse renewable sources: solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, hydroelectric, wind, geothermal, and biomass. Improved integration of the electrical grid (including "smart grid" improvements that, for example, allow vehicular batteries to perform a system backup role) allows for intermittent sources of power, such as wind and solar, to be efficiently exploited. The scenario does not rely on any IGCC/CCS technology.
While the technical points of Makhijani's scenario will be debated, the renewable technologies he relies upon are for the most part already in commercial use, and the available solar, wind, and biofuels capacities of the United States are indisputably large. The question, it seems, is more a matter of how rapidly renewable technologies can be scaled up than whether those technologies are feasible.
Makhijani argues that societies can accomplish deep and rapid transformations in their energy systems.
France, for example, cut its reliance on coal from 35 percent to 5 percent between 1961 and 1986. To a large extent, the pace of change is dictated less by technical or economic barriers than by political ones. And in overcoming the latter, a sense of possibility along with a clear goal -- such as the carbon-free, nuclear-free objective proposed by Makhijani -- are key elements of success. -- T.N.
Climate scientists were calling for a full halt on new coal, not a slowdown, they said. If this was the environmental movement's batting average on a good day, it wasn't good enough. A correspondent to Texas Monthly wrote: "I feel like I'm in some colonial third world outpost watching helplessly as my fate is being decided by a bunch of rich white guys with Marks-a-Lots in a map room thousands of miles away."
But whether the TXU deal was shrewd or foolish, one thing it clearly lacked was anything that might inspire and build a mass movement against climate change. In contrast, the message of the Twigs is simple and compelling: no new coal plants.
Contemptuous of fixes and half measures, those in the anti-coal swarm believe they can kill new coal plants even though they lack the resources of the larger groups. Typical among these activists is Carol Overland, an attorney based in Redwing, Minnesota. After working as a truck driver for over a decade, Overland sold her house in the early 1990s to finance a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. She went to work representing small towns and local groups in transmission-line permitting and other utility-related cases. As a girl, she had played "power engineering office" on a desk made from a red crate, imitating her father, a mechanical engineer who had designed power plants for Great River Energy and other utilities. Now that childhood game has turned into a career represented by floor- to-ceiling shelves constructed from two-by-fours and filled with power company feasibility studies.
Overland was one of the earliest participants on the No New Coal Plants list and remains one of the most prolific. She has a talent for exposing the financial weak spots of proposed power projects, and she has coached others on the list: "If you want to kill a power project, focus on economics."
Overland had for over a year been probing into a proposed coal plant, Mesaba, in northern Minnesota, that most environmental groups were unwilling to challenge because it featured the new IGCC technology. Located near Bovey and owned by Excelsior Energy, Mesaba would generate 603 megawatts of electricity for the Minnesota utility Xcel Energy. To help Overland, other list participants supplied her with internal reports on coal prepared by Wall Street investment banks and with feasibility studies performed in other states. Eventually, Overland discovered that the costs of Mesaba had been quietly escalating. While the U.S. Department of Energy had originally placed the cost of the plant at $1.18 billion, that number had reached $2.2 billion, not including necessary transmission line upgrades or carbon capture, transportation, or storage.
The more information Overland received, the more she became convinced that an aggressive assault on the cost estimates for Mesaba might be the key to derailing the project.
In order to build the plant, Excelsior Energy needed the state of Minnesota to approve a power purchase agreement (PPA) between Excelsior and Xcel. In a brief to the Public Utility Commission, Overland claimed that Mesaba should not receive the PPA because it did not qualify as a "least cost project" under Minnesota's statutes; given the revised cost projections, Mesaba's electricity wouldn't be as cheap as expected. In April 2007, a panel of administrative law judges agreed, recommending to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that the PPA be denied on economic grounds.
Taking a clue from Overland's strategy, other activists began exchanging the latest cost studies on IGCC. Even before the Minnesota PUC ruled on Mesaba, coal plants were under attack from the Twigs in Colorado, Florida, Delaware, Ohio, South Dakota, North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, and Iowa.
Matt Leonard of Rainforest Action Network, who focuses on exploiting the increasing nervousness that Wall Street banks display toward large coal projects, noticed a "ratcheting" phenomenon:
"Whenever activists fighting a coal project in one place are able to get regulators or banks to commit to a certain set of restrictions or conditions, the campaigns against other projects make those conditions the new baseline that must be met or beat. Successes in blocking coal plants are piggybacking from one to the next."
