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US Environmental Record

Toxic Waste disposal

Project: US Environmental Issues
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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On his last day in office as governor of Texas, George W. Bush leaves the following environmental legacy, according to a report by Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP):
bullet Number 1 state in the US for manufacturing plant emissions of toxic and ozone-causing chemicals;
bullet Number 1 state in the US in the discharge of carcinogens harmful to the brain and central nervous system of small children;
bullet Number 1 state in the US for releasing industrial airborne toxins;
bullet Number 1 state in the US for the number of hazardous waste incinerators;
bullet Number 1 state in the US in producing cancer-causing benzene and vinyl chloride;
bullet Number 1 state in the US for violating clean water discharge standards;
bullet Number 1 state in the US for releasing toxic waste into underground wells.
A third of Texas’s rivers are so polluted that they are unfit for recreational use. And during Bush’s terms as governor, Houston passed Los Angeles as the city with the worst air quality in the US. The REP cannot find a single initiative from Bush during his tenure that sought to improve the state’s air or water. [Carter, 2004, pp. 128-129]

Entity Tags: Republicans for Environmental Protection, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Air pollution, Water pollution, Toxic waste, Environmental enforcement, Politicization and deception

Department of Energy safety specialist Chris Steele reads a memo that alerts him to the existence of a secret nuclear waste dump at the Los Alamos nuclear facility. The waste is being stored in an unsecured, unprotected steel building on site, and has been on site for five years. A shocked Steele immediately shuts down the nuclear dump, forcing it to be relocated to protected areas. Steele notes that the existence of such a waste dump is a violation of the law and a serious threat to the health and safety of workers, the public, and the environment. Steele recalls that a wildfire burned part of the Los Alamos facility in May 2000; only the fact that the fire did not jump the road across from the waste dump saved it from going up in radioactive flames. [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy

Category Tags: Toxic waste

The Department of Energy (DOE) says it will not request $350 million that the agency is supposed to use for the disposal of more than 85 million gallons of “high-level” radioactive waste unless Congress and state governments agree to downgrade the classification for some of the waste to “low-level” so that it can be disposed of using a less costly method that it estimates will save $29 billion. The DOE claims that some of the waste has a low enough level of radioactivity that the waste can simply be covered with concrete and left in place. But in July 2003, a federal judge in Idaho ruled that the Energy Department’s plan was illegal and that the agency was bound to the nuclear waste law, which states that liquid nuclear fuel reprocessing waste is “high-level” and needs to be buried in a permanent geological storage facility. The waste, left over from Cold War armament projects, includes 53 million gallons at the DOE’s Hanford site near Richland, Washington; 34 million gallons at its Savannah River site near Aiken, South Carolina; and 900,000 gallons at its INEEL facility in Idaho. Additionally, there are 600,000 gallons of waste from a short-lived civilian reprocessing program near West Valley, New York. [Associated Press, 2/26/2004; Associated Press, 4/8/2004; New York Times, 5/30/2004] A lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Geoffrey Fettus, warns that the Energy Department’s plan would in effect create “nuclear cesspools” at the weapons plants and the Savannah River plant would become the most polluted nuclear site on the planet. [New York Times, 5/30/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, US Congress, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Toxic waste, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants Environmental Disposal Systems (EDS) an exemption from federal restrictions on land disposal of hazardous waste for two commercial Class 1 injection wells in Romulus, Michigan. It is estimated that each year, the wells will inject roughly 100 million gallons of liquid industrial waste—including chemicals like methanol, acetone and ammonia—into sponge-like rock located thousands of feet below the earth’s surface. EPA officials claim that “the waste will stay confined to a layer of rock deep underground and will not threaten human health or the environment.” Local residents and state officials strongly oppose the plan, against which they have been fighting for more than a decade. [Ecology Center News, 12/1999; Environmental Protection Agency, 3/17/2004; Detroit Free Press, 3/17/2004; Capitol Reports, 3/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Disposal Systems

Category Tags: Water pollution, Toxic waste, Key Events

The attorneys general of 39 states ask Congress to turn down a Defense Department request for exemptions from environmental laws (see April 6, 2004). Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar argues that there is no evidence that the proposed exemptions would facilitate training or improve military readiness, as the military claims. Salazar notes that existing laws allow the Pentagon to apply for waivers from the laws, adding that if Congress grants the exemptions, it could limit states’ ability to conduct investigations and oversee clean-ups of munitions-related contamination on 24 million acres of military lands. [CBS News, 4/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Ken Salazar, US Congress

