U.S. Regulators Allow Energy and Mining Companies to Pollute Aquifers at More Than 1,500 Sites

Investigation finds widespread “aquifer exemptions” in Western states now increasingly desperate for water. The exemptions granted since the 1980s by the Environmental Protection Agency have released toxic material into reservoirs that help supply more than half the nation’s drinking water. EPA records show that exemptions often have been issued to energy and mining companies in apparent conflict with the agency’s mandate to protect water that may be used for drinking. The EPA is supposed to issue exemptions only if aquifers are too remote, too dirty or too deep to supply affordable drinking water. But sometimes the agency has issued permits for portions of reservoirs that are in use, assuming contaminants will stay within finite areas. ProPublica

Panel recommends that doctors talk to teenagers and younger children about smoking. The draft guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force are based on a review of studies that found 19 percent fewer youths started smoking after prevention programs. The same review showed no benefits from smoking cessation counseling or drug treatment with Zyban for youth who had already taken up the habit. About 90 percent of smokers light up before age 18, “so to really prevent smoking you have to address the teenage and older child population,” said a task force member. The new draft guidelines update a 2003 assessment, which found there wasn’t enough evidence to determine whether counseling could help prevent kids from smoking. Reuters

United Kingdom on verge of “dash for gas,” relying on fracking to drill for fuel.  As soon as this week, a moratorium on shale gas production is expected to be lifted. And plans to speed the regulatory process through a new Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil were unveiled last week in the annual autumn budget statement by the chancellor of the exchequer. In the U.K., where all underground mineral rights for fossil fuels belong to the crown, fracking could unlock a new stream of government revenue as well as fuel. The government counters environmentalists’ protests by arguing that natural gas-fired power plants would produce half the carbon dioxide emissions of the coal plants that still provide about 30 percent of the U.K.’s electricity.  National Geographic

Updated federal analysis shows that traffic deaths in 2011 fell to lowest level since 1949. U.S. highway deaths dropped to 32,367, down 1.9 percent from the year before, and a 26 percent decline since 2005.  The downward trend began before the recession took some drivers off the roads, and it accelerated last year. It has been attributed to such factors as increased use of air bags, seat belts and other vehicle safety features, along with improved roadway designs and increasing awareness of the perils of driving drunk. Still, the downward trend may have ended. Preliminary figures for the first half of 2012 show a 9 percent increase in fatalities. And, even in 2011, fatalities rose among bicyclists, pedestrians, motorcycle riders and big-rig truck drivers. The Washington Post, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 

Regulator sues employer for firing worker who refused to enter a 15-foot trench lacking cave-in protection. The U.S. Department of Labor is demanding that Huntsville, Ala.,-based DKS Structural Services, a house moving company, and its owner pay back wages and damages to the employee for the retaliatory firing in January.  In July, after the labor department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspected the work site, it accused DKS of four safety violations and proposed penalties of $122,400. An OSHA official, explaining the reason for Monday’s follow-up legal action, said, “When an employer fails to correct a hazardous condition, workers have the right to refuse to enter an unsafe area without fearing retaliation.” OSHA

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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