In the spring of 2007, Leonard began keeping a list of derailed coal projects, and the list grew rapidly. In May, Green Delaware's Alan Muller, a former consultant to DuPont on incinerators, reported the nixing of NRG Energy's proposed 630-megawatt Indian River coal-fired plant. Data from Minnesota that Muller's organization provided to the Delaware Public Service Commission had helped convince regulators that a wind farm with natural gas turbine backup made more economic sense than an IGCC coal plant. "Carol's numbers drove the nail in the NRG coffin," said Muller.
Next to claim success was a Florida couple, Bob and Jan Krasowski. Bob, a contractor, and Jan, a schoolteacher, had taken advantage of a regulatory provision allowing ordinary citizens to intervene directly in Florida Public Service Commission hearings on power plants.
In the permitting process for the proposed Glades coalfired power plant, located on the northwest shore of Lake Okeechobee at the edge of the Florida Everglades, mainstream environmental groups -- including the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council -- had adopted a complex position. In a memo to the PSC, lawyers for mainstream local and national groups wrote that "[although] there is no need for... any type of coal plant by FPL [Florida Power and Light], an IGCC plant in Florida can provide electricity at a lower cost than the proposed... coal plant."
To the Krasowskis, the "no... but" position taken by Big Green was a mixed message that misunderstood the rapidly changing attitudes of Floridians -- threatened both by hurricanes and rising sea levels -- toward global warming. Convinced that regulators would be receptive to unequivocal assertions by anti-coal forces, the Krasowskis simply demanded that Glades be cancelled and replaced with conservation programs like those already implemented in other states. In the end, it was the Krasowskis' grassroots perspective that prevailed with the Florida PSC in a 4-0 vote that caught most observers off guard.
"We weren't surprised," said Bob Krasowski. "We knew that the commissioners are politically attuned; they have their ear to the ground. And we knew how Florida was leaning. Being in the schools, Jan hears what kids are saying, and that's a pretty good indicator of where their parents are at. As for myself, I constantly hear people in the construction trades talking about how global warming is going to raise insurance rates."
To some activists, the spat over IGCC/CCS is an example of the healthy give-and-take found in any large movement. John Thompson, director of the Coal Transition Program for the Clean Air Task Force, one of the leading advocates of IGCC/CCS, said diplomatically, "In the environmental movement, there's never unanimity about how to address every problem. Differences of opinion are helpful, especially since we're all in agreement over the fact that drastic reductions in carbon emissions will be necessary by midcentury."
When questioned more closely, however, Thompson's position hardens: "Look, we need to move forward and get the infrastructure for carbon capture and sequestration in place now. And we can't look at this from a U.S. perspective only. The largest coal company in the world isn't Peabody Coal any longer; by the end of next year [China's] Shenhua will probably be the world's largest coal producer. We have to get CCS working in this country so that we have a technology that we can provide to China and India. If environmentalists at the grassroots simply want to fight and stop every single coal plant, then IGCC technology will never develop to a workable level. We'll then have locked ourselves into the melting of ice sheets and widespread extinctions."
To Alan Muller, however, the central fact is that the country has woken up to climate change and Big Green has failed to recognize the opportunity. "The environmental fat cats were caught with their pants down," he said. "Now they're still arguing incremental change -- some better way to use coal. They should be talking about much more fundamental change."
Can the environmental movement muster the necessary clout to overcome the combined forces of Big Oil and Big Coal?
To Big Green advocates like Hawkins and Thompson, it's a fantasy to think that America won't continue using coal and oil. To grassroots activists like LaPlaca, Oberland, and Muller, the fantasy lies in the opposite assumption: believing that the world can survive without a radical shift away from fossil fuels. "Big Green has the resources," said Muller, "but the grassroots is where it's happening in terms of leadership, in terms of work, and in terms of results. To anybody who's following this, I'd say don't bet too much money on coal right now."
To learn more about the grass-roots movement to end new coal plants in the U.S., visit www.orionmagazine.org.
By Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press[Rachel's introduction: A year ago (Rachel's #889) we described a vigil in the snowy desert where Navajo people were camped out to resist the huge (1500 MW) Desert Rock coal-fired power plant proposed near Burnham, New Mexico. Now those same Navajo resisters have just published a detailed alternative energy plan, showing how the Navajo Nation could keep its coal in the ground but still achieve economic development, by using its other abundant resources: the sun, the wind, and natural gas.]
Navajo group presents energy options to counter planned coal-fired power plant
By Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press
Albuquerque (N.M.) -- A group of Navajos released a report Friday that spells out a host of renewable energy alternatives to a controversial coal-fired power plant proposed for the nation's largest Indian reservation.
The Navajo Nation's Dine Power Authority and Houston-based Sithe Global Power have partnered to build the $3 billion Desert Rock plant on tribal land in northwestern New Mexico. The plant would be capable of producing electricity for up to 1.5 million homes in cities across the Southwest.
But Dine Citizens Against Ruining our Environment said that in light of growing concern over greenhouse gases and global warming, the electricity should instead come from a mix of solar, wind and natural gas.
"The grass-roots Navajo people aren't just running around and saying we oppose Desert Rock," Dine CARE member Dailan Long told The Associated Press. "We're saying no to it, but saying yes to something else. And we have our work to prove it."
The report, released during a news conference at the state Capitol in Santa Fe, contains more than 160 pages and dozens of maps, pie charts and graphs showing how renewable energy projects would compare to Desert Rock.
But more importantly, Long said, the report provides a comprehensive look at how the tribe's Dine Fundamental Law -- based on centuries of customary, traditional, natural and common law -- can be applied to the modern problems of resource management and energy development.
Navajos are defined by their fundamental laws, which were handed down by deities who went through certain experiences and developed virtues and values that teach Navajos how to live as decent human beings.
As part of this, Navajos have a responsibility to maintain hozho -- or beauty and balance -- and they are obligated to protect their land, air and water.
"We envision a path of development for the Navajo Nation that is economically and culturally sustainable, one which counterbalances obsolete coal development and overwhelmingly invokes the Navajo Nation to invest in a healthy future," the report states.
Dine CARE and other environmental groups have argued that Desert Rock, which would be the third coal-fired plant in the Four Corners region, would harm the environment and residents' health.
But Navajo tribal leaders and Sithe have touted Desert Rock as one of the cleanest coal-burning plants in the country and a much-needed source of jobs and tax revenue for the Navajo Nation.
George Hardeen, a spokesman for Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr., said people forget the power plant's design is well within current federal emission standards.
"It doesn't make sense to attack the global warming problem one power plant at a time and it doesn't make sense to go after power plants starting with Desert Rock," he said.
Hardeen added that tribal leaders for the past few decades have been struggling to bring jobs and economic development to the sprawling reservation, where roughly two-fifths of people live below the federal poverty line.
"A project like Desert Rock is not just economic development, it's mega economic development. Nothing compares to it," he said. Hardeen also said the Navajos are sitting on about 100 years worth of coal reserves, which he described as a "very valuable resource to produce energy."
Dine CARE, in its report, contends there's more risk investing in coal technologies given the current and proposed regulatory pressures aimed at curbing global warming.
The group said Navajos have other resources within their borders that are more sustainable and more economically viable.
For example, the report states that Northern Arizona University found potential wind capacity on tribal lands in northeastern Arizona to be over 11,000 megawatts. There's also the possibility of more than 48,000 megawatts of solar generation on Navajo land, according to the report.
Hardeen said the tribe's power authority already is studying the possibility of some wind and solar projects.
Long acknowledged the difficulty of getting leases and financing for projects on the reservation, but he hoped the report would be a starting point for Navajos and their leaders to begin talking about alternatives for developing energy, protecting the environment and bringing in revenue for the tribe.
"I think the problem is just pressuring our council delegates to engage in this dialogue," Long said. "Let's sit down and talk about this. Let's work this out."
Lori Goodman Dine' CARE 10 A Town Plaza PMB 138 Durango, CO 81301 PH: (970) 259-0199 FAX: (970) 259-2300 Cell: (970) 759-1908 email@example.com http://www.desert-rock-blog.com
By Jane Akre[Rachel's introduction: In Rachel's #933 we reported that Monsanto had forced Pennsylvania state government to ban labels saying milk came from cows free of Monsanto's artificial growth hormone, rBGH. That ban caused such a public uproar that Pennsylvania has now reversed itself, reports Jane Akre, herself a hero in the fight against Monsanto's corrupting influence.]
