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Rachel's Democracy and Health News

Rachel's Democracy & Health News #926 "Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?" Thursday, September 27, 2007printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

Why Is Uncle Sam So Committed To Reviving Nuclear Power?
The long-advertised "nuclear renaissance" got under way this week when NRG Energy applied for a federal license to build two nuclear power plants in Texas, enticed by an offer of free money from Uncle Sam. "The whole reason we started down this path was the benefits written into the Energy Policy Act of 2005," says NRG's chief executive, David Crame.
U.N. Climate Panel Report's Key Findings
Here is a concise summary of the findings of the Feb., 2007, report from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), representing the work of 2,500 researchers from more than 130 nations.
Frog Deformities Linked To Farm Pollution
The discovery of deformed frogs in many parts of the U.S. and overseas has caused concern for the survival of their populations. Without normal limbs, frogs are easy targets for predators. New research may have found an important contributor to this problem: fertilizer running off farm fields.
Driving CO2 Underground
The coal industry is ready to bet its future (and, indeed, the future of the planet) on the hope of burying carbon dioxide under ground forever. But, "Real data on costs, monitoring requirements, or the fate of CO2 after years or centuries of being held in an underground repository are absent and won't become available any time soon."
Sentinel at the EPA: An Interview with William Sanjour
Hat's off to Bill Sanjour! He spent many years at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rooting out fraud and deception by agency higher-ups, then living with the negative consequences of his own honesty, clarity, and courage.

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #926, Sep. 27, 2007
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WHY IS UNCLE SAM SO COMMITTED TO REVIVING NUCLEAR POWER?

By Peter Montague

The long-awaited and much-advertised "nuclear renaissance" actually got under way this week. NRG Energy, a New Jersey company recently emerged from bankruptcy, applied for a license to build two new nuclear power plants at an existing facility in Bay City, Texas -- the first formal application for such a license in 30 years.

NRG Energy has no experience building nuclear power plants but they are confident the U.S. government will assure their success. "The whole reason we started down this path was the benefits written into the [Energy Policy Act] of 2005," NRG's chief executive, David Crame, told the Washington Post. In other words, the whole reason NRG Energy wants to build nuclear power plants is to get bundles of free money from Uncle Sam. Who could blame them?

Other energy corporations are nuzzling up to the same trough. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is expecting to receive applications for an additional 29 nuclear power reactors at 20 sites. The NRC has already hired more than 400 new staff to deal with the expected flood of applications.

But the question remains, Can investors be fooled twice? Financially, the nuclear power industry has never stood on its own two feet without a crutch from Uncle Sam. Indeed, the nuclear power industry is entirely a creature of the federal government; it was created out of whole cloth by the feds in the 1950s. At that time, investors were enticed by offers of free money -- multi-billion-dollar subsidies, rapid write-offs, special limits on liability, and federal loan guarantees. Despite all this special help, by the 1970s the industry was in a shambles. The British magazine, the Economist, recently described it this way: "Billions were spent bailing out lossmaking nuclear-power companies. The industry became a byword for mendacity, secrecy and profligacy with taxpayers' money. For two decades neither governments nor bankers wanted to touch it."

Now the U.S. federal government is once again doing everything in its power to entice investors, trying to revive atomic power.

First, Uncle Sam is trying hard to remove the financial risk for investors. The Energy Policy Act, which Congress approved in 2005, provides four different kinds of subsidies for atomic power plants:

1. It grants $2 billion in insurance against regulatory delays and lawsuits to the first six reactors that get licenses and begin construction. Energy corporations borrow money to build plants and they must start paying interest on those loans immediately, even though it take years for a plant to start generating income. The longer the licensing and construction delays, the greater the losses. Historically, lawsuits or other interventions by citizens have extended the licensing timeline, sometimes by years, costing energy corporations large sums. Now Uncle Sam will provide free insurance against any such losses.

2. Second, the 2005 law extends the older Price-Anderson Act, which limits a utility's liability to $10 billion in the event of a nuclear accident. A serious accident at a nuclear plant near a major city could create hundreds of billions of dollars in liabilities. Uncle Sam has agreed to relieve investors of that very real fear.

3. The 2005 law provides a tax credit of 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 6,000 megawatts generated by new plants. Free money, plain and simple.

4. Most important, the law offers guarantees loans to fund new atomic power reactors and other power plants using "innovative" technology. Investors need no longer fear bad loans.

One obvious conclusion from all this is that, more than 50 years into the nuclear enterprise, atomic power still cannot attract investors and compete successfully in a "free market." This industry still requires an unprecedented level of subsidy and other government support just to survive.

An energy corporation's motives for buying into this system are clear: enormous subsidies improve the chance of substantial gain. However, the federal government's reasons for wanting to revive a moribund nuclear industry are not so clear. If the "free market" won't support the revival of nuclear power, why would the federal government want to pay billions upon billions of dollars to allay investor fears?

It certainly has little to do with global warming. At the time the 2005 energy bill was passed by a Republic-dominated Congress the official position of the Republican leadership was that global warming was a hoax. Even now when some Republicans have begun to acknowledge that perhaps we may have a carbon dioxide problem, science tells us that nuclear power plants are not the best way to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. They're not even close to being the best way. (Lazy journalists are in the habit it repeating the industry mantra that nuclear power produces no greenhouse gases. This is nonsense. Read on.)

Substantial carbon dioxide emissions accompany every stage of nuclear power production, from the manufacture and eventual dismantling of nuclear plants, to the mining, processing, transport, and enrichment of uranium fuel, plus the eventual processing, transport, and burial of nuclear wastes.

A careful life-cycle analysis by the Institute for Applied Ecology in Darmstadt, Germany, concludes that a 1250 megaWatt nuclear power plant, operating 6500 hours per year in Germany, produces greenhouse gases equivalent to 250,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. In other (unspecified) countries besides Germany, the same power plant could produce as much as 750,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents, the Institute study shows. (See Figure 3, pg. 5)

The study concludes that, in the emission of global warming gases (measured per kilowatt-hour of electricity made available), nuclear power compares unfavorably to...

** conservation through efficiency improvements

** run-of-river hydro plants (which use river water power but require no dams)

** offshore wind generators

** onshore wind generators

** power plants run by gas-fired internal combustion engines, especially plants that use both the electricity and the heat generated by the engine

** power plants run by bio-fuel-powered internal combustion engines

Of eleven ways to generate electricity (or avoid the need to generate electricity through efficiency and conservation) analyzed by the Institute, four are worse than nuclear from the viewpoint of greenhouse gas emissions, and six are better.

[For a great deal of additional solid information showing that nuclear power is no answer to global warming, check in with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS)].

