Leaked E-Mails May Sink Arctic Oil Deals - Bad Decision To Censor Scientists - Uranium Exploration Near Grand Canyon
Submitted by Western Shoshone Defense Project
WASHINGTON, DC - February 4 - The Interior Department is scrambling to stanch the flow of internal e-mails from its own scientists that undermine the legality of its aggressive offshore oil and gas lease sales in federal Arctic waters, according to correspondence released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The e-mails belie Bush administration claims that environmental risks were adequately considered prior to offering tracts in the Chukchi, Beaufort and Bering Seas for drilling.
During the past three weeks, PEER has released a series of internal e-mails from current and former Interior scientists raising troubling questions about how badly environmental assessments of Arctic offshore oil development were skewed. These e-mails have fueled two new lawsuits in the past week that threaten to stymie new lease sales and lend further support to ongoing litigation against earlier lease sales.
Reflecting mounting concern about the legal consequences of this growing stream of internal e-mails that contradict official pronouncements, Jeffery Loman, the Deputy Regional Director for Interior's Minerals Management Service, in a January 31, 2008 e-mail to all employees sought to limit further damage:
"We have been directed to refrain from discussing the PEER press releases and the e-mail messages with anyone outside our organization including any representative with the media."
Interior's lawyers, meanwhile, are trying to prevent further releases of incriminating e-mails. In a letter dated January 29, 2008, Associate Interior Solicitor Arthur Gary wrote to PEER - "We request that you immediately cease your unauthorized publication of these privileged communications and return them to MMS [Minerals Management Service], along with other MMS communications or documents in your possession that MMS has not authorized for disclosure."
"PEER has every intention of continuing to publish e-mails and other internal documents that anguished scientists have provided to us," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the e-mails show official misconduct and, as such, are shielded by the Whistleblower Protection Act, among other statutes. "There are a lot more disclosures to come; agency specialists have sent in enough material to start a CD collection."
Lawsuits brought by Native communities and conservation groups contend that Interior failed to honestly reflect oil spill dangers and negative effects on endangered marine life, such as bowhead whales, as well as on polar bear populations struggling to cope with shrinking sea ice due to global warming. Another lawsuit filed last week charges that Interior is improperly withholding thousands of documents, primarily internal e-mails, in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.
"Congress should hear directly from the agency scientists whose work was altered or axed altogether," Ruch added, noting that much of the congressional attention has been focused on the delays in the decision whether to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. "The Bush administration oil rush in the Arctic is lubricated by systematic scientific fraud."
CONTACT: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337
Conservative's Decision To Censor Scientists Will Increase Public Distrust
By David Chamers
Saturday, February 02, 2008
Environment Canada's muzzling of its scientists might be shocking, but it's hardly surprising.
The new policy, which apparently went into force in recent weeks, is designed to control the media message and ensure that Environment Minister John Baird faces no "surprises" when he reads or listens to the news.
The policy dictates that researchers refer all media queries to Ottawa. The media office then directs reporters to submit their questions in writing, and then researchers are to send written responses to senior management for approval. If the researcher is cleared to do an interview, he or she is asked to stick to "approved lines," though it's not clear what that enigmatic phrase means.
Needless to say, the new policy has infuriated scientists and sent a chill through Environment Canada. After all, while Gregory Jack, acting director of Environment Canada's ministerial and executive services, insisted "there is no change in the access in terms of scientists being able to talk," it's clear that scientists are being severely hobbled in their ability to speak freely.
This is in stark contrast to Environment Canada's treatment under previous governments, when it was one of the most open and accessible federal departments. That openness and accessibility, however, is seen by Environment Canada's executive committee as a problem that needs to be remedied.
While shocking, the latest directive isn't surprising since, in an effort to control their message, the Conservatives have systematically limited communications with the media, and by extension, with the public.
Further, the Conservatives have by and large treated science with disdain throughout their tenure, as they have routinely ignored or dismissed the best available scientific evidence on everything from criminal justice to illicit drugs to the environment.
The most recent evidence of the Conservatives disinterest in science came just recently, when the government eliminated the position of national science adviser. The adviser, who was originally situated in the Privy Council Office, and therefore gave advice directly to the prime minister, was moved to Industry Canada when the Conservatives took power, and now the position has been eliminated entirely.