By Jane Akre
At a time when consumers can look at labels to find whether their food has less salt, is Kosher or trans-fat-free, the Pennsylvania Agriculture Department thought, when it came to labels on dairy products, less was more.
In October, Pennsylvania became the first state to ban the practice of labeling milk as free from Monsanto's artificial growth hormone rBST also known as rbGH (synthetic or recombinant bovine growth hormone).
The labels were too confusing since milk already has naturally occurring hormones and it might be difficult to verify whether "coming from cows not treated with rBST" was actually true according to the state agriculture secretary, Dennis Wolff who issued notice of the ban.
But on the eve of the February 1 deadline for label changes, a bombardment of consumer emails, letters and calls into Governor Edward Rendell's office convinced him to intervene and reverse the labeling prohibition.
In a statement Thursday, the governor said, "The public has a right to complete information about how the milk they buy is produced."
Michael Hansen, Ph.D, a senior scientist with Consumers Union, one of the groups involved announced, "This is a victory for free speech, free markets, sustainable farming, and the consumer's right to know. Consumers increasingly want to know more about how their food is produced, and particularly whether it is produced in natural and sustainable manner."
Rick North of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility tells IB News, "Make no mistake -- with thousands of messages of protest, plus the sign-on letter of over 60 organizations protesting the ban, and, of course, the threat of a lawsuit, this caught them completely by surprise, they had no idea this would generate a very significant consumer response."
Litigation could have involved charges of infringement on commercial free speech.
Why target Pennsylvania farmers? "We were almost rbst free before the labeling ban," Brian Snyder tells IB News about dairy industry in his state, "and the numbers were dwindling."
Snyder is the executive director of a organized group of 4,000, half of whom are dairy farmers called Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA).
While the average dairy farm in Pennsylvania is 67 cows, the trend nationally has been toward larger corporate mega-farms that milk thousands of cows in a day.
The difference is a philosophical one -- local, seasonally grown food without added chemicals and hormones. "Small farms are an impediment to the advancement of the industry," Snyder says.
"If you can't put on labels, it puts small farmers out of business."
Consumers might be wondering why the push away from labels when the national trend is to give more information.
Beginning this year shoppers will find it easier to make selections of food based on upgraded nutrition labels called the Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI).
Rick North of PSR says, "This isn't about protecting consumers. This is about protecting Monsanto's dwindling profits."
While Monsanto won't release sales figures, it once claimed one-third of the nation's dairy cows were injected with the drug hormone commercially called Posilac.
That number is now estimated to be closer to 17 percent according to Consumers Union.
Nationwide consumers are rejecting dairy from cows injected with artificial growth hormones.
DATAMONITOR, which tracks supermarket sales, has reported that "growth in organic milk is largely driven by continued use of hormones such as rbGH and antibiotics in the conventional dairy industry."
Organic dairy products, which don't allow rbGH, have soared to double digit profits. That in turn has grocers such as Kroger, Publix, Safeway and soon Wal-Mart following the money trail hoping to capture some of the market that Organic Valley and Horizon have taken away.
By mid-year Kraft will offer an rBGH/rBST-free cheese to offer to consumers as a "premium brand."
The largest U.S. Dairy company, Dean Foods Co., now offers a line of artificial hormone free products and last year Starbucks Corp. banned the use of rBST/rbGH from its nearly 6,793 company owned stores. Chipolte Mexican Grille Inc., a McDonald's spin-off has also banned rBSt/rbGH.
rbGH was declared safe and approved by the FDA for use by the nation's dairy farmers in late 1993 to produce more milk. The hormone is replicated by bacteria and is genetically engineered in a lab to mimic a cows natural growth hormone. Monsanto had pinned big hopes on taking the drug international.
But rbGH has always been controversial. At the time of approval, critics claimed and Monsanto's own research affirmed, that milk from treated cows contained higher levels of a spin-off hormone IGF-1, which has been linked to prostate and breast cancer.
Monsanto insists the milk from treated cows is no different than untreated milk.