Category Tags: Air pollution, Toxic waste

Uranium mine near the rim of the Grand Canyon.Uranium mine near the rim of the Grand Canyon. [Source: Intercontinental Cry (.com)]The Obama administration bans hard-rock mining on more than a million acres in and around the Grand Canyon, an area rich in high-grade uranium ore reserves. The ban is for 20 years. Environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers have worked for years to limit mining near the Grand Canyon National Park. Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, says, “When families travel to see the Grand Canyon, they have a right to expect that the only glow they will see will come from the sun setting over the rim of this natural wonder, and not from the radioactive contamination that comes from uranium mining.” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has twice imposed temporary bans on mining claims, says: “A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape. People from all over the country and around the world come to visit the Grand Canyon. Numerous American Indian tribes regard this magnificent icon as a sacred place, and millions of people in the Colorado River Basin depend on the river for drinking water [and] irrigation.” The basin is already considered one of the nation’s most endangered waterways, and mining operations could use vast amounts of the area’s water and taint much more. The ban reverses a Bush administration decision to open the area to new mining claims; environmentalists have long pointed to the damage wrought to the area by uranium, oil, and gas mining under the Bush administration’s policies.
Mining Poses High Risks to Environment, Tourism - One in 12 Americans gets some or all of their water from the Colorado River Basin, including the residents of Phoenix and Los Angeles, and the area generates about $3.5 billion in annual income, largely from tourism. In contrast, the mining ban will mean that 465 prospective jobs will not materialize, and the area will lose some $16.6 million in annual tax revenue from mining. Supporters of the ban say that the jobs that would come from mining in the area would not be worth the risk to the river basin and the canyon, and a mining mishap would be potentially devastating for tourism. Many of the area’s lands are considered sacred by Native American tribes, and the lands support a vast number of wildlife habitats. Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity says that uranium mining in the area would critically despoil the area, ruin millions of Americans’ access to fresh water, and cut, not increase, job revenues. McKinnon says: “The real economic engine in northern Arizona is not uranium mining. It’s tourism. To jeopardize our economic engine with more toxic uranium mining is unacceptable.” In 2008, former Bureau of Land Management Director Jim Baca said flatly: “Without [the Colorado], there is no Western United States. If it becomes unusable, you move the entire Western United States out of any sort of economic position for growth.” [ProPublica, 12/21/2008; Associated Press, 1/9/2012]
Republicans Criticize Ban - Some Congressional Republicans and mining industry groups call the decision indefensible, saying it will cost hundreds of jobs and deprive the nation of a much-needed energy resource. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the ban a “devastating blow to job creation in northern Arizona,” and says the ban was “fueled by an emotional public relations campaign pitting the public’s love for the Grand Canyon against a modern form of low-impact mining that occurs many miles from the canyon walls.” He says that modern mining techniques will not add toxins to water drawn from the river basin. Other Republicans cite a mining industry study that claims even a severe mining accident would increase uranium levels in the Colorado River by an undetectable amount. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) says: “It is unconscionable that the administration has yet again caved to political pressure from radical special interest groups rather than standing up for the American people. Banning access to the most uranium-rich land in the United States will be overwhelmingly detrimental to both jobs in Utah and Arizona and our nation’s domestic energy security.” Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) calls the ban part of the Obama administration’s “war on western jobs.” Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), a tea party supporter, says: “This administration has proven incapable of using even the slightest bit of common sense when it comes to lands policy. The American people are desperate for jobs, and our domestic energy industry provides some of the best paying jobs in the western states. However, the president and Interior Secretary Salazar are intent on appeasing their friends in the extreme left wing of the environmentalist movement during an election year by locking up as much land as possible, regardless of the negative effects on our economy. For energy production that has long been safe and responsible, the announcement represents a needless overreaction to a fictitious problem.” [Senator John McCain, 1/9/2012; Senator John McCain, 1/9/2012] In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency noted that mining had contaminated 40 percent of the streams and rivers in the western United States, and mining was considered the single most polluting industry in the nation. [ProPublica, 12/21/2008] Many of the claims now blocked from development belong to foreign interests, including Rosatom, Russia’s state atomic energy corporation, and South Korea’s state-owned utility. [PR Newswire, 6/7/2011]

Entity Tags: Michael Shumway (“Mike”) Lee, Jim Baca, Environmental Protection Agency, Edward Markey, John Barrasso, Ken Salazar, Rosatom, Rob Bishop, Obama administration, Taylor McKinnon, John McCain

Category Tags: National Parks, Public land use, Wildlife protection, Toxic waste, Oil and gas industry, Mining industry, Key Events

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