It appears that the Conservatives refuse to recognize any distinction between policy based on science and science itself. Rather than using scientific evidence to inform policy, the Conservatives seem more interested in ensuring that the science conforms to their policy.
This is a disastrous approach, particularly on an issue in which many Environment Canada scientists can claim some expertise -- climate change. At the very least, this new policy guarantees that there will be a certain level of public distrust about what Environment Canada scientists say about climate change -- or anything else for that matter.
At worst, the new policy suggests that the Conservatives believe that there really is no distinction between science and policy, and that truth is not just a casualty of war, but of politics.
Uranium Exploration Near Grand Canyon
Submitted by Western Shoshone Defense Project
By FELICITY BARRINGER
Published: February 7, 2008
With minimal public notice and no formal environmental review, the Forest Service has approved a permit allowing a British mining company to explore for uranium just outside Grand Canyon National Park, less than three miles from a popular lookout over the canyon’s southern rim.
If the exploration finds rich uranium deposits, it could lead to the first mines near the canyon since the price of uranium ore plummeted nearly two decades ago. A sharp increase in uranium prices over the past three years has led individuals to stake thousands of mining claims in the Southwest, including more than 1,000 in the Kaibab National Forest, near the Grand Canyon.
To drill exploratory wells on the claims in the Kaibab forest requires Forest Service approval. Vane Minerals, the British company, received such approval for seven sites in December.
The Forest Service granted the approvals without a full-dress environmental assessment, ruling that the canyon could be “categorically excluded” from such a review because exploration would last less than a year and might not lead to mining activity.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors in Coconino County, Ariz., voted unanimously to try to block any potential uranium mines. It asked that the federal government withdraw large sections of land immediately north and south of the national park from mineral leasing.
“We have a legacy, which isn’t too good, from the uranium mining in the past,” said Deb Hill, chairwoman of the Coconino board.
Knowledge of the cancers suffered by former uranium workers and their families on a nearby Navajo reservation, worries about uranium-laden trucks and trains on roads and concern about contamination of the aquifers and streams in arid northern Arizona were also factors in the vote, Ms. Hill said.
The Forest Service made its decision after limited public notice to local officials, environmental groups and tribal governments. There was no public hearing.
Bill Hedden, the executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust, said the approvals were the first indications that a new generation of uranium mines might spring up on the Colorado Plateau near the canyon, an area peppered with uranium-rich geological formations called breccia pipes.
Matthew Idiens, the director of corporate development for Vane, said at least seven mines had been located not far from the park in past decades, yielding an average of 3.4 million pounds a mine. The exploratory activity his company plans, Mr. Idiens added, “is somewhat limited — taking in a truck, doing a bit of drilling, but that’s it.” The breccia pipes, he said, “cover a very small area.”
“You put a shaft next to them when you mine them,” he said, “and you take the uranium out and put everything else back in.”
“After four or five years, you reclaim it, put it back the way it was, and no one would ever know you were there,” Mr. Idiens said. “We obviously understand it’s scenic and beautiful there, and we respect that enormously.”
Barbara McCurry, the Kaibab National Forest’s spokeswoman on this issue, said her agency had little choice but to allow the drilling under the 1872 mining law that governs hard-rock mining claims. “The exploratory drilling is pretty minimal,” Ms. McCurry said, adding, “Our obligation is to make sure that any impacts are mitigated.”
The Environmental Working Group in Washington has been tracking the new wave of uranium mining claims sweeping across the Four Corners region of the Southwest and is issuing a report on the claims and their possible effects,
Dusty Horwitt, the author of the report, said the Forest Service’s actions confirmed that House-approved amendments to the 1872 law on mining activity should be approved by the Senate. Congress, Mr. Horwitt said, should give federal land managers the right to balance the desires of mining companies with other values like the protection of national parks and water supplies.
“If uranium mining operations are about to start on the edge of the Grand Canyon and federal officials say there’s nothing we can do, the time is now to reform the 1872 mining law,” Mr. Horwitt said.
Mr. Hedden, of the Grand Canyon Trust, pointed out that several Indian tribes in the Four Corners area, including the Navajo, the Hopi and the Havasupai, had voted to ban uranium mining on their land.
Ms. McCurry, of Kaibab National Forest, pointed out that, if Vane found a cluster of uranium deposits and sought a permit to mine, the decision would require a full environmental analysis and an environmental impact statement.
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