The Wall Street Journal: McCain Woos Democrats on Environment
By LAURA MECKLER and STEPHEN POWER
May 12, 2008; Page A4
WASHINGTON -- After spending several weeks staking out positions on taxes, Iraq and judges designed to appeal to conservatives, John McCain is shifting his attention to independents and Democrats, with proposals on climate change.
The Republican presidential candidate also is using his stance on energy and the environment to draw distinctions between himself and President Bush, whose popularity is at a near-record low.
Sen. McCain's support of regulating global-warming gases like carbon dioxide -- the biggest environmental issue before Congress -- more closely resembles the stance of his Democratic rivals, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, though he disagrees with them on how such regulations should be structured.
Besides championing legislation to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, Sen. McCain has opposed the administration's call to open parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, citing the refuge as a natural treasure on par with the Florida Everglades and the Grand Canyon in his home state of Arizona.
In a campaign appearance last week, Sen. McCain said he "was once honored" that former Interior secretary and Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, "said that I was the Grand Canyon's best friend. I don't know if he still believes that, but he said it once."
Sen. McCain also has supported California's efforts to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, in contrast to the Bush administration, which in December blocked the state's bid to regulate such emissions from cars. The McCain campaign believes his position will make him competitive in California, a Democratic stronghold, and with independent voters across the country.
In a sign of Sen. McCain's potential appeal to environmentally conscious voters, a top official at the Sierra Club, one of the nation's most influential environmental groups, said the group might not endorse any candidate for president. The group endorsed Democrats in six of the past seven presidential elections; it declined to endorse a candidate in 1988.
As for greenhouse gases, Sen. McCain and many Democrats believe the U.S. should force industry to reduce emissions through binding caps. President Bush and many Republicans warn that binding targets could put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage against fast-growing countries, such as China, that haven't committed to emissions reductions.
Sen. McCain has co-sponsored legislation that seeks to reduce global-warming gases by creating a "cap and trade" system in which companies would buy and sell what amount to permits to emit greenhouse gases.
Sens. Obama and Clinton, also back legislation to cap carbon-dioxide emissions and to allow for trading credits, but they favor an approach that is much tougher on major carbon emitters. The Democrats want to create a system in which all pollution credits are auctioned.
Sen. McCain favors allocating some emission credits to companies free of charge, an adviser said. Sen. McCain also has called for a robust expansion of nuclear power, in contrast to less enthusiastic comments on the issue by Sens. Obama and Clinton.
Overall, Sen. McCain's environmental voting record is more complicated than he portrays it. In July 2003, he voted against Democrats' proposal to raise fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks to 40 miles a gallon by 2015. In June 2005, he voted against a congressional proposal to establish a renewable-electricity standard of 10% by 2020.00
In December, he was the only senator to miss a vote on whether to funding extension of tax credits for renewable energy by eliminating billions of dollars in tax deductions for oil companies.
Critics of a temporary suspension of the federal gasoline tax advocated by Sens. McCain and Clinton say it would save the average driver little and encourage more driving and oil consumption.
"He's certainly better than Bush, and ... the average Republican senator" on environmental matters, but "dramatically worse than the average Republican governor," Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in an interview.
In making the comparison, Mr. Pope cited Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is pushing utilities in the state to step up use of renewable sources, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has committed to increasing use of solar energy. Still, Mr. Pope said his organization might refrain from endorsing one presidential candidate over another this year because "there is huge opportunity for all three of them still to grow."
Asked about some of the criticism, McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said, "John McCain is uniquely qualified to lead on environmental issues, especially among those running for president. His approach is one that marries protecting the environment with market- driven opportunities for greater economic growth."
Associated Press: G-8 labor officials begin 3-day meeting in Japan
By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Writer Sun May 11, 2:03 PM ET
TOKYO - Labor ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations met with international trade union and business groups Sunday to discuss the reduction of workplace emissions of "greenhouse" gases blamed for global warming, officials said.
The talks, in Niigata on Japan's north coast, are aimed at boosting support for global environmental initiatives before Japan hosts the G-8 summit in July.