A study completed this summer by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) in Takoma Park, Maryland concluded that it is feasible, within 35 to 60 years, to evolve an energy system to power the U.S. economy without the use of any nuclear power plants or any coal plants. See the IEER study, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free; A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy.

So the rationale for the U.S. government's Herculean efforts to revive a decrepit nuclear power industry cannot be based on concern for global warming or energy independence. The facts simply don't support such a rationale.

Whatever its motivation, the U.S. federal government is doing everything in its power to revive atomic power. In addition to removing most of the financial risk for investors, Uncle Sam has removed other obstacles like democratic participation in siting and licensing decisions.

Throughout the 1970s, energy corporations complained that getting a license took too long. In response, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has spent more than a decade "streamlining" the process for building nuclear plants. Most of the "streamlining" consists of new ways to exclude the public from information and decisions. For example, members of the public used to be able to question witnesses during licensing hearings. No more. There used to be two sets of hearings -- one for siting the plant, and another for constructing the plant. No more. These two set of issues have been rolled into a single license and a single hearing. The purpose is to accommodate the needs of the nuclear industry, to help it survive. As attorney Tony Roisman observed recently, "The nuclear industry has come to the agency [the NRC] and said, 'If you don't make it easy for us to get a license, we are not going to apply for one.'" So the agency is making it easy.

Perhaps it is natural for NRC commissioners to justify a strong bias in favor of keeping the nuclear industry alive even if safety and democracy have to be compromised. After all, if there were no corporations willing to build new nuclear power plants, soon there would be no need for a Nuclear Regulatory Commission. So NRC commissioners know in their bones that their first priority must be to keep the nuclear industry alive. Every bureaucracy's first priority is self-perpetuation. Furthermore, historically a position as an NRC commissioner can lead directly to a high-paying job, often in the nuclear industry itself.

To grease the skids for a nuclear revival, the most important change the NRC has made has been to creatively redefine the meaning of the word "construction." This change was enacted in April, 2007, with lightning speed -- six months from initial proposal to final adoption. By way of comparison, it took the NRC eleven years to adopt regulations requiring drug testing for nuclear plant operators.

"Construction" has traditionally included all the activities undertaken to build a nuclear power plant, starting with site selection, evaluation, testing and preparation, construction of peripheral facilities like cooling towers, and so on. Even the earliest stages of siting are crucially important with a facility as complex and dangerous as a nuclear power plant.

In April of this year, the NRC officially redefined "construction" to include only construction of the reactor itself -- excluding site selection, evaluation, testing and preparation, construction of peripheral facilities and all the rest. At the time, one senior environmental manager inside NRC complained in an email that NRC's redefinition of "construction" would exclude from NRC regulation "probably 90 percent of the true environmental impacts of construction." Under the new rules, by the time the NRC gets involved, a company will have invested perhaps a hundred million dollars. Will NRC commissioners have the backbone to toss that investment into the toilet if they eventually find something wrong with the site? Or will they roll over for the industry and compromise safety?

The lawyer who dreamed up the redefinition of "construction" is James Curtiss, himself a former NRC commissioner who now sits on the board of directors of the nuclear power giant, Constellation Energy Group. This revolving door pathway from NRC to industry is well-worn.

One NRC commissioner who voted in April to change the definition of construction is Jeffrey Merrifield. Before he left the NRC in July, Mr. Merrifield's last assignment as an NRC commissioner was to chair an agency task force on ways to accelerate licensing.

In April, while he was urging his colleagues at NRC to redefine "construction," Mr. Merrifield was actively seeking a top management position within the nuclear industry. In July he became senior vice president for Shaw Group, a nuclear builder that has worked on 95% of all existing U.S. nuclear plants. Mr. Merrifield's salary at NRC was $154,600. Bloomberg reports that, "In Shaw Group's industry peer group, $705,409 is the median compensation for a senior vice president."

No one in government or the industry seems the least bit embarrassed by any of this. It's just the way it is. Indeed, Mr. Merrifield points out that, while he was an NRC commissioner providing very substantial benefits to the nuclear industry by his decisions, his concurrent search for a job within the regulated industry was approved by the NRC's Office of General Counsel and its Inspector General. From this, one might conclude that Mr. Merrifield played by all the rules and did nothing wrong. Or one might conclude that venality and corruption reach into the highest levels of the NRC. Or one might conclude that after NRC commissioners have completed their assignment inside government, everyone in the agency just naturally feels they are entitled to a lifetime of lavish reward from the industry on whose behalf they have labored so diligently.

As recently as this summer, Uncle Sam was still devising new ways to revive nuclear power. In July the U.S. Senate allowed the nuclear industry to add a one-sentence provision to the energy bill, which the Senate then passed. The one sentence greatly expanded the loan guarantee provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The 2005 Act had specified that Uncle Sam could guarantee loans for new nuclear power plants up to a limit set each year by Congress. In 2007 the limit was set at a paltry $4 billion. The one-sentence revision adopted by the Senate removed all limits on loan guarantees. The nuclear industry says it needs at least $50 billion in the next two years. Michael J. Wallace, the co-chief executive of UniStar Nuclear, a partnership seeking to build nuclear reactors, and executive vice president of Constellation Energy, said: "Without loan guarantees we will not build nuclear power plants."

The Senate and the House of Representatives are presently arm- wrestling over the proposed expansion of loan guarantees. In June, the White House budget office said that the Senate's proposed changes to the loan-guarantee program could "significantly increase potential taxpayer liability" and "eliminate any incentive for due diligence by private lenders." On Wall Street this is known as a "moral hazard" -- conditions under which waste, fraud and abuse can flourish.

All these subsidies to revive a dead duck run directly counter to free market ideals and capitalism's credo of unfettered competition. So the intriguing question remains, Why? Why wouldn't the nation go whole-hog for alternative energy sources and avoid all the problems that accompany nuclear power -- routine radioactive releases, the constant fear of a serious accidents, the unsolved problem of radioactive waste that must be stored somewhere reliably for a million years, and -- the greatest danger of all -- the inevitable reality that anyone who can build a nuclear power plant can build an atomic bomb if they set their minds to it. The recent experience of Israel, India, North Korea and Pakistan in this regard is completely convincing and undeniable.

So why is Uncle Sam hell-bent on reviving nuclear power? I don't have a firm answer and can only speculate. Perhaps from the viewpoint of both Washington and Wall Street, nuclear power is preferable to renewable-energy alternatives because it is extremely capital-intensive and the people who provide the capital get to control the machine and the energy it provides. It provide a rationale for a large centralized bureaucracy and tight military and police security to thwart terrorists. This kind of central control can act as a powerful counterweight to excessive democratic tendencies in any country that buys into nuclear power. Particularly if they sign a contract with the U.S. or one of its close allies for delivery of fuel and removal of radioactive wastes, political control becomes a powerful (though unstated) part of the bargain. If you are dependent on nuclear power for electricity and you are dependent on us for reactor fuel, you are in our pocket. On the other hand, solar, wind and other renewable energy alternatives lend themselves to small- scale, independent installations under the control of local communities or even households. Who knows where that could lead?

