(Washington Post) The Interior Department exempted BP’s calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely.
The decision by the department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP’s lease at Deepwater Horizon a “categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 — and BP’s lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions — show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf.
Now, environmentalists and some key senators are calling for a reassessment of safety requirements for offshore drilling.
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who has supported offshore oil drilling in the past, said, “I suspect you’re going to see an entirely different regime once people have a chance to sit back and take a look at how do we anticipate and clean up these potential environmental consequences” from drilling.
BP spokesman Toby Odone said the company’s appeal for NEPA waivers in the past “was based on the spill and incident-response history in the Gulf of Mexico.”
‘Complacency breeds disaster’
Once the various investigations of the new spill have been completed, he added, “the causes of this incident can be applied to determine any changes in the regulatory regime that are required to protect the environment.”
“I’m of the opinion that boosterism breeds complacency and complacency breeds disaster,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) on Tuesday. “That, in my opinion, is what happened.”
Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said it is important to learn the cause of the accident before pursuing a major policy change.
“While the conversation has shifted, the energy reality has not,” Gerard said. “The American economy still relies on oil and gas.”
While the MMS assessed the environmental impact of drilling in the central and western Gulf of Mexico on three occasions in 2007 — including a specific evaluation of BP’s Lease 206 at Deepwater Horizon — in each case it played down the prospect of a major blowout.
In one assessment, the agency estimated that “a large oil spill” from a platform would not exceed a total of 1,500 barrels and that a “deepwater spill,” occurring “offshore of the inner Continental shelf,” would not reach the coast.
In another assessment, it defined the most likely large spill as totaling 4,600 barrels and forecast that it would largely dissipate within 10 days and would be unlikely to make landfall.
“They never did an analysis that took into account what turns out to be the very real possibility of a serious spill,” said Holly Doremus, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has reviewed the documents.
Hundreds of waivers
The MMS mandates that companies drilling in some areas identify under NEPA what could reduce a project’s environmental impact.
But Interior Department spokesman Matt Lee-Ashley said the service grants between 250 and 400 waivers a year for Gulf of Mexico projects.
He added that Interior has now established the “first ever” board to examine safety procedures for offshore drilling. It will report back within 30 days on BP’s oil spill and will conduct “a broader review of safety issues,” Lee-Ashley said.
BP’s exploration plan for Lease 206, which calls the prospect of an oil spill “unlikely,” stated that “no mitigation measures other than those required by regulation and BP policy will be employed to avoid, diminish or eliminate potential impacts on environmental resources.”
While the plan included a 13-page environmental impact analysis, it minimized the prospect of any serious damage associated with a spill, saying there would be only “sub-lethal” effects on fish and marine mammals, and “birds could become oiled. However it is unlikely that an accidental oil spill would occur from the proposed activities.”
Kierán Suckling, executive director of the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, said the federal waiver “put BP entirely in control” of the way it conducted its drilling.
“The agency’s oversight role has devolved to little more than rubber-stamping British Petroleum’s self-serving drilling plans,” Suckling said.
BP has lobbied the White House Council on Environmental Quality — which provides NEPA guidance for all federal agencies — to provide categorical exemptions more often. In an April 9 letter, BP America’s senior federal affairs director, Margaret D. Laney, wrote to the council that such exemptions should be used in situations where environmental damage is likely to be “minimal or non-existent.”
An expansion in these waivers would help “avoid unnecessary paperwork and time delays,” she added.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill were talking Tuesday about curtailing offshore oil exploration rather than making it easier.
In addition to traditional foes of offshore drilling such as Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.), Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and centrists such as Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said they are taking a second look at such methods.
“It’s time to push the pause button,” Baucus told reporters.
Staff writer Steven Mufson contributed to this report.
(MSNBC) GENEVA – The World Health Organization on Monday conceded shortcomings in its handling of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, including a failure to communicate uncertainties about the new virus as it swept around the globe.
Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s top influenza expert, said the U.N. agency’s six-phase system for declaring a pandemic had sown confusion about the flu bug which was ultimately not as deadly as the widely-feared avian influenza.
“The reality is there is a huge amount of uncertainty (in a pandemic). I think we did not convey the uncertainty. That was interpreted by many as a non-transparent process,” Fukuda said.