The labor ministers, whose formal talks start Monday, are also expected to address concerns about growing income disparity, aging and uncertainty over financial markets, Japan's Health and Welfare Ministry said.
Participants at Sunday's session — including representatives from the International Labor Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — issued a statement urging G-8 nations to promote sustainable labor markets and environmental protection at workplaces.
"The G-8 countries should foster a societal approach moving all industry sectors in more environmentally friendly and energy efficient directions," it said.
Japan hopes to lead the discussions with its experience from "Cool-Biz" — a no-tie, no-jacket summer campaign it launched in 2005 to curb greenhouse gas emissions by limiting the use of office air conditioning, Kyodo News agency reported.
Many countries, including Japan, are struggling to meet targets set by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which requires that greenhouse gas emissions be reduced by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
Japan is now considering setting a more aggressive emissions reduction target for 2050 — raising the current goal of a 50 percent emissions cut to between 60 percent and 80 percent — to be announced in mid-June, public broadcaster NHK reported Sunday.
Japanese officials also plan to discuss how industries that are likely to be hurt by climate change can seek alternative income sources, such as ski resorts facing snow shortages pursuing other forms of tourism, Kyodo said.
The G-8 comprises Britain, Italy, Canada, the United States, France, Russia, Germany and Japan. Thailand and Indonesia were invited to join some discussions.
Reuters: Developing countries eye nuclear power: report
43 minutes ago
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 40 developing countries have recently approached United Nations officials to express interest in starting nuclear power programs, the Washington Post reported on Monday.
The interest among developing countries ranging from the Gulf to Latin America is a concern to proliferation experts, who say it could provide the building blocks for nuclear arsenals in some of the countries, the Post said.
The newspaper said much of the interest in nuclear power is driven by economic considerations including the high cost of fossil fuels.
However, some Middle Eastern countries with access to large stocks of oil or natural gas, such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, appear to be investing in nuclear power partly because of concerns about a future regional arms race, the Post said.
"We are concerned that some countries are moving down the nuclear (weapons) path in reaction to the Iranians," a senior U.S. government official who tracks the spread of nuclear technology told the Post. The paper said he declined to speak on the record because of diplomatic sensitivities.
"The big question is: At what point do you reach the nuclear tipping point, when enough countries go nuclear that others decide they must do so, too?"
At least half a dozen countries also have said in the past four years that they are specifically planning to conduct enrichment or reprocessing of nuclear fuel, something that could expand the global supply of plutonium and enriched uranium, the Post said.
Reuters: China punishes 6 for protest against chemical plant
Sun May 11, 2008 11:07pm EDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese authorities arrested one person on a charge of inciting subversion and warned or detained five for their roles in a protest in the southwest against plans for a petrochemical project, local media reported on Monday.
Police were seeking another two on charges of illegally demonstrating in Chengdu, capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan, the Beijing News reported.
"The police accused them of using the Internet and other means to spread rumors, inciting trouble or illegally marching or demonstrating, or using the Internet to spread rumors and harmful information," the report said.
About 200 people took to the streets last week to demonstrate against plans for the ethylene plant and oil refinery in Chengdu's northern outskirts, an echo of a protest movement that forced the government to scrap plans for a chemical plant in the southern city of Xiamen.
In March, officials in Xiamen confirmed they would shift a proposed plant to make paraxylene, a petrochemical used in polyester and fabrics, after thousands took to the streets and forced a rare invitation from the government for public comment.
China's Communist authorities frown on public protest, but demonstrations are becoming more common due to anger over official corruption and pollution and tensions between industrialization and environmental concerns.
The Chengdu protesters, who news reports said were orderly and did not carry banners, worried the plant would lead to degradation of air and water quality.
The ethylene plant was due to produce 800,000 tonnes a year of the industrial compound commonly used in packaging and insulation.
The refinery, which would process 10 million tonnes of crude oil a year, had been approved by China's top planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, last year, the Beijing News earlier reported.
(Reporting by Lindsay Beck; Editing by Nick Macfie)
Reuters: Patagonia fears environmental damage from volcano
ESQUEL, Argentina - Volcanic ash raining down from the Chilean volcano Chaiten may cause long-term environmental damage and harm the health of people and animals in picturesque Patagonia, scientists say.