Then I think of the present situation in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein started down the road to nuclear power until the Israelis bombed to smithereens the Osirak nuclear plant he was building in 1981. That ended his dalliance with nuclear power and nuclear weapons -- but that didn't stop Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney from using Saddam's nuclear history as an excuse to invade his country and string him up.

And now something similar is unfolding in Iran. Iran wants nuclear power plants partly to show how sophisticated and capable it has become, and partly to thumb its nose at the likes of Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney -- and perhaps to try to draw us into another war that would indelibly mark us for the next hundred years as enemies of Islam, serving to further unite much of the Arab world against us.

Is this kind of thinking totally nuts? I don't think so. Newsweek reported in its October 1, 2007 issue that Dick Cheney has been mulling a plan to convince the Israeli's to bomb the Iranian nuclear power plant at Natanz, hoping to provoke the Iranians into striking back so that the U.S. would then have an excuse to bomb Iran. I'm not making this up.

So clearly there are more important uses for nuclear power than just making electricity. Arguably, nuclear reactors have become essential tools of U.S. foreign policy -- being offered, withheld, and bargained over. They have a special appeal around the world because they have become double-edged symbols of modernity, like shiny toy guns that can be loaded with real bullets. Because of this special characteristic, they have enormous appeal and can provide enormous bargaining power. Witness North Korea. And, as we have seen, nuclear reactors can provide excuses to invade and bomb when no other excuses exist.

So perhaps Uncle Sam considers it worth investing a few hundred billion dollars of taxpayer funds to keep this all-purpose Swiss army knife of U.S. foreign policy available in our back pocket. In the past five years, we've already devoted $800 billion to splendid little wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, at least partly to secure U.S. oil supplies. Uncle Sam's desperate attempts to revive nuclear power can perhaps best be understood as part of that ongoing effort at oil recovery.

Meanwhile, investors should think twice before buying into the "nuclear renaissance" because there's another "renaissance" under way as well: A powerful anti-nuclear movement is growing again and they will toss your billions into the toilet without hesitation. Indeed, with glee.

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From: Reuters
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U.N. CLIMATE PANEL REPORT'S KEY FINDINGS

Here are the key findings on climate change from a February 2, 2007 report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which represents the work of 2,500 researchers from more than 130 nations.

Evidence Of Human Causes

** "Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human) greenhouse gas concentrations," it says. The IPCC says "very likely" means at least a 90-percent probability.

** "The level of confidence that humans are causing global warming has increased a lot," report author Peter Stott said.

Temperature Increases

** It is very likely that extremes such as heat waves and heavy rains will become more frequent.

** "For the first time we have a best estimate of what we can achieve if we keep emissions levels lower," said report chair Susan Solomon.

** The report does not include possible warming from methane, a potent greenhouse gas, escaping from melting permafrost.

** Warming is expected to be greatest over land and at high northern latitudes, and least over the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic.

Sea Level Rises

** The report cites six models with core projections of sea level rises ranging from 7.2 to 23.6 inches this century. That is a narrower and lower band than the 3.5 to 34.6 inch gain forecast in 2001.

** If the Greenland ice sheet melts proportionally to the temperature increases, then sea levels would rise by up to 31.6 inches this century.

** Some models show an ice-free Arctic in summer by 2100, meaning that sea ice floating in the water disappears, but not ice resting on Greenland.

** If the Greenland ice sheet melted completely, that would lead to a 23.1-foot (7-metre) sea level increase.

Changing Ocean Currents

** The report predicts a gradual slowdown this century in ocean currents such as the one that carries warm water to northwest Europe.

** "It's very unlikely there will be an abrupt breakdown in ocean currents in the 21st century," said Jurgen Willebrand, the report's author with special expertise in ocean effects.

Hurricanes

** The report says it is "more likely than not" that a trend of increasing intense tropical cyclones and hurricanes has a human cause.

** It predicts such tropical cyclones will become more intense in the future.

** "There may not be an increase in number, there may be a redistribution to more intense events -- which is what has been observed in the Atlantic since 1970," Stott said.

Copyright Reuters 2007

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From: New Scientist
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FROG DEFORMITIES LINKED TO FARM POLLUTION

By Catherine Brahic

Fertiliser run-off could be causing an increase in frog deformities in North American lakes, according to a new study.

Frogs with extra or malformed legs have been a focus of attention in North America since 1995, when schoolchildren in Minnesota studying wetlands found a high number of frogs with missing or extra legs.

Theories abounded on what was causing the malformations (see Freak frogs). Some said pollution was to blame, but in 1999, Pieter Johnson of Stanford University in California, US, showed that a flatworm parasite (Ribeiroia ondatrae) was a major culprit.

But, "at low abundance, Ribeiroia ondatrae does not cause much damage," says Johnson, now a researcher at the University of Colorado.

He now believes fertiliser pollution may be to blame for boosting the number of parasites in lakes and ponds.

Pollution-parasite link

Run-off from non-organic farms contains large amounts of nutrients contained in fertilisers such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which eventually end up enriching the waters in nearby ponds, lakes and rivers -- a phenomenon known as eutrophication. According to Johnson, the amount of phosphorus that runs from rivers into the oceans has increased about three-fold since the industrialisation of agriculture.

These enriched waters boost the growth of algae within them, which in turn has a cascade of effects on the local food chain.

Johnson and his colleagues created 36 mini ponds in isolated tubs that were filled with clear, non-polluted lake water. In half the tubs, they added 200 micrograms of phosphorus per litre of lake water. Polluted lakes can have up to five times that concentration, according to Stephen Carpenter of the University of Wisconsin, a study co- author.

The tubs were populated with algae, as well as frogs and small aquatic snails. The snails, which feed on algae, are key to the flatworm parasite's life-cycle -- it is inside them that the worm reproduces before infecting frogs.

The researchers found that by boosting the growth of algae, the nutrients eventually increase the number and size of the water snails. In turn, this pushed up parasite numbers. "When their eggs hatch, the parasites have to find a snail within 12 hours or else they die," explains Johnson.

Infected tadpoles

In tubs containing additional nutrients, snail biomass increased by 50% and infected snails produced twice as many parasitic worms. The infection rate in frogs increased between two and five fold.

"If there are more snails, the parasites are more likely to find a snail. And if the snails have more food, they survive longer. Once infected they become zombies whose sole function is to release parasites," Johnson told New Scientist.

