Newscast for Friday, April 26, 2013

  • Reproductive rights advocates push bill to protect Peace Corps volunteers
  • Federal rulings uphold EPA’s veto of West Virginia mine, fault Army Corps mine approval process
  • North Dakota bill targets gas flaring as local residents describe toll of oil and natural gas boom
  • In Indian village, strides in expanding access to toilets could stem violence against women

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Syrian chemical weapon use assessment a “building block” not “red line”

The White House says they are getting intelligent assessments “with varying degrees of confidence” that the Syrian government has used small-scale chemical weapons against opposition militants. Chemical weapon use by the Syrian government is one of the Obama Administration’s so-called “red lines,” in which US response to the conflict could change. But the White House says the intelligence assessments are “building blocks” and “not alone sufficient” to make final judgment of the situation.

“The President wants the facts. And I’m not going to set a timeline, because the facts need to be what drives this investigation, not a deadline.”

Today, when pressed by a reporter, White House spokesperson Jay Carney went on to say that the President is considering options.

Carney: “He retains all options to respond…”

Reporter: “Including military force?”

Carney: “All options. All options.”

The US says it’s investigating at least two alleged incidents of chemical weapon use. The UN is also conducting an investigation, but has not been allowed into Syria.

Family and advocates push back against Air Force overturn of sexual assault conviction

The family of a woman allegedly sexually assaulted by a pilot in the US Air Force is protesting after the initial conviction was overturned and the suspect transferred to a base near their homes. Lt.  Col. James Wilkerson has now been reassigned to a post near Tucson. Wilkerson was convicted of sexual assault last November, but then a commanding officer threw the jury’s ruling out. Earlier this week, the victim advocacy group Protect Our Defenders sent an open letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel demanding that the senior officer who overturned the conviction be dismissed from the Air Force.

Report: Mining contamination disproportionately affects Native American communities

A new report by the National Wildlife Federation says pollution caused by hard rock mining has disproportionately harmed native American tribes in the US, contaminating fish and other native wildlife that are a major part of native American culture. Chuck Brumleve with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan says loopholes in the Clean Water Act allow Michigan to set its own rules on environmental mining standards. He says acid commonly used to dissolve minerals in the rock pose major problems when it leaches out of mine dumps.

“The state only requires five years of follow-up water treatment. And yet, we know from experience that acid mine drainage frequently doesn’t even start for 50 years. This creates a source of contaminants to Lake Superior for generations to come.”

The Wildlife Federation report calls on President Obama to close loopholes that allow mining operations to dump waste directly into wetlands, stream and lakes.

Venezuelan opposition continues push for new election; US filmmaker arrested

Tension continues after the April 14 election in Venezuela. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles has vowed to challenge the vote in court after pulling out of an election audit he initially agreed to honor. FSRN’s Irene Caselli has the latest from Caracas.

Last week Henrique Capriles agreed to a full audit of the election, as proposed by the National Electoral Council. But on Thursday he said the proposed conditions for the audit were unfair. The opposition is due to take evidence of irregularities to the Supreme Court and ask for the election to be annulled, despite the findings of international monitors, which widely indicated the vote was fair and transparent. At the same time, the National Assembly has created a special commission to investigate violent post-election protests that left nine dead and 78 injured. The government blames the opposition and right-wing youth groups for the violence. On Thursday Venezuelan authorities announced the arrest of US filmmaker Timothy Tracy. The government charges that Tracy was working with the US to finance the right-wing groups. But relatives and colleagues told the Associated Press Tracy was in the country working on a documentary about the political divide. Irene Caselli, FSRN, Caracas.

Armenians mark anniversary of genocide, push for restitution

This week, Armenians from around the world have been commemorating the genocide of an estimated million and half people by the Ottoman Empire. That empire is now Turkey, and the government there has refused to use the word genocide to describe what happened at the end of World War I. FSRN’s Roberto Nieto reports from France, where activists gathered to mark the anniversary.

Armenians around the world are still asking for restitution of land that was taken from their ancestors. An estimated 1500 people marched through the streets of Marseille Wednesday, chanting and shouting slogans against the Turkish government. One Armenian woman visiting France from Turkey held a sign saying “Turkey kills, turkey denies, turkey continues.”

“Today they continue repressing and killing intellectuals who speak out,” she says, referring to the 2007 murder of an Armenian-Turkish journalist for his stance on the genocide.