During an October analysts' conference, Chief Financial Officer Terrell Crews told Chicago Business the company has seen declines in Posilac sales because "we've seen some pressure in the dairy business on that product."
Rick North of PSR believes Monsanto is behind the push in Pennsylvania and has taken the effort to overturn labels to Ohio, which is scheduled to make a decision this month.
Washington and Missouri had also been considering label prohibitions. Recently New Jersey had considered taking a similar action but opted against it.
Snyder admits there are lots of false labels that confront consumers everyday. "Farm fresh" when it's been transported from Chile, 'natural" when the food is highly processed.
"Certainly problems with labels are rampant, but in this case they picked on one certain issue and blew it out of proportion. They were doing this to preserve a market for the maker of rBST."
The FDA announced this week that it had approved the milk and meat of cloned animals for human consumption. Labels won't be needed the agency says. Snyder says the timing is curious. "To my mind a lot of the battle is not rbST but a fight over clone-free labels they're preparing for because that's going to be the bigger one."
As it stands for now, farmers in Pennsylvania who don't use rbGH/rBST can continue labels that say their milk is "coming from cows not treated with rBST."
What they can't say is "No Hormones" because with natural hormones present, technically that isn't accurate.
Also the labels must include an FDA suggested disclaimer stating that, "no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST-treated cows."
For dairy farmers who believe in local, regional and sustainable agriculture, Snyder says the ruling allows them to continue offering something the public wants.
"We have a couple thousand farmers in our membership and it just means everything to them that they can communicate to their customers about how they produce the foods they're selling. It reaffirms a fundamental right that we can continue to put high quality products on the market and support farming methods they want to see." #
Find this article at: http://www.injuryboard.com/national-news/public-outcry-keeps-hormone- milk-labels-in-pa.aspx (c) 2008 InjuryBoard.com
By Angela Charlton, Associated PressThousands of canisters of highly radioactive waste from the world's most nuclear-energized nation lie, silent and deadly, beneath this jutting tip of Normandy. Above ground, cows graze and Atlantic waves crash into heather-covered hills.
The spent fuel, vitrified into blocks of black glass that will remain dangerous for thousands of years, is in "interim storage." Like nearly all the world's nuclear waste, it is still waiting for the long-term disposal solution that has eluded scientists and governments in the six decades since the atomic era began.
Industry officials hope renewed worldwide interest in nuclear energy will break a long, awkward silence surrounding nuclear waste. They want to revive momentum for scientific and political breakthroughs on waste that stalled after the accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, which raised worldwide fears about radioactivity's risks to human and planetary health.
So far, though, recent talk of a nuclear renaissance has focused on the "front end," or reactor construction. Engineers are designing the next generation of reactors to be safer than today's -- and they're being billed as a solution to global warming. Nuclear reactors do not emit carbon dioxide, blamed for heating the planet.
Few people have been talking about the "back end," industry-speak for the hundreds of thousands of tons of waste that nuclear plants produce each year, and the lucrative, secretive business of storing it away.
Waste "is the main problem with this so-called nuclear rebirth," said Mycle Schneider, an independent expert who co-authored a recent study for the European Parliament casting doubt on a global nuclear resurgence. He says government efforts to revive nuclear energy will stall without a "miracle" solution to waste disposal.
Workers at this waste treatment and storage site on France's Cherbourg peninsula, run by industry giant Areva, don't see a problem.
Though much of the technology here dates from the 1970s and 1980s, they point to a strong safety record and the 26,000 environmental tests conducted every year as evidence that the public has nothing to fear from their activity.
The tests routinely find crabs, cows and humans living nearby to be healthy. One longtime plant employee gestured toward her pregnant abdomen, holding her third child, as proof that there's nothing to worry about. Plant officials say strict security measures, tightened since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, rule out terrorism risks.
Greenpeace questions state-run Areva's safety figures, and accuses the government of playing down accidents and soil and water contamination. A group called Meres en Colere, or Angry Mothers, was formed in the region after a 1997 study showed higher than usual local rates of child leukemia, a malady linked to radiation exposure.
Now the "pros" are on a new mission to dispel a generation of scares and suspicion, saying nuclear power is less dangerous to humans and the Earth than burning oil or coal. The "antis" say nuclear energy can never offer 100 percent protection from its radioactive ingredients.