The parasites then attack the frogs at the tadpole stage, infecting the cells that eventually give rise to the frog's limbs. Cysts form in the infected areas as the frogs develop, causing missing limbs, extra limbs, and other malformations.

The discovery of deformed frogs has caused concern for the survival of their populations. Without normal limbs, the frogs are easy targets for predatory birds. What is more, many die long before they metamorphose from tadpoles to adult frogs.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0707763104)

Copyright Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

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From: Chemical & Engineering News (pg. 74)
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DRIVING CO2 UNDERGROUND

By Bette Hileman and Jeff Johnson

Restructuring the world's energy supply to cut carbon dioxide emissions is like turning a ship the size of Wyoming or West Virginia. It can be done, engineers and scientists say, but they warn that the ship's pilot better have a clear plan, a highly experienced crew, and ample time to bring the big ship around in what are likely to be rough seas.

Like Wyoming and West Virginia, the big ship is full of coal. Most of the world's electricity and more than one-third of its anthropogenic CO2 atmospheric emissions come straight from coal. Coal-fired power plants generate a bit more than half of the U.S.'s electricity and an ever-growing amount of the world's. Coal is integral to the climate- change problem as well as key to any climate-change solution.

To avoid catastrophic global warming, most climate scientists believe the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide cannot be allowed to rise above 550 parts per million. They calculate that if CO2 levels pass this threshold, the world will experience runaway climate change and a host of disasters. Among them, much of the Greenland ice sheet will likely melt over a century, raising sea levels by meters. Currently, the atmospheric CO2 concentration is 383 ppm, 37% above the preindustrial level of 280 ppm.

To keep atmospheric CO2 below 550 ppm, these scientists say, global emissions must start falling by 2020 or 2030 at the latest, a seemingly impossibly short time to overhaul the world's energy supply.

A massive reduction of carbon emissions can happen through some combination of vast improvement in vehicle efficiency and overall energy efficiency; widespread and rapid deployment of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power; much more nuclear power; and a huge reduction in emissions from coal-fired power plants and other CO2-emitting industrial point sources.

Many scientists are betting that the fastest and cheapest way to curb CO2 is to effectively sweep it under the rug. The solution, they say, is to capture the gas at industrial emission point sources, compress it, and inject it deep into Earth, where it will be sequestered and isolated forever. Preliminary studies estimate that global geologic reservoirs could hold some 9.5 trillion metric tons of CO2, more than 300 times the 26 billion metric tons of CO2 the world vents to the atmosphere each year from all anthropogenic sources.

There are more than 8,000 industrial point sources around the world, emitting 60% of global CO2. Coal-fired power plants make up more than half of those point sources. These coal plants emit about 10 billion metric tons of CO2 annually, 38% of the world's yearly CO2 emissions. However, the world depends heavily on these same plants for electricity. And while the U.S. is now only slowly adding to its complement of coal-fired power plants, China is building more than one plant a week, experts say.

CO2 sequestration is a gigantic undertaking, and like the enormous volumes of CO2 to be captured and held, the stakes in sequestration's success or failure are huge. If successful, sequestration offers a path to avoiding a global climate-change disaster while retaining coal as an energy source. It could even allow the coal industry to expand. If a quest to implement sequestration proves unsuccessful, however, the result would be a waste of valuable time and resources that could have been vigorously directed toward non-carbon-emitting energy sources and extreme energy efficiency, rather than relying on a false solution that protects a historically powerful industry.

When quizzed about the merits of carbon sequestration versus those of nuclear, wind, or solar energy technologies, James J. Dooley, senior staff scientist with Battelle and the Joint Global Change Research Institute, stops the discussion to underscore the size of the problem.

"We are talking about a transformation here," he stresses. "We are going to be transforming the global energy system from one that is optimized around venting greenhouse gases to the atmosphere to one that is a multi-decadal effort to rebuild the global energy system and one that is optimized to deliver all the services it did before but with far, far fewer atmospheric emissions. This is not tinkering around the edges of the economy. This will transform how we make energy."

Dooley is a big supporter of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). He notes that the oil industry has for years injected pressurized CO2 into depleted oil deposits to recover oil, that some 3,000 miles of CO2 pipeline already exists in North America, and that CCS technology is understood, although it has never been used or even tested on this scale.

Indeed, real data on costs, monitoring requirements, or the fate of CO2 after years or centuries of being held in an underground repository are absent and won't become available any time soon. Development of CCS will take decades, as CO2 continues to build up in the atmosphere.

Despite this lack of experience with CCS, the strategy has a host of supporters. The coal industry and utilities back it, and if implemented on a large scale, it would allow the utilities to keep burning coal while reducing CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. It is popular with the oil and gas industry because it would alleviate a shortage of pressurized CO2 that is used for enhanced oil recovery. The Department of Energy says a flood of CO2 could quadruple the country's recoverable oil reserves.

And many environmental groups are on the CCS bandwagon. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense, for example, see it as a bridge to a carbon-free energy future that relies much more on solar and wind power and energy-efficient buildings. Environmentalists now demand that no new coal-fired power plants be constructed in the U.S. unless they are designed for CO2 capture. California, Oregon, and Washington have mandated such a policy.

But Dooley and other climate scientists worry that the world, and particularly the U.S., lacks a comprehensive plan and the experience and time to cut global CO2 emissions enough to make a difference for the future. He stresses that there is no driver for CCS.

CCS is a carbon-mitigation technology, he stresses. It takes energy to run it. "There is no reason for a power provider to reduce the output of its plant absent a belief that we are going to address climate change. Without a climate policy that says we are going to reduce emissions, you are not going to get that first [CCS] plant built," Dooley says.

He is joined in his concern by several scientists interviewed by C&EN who, like Dooley, helped write a defining report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on CO2 capture and storage. The report was published in 2005 but remains an important publication in this debate.

Howard J. Herzog, program manager of the Carbon Sequestration Initiative at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and David Keith, director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment & Economy at the University of Calgary, Alberta, warn that the world and the U.S. better pick up the pace for research and deployment of CCS technologies if Earth is to avoid the more drastic impacts of climate change.

A medium-sized 500-MW coal plant produces about 3 million tons of CO2 per year, an average of 2.4 tons of CO2 for every ton of coal, Herzog says. "There are the equivalent of more than 500 medium-sized coal power plants in the U.S."

Although the volume of CO2 is huge, he notes that it is comparable in scale to other industrial activities. For instance, if 60% of the CO2 produced from U.S. coal-fired utilities were captured and compressed to a liquid, the volume would equal the nation's yearly oil consumption, or 7.3 billion barrels, Herzog calculates.

Dooley envisions a future in which hundreds, if not thousands, of new CCS power plants would be operating around the world. He believes coal would continue to be a primary source of baseload electricity, but CCS would be required for that to happen. And he argues that other industrial sectors must also be included for a carbon-limiting system to work.

