Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

A little good news on the environmental side. Obama’s team is putting some of Bush’s decisions on air quality out to pasture. First is the decision to drop an appeal of a New Jersey courts decision that required coal and oil fired power plants to install more stringent mercury controls on their emissions. Last year the appeals court rejected a Bush administration plan for regulating mercury emissions and was slated to go before the Supreme Court before the Obama administration submitted papers Friday to the court asking for the case to be dismissed. The power companies still have a separate petition challenging the court ruling and it is unaffected by this decision. At a green jobs conference in Washington Lisa Jackson, the new EPA Administrator, said the EPA would draft its own rules and set limits on mercury emissions. “We’re better off spending all our resources making rules that will stick instead of fighting the courts on this one,” Jackson said. Seventeen states and health groups both joined a lawsuit to block the Bush plan that would have allowed “hot spots” around power plants. Mercury is believed to cause neurological problems in infants.
In another EPA air quality case they have decided to let California and other states set more stringent air quality standards for auto emissions. This too will be challenged by industry I am sure, but it is a step in the right direction.

A US Army intelligence report has identified the popular blogging tool Twitter as a potential terrorist tool. It along with GPS and possibly voice changing software are at the heart of this intelligence report. The report by the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion examines a number of mobile and web technologies and their potential uses by militants. The report is posted on the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) website. Parts of the report mention how activists at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis used it to provide information on police movements and Twitter members got out the news of the earthquake in Los Angeles in July faster than news outlets. Now lets see what happens when they discover chat rooms and email.

The Senate holds a hearing today in its Environment Committee to review the process that has changed the way the EPA is able to screen chemicals for cancer and other health risks. The undermining of the EPA’s ability to determine health issues by the Bush administration has increased the steps required before the EPA can stop the use of certain chemicals by years in some cases. They have decreased the ability to determine health dangers by letting non scientists have a bigger – sometimes secret – role in a chemicals determination. They have doubled the number of steps required and have risk assessments way behind, sometimes by years. Extensive involvement by the White House and EPA managers has eroded the independence of the EPA scientists who determine the health risks posed by chemicals. Multiple government agencies -who could be affected by the findings – are now allowed to participate at every step of the investigation into the chemicals they use. If the EPA were to find against them or their contractors they would face serious restrictions and cleanup requirements. “By law the EPA must protect our families from dangerous chemicals,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the Senate committee’s chairman. “Instead, they’re protecting the chemical companies.” Hopefully she and the other Senators can get to the bottom of this and get the EPA back on track and not being run by people with a vested interest in the outcomes of investigations.

Would you knowingly eat meat that came from cloned animals? In a recent decision by the US Food and Drug Administration not only have they declared it to be safe but they also declared that no warning labels need be used either. The agency decided that no labeling is necessary for meat or milk from cloned cows, pigs, or goats or their offspring. (Ironically the FDA didn’t include cloned sheep in the announcement, claiming a lack of data, though the very first cloned animal was a sheep named Dolly.)
Now, will people buy it? Consumer anxiety about cloning is serious enough that several major food companies, including the big dairy producer Dean Foods Co. and Smithfield Foods Inc., say they aren’t planning to sell products from cloned animals. It is not too likely that we will have actual cloned meat for sale in your local supermarket. At 10 – 20 grand per cloned cow it is highly unlikely that they will be slaughtering these animals. But they will be breeding them and perhaps milking them very soon.
My question to you is – How do you feel about the subject of cloned animals and their products being sold unlabeled? The FDA noted that their focus groups and other public input indicated that about 1/3 of US citizens do not want food from cloned animals under any circumstances; another 1/3 have no objections; and the other 1/3 fall somewhere in between.

When the Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970 during Richard Nixon‘s administration, its aim was well-defined: protect human health and the environment.

In its action last week deflecting state attempts to impose tough greenhouse gas emission standards on motor vehicles, the EPA is acting more like the Polluter Protection Agency, defending the interests of the oil and auto industries rather than those of the public.California, and 15 other states, filed suit on the second of January 2008 against the Environmental Protection Agency for rejecting its plan to limit greenhouse gases on cars, trucks, and SUVs. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the Bush administration is “ignoring the will of millions” by ruling that Congress’ recent boost in fuel-efficiency standards makes California‘s own emissions law unnecessary. The 1970 Clean Air Act allows states to set their own emission rules if they receive a waiver from the feds; the EPA refused on Dec. 19 to grant California’s request. California Attorney General Jerry Brown called the denial “shocking in its incoherence and utter failure to provide legal justification for the administrator’s unprecedented action”. The EPA has done nothing to curb greenhouse gases despite a Supreme Court ruling that requires them to treat greenhouse gases as a pollutant and therefor a threat to our air.

Twelve other states – Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington – have adopted California’s emissions standards, and others have said they plan to do so. The 12 states, along with Arizona, Delaware and Illinois, said Wednesday that they plan to intervene in support of California.

It was the first time the EPA had fully denied California a waiver under the Clean Air Act . The EPA’s decision was a victory for automakers, who had argued they would be forced to reduce their selection of vehicles and raise prices in states that adopted California’s standards. California’s air board is reviewing other measures it could impose on automobile manufacturers if the lawsuit fails or delays the state’s regulations from taking effect.