Ash from the volcano, which started erupting 10 days ago for the first time in thousands of years, is made up of pulverized rock containing all kinds of minerals.
It has spoiled lakes, rivers and lagoons, coated plants in a dense layer of grey, and altered the sensitive habitat of animals now struggling to survive. Satellite images show a white stripe smeared across the southern part of South America.
Though it is too early to say what the long-term effects will be, ecologists say life has permanently changed in the region's pine and cypress forests, inhabited by pumas and huemules, a rare species of deer.
"I am tremendously worried because this is an environmental, social and ecological disaster," said Alejandro Beletzky, an environmental scientist in a soot-covered swath of Argentina.
"The presence of volcanic ash in the region, which falls constantly, is very risky for humans, plants and animals," he said near Esquel, a town 1,240 miles (2,000 km) southwest of Buenos Aires.
Government officials have insisted the ash is not toxic, though people in the Argentine provinces of Chubut and Rio Negro, and Chile's Tenth Region have complained of burning eyes, breathing trouble and tainted water.
The volcanic ash blowing east across the Andes mountains from Chile has dusted hundreds of square miles of Argentina. Nearby airports have closed because of poor visibility and worries the rocky ash could damage jet engines.
Chile's chain of volcanoes, the second-largest in the world, includes some 2,000 of which 500 are potentially active. Chaiten sits 760 miles (1,220 km) south of the capital Santiago.
On both sides of the border, pastures were blanketed in ash, a few animals tried to eat grass, and birds perched on trees looked like concrete statues.
"We don't think the ash is toxic, but we need to take into account the long-term effects on the digestive and respiratory systems of animals," said Christian Hepp, an agronomist for Chile's national institute of livestock studies, which is testing the soil of cow and sheep pastures clouded by ash.
In Chile, evacuated residents complained of being thrown into a state of limbo, not knowing when, or if, they would be able to return.
Chaiten has shot a towering plume of ash 12 miles (20 km) into the sky, forcing thousands of people to evacuate within a 30-mile (50-km) radius.
The column might descend gradually. But in a worst-case scenario, ash and molten rock would drop quickly and engulf the town of Chaiten, just 6 miles (10 km) from the volcano, killing everything in its path.
"We can't put anybody's life at risk," President Michelle Bachelet told weary evacuees huddled in shelters.
(Additional reporting by Monica Vargas in Puerto Montt, Chile; writing by Terry Wade, editing by Vicki Allen)
Reuters: Pesticide DDT shows up in Antarctic penguins
US: May 12, 2008
WASHINGTON - The pesticide DDT, banned decades ago in much of the world, still shows up in penguins in Antarctica, probably due to the chemical's accumulation in melting glaciers, a sea bird expert said on Friday.
Adelie penguins, known for their waddling gait and a habit of nesting on stones, have long shown evidence of DDT in their fatty tissues, although not in enough concentration to hurt the birds, according to Heidi Geisz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
But researchers were surprised to see that the level of the pesticide in Adelies' fat had not declined, even after DDT was banned for exterior use in the 1970s in the United States and elsewhere.
First noted in 1964, while the chemical was still widely used, the amount of DDT found in Adelie penguins rose in the 1970s and has stayed stable since then, Geisz said in a telephone interview.
In findings published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, Geisz and her colleagues noted that persistent organic pollutants like DDT accumulate and become concentrated in the Antarctic ecosystem.
"DDT, along with a lot of other of these organic contaminants, actually travel through the atmosphere ... toward the polar regions by a process of evaporation and then condensation in cooler climates," Geisz said, explaining this is how the pesticide got deposited in Antarctic glaciers.
DDT declined dramatically in Arctic wildlife over the last decade, while the amount of the chemical in Antarctic Adelies stayed stable, the study said.
DDT was easily detectable in glacier melt water, Geisz said.
Adelies feed off tiny creatures called krill that live in melted glacier water, and DDT is transmitted up the food chain directly to the penguins.