"The atmosphere is completely indifferent to where a CO2 molecule comes from," he adds. He lays out a future in which the location of a new coal-fired power plant would be largely determined by its proximity to a geological reservoir that could hold a lifetime of a plant's CO2 emissions, as well as to rail lines, electrical distribution, and water.

CO2 could be captured from such a plant in basically three ways: amine separation of CO2 from the exhaust gases of conventional coal plants; coal combustion in pure oxygen to produce an almost pure stream of CO2; and coal gasification, converting coal to CO2 and hydrogen, which then can be used as a fuel or to make electricity.

Currently, integrated gasification combined cycle technology (IGCC) is the leading candidate for future carbon capture from coal-fired power plants due to its higher efficiency and greater ease of capture than conventional power plants. A few IGCC electrical generation demonstration plants are in operation and more are planned. But none capture CO2.

After capture, CO2 would be compressed to a supercritical state and transported to a storage or injection site. Primarily the same types of pipelines that are suitable for natural gas can transport CO2, and construction costs would be similar, about $200,000 per mile. Hauling CO2 by ships, trucks, and railcars has been ruled out due to costs, says John T. Litynski, program manager of the Environmental Projects Division at DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL).

IPCC estimates that capturing and compressing CO2 would draw 10 to 40% of the energy of a conventional plant. More than half the costs of CCS would be to capture CO2, Dooley says, estimating a total cost of $50 a ton of sequestered CO2 for the first power plants. Estimates of the increased cost per kilowatt-hour of electricity range from a penny to more than a dime.

In 1992, when scientists and engineers began research on carbon sequestration in geological repositories, they considered injecting CO2 into deep saline sandstone and basalt formations under land or under the seafloor, storing it in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, placing it on the seafloor where vast pressures presumably would keep it in place, and pumping it into unminable coal seams.

Now, as a result of both research and public opposition, the options have been winnowed down considerably. Only three are being actively developed: storage in deep saline aquifers in sandstone, injection into basalt formations, and injection into depleted oil and gas reservoirs.

Among those dropped was deep-sea placement. Research suggested that after diffusion, CO2 would return to the ocean surface and eventually to the atmosphere. And sea life would be killed under and near a pool of CO2 due to its acidity and oxygen deprivation.

But the primary reason for dropping ocean disposal was public opposition, DOE officials say, and that holds a message for the overall success of carbon sequestration, no matter where it's tried.

In 2002, an international consortium that included DOE planned to inject 60 tons of liquid CO2 into the deep ocean off the coast of Kona, Hawaii. When environmentalists attempted to block research ships from leaving the port, the consortium backed down. "We decided we were going to run into so much public opposition that it would not be worthwhile," says David J. Wildman, focus area lead for geological and environmental sciences at NETL.

DOE also cut back research on CO2 storage in unminable coal seams. Results show that Eastern coal, which is bituminous, reacts with CO2 and swells, limiting storage and blocking injection, says Wildman. DOE is continuing small levels of research and plans to inject CO2 into unminable western seams of subbituminous coal in the San Juan Basin in New Mexico.

The best hopes today are deep saline aquifers and basalt formations. Such formations have the capacity to store hundreds of years of global CO2 emissions without the apparent leakage and permeability problems of other options.

Research is primarily centered on 5,000- to 8,000-foot-deep aquifers in sandstone, Wildman says. Many DOE scientists consider sandstone formations ideal because they are less likely than basalt to be fractured, they are widely distributed across the U.S., and they are close to numerous coal-fired power plants and industrial facilities. "Saline aquifers will either make or break this technology," says Herzog.

IPCC

The IPCC report explains how CO2 storage in a saline aquifer would work. Supercritical CO2 would be injected through concrete-lined wells, past multiple geologic strata and below drinking water aquifers. There, deep in a sandstone saline aquifer, CO2 is relatively buoyant compared with sandstone and formation brine. It would rise to the capstone, an impermeable rock layer at the top of the reservoir. The CO2 would dissolve into the aquifer's fluids, and over hundreds to thousands of years, the CO2-laden water would become dense, sinking into the formation and precipitating to a solid carbonate mineral. IPCC says this could possibly take thousands, if not millions, of years.

The largest scale sequestration projects are injecting CO2 at two natural gas facilities: Statoil's Sleipner facility in the North Sea off the coast of Norway and BP's In Salah gas field in Algeria. At both sites, CO2 is being stripped from natural gas and injected into saline aquifers at a rate of about 1 million tons per year. BP and Statoil are collecting some data on the behavior of the CO2 in the aquifers, but the commercial operations are not designed for research.

Starting in 2008, DOE researchers in partnership with universities and industry will inject some 1 million tons of CO2 annually into saline aquifers at as many as a half-dozen sites. They hope to determine how quickly CO2 dissolves in brine, where it circulates within the aquifer, and how much an aquifer can hold. They also hope to determine monitoring needs and whether large plumes of supercritical CO2 can trigger earthquakes.

"Anytime you inject fluids," Herzog says, "earthquakes are always a concern. To understand the pressure issues, we need to be able to measure pressure feedbacks. That is why we need to begin looking at injections at a very large scale."

The first step in the growing research program will be to drill and extract very deep 5,000- to 8,000-foot cores in the aquifers where future injections are planned, says Wildman.

Drilling that deeply into aquifers is going into unknown territory, notes Wildman. "We haven't done any characterization of these aquifers in terms of their capacity, porosity, and permeability," he explains. Samples of the cap rock and the brine will be brought back to NETL in Pittsburgh, where NETL scientists will study how CO2 reacts by re- creating the same temperatures and pressures found at the greater depths.

"When we do experiments, we'll try to figure out what will happen as a function of time with CO2 injected into saline reservoirs," Wildman says. "We'll have to look at how fast those reactions take place and try to project them out over thousands of years.

"The other concern we have is how to monitor the surface for CO2 leaks as the carbon sequestration demonstrations get larger and larger," Wildman adds. "We need techniques that do not require a great deal of manpower. One method being considered is helicopters equipped with highly sensitive CO2 sensors to detect leaks over large portions of the surface.

"We also are looking at developing small, inexpensive sensors that we can put out in a large array. These would feed back to a computer network," Wildman explains. "Then if we see a spike in CO2 concentrations at a particular sensor, we would want to go out and investigate. One problem with CO2 is there are natural emissions from vegetation and organic matter in the soil. So background studies of CO2 emissions are necessary before injection begins."

Scientists have assumed that injected CO2 will not be immobilized until it is mineralized into carbonates, taking many thousands of years. But several other processes to immobilize CO2 on a much shorter timescale are being examined.

