The Dernogalizer

December 31, 2008

Revisiting Energy Efficiency

Every once in awhile I like to revisit a well received column that I wrote, especially then the issue I brought up in the column is more relevant today than ever. Back in April I wrote a piece about the value of energy efficiency, and how the state of Maryland was missing a big opportunity by only half-heartedly investing in it. I was reminded of this column today when I came across a recent study by McKinsey Global Institute about the enormous benefits of energy efficiency in solving our energy crisis and the problem of climate change. The study can be found Here. I highly encourage you read it.

I’ve copied and pasted the column I wrote below(the editors messed up the title, not me!), and you can also find it Here

Happy New Years!

Dernoga: Revisiting artithmetic

Matt Dernoga

Issue date: 4/29/08 Section: Opinion
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In 1999, Maryland struck a deal for the ages with Constellation Energy to deregulate the energy market in exchange for a limit on energy costs for six years. The trade-off? Only the removal of the government’s oversight of the electricity market followed by the startling realization that six years doesn’t last forever. Utilities that were once mandated to invest $13 per person in energy efficiency decided their businesses would be better if their customers bought more energy. Go figure! They started investing a penny per person.

After the six year cap on rates ended, electricity rates rose by 72 percent – almost as much as the blood pressure of the customer when they saw their electricity bill. Combine that with almost zilch going into energy efficiency for our infrastructure and appliances along with rising energy use, and the state could be facing rolling blackouts in the next few years. Take a breath, and savor this, for it is political and fiscal incompetence at its finest.

While deregulation is here to stay, lawmakers had an opportunity this year to set right some of its casualties. After entering into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Program with nine other states, Maryland will acquire $80 to $140 million this summer from state power plants, which need to purchase carbon allowances from the government in order to pollute. All of this money was supposed to go into a yearly $140 million strategic investment fund to help consumers and businesses improve their energy efficiency. Significant reductions in our energy use per capita would greatly alleviate the coming energy shortage. Factor in that every $1 invested in energy efficiency yields $4 in savings, and this would be significant long- term rate relief.

In the book 1984, there’s an episode where a man is tortured into admitting two plus two doesn’t equal four, but three, because the government says so. You have to wonder if our politicians have taken this same math class, because they seem convinced that $1 is more than $4. The bill that was supposed to allocate all the money to energy efficiency programs was watered down, so now the fund is getting 46 percent of the proceeds. That isn’t even half of what was originally expected, and the long-term rate relief isn’t going to be nearly as significant as it should be.

So where will the rest of the money go? Mostly into rebates and billing credits for energy consumers. Don’t be easily deceived into thinking this is good policy. When spread out over all of the consumers whom the rebates will reach, this is only a couple hundred dollars of rate relief at best. When your electricity bill has been hundreds of dollars too high every month, a few hundred dollars of relief for one month isn’t going to make any substantial dent on the year. Rather than investing all of this money into useless short-term relief, it should all have gone into securing Maryland’s energy future and making a dent in our energy bills for the next 10 years. We should have learned our lesson on energy efficiency in 1999. Apparently, some mistakes are too much fun to make only once.

Maryland lawmakers aren’t the only ones failing preschool math. Just take a look at our federal government. When faced with a sagging economy due in part to high energy prices, they gave out $168 billion in rebates to Americans to stimulate the economy, with zip going to energy efficiency programs. Will that work? At the university, we’re taking notes: We spend $50 million a year on energy, and a lot of it is wasted on inefficient buildings and lighting. Then we go to Annapolis and ask dumb and dumber for more state funding without seriously considering what we could do to save money ourselves.

I’d rather have energy savings for the next 10 years than a pittance of a rebate for 2008. I want my lights to turn on when I flick the switch in the future. I’d also like our officials to understand that the least expensive watt of energy is the one you never have to use. Recognizing that four is greater than one would be a good place to start.

Matt Dernoga is a sophomore government and politics major. He can be reached at


December 29, 2008

Faster Climate Change Feared

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 9:25 pm
Tags: ,

Here’s a good article by the Post about a new report issued on the pace of climate change.

New Standford Study on Energy

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 1:15 am
Tags: , , ,

I want to bring to the attention a Standford study done by Mark Jacobson  about how to solve our energy and climate problems.   He compares different energy sources, their carbon content, and their capacity for meeting our energy needs.  It’s a reall fantastic study, and I’m proud to say that wind and solar power take the cake compared to everything else.  Check it out here, it’s pretty long but very educational.

December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt Dernoga @ 3:18 am

Just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and happy holidays in general!