Other marchers criticized the US for supporting Turkey and refusing to use the term “genocide.”  More than 20 nations, including France, recognize the genocide, and there have been some signs recently that Turkey is softening its stance. This week, the French paper Liberation reported that small gatherings on the issue had been tolerated by authorities in Istanbul and other Turkish cities. Roberto Nieto, FSRN, Marseilles.



Reproductive rights advocates push bill to protect Peace Corps volunteers

In Washington today, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to address the Planned Parenthood Federation’s annual conference, telling the organization he will continue to support a woman’s right to choose and get access to affordable reproductive care across the country. But some federal workers don’t have equal access to these rights: namely, thousands of Peace Corps volunteers around the world. A bill introduced this week seeks to change that, expanding their health insurance to cover abortion care in cases of incest, life-endangerment or rape. Reproductive rights advocates are pushing for the bill’s passage, and say the Peace Corps still has a long way to go toward preventing sexual assault in the program and providing survivors with support. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein has more.

Federal rulings uphold EPA’s veto of West Virginia mine, fault Army Corps mine approval process

This week, a federal appeals court ruled that the EPA did have the right to halt a mountaintop removal mining project in West Virginia. Mingo Logan, a subsidiary of Arch Coal, had challenged the EPA’s veto of a permit for the Spruce mine authorized by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Clean Water Act permit would have allowed the company to dump mountaintop removal waste into streams and tributaries. Environmentalists celebrated the unanimous decision. Jon Devine is with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The court said clearly, and reaffirmed what the law says clearly – that EPA can act.”

Another ruling earlier this week by another federal appeals court found the Army Corps used an “arbitrary and capricious” process for giving mining companies permits without assessing environmental impacts. Environmental groups said they’ve been fighting against what’s called Nationwide Permit 21 for eight years. It gave mining companies the authority to dump mountaintop removal debris into streams and rivers. Many residents have also been fighting for cleaner communities. Ginger Danz is from Fayetteville, West Virginia. She spoke to reporters this week following the release of a report on the impact of mountaintop removal mining on human health.

“As a mother, I have worried about this issue for years… What’s happening with the air? What’s happening with the water? There are so many unanswered questions.”

The Center for Health, Environment & Justice report found much higher rates of birth defects, cancer and dying of cancer in communities near mountaintop removal sites. The report was reviewed by the National Commission on the Health Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining which said the “evidence shows that mountaintop removal threatens public health and the environment” and called for a moratorium on the practice. Mickey McCoy lives in Inez, Kentucky, where communities are also dealing with the consequences of mountaintop removal mining. He said nearly 30 percent of total land area in Martin County has been leveled by strip mining and mountaintop removal.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, my county leads the state of Kentucky in bladder cancer cases… My county is part of the central Appalachians, an area where the number of total cancer deaths per capita is one of the highest in this nation.”

McCoy was formerly the mayor of Inez, a town that experienced a massive coal waste spill in 2000. More than 300 million gallons of toxic sludge from Massey Energy’s coal operations poured into rivers, creeks and yards. Residents of Central Appalachia as well as public health and environmental advocates are hoping for more support for the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (HR 526), reintroduced in February. It would put a moratorium on all new mountaintop removal mining permits and require a comprehensive federal study on the health impacts of the practice.

North Dakota bill targets gas flaring as local residents describe toll of oil and natural gas boom

In North Dakota, oil and gas development continues at a rapid pace, setting new records for daily production in the month of February, according to records from the state’s Mineral Resources, Oil and Gas Division. One aspect of the boom has been the increasing practice of gas flaring, that’s the controlled burning of excess natural gas. In 1999, the state flared three percent of gas production. Today that number exceeds 30 percent. Environmentalists and local residents say flaring presents risks to public health, the environment and wildlife. This week state lawmakers passed a Republican-backed measure, House Bill 1134, that aims to cut back on flaring through offering tax breaks to companies, but it’s being criticized for not going far enough. For more on this we’re joined by Kandi Mossett. She’s from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, where her community has seen rapid changes due to the oil and gas boom. She’s also Native energy and climate campaign organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

In Indian village, strides in expanding access to toilets could stem violence against women

Of the world’s estimated seven billion people, two and a half billion of them lack access to proper sanitation, according to the United Nations, and more than one billion defecate in the open. The problem creates unsanitary conditions and life-threatening diseases and it also affects the safety of women who are targeted when alone outdoors. India is one country that faces these challenges. But as FSRN’s Jasvinder Sehgal reports, one village is making progress and is on track to have toilets for all of its inhabitants.

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