Along with industrial partners, DOE is also examining sequestration in depleted oil and gas wells, particularly when the process is combined with enhanced oil recovery. One of the largest demonstration projects is pumping CO2 205 miles from a North Dakota synfuels plant to an oil field in Saskatchewan, where about 1 million tons of CO2 is injected annually in oil recovery operations. About half that amount is expected to remain sequestered.

Enhanced oil recovery has been held up as an option that could generate energy and value through oil extraction, rather than one that simply takes energy and money. However, the global storage capacity in these reservoirs is far smaller than the potential capacity in deep aquifers, Wildman says. What's more, Dooley adds, if CO2 capture is successful, great amounts of CO2 will become a common commodity that no one is likely to buy.

Although petroleum companies have had many years of experience exploring and drilling for oil and gas, there are still unknowns associated with storing large quantities of CO2 under high pressure in these formations. Just the seemingly simple process of finding and capping old gas and oil wells presents problems. Hundreds can be found in many old fields, and all must be capped to prevent leaks of CO2 to the surface and to maintain supercritical pressures required for dissolving the oil that remains in the wells.

In the U.S., there are many depleted oil fields, some near towns and settlements, where CO2 injections could enable the extraction of much more oil. For example, Rick Hammack, research geochemist at NETL, is helping a company find thousands of wells on a large depleted western oil field, where drilling went on for 100 years. But many of the old wells are hard to detect because they are unlined or lined with wood, so the company was only able to locate about two-thirds of the wells.

However, Hammack found some 500 more by using a helicopter equipped with methane and magnetic sensors. Over time, small settlements have been built on the oil field, and some wells were found in unsafe locations, such as under mobile homes. The company is now capping all of the wells as it proceeds with enhanced oil recovery. Conventional drilling has removed at most 35% of the oil. With enhanced oil recovery, the take should reach 80%, Hammack says.

DOE is also looking at CO2 injection in basalt formations and is beginning field tests in Wallula, Wash., along the Columbia River. Pete McGrail, a geochemist with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is leading the project, which is cosponsored by Edison Mission Energy, a California energy provider.

Edison Mission hopes to locate an IGCC plant at the site if the repository is adequate, McGrail says. The basalt formation, made up of a pancake of lava flows laid down six million to 12 million years ago, has the possibility of storing large amounts of CO2. Due to the mineral makeup of formation liquids, McGrail says, carbonate mineralization of CO2 in basalt can be sped up, taking place in hundreds, rather than thousands of years.

Overall, Herzog estimates the DOE sequestration budget to be on the order of $100 million. "It should be a billion-dollar program," he says.

Considering the huge number of unknowns and with so much riding on success and failure, Dooley, Keith, and Herzog all recommend a much more aggressive research and development program, more in line with the scale of the problem.

Herzog believes the government needs a decadelong demonstration program injecting million-ton amounts of CO2 before the technology can be used on a large scale to sequester coal emissions. "To the best of our knowledge, it would work, but if you go through a 10-year demonstration, there may be some surprises," Herzog says.

Keith adds that there must be a start-up of many commercial-scale CCS projects. "We need to build some real plants," he says, with industry leading the way and learning as it builds.

To encourage energy providers to explore options and take over research, Keith says, the world needs a carbon tax or some other driver. He'd like to see DOE's research role be absorbed by the private sector, which has a bigger stake in success or failure.

"In a carbon-constrained world, CCS is needed to save coal," he says, but adds that other technologies will also be on the table. He believes wind and nuclear energy will increasingly be competitive with coal as a baseload electricity provider when CCS is figured into the price tag over the next two decades. Even solar power, which he says is far too expensive today, may get a foothold.

The course of the future, he adds, is about to undergo a huge change and will be determined by a new set of decisionmakers and under conditions very different from those of today. "Today's discussion about coal and carbon sequestration's role in the future of energy is like talking about the future of petroleum in 1869," Keith says. "More ideas and technological change are sure to come."

Copyright 2007 American Chemical Society

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SENTINEL AT THE EPA: AN INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM SANJOUR

By Dick Carozza

The ACFE's [Association of Certified Fraud Examiners] 2007 Sentinel Award recipient spent more than three decades confronting deception and inequities in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

When William Sanjour is asked how he was able to stand up to injustices at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for more than 30 years, he simply says, "It's in my genes. I come from a long line of people who would not be cowed when they are right."

It's not easy being a sentinel anywhere, but it's often toughest in a governmental regulatory agency. Employees, Sanjour says, often feel pressure to obey unwritten rules of conformity. Sanjour didn't conform and paid the price. But he also caused lasting change and left the EPA with a clear conscience.

In the late 1960s, the EPA hired Sanjour as a consultant. Several years later, as branch chief in the new Hazardous Waste Management Division, he supervised studies of hazardous waste damages and treatment technologies. His efforts led to the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA).

What began as an effort to do his job by developing regulations for the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste became a long, drawn-out battle with the EPA, multiple presidential administrations, and several government agencies as he fought to make the RCRA work in the true spirit of the legislation.

In 1995, Sanjour won a landmark suit against the U.S. federal government, which established the First Amendment right of federal employees to "blow the whistle" on their employers. (To this day, Sanjour v EPA hasn't been overruled.)

Until his retirement in 2001, Sanjour faced retaliation, reassignments, demotions, and legal showdowns -- all the while stubbornly continuing his government service and assisting grassroots environmentalists.

Sanjour spoke to Fraud Magazine from his home in Arlington, Va.

The ACFE's Cliff Robertson Sentinel Award is presented annually to recognize the selfless act of coming forward for the sole purpose of righting a wrong. The award carries the inscription, "For Choosing Truth Over Self."

What are your thoughts about being chosen the 2007 recipient?

I am awed to be in the company of Bunnatine Greenhouse, David Graham, Marta Andreasen, and Cliff Robertson.

You've written that the EPA -- regardless of who is in the White House -- is simply more concerned with protecting the interests of the people it's supposed to regulate than in protecting the public interest. Has it always been this way in the EPA and what has caused it? What are the deficiencies and the strengths of the EPA? Why do the problems continue through both Republican and Democratic administrations?

Regulatory agencies are created by Congress in order to control some powerful forces in society (usually corporations), which benefit society but which are also prone to abuse their power. The purpose of a regulatory agency is to allow the flow of benefits while straining out the abuse. In order to do this, Congress gives administrators of regulatory agencies broad discretionary power to write regulations for industries for which they are responsible.

The flaw in the system is that the administrator is appointed by the president and, although confirmed by the Senate, he or she nevertheless serves at the pleasure of the president. Thus any discretionary authority given to a regulatory agency administrator is, in fact, given to the president of the United States to be used as the president sees fit, and the administrator is no more than a White House staffer.

