April 1, 2010

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EPA pledges new mountain top removal protections
In the wake of an EPA proposal to veto one of the largest mountain top removal mining permits in the county, the Obama administration announced today new guidelines for protecting communities from the effects of the practice.  Conrad Wilson reports.

The Environmental Protection Agency says it will work harder to protect the environment and communities from the controversial practice of mountaintop removal mining, which involves drilling down mountains in search for coal.  The resulting rubble and pollution effect rivers and overall water quality.  The process has drastically altered the landscape in parts of Appalachia.

Under the new guidelines the EPA says they will clarify the permitting process and how it relates to the Clean Water Act, make it easier to track mining permits.  The agency also released two reports – one analyzing the impacts of mountaintop mining on water and the other setting “unacceptable” levels for water pollution from mining.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says her agency will continue to work to make the process safe through regulation, but stressed that it is not advocating for the end of coal mining in the US.  Conrad Wilson, FSRN.

EPA denies Texas clean-air rule favoring industry
In other environmental news, the Environmental Protection Agency says companies holding Texas air permits cannot get around federal clean-air quality requirements.  The Texas Department of Environmental Quality sought to include these exemptions in its State Implementation Plan.  But that plan, which outlines how the state would meet Clean-Air Act requirements, needed federal approval.  The EPA would not sign off on the exemption.  Matthew Tejada is Executive Director of Galveston/Houston Association for Smog Prevention.  He sees this as a definitive first step.

“The EPA made it clear beyond any doubt that this is their game, their making the rules, they’re going to be calling the shots.  And people need to come to EPA to figure out how to do this because they’re not going to go along the usual Texas path of sliding things through, making things opaque, making things easy for industry.”

Among other things, the rule would have allowed companies to avoid the public review process when they modify their facilities.  But Tejada says this is just the beginning of the process and his group is pushing for a ruling on “flexible permits.”

“That’s really something that is going to touch a lot of the major facilities in Texas.  And is really the worst part of air permitting in the state in that it allows facilities to aggregate a lot of their emissions and put it under this imaginary bubble that can never be tested, never be compared against.  Those are just the first two actions.  There are possibly 30 different actions similar to this that EPA can take, and has indicated that they are going to take, over the next several years.”

The EPA says the decision on flexible permits will be issued before the end of the year.


Supreme Court says lawyers must warn immigrant clients of deportation risks
The US Supreme Court says defense lawyers must inform immigrant clients that they are subject to deportation risk if they plead guilty to a crime.  The Court ruled 7 to 2 in the case of a California truck driver who had been in the US legally for 40 years and was told by his lawyer that a guilty plea would not affect his immigration status.  But law dictates he would be sent back to his native Honduras after he completed his jail sentence.  Justice John Paul Stevens said that because of the gravity and consequence, deportation is an integral part of the overall penalty paid by the accused.  Consequently it falls under Sixth Amendment guarantees of competent counsel.


Civil rights group questions public housing curfew in Hawaii
The State of Hawaii has imposed a strict curfew on residents of two of its largest public housing projects in reaction to an outbreak of gang violence.  Now civil rights groups are raising questions of constitutionality.  FSRN’s Larry Geller reports from Honolulu.

A strict 10pm to 6am curfew has been imposed by the State of Hawaii’s Public Housing Authority at two Honolulu housing projects.  The curfew, the first ever for a public housing project in the state, was imposed in an attempt to curb a string of gang violence that culminated in a shooting earlier this week.

The State Attorney General has approved the curfew, but the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii is comparing the restrictions to house arrest.  ACLU staff attorney Laurie Temple says the curfew treats law-abiding citizens like criminals.

“Implementing house arrest for public housing residents poses grave constitutional concerns because it infringes on the fundamental rights of residents, including their rights to travel and association.”

In the past years, the number of private security guards at the housing projects has been cut in half due to Hawaii’s budget crunch.  Now the state says it will hire additional guards to enforce the curfew, and city police will patrol.  Larry Geller, FSRN, Honolulu.

International Criminal Court to investigate post-election violence in Kenya
The International Criminal Court will investigate and prosecute crimes committed in Kenya after the 2007 elections, according to Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.  UN Radio’s Jocelyne Sambira has the story.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo confirmed the existence of a list of 20 suspects.  The preliminary list comprises a number of political and business leaders associated with the two main parties, the Party of National Unity, and the Orange Democratic Movement.  However, the Prosecutor clarified, the list is indicative and not binding.

“We will focus on those most responsible according to the evidence that will be impartially collected.  We aim to finalize the bulk of investigation in 2010.  We will present our case before the judges.  They will decide.”

Over a thousand people were killed in ethnic clashes and 300,000 forced to flee their homes after the 2007 disputed Presidential election results.  Ocampo is expected to travel to Kenya in May to visit some of the crime scenes and speak to some of the victims.  Jocelyne Sampira for UN Radio.



Obama Administration finalizes national fuel emissions limits
Today the Obama Administration announced new national emissions limits and fuel economy standards for cars and light duty trucks. With climate change legislation still stalled in Congress, the move is a significant step that could make big changes to the US auto industry and bring a range of state standards under the same national rules. FSRN’s Karen Miller has more.


Government to review new guidelines in effort to return outsourced jobs
The federal government is re-evaluating government contracting. It’s become big business in recent decades. For instance, half of the 400,000 people working for the Department of Homeland Security are employed by contractors. Yesterday, the Obama administration proposed new guidelines in an effort to bring some jobs back into the government. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.


Federal judge declares NSA warrantless wiretapping illegal
A federal judge has ruled that the National Security Agency’s use of warrantless surveillance is illegal. US District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled Wednesday in a case based in Oregon that the NSA illegally eavesdropped on two lawyers and an Islamic Charity in 2004. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, states that the government must obtain a search warrant before monitoring domestic calls and electronic communication. But Obama has continued the Bush Administration’s argument that key documents in surveillance cases should not be released due to state secret privilege.

To discuss the latest ruling, we’re joined by Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a public interest group that specializes in Internet civil liberties issues.


International donors pledge billions to Haiti’s reconstruction
The international donor conference on Haiti raised nearly 10 billion dollars for short and long term reconstruction in the country. Fifty-nine nations and international organizations contributed to the sum, which exceeded estimates going into the meeting in New York.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke yesterday after the conference concluded:
“Now that is an impressive some by any standards, but even more critically, of this amount, more than 5 billion dollars has been raised for the first 18 months of Haiti’s reconstruction. This far exceeds the 3.9 billion that the Haitians identified as their minimum need for this time period. This money has been pledged by a diverse community of nations.”

The United States pledged $1.15 billion; Canada $375 million. The World Bank also promised to cancel what is left of Haiti’s Bank debt and committed $250 million in new funding. The Bank will also head the fiscal management of the reconstruction fund.

Yesterday, activists outside the UN meeting called for greater transparency in the process and demanded more Haitian involvement in the recovery plans.

Over one million Haitians remain displaced by the January earthquake. And with heavy rains approaching, aid organizations and residents have said the most urgent need is for shelter, sanitation and longer-term housing.


Pakistani musicians, driven by conflict, preserve traditions in Dubai
In Pakistan, music has been an integral part of Pashtun culture for centuries. But, as FSRN reported yesterday, the wave of suicide bombings and growing militancy in North West Frontier Province has forced many musicians out of work. Worse yet, many singers, dancers and musicians have been threatened and killed. The harsh environment for musicians has forced some to leave the country. In the second of our two-part series, today we go to Dubai to see where Pakistani musicians are now making a living and trying to preserve their culture. Scott Pham reads for FSRN’s Gabe Matthews.