There is not enough of the chemical to harm the birds, but it is measurable in samples of penguin corpses and their abandoned eggs, Geisz said.
Some kinds of birds that ingest DDT, especially birds of prey like the American bald eagle, produce eggs with extremely thin shells which are easily crushed by adult birds. Geisz said this has not been demonstrated to be the case with sea birds.
A more pressing issue for the Adelie penguins that breed on the Antarctic Peninsula is encroaching climate change, she said. The peninsula, which stretches north toward South America, has been warming much faster than the rest of the continent.
Warming on the peninsula means "we see more snow and more moisture and these (Adelie) eggs end up getting soaked and frozen," Geisz said. "It allows opportunities for people like me to study the eggs, but it's not necessarily ideal for the penguins."
Originally developed as a powerful multi-species pesticide, DDT was used in World War Two to clear South Pacific islands of malaria-causing insects for US troops and in Europe as a de-lousing powder. The United States banned the chemical in 1972. The World Health Organization approved it in 2006 for use indoors to fight malaria.
Xinhua: China phases out fumigant use in grain storage for environment protection
www.chinaview.cn 2008-05-12 10:04:10
BEIJING, May 12 (Xinhua) -- China has phased out the use of methyl bromide as a fumigant for grain storage in a bid to protect the ozone layer, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) has said.
"Grain storage became the first to complete the phase out among three sectors. A total of 210 tons of methyl bromide in 128 grain depots had been phased out by January 2007, fulfilling China's commitment to the international community", Zhu Guangyao, vice-minister of the MEP, was quoted Monday by English-language China Daily as saying.
Methyl bromide is an ozone depleting substance that China committed to phase out by 2015, a promise the country made when joining the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1991.
The other two industries targeted to phase out methyl bromide use are the tobacco and agriculture sectors, according to the report.
Phosphine gas recirculation under plastic film and phosphine mixed with carbon dioxide fumigation technology have been identified as the two alternative technologies for methyl bromide, the State Administration of Grain (SAG) has said.
Phosphine is more environmentally friendly and less likely to leave residues in foodstuffs, according to experts.
"All phosphine generators now used in China are made in China; and Chinese technology for grain fumigation is also being exported abroad," said Sajjad Ajmal, China representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
The Chinese government has been working together with UNIDO in the Ozone Depleting Substances phase-out project since 1993.
"We should continue to monitor the effect and resistance of alternative technology and enhance field tests of new alternative pesticides, as the drug resistance of pests is expected to grow after the phase-out," He Yi, director of the department of science and technology development under the SAG, said.
Sydney Morning Herald: Govts 'must provide healthy environment'
May 12, 2008 - 3:19PM
Global leaders have a moral duty to improve the environment for the sake of human health, an international conference on environmental health was told on Monday.
Professor Ian Lowe of Brisbane's Griffith University said governments around the world could no longer avoid taking action on rampant population growth, depletion of mineral resources and global warming.
"My argument is we are seriously disturbing natural systems and this seriously erodes human health," Prof Lowe told around 600 delegates at the opening of the week-long 10th World Congress on Environmental Health.
"I believe we have a moral duty to change to provide a healthier environment for the whole human family."
He said that 50 years ago, the world was consuming about half the total productivity of natural systems but today, the total had jumped to 120 per cent of sustainable productivity.
Although governments were reluctant to have their economies in fiscal deficit, by running at an ecological deficit they would put a much greater burden on future generations, he said.
More than two million people died prematurely each year due to air pollution, contaminated water remained the greatest single cause of sickness and death, and the gains made last century in food production were now being lost to unsustainable land use, climate change and urban expansion, Prof Lowe said.
The best-case scenario for global warming this century was around 1.5 degrees celsius - double the rise of last century, Prof Lowe said.
And while the societal values of consumerism, domination of nature and individualism had served the world well in the past, they were now a significant threat to its well-being.
But a sustainable world was just as achievable as the abolition of slavery, voting for women and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Prof Lowe said.
"I believe that in 50 years' time it will seem equally unacceptable to be making decisions without thinking about their impact on future generations and without thinking about their impact on natural systems," Prof Lowe said.