As I said, we are dealing with powerful forces. The Food and Drug Administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], and EPA, among many others, regulate giant corporations.

As you know, big corporations have big power, money, and influence. Corporate money helps elect governors, congressmen, senators and presidents. The threat of a corporation's withdrawal from a state causes governors to hesitate to enforce the state's laws.

Congress has essentially given the authority to regulate these powerful giants to a president. A president, however, regardless of party, has an agenda of about a half dozen issues with which he and his staff are most concerned. These are usually national security, foreign affairs, the economy, the budget, and maybe one or two others; call them Class A priorities. All others -- housing, education, transportation, veterans' affairs, the environment -- are in Class B.

A president -- any president -- expects performance in Class A. He will expect the military to be able to deploy forces anywhere in the world when he chooses, and if it isn't, he will bang heads until it is. If Congress doesn't support his budget, he will call the budget director into his office and pound his fist on the table. But can you picture a president bringing the secretary of transportation into the Oval Office and yelling because of poor bus service in Sheboygan? Or summoning the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in and chewing him out for pollution in the Cuyahoga River? I can't. A president expects performance in Class A; in Class B he expects only peace and quiet.

But regulatory agencies, by their very nature, can do little that doesn't adversely affect business, especially big and influential business, and this disturbs a president's repose. The EPA, for instance, cannot write regulations governing the petroleum industry without the oil companies going to the White House screaming "energy crisis!" As a result of energetic lobbying by the automobile industry, the NHTSA cannot release the millions of automobile safety complaints in its files. When the FDA wants to thoroughly evaluate a new drug, the pharmaceutical company lets loose a public relations barrage about how the bureaucratic delays are costing lives. Regulatory agency employees soon learn that drafting and implementing rules for big corporations means making enemies of powerful and influential people. They learn to be "team players," an ethic that permeates the entire agency without ever being transmitted through written or even oral instructions. People who like to get things done, who need to see concrete results for their efforts, don't last long. They don't necessarily get fired, but they don't advance either; their responsibilities are transferred to others, and they often leave the agency in disgust. The people who get ahead are those clever ones with a talent for procrastination, obfuscation, and coming up with superficially plausible reasons for accomplishing nothing.

This is a long answer to a short question, but the bottom line is: There are two systems that are not properly designed to work as they are expected to work. The first is our whole system of corporate law, which gives such power to corporations. But the solution to that is, as they say in the military, above my pay grade. The second problem is easier. Regulatory agencies write and enforce regulations. Regulations are laws. The business of writing laws is the business of Congress and not the president. The regulatory and enforcement parts of agencies should be split, and the administrators of regulatory agencies should be appointed by Congress for fixed terms and only removed before the end of their terms only by impeachment or an act of Congress. Enforcement should be separate and administered by the federal or state governments.

This would not, of course, solve all problems, but it would improve the framework for solving problems.

You've said that the people in the EPA who want to change things and correct problems don't necessarily get fired but they don't advance and often leave in disgust. Did you find many allies as you fought to see concrete results? What sustained you during those years? Why did you decide to speak up within the EPA rather than quit as so many have done?

It's in my genes. I come from a long line of people who would not be cowed when they are right. I followed the example of a great whistle- blower sentinel -- Martin Luther. When faced with the wrath of his superiors, rather than back down, Luther formed alliances with the public and the powerful north German princes who shared his views and defied the authority of the church. I did likewise by finding allies in environmental and whistle-blower organizations, in Congress, and in the press. They encouraged me to continue speaking out and helped protect me from the backlash.

Thus, I became a conduit for others in the government industry and for environmentalists, who had information about EPA waste, fraud, and abuse. I would investigate these charges and, if I felt they had merit, I would bring them to the attention of the administration or the inspector general, making sure that copies went to Congress and the press.

I recognized, just as Luther did, and what many whistle-blowers fail to recognize, that after publicly confronting the powers that be head on one can never return to the life one led before. Instead, with the help of his allies, Luther carved out a new life for himself. In doing so, he had to make many changes and develop many new skills but he took command of his life and never allowed himself to become a victim.

However, my advice to people, in general, is don't be a public whistle-blower. Avoid open challenge or defiance of authority or power. Try to satisfy your conscience or your sense of duty without getting personally involved. For example, you can leak stuff to a known sentinel who is willing to take the heat, or to an activist organization, or to a plaintiff's attorney, or anyone who will protect the identity of the source.

Can you explain how you blew the whistle in 1978 when the Carter Administration, concerned about inflation, took steps, as you've said, "to protect industry by removing the teeth" of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, which you helped bring about?

In the early 1970s, as an EPA branch chief, I supervised studies of hazardous waste damages and treatment technologies. These efforts culminated in the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act [RCRA] of 1976, after which, I was in charge of drafting regulations for the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste.

In the midst of this effort, on June 15, 1978, the staff was told that we had received new orders from the politically appointed office director. He said there were several recent developments including: President Carter's directive to reduce the federal budget to fight inflation, many new congressionally mandated programs in EPA with not enough resources to fully implement them, and the so-called taxpayers' revolt. As a result of these, the office director felt the hazardous waste management regulations had to be reduced in scope. In particular, the definition of what waste would be covered by the regulations would have to be changed and could not be based on whether the waste causes cancer, causes birth defects, is poisonous or radioactive. The petroleum industry and several others were to be excluded from the regulations. Furthermore, the staff was directed to come up with reasonable-sounding rationales for these cutbacks and was warned not to make any of this public.

At first I fought from within the EPA to make RCRA work in the true spirit of the legislation. The agency responded by transferring me in 1979 to a position with no duties. I then became an outspoken EPA whistle-blower. I alerted Congress, environmental groups, and the press to this attack on RCRA.

Can you give other specific examples of how the EPA procrastinated, obfuscated, or capitulated to outside powers to the detriment of the health of citizens?

I could fill a book answering this question, but here are just a few brief examples.

A 1985 government report said EPA has failed to enforce laws requiring land disposal facilities to certify compliance with the RCRA or shut down.

When EPA research found that EPA regulations were not preventing poisonous dioxin emissions from hazardous waste incinerators, EPA issued instructions to ignore the findings.

In 1993, EPA went to court to defend the right of a hazardous waste incinerator operator in Arkansas to vent dioxin-contaminated gases into a residential neighborhood.

The Clean Air Act required EPA to review and, if necessary, revise standards for ozone and particulates every five years. EPA stopped doing so in 1979. Only after it lost a lawsuit in 1991 and was under court order to act did EPA write the minimal standards it thought it could get away with.

Systemic state and U.S. EPA enforcement failures have resulted in several decades of routine high air-pollution levels and episodes of excess air emissions caused by repeated operating problems and upset incidents at oil refineries.