A small but vocal minority of scientists and government officials around the world have accused WHO of overplaying the danger of the virus, while others have claimed its decision to declare a pandemic was unduly influenced by commercial interests.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan Margaret Chan called for a frank and critical review of its handling of the swine flu pandemic.
“We want a frank, critical, transparent, credible and independent review of our performance,” Chan told the experts assembled for a three-day meeting in Geneva, a gathering of 29 external flu experts called to review WHO’s handling of the first influenza pandemic in 40 years.
Critics have said the WHO created panic about the swine flu virus, which turned out to be moderate in its effect, and caused governments to stockpile vaccines which went unused.
Some questioned its links to the pharmaceutical industry after companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis made big profits from producing H1N1 vaccine.
H1N1, which emerged in Mexico and the United States almost exactly a year ago, has killed 17,770 people in 213 countries, according to the WHO, which declared a pandemic underway in June. Most victims were young, with an average age of 37, versus 75 for seasonal flu.
The WHO will need another year or two after the pandemic is declared over to determine a final death rate from the virus. The pandemic is still officially underway.
Fear and confusion
The separate but highly lethal H5N1 bird flu virus — which has killed 60 percent of those infected since 2003 — “injected a high level of fear about the next pandemic,” Fukuda said.
It had been difficult to meet public demands for advice as the H1N1 virus spread quickly across borders, and blogs and other new media generated speculation and criticism, according to the WHO official.
“Populations around the world have very high expectations for immediate information,” Fukuda said. “In many ways it is unforgiving out there.”
One big surprise had been that only one dose of vaccine was needed to provide immunity, whereas most planning had been built around two doses being required, he said.
This meant that some countries were left struggling with an oversupply of unused vaccines while poorer ones had little or no access to supplies.
“Confusion about phases and level of severity remains a very vexing issue,” Fukuda said, referring to the WHO’s six-level scale for pandemics which takes into account the geographic spread of a virus but not its severity.
The WHO tried to come up with quantitive basis for measuring the pandemic’s severity using death rates, but this proved difficult as countries provided different levels of information. Many lack even basic birth and death registries.
“Many countries don’t have the actual capacity to determine reliably the severity of the virus,” said Dr. Martin Cetron of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the experts taking part in the review.
…Entire Article Posted Below
New Study Finds ‘Regular’ Flu Shots Were Associated With An Almost 70% Increased Risk of Getting H1N1 in 2009
(HealthDay News) The traditional seasonal flu vaccine may have increased the risk of infection with pandemic H1N1 swine flu, according to the results of four new studies by Canadian researchers.
In one study, the researchers used an ongoing sentinel monitoring system to assess the frequency of prior vaccination with the seasonal flu vaccine in people diagnosed with H1N1 swine flu in 2009 compared to people without swine flu. The researchers found that seasonal flu vaccination was associated with a 68 percent increased risk of getting swine flu.
The other three studies included additional case-control investigations in Ontario and Quebec, as well as a transmission study in 47 Quebec households that were hit with swine flu. In these studies, the researchers found that seasonal flu vaccination was associated with a 1.4- to 5.0-times greater risk of having swine flu.
The studies, published April 6 in the online journal PLoS Medicine, don’t show whether there is a true cause-and-effect relationship between seasonal flu vaccination and subsequent swine flu illness, or whether the association was possibly due to a common factor among the people in the study, said principal investigator Danuta Skowronski, of the British Columbia Center for Disease Control in Vancouver, and colleagues.
However, the findings may raise questions about the biological interactions between pre-existing and new pandemic influenza strains.
The researchers noted that the World Health Organization has recommended that protection against pandemic swine flu be included in future seasonal flu vaccines. This will provide direct protection against pandemic swine flu and eliminate any risk that may have been due to the 2009 seasonal vaccine, which did not include protection against swine flu.
Article Posted Here:
(AP) The U.S. military said Tuesday it can’t find its copy of a video that shows two employees of the Reuters news agency being killed by Army helicopters in 2007, after a leaked version circulated the Internet and renewed questions about the attack.
Capt. Jack Hanzlik, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said that the military has not been able to locate the video within its files after being asked to authenticate the version available online.
“We had no reason to hold the video at (Central Command), nor did the higher headquarters in Iraq,” Hanzlik said in an e-mailed statement. “We’re attempting to retrieve the video from the unit who did the investigation.”