December 23, 2008

Coal Slurry Dam Disaster

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 11:34 pm
Tags: , , ,

I thought it would be worthwhile to draw attention to another disgrace often overlooked when it comes to coal production. One of the byproducts of Mountaintop Removal coal mining is toxic coal slurry. Billions of gallons are stored in dams, and often it’s around local communities. Nevermind that living so close to these toxic pools of waste affects people’s health, but it’s dangerous since the dam holding back the coal slurry can break. If it does, then the surrounding community faces disaster. There have been incidents in the past where people were killed. In the most recent incident, the majority of the damage appears to have been done to the land and the water, but people’s homes were ruined. Here’s the article on what happened: article

Also, in case you’re unfamiliar with what Mountaintop Removal coal mining is, check out this column of mine : here which I wrote back in September where I shine light on what goes on.

***EDIT NOTE*** I just had an e-mail forwarded to me with even greater in depth detail of this disaster, which I think more appropriately describes this atrocity. I’m going to Copy and Paste the e-mail below, in case people wanted greater background on this.

From: Dave Cooper <>
Date: Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 8:05 AM
Subject: [Dave Coopers Mountain Top Removal Roadshow] Huge environmental disaster in Tennessee – Coal Ash spill
To: Mountaintop Removal Road Show list <>


There was a huge and terrible environmental disaster in Tennessee yesterday.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, better known as TVA, has a coal-burning power plant located near Harriman, Tennessee, along Interstate 40 between Knoxville and Nashville. The stuff that is left over after TVA burns their coal is called coal ash.
Coal ash contains mercury and dangerous heavy metals like lead and arsenic – materials found naturally in coal are concentrated in the ash.

TVA has a huge mountain of this coal waste material stored in a gigantic pile next to their Harriman (Kingston) power plant, alongside a tributary of the Tennessee River.

On Monday morning Dec. 22 around 1:00 am, the earthen retaining wall around this mountain of coal ash failed and approximately 500 million gallons of nasty black coal ash flowed into tributaries of the Tennessee River – the water supply for Chattanooga TN and millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

This Tennessee TVA spill is over 40 times bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, if local news accounts are correct.
*** This is a huge environmental disaster of epic proportions.
To see an amazing aerial video of the spill – the big hunks and chunks in the river are mounds of coal ash:
There is better aerial footage but you have to watch an Applebees commercial first – go to the link below, then scroll down to the “Most Popular” section and find the button that says “aerial footage”
The local media are downplaying the spill, but the Nashville newspaper (The Tennessean) has a decent article, posted below.
When I first saw the 300 million gallon Martin County coal sludge spill in Kentucky in October 2000 I was outraged. I was sure that it would be a national news story, but it never was, because the coal companies and local law enforcement blocked the road leading to the spill and kept the media out. The national media was confused because they didn’t know what “coal sludge” was. And ….the big national environmental groups didn’t do enough to bring media attention to the Martin County disaster.
Thats not going to happen this time, because we have
1. You Tube
2. Bloggers
3. Digital cameras
4. You!
Please help – we need volunteers to take pictures and video of the spill and post them on the web. We need first hand accounts and documentation of the spill. We need letters to the editor. We need calls and emails to our leaders in Washington and Nashville and Frankfort and to President-Elect Obama.
Please fwd this email to other concerned people and the news media.
*** There is no such thing as clean coal! Look at the video of this spill.
“Clean Coal” is The Big Corporate Lie.
This horrific disaster in Tennessee can be the turning point in our nation’s struggle to build a new network of clean modern renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar power – but we have to raise awareness of this disaster immediately. Thanks for reading.
Here is the Tennessean’s coverage:

Flood of sludge breaks TVA dike

Collapse poses risk of toxic ash

By Anne Paine and Colby Sledge • THE TENNESSEAN • December 23, 2008

HARRIMAN, Tenn. — Millions of cubic yards of ashy sludge broke through a dike at TVA’s Kingston coal-fired plant Monday, covering hundreds of acres, knocking one home off its foundation and putting environmentalists on edge about toxic chemicals that may be seeping into the ground and flowing downriver.
One neighboring family said the disaster was no surprise because they have watched the 1960s-era ash pond’s mini-blowouts off and on for years.
About 2.6 million cubic yards of slurry — enough to fill 798 Olympic-size swimming pools — rolled out of the pond Monday, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
[There are 200 gallons per cubic yard so this is about 500 million gallon – Dave]
Cleanup will take at least several weeks, or, in a worst-case scenario, years.
The ash slide, which began just before 1 a.m., covered as many as 400 acres as deep as 6 feet. The wave of ash and mud toppled power lines, covered Swan Pond Road and ruptured a gas line. It damaged 12 homes, and one person had to be rescued, though no one was seriously hurt.
Much remains to be determined, including why this happened, said Tom Kilgore, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
“I fully suspect that the amount of rain we’ve had in the last eight to 