Congress is now investigating EPA's recent proposed rule to revise the national ozone standard but not to the extent recommended by its own staff scientists and advisors. They are interested in possible White House intervention. The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs held three meetings on the rule, two of which were packed with industry reps. The first meeting also featured a representative from Vice President Cheney's office. Contrary to the rules, EPA was not told of the meetings and did not attend.

In 1995, you won a landmark suit against the U.S. federal government, which established the First Amendment rights of federal employees to "blow the whistle" on their employers. Can you briefly describe the circumstances that lead to that decision and whether it still helps federal employees today?

I suppose I should be flattered that the mighty United States government wrote a law just to silence only me and one other person. The law was a result of years of frustration at EPA trying to silence us from speaking out in public, on our own time, in opposition to government policy and its embarrassment at having to answer complaints from important people on why the agency had to tolerate this conduct. For example, when Lois Gibbs and I were invited to speak in Alberta, Canada, in opposition to a hazardous waste landfill, the landfill operator wrote a scathing letter to the administrator wondering how a government official could do that "without putting his continued government employment in jeopardy." The Canadian government was also up in arms. The EPA was humiliated at having to apologize not only to the landfill operator but to the State Department as well.

I was asked to testify in Congress about the origins of the law written by the Federal Office of Government Ethics (an oxymoron) and the outright lies used to justify it. The lawsuit to overthrow it, Sanjour v EPA, was brought, pro bono, by the National Whistleblower Center and attorney Steve Kohn. After four years of litigation, the U.S. Appellate Court for the D.C., Circuit, en banc, found the law unconstitutional. The majority decision said:

Government employee speech is protected by the First Amendment, and can only be infringed when the government demonstrates that the burden on such speech is "outweighed by [its] necessary impact on the actual operation of the government."

In spite of this decision, for years, EPA continued to threaten employees against violating a law, which the courts had found unconstitutional. While we eventually prevailed, one is nevertheless left apprehensive at the Stalinist tactics the United States government is willing to use to silence perfectly legal dissent.

In what other ways has the EPA violated whistle-blower statutes? Have conditions improved in the agency?

Whistle-blower attorney Steve Kohn tells me that the EPA has committed more violations of the environmental whistle-blower laws than any other single employer including private industry. They have fired whistle-blowers, bad-mouthed whistle-blowers, created hostile work environments, etc. Worse, they still have not created any program to encourage the private sector to implement the environmental whistle- blower laws. Conditions have not improved in the agency. The EPA is leading the charge in trying to get the Department of Labor to narrowly interpret the laws, such as narrow definitions of who is an employee, what is protected activity, and what is adverse action.

Does Sanjour v EPA still help federal employees today?

Yes, it does, and Steve Kohn tells me it has never been overruled or even criticized by any other court.

Did you see outright fraud at the EPA or just waste and abuse? If by fraud you mean deceiving people in order to take their money, then I haven't seen that. But if by fraud you mean deceiving people in order to deprive them of their legal rights, then that's what this is all about. However, unlike much occupational fraud, in this case it is the people at the very top who are committing the fraud.

How do you advise idealistic members of grassroots environmental groups?

When I worked for EPA, I spent much of my spare time meeting with grassroots environmental groups. Their members frequently ask me why EPA does not seem particularly interested in protecting the environment. The question usually comes from people who are dealing directly with the EPA for the first time, ordinary citizens with ordinary political views and lifestyles who suddenly find themselves living close to a hazardous waste facility, incinerator, or nuclear waste dump. These are people who started out with a strong faith in their country and its institutions, who had always thought of the EPA as the guys in white hats who put the bad polluters in jail. "If there were anything wrong with it," they say, "the government wouldn't let them do it."

To their surprise, these folks find that the EPA officials, rather than being their allies, are at best indifferent and often antagonistic. They find that the EPA views them, and not the polluters, as the enemy. Citizens who thought that the resources of the government would be at their disposal find instead that they have to hire their own experts to gather data on the health and environmental impacts of proposed facilities, while the government sits on the same information, collected at public expense. And if these folks want to go to court, they have to run bake sales to hire attorneys to go up against government lawyers whose salaries are paid by the taxpayer.

I advise them to organize. Learn the issues; educate their neighbors and get them involved. There are strengths in numbers. (If I sound like a labor organizer, that's what it's like.) With numbers, they can exert pressure on local government and businesses. I tell them to get organizing and technical support from environmental and other support groups such as the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, and the Southern Organizing Committee. I place litigation as a low priority because the people they are up against are probably better at it. I tell them that politicians need two things to get elected: money and votes. Corporations can always provide the money, but an organized community can provide the votes.

There's a whistle-blower protection section, "Protection for employees of publicly traded companies who provide evidence of fraud" [Sec. 806], in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. What are your thoughts on that?

SOX is a great law and it is wonderful that it extends whistle-blower protection coverage to public company employees.

I have a beef about whistle-blower protection laws in general in that they don't go far enough. Whistle-blowers, in almost every case, became whistle-blowers because a moral dilemma, not of their own seeking, was thrust upon them. They were asked to do something immoral and they refused. They are the kind of people who are concerned that things get done right. Each year taxpayers pay billions of dollars to police and prosecute fraud, waste and abuse, yet one whistle-blower can accomplish more than a room full of inspectors or policemen and cost far less. Whistle-blowers know the system and speak out in a spirit of public service. And for that, they pay a heavy price. They deserve more than just the right to hold onto their jobs; after all, it's not the whistle-blower who needs protection so much as it is the public that needs the protection of the whistle-blower.

Do you still advise possible sentinels, for instance, at companies that are dumping toxic waste into municipal landfills? If so, how do you counsel them? What are sentinels' biggest misconceptions?

As I said earlier, I would never encourage anyone to be a public sentinel. Better to do the "deep throat" thing. If you are thinking of going public I suggest you first read "A Textbook for Whistle- blowers" and "Introductory Remarks for Undeclared Whistleblowers" on my Web site [http://pwp.lincs.net/sanjour]. Then go to the Web site of The National Whistleblower Center [www.whistleblowers.org/]. There is help, but you must learn where it is before jumping. The courts can be friendly or unfriendly, depending on how well you have done your homework.

What were the costs of being a sentinel? What did you find satisfying?

In my case, I guess I always suspected that sooner or later I would be in a situation where I would have to chose between being cowed or being right, because, as I said, it's in my genes. Maybe that's why I chose government service, because of the protection. When the time came, I was, at least partially, prepared for it. The cost was high, but not as high as it could have been or as high as it was for many others I knew who didn't do their homework. The satisfaction is having confronted the beast and not only survived but having taken a bite out of its tail.

==============

Dick Carozza is editor of Fraud Magazine. His e-mail address is: dcarozza@ACFE.com.

Copyright 2004 Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

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