It’s the latest twist in a three-year saga that raises questions about the rules of engagement in battle and the safety of journalists sent to cover wars.
Advocates for increased government transparency also have questioned why the military withheld the video from the public, even though Reuters requested a copy through the Freedom of Information Act after watching it in an off-the-record meeting with the military in 2007.
The video includes audio of troops calling to “light ’em up!” and referring to the men as “dead bastards.” An internal investigation concluded that the troops had acted appropriately, despite having mistaken the camera equipment for weapons.
“Clearly, it is unflattering to the military, but that is not justification for withholding it,” said Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy with the Federation of American Scientists.
The July 12, 2007, attack has been reported before. But Web site Wikileaks.org on Monday posted the video shot from one of the Apache helicopters, putting it on “collateralmurder.com” site.
Military officials said they believed the video was authentic, but that they had to compare the images and audio with their own video before confirming it publicly.
When pressed Tuesday on why the military had not released the video when other documents related to the investigation were made public, officials said they were still looking for it and weren’t entirely sure where it was.
The video was taken by the tactical unit that operated the helicopters. The unit has only been identified as a “1st Air Cavalry Brigade,” which reported to the Multinational Division in Baghdad.
I found this pretty interesting, though I think the editors priorities are a little off to say the least. He focuses more on the business aspects of the situation but I think we can all see how this sort of situation could be, and probably is currently being, used in an awful way.
(MSNBC) Can you make money just by writing down the license plate numbers of cars in your neighborhood? It might sound like a game your older brother made up to keep you busy — but two aggressive start-up firms are telling consumers to do just that, and both are spreading the word quickly online. But how does it work?
One of the two, Dallas-based Narc Technologies Inc., offers a simple explanation. They want you to rat on your neighbors. The firm’s Web site, NarcThatCar.com, is designed to collect license plate numbers and locations so lenders can more easily repossess cars when the owners default.
In other words, the firm wants consumers to become the repo man’s informant.
Its chief competitor, Data Network Affiliates, says it has no intention of getting into the business of repossession. It says it plans to use its database of license plate numbers to help find missing children through Amber Alerts. It also hopes to sell the data to other information-hungry marketing firms, and to turn its user base into a kind of buyer’s club.
In each case, members only earn a couple of dollars each month from basic license plate collection. But they stand to profit significantly if they convince friends and family to join — a classic multi-level marketing ploy. And in each case, there are volumes of complaints about the companies online.
Before we get into the specifics, let’s review a few basics.
1) Anyone who says you can make a lot of money by staying at home and doing very little work is almost certainly misleading you.
2) Multi-level marketing (MLM) is legal. Pyramid schemes are illegal.
3) What’s the difference? Sale of a real product. Firms cannot design companies where the chief source of income is skimming a cut off of others who are talked into joining — that’s a pyramid scheme. But if company associates sell a real product, and merely enhance their income via “down line” percentages of sales from other hires they have sponsored, that’s legitimate MLM.
MLM-like schemes, along with work-at-home scams, are a dime a dozen online, but they have really ramped up during the recession. Jobless workers with plenty of time on their hands sometimes try dozens of work-at-home ideas, trying to hit on something that will earn them a little cash.
The attraction of Data Network Associates is simple: Unlike most work-at-home jobs, there’s nothing to sell, said marketing director Warren Anthony. Members simply write down 20 plates per month for their $2.
“It’s so easy, this is something my 80-year-old dad can do. A college kid can do it,” he said. He said they encouraged affiliates to gather plate numbers in parking lots at churches or malls in order to avoid spooking neighbors.
He said the firm has so far signed up 92,000 affiliates in only about three months. Together they have entered 1.3 million plate numbers into their database. Already, the firm’s Web site ranks in the top 8,000 on the entire Internet, he said.
(AP) When the body of Chicago’s school board president was found partially submerged in a river last fall, a bullet wound to the head, cameras helped prove it was a suicide.
Friends had speculated someone forced Michael Scott to drive to the river before shooting him — and maybe even wrapped his fingers around the trigger.