The splitting of uranium atoms in a nuclear reactor creates the exceptional heat that drives turbines to provide electricity. The process also creates radioactive isotopes such as cesium-137 and strontium-90 that take about 30 years to lose half their radioactivity. Higher-level leftovers includes plutonium-239, with a half-life of 24,000 years.
Direct exposure to such highly radioactive material, even for a short period, can be fatal. Indirect exposure, through seepage into groundwater, can lead to life-threatening illness for those living nearby and environmental damage.
For now, the best scientific solution for getting rid of the most lethal waste is to shove it deep underground.
Yet no country has built a deep geological repository. Governments meet protests each time one is proposed. The Yucca Mountain waste site in Nevada was commissioned in 1982 and is still awaiting a license.
Another option is recycling. Countries such as France, Russia and Japan reprocess much nuclear waste into new fuel. That dramatically reduces the volume: Forty years' worth of France's highly radioactive waste is stored under just three floor surfaces, each about the size of a basketball court, at Beaumont-Hague.
Recycling, though, produces plutonium that could be used in nuclear weapons -- so the United States bans it, fearing proliferation.
And not all waste can be reprocessed. The deadliest bits -- such as fuel rod casings and other reactor parts as well as concentrated fuel residue containing plutonium and highly enriched uranium -- must be sealed and stored away.
That's what lurks 10 feet underground at this Normandy plant: More than 7,000 cylindrical steel canisters, each about the height of a parking meter, stacked and sealed upright in holes beneath the slick floor. Some contain compacted radioactive metal, the others hold spent fuel that has been vitrified into glass.
Among other ideas once floated for disposing of nuclear waste have been shooting it into space (deemed too risky because of the volatile rocket fuel) or injecting it in the ocean floor (stalled because testing its feasibility is too costly), or shipping all the world's waste to a collective nuclear dump.
The last idea proved too diplomatically delicate. But Greenpeace and Norwegian environmental group Bellona say European nations have for years been illegally shipping radioactive waste to Russia and leaving it there.
Current research in industry leader France -- which relies on nuclear energy for more than 70 percent of its electricity, more than any other country -- is focusing on new chemical processes that would shrink nuclear waste and cool it faster.
It will be at least 2040, though, before these might be put to use, scientists estimate. Schneider says scientists are "creating work for themselves" by researching methods that may never be commercially feasible or do much to solve the long-term waste quandary.
The World Nuclear Association, an industry group, disagrees, citing increasing interest in waste research by governments. The managers at the Normandy plant say long-held taboos about the industry are fading.
"We have the best scientific solution for treating waste," deputy director Eric Blanc said, referring to the plant's vitrification process and network of cooling pools. "Others are coming all the time to study it."
Visitors to the plant must wear special uniforms and trek through a maze of security and radioactivity checkpoints.
The plant used to have Webcams and "open house" days for people from nearby communities, but both practices were stopped after Sept. 11. Now the Defense Ministry regularly monitors the plant, and vets all visitors.
Meanwhile, new reactor clients are lining up.
China signed a staggering $11.7 billion deal last month for two nuclear reactors from Areva. Areva later said the deal included a feasibility study for a waste treatment and recycling facility in China that would cost another $22 billion.
Areva already makes $2.2 billion in revenues a year on treating and recycling waste. The plant at Beaumont-Hague takes in 22,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel a year, from France, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Australia. The foreign fuel by law must be returned to its owners once it has been reprocessed into a more stable form that -- through lack of alternatives -- is buried or held in storage.
The French fuel stays in Normandy indefinitely, while bulkier, lower- level nuclear waste is piling up in dumps worldwide.
Nuclear scientists' dream is a wasteless reactor, and some sketches for the next crop of reactors, the Generation IV, include those that recycle 100 percent of their refuse.
Both nuclear fans and foes agree, however, that it will take a few more human generations for that dream to come true.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press
From: Los Angeles Times
By Susan Brink, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
Puberty is arriving ever younger in American females -- 8 is no longer considered abnormal.
AT 8 or 9 years old, the typical American schoolgirl is perfecting her cursive handwriting style. She's picking out nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs in sentences, memorizing multiplication tables and learning to read a thermometer.
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