But within days, police recreated Scott’s 20-minute drive through the city using high-tech equipment that singled out his car on a succession of , handing the image from camera to camera. The video didn’t capture Scott’s final moments, but it helped convince police his death was a suicide: He wasn’t followed. He wasn’t following anyone. He never picked up a passenger.
The investigation offered a riveting demonstration of the most extensive and sophisticated video surveillance system in the United States, and one that is transforming what it means to be in public in Chicago.
In less than a decade and with little opposition, the city has linked thousands of cameras — on street poles and skyscrapers, aboard buses and in train tunnels — in a network covering most of the city. Officials can watch video live at a sprawling emergency command center, police stations and even some squad cars.
“I don’t think there is another city in the U.S. that has as an extensive and integrated camera network as Chicago has,” said Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary.
New York has plenty of cameras, but about half of the 4,300 installed along the city’s subways don’t work. Other cities haven’t been able to link networks like Chicago. Baltimore, for example, doesn’t integrate school cameras with its emergency system and it can’t immediately send video from the camera nearest to a call like Chicago can.
Even London — widely considered the world’s most closely watched city with an estimated 500,000 cameras — doesn’t incorporate private cameras in its system as Chicago does.
While critics decry the network as the biggest of invasions of privacy, most Chicago residents accept them as a fact of life in a city that has always had a powerful local government and police force.
And authorities say the system helps them respond to emergencies in a way never before possible. A dispatcher can tell those racing to the scene how big a fire is or what a gunman looks like. If a package is left sitting next to a building for more than a few minutes, a camera can send an alert.
Cameras have recorded drug deals, bike thefts and a holiday bell ringer dipping his hand into a pot outside a downtown store. Footage from a camera on a city bus helped convince a suspected gang member to plead guilty to shooting a 16-year-old high school student in 2007.
In the death of the school board president, the cameras helped diffuse mounting suspicion and anger.
“It really closed that piece of the puzzle,” police Superintendent Jody Weis said. “We don’t know what was going through his head, but we definitely know he was alone.”
The network began less than a decade ago with a dozen cameras installed in Grant Park to deter violence during the annual Taste of Chicago festival. It now includes private cameras as well as those installed by a variety of public agencies.
While authorities won’t say exactly how many cameras are included, with 1,500 installed by emergency officials, 6,500 in city schools and many more at public and private facilities, nobody disputes an estimate of 10,000 and growing. Weis said he would like to add “covert” cameras, perhaps as small as matchboxes.
City officials from around the world have visited Chicago to see the system and how effective it is.
Chicago police point to 4,000 arrests made since 2006 with the help of cameras. And, an unpublished study by the Washington-based Urban Institute found crime in one neighborhood — including drug sales, robberies and weapons offenses — decreased significantly after cameras were installed, said Nancy La Vigne, director of the institute’s Justice Policy Center.
“It does stop people from coming out and acting the fool,” observed Larry Scott, who lives in one of the city’s last remaining public housing high rises.
He said residents rarely complain, unless they get caught for a minor offense or the cameras fail to record a violent attack.
“People were upset when that boy was killed by the 2-by-4 and there were no pictures,” he said, referring to the beating death of a high school student that was recorded by cell phone but not city cameras last year.
Police say they usually hear from Chicago residents about the cameras only when they want one installed in their neighborhood or worry one will be removed. Such a claim is supported by an unlikely source: The, which has criticized the use of cameras as an invasion of privacy and ineffective crime fighting tool.
“It does appear that people only object is when they get a ticket (because of a camera) for running a red light,” ACLU spokesman Edwin Yohnka said.
Although courts have generally found surveillance cameras placed in public don’t violate individuals’ privacy, Yohnka said they could too easily be misused.
“What protections are in place to stop a rogue officer from taking a highly powerful camera and aim it in a way to find or track someone who is perhaps a former love interest or something like that?” he asked.
Aric Roush, director of information services at the city’s 911 center, responded that dispatchers see nothing officers wouldn’t see if they were on the scene.
“You can’t afford to put a police officer on every single corner (and) it is a lot more cost effective and efficient to put a camera where you don’t have eyes,” he said.
Chicago residents tend to be tough on crime and are likely to support any tool police use, said Paul Green, aRoosevelt University . Many literally applauded the officers who swung billy clubs at protesters during the , he recalled.
, he said, “could put 10,000 more cameras up and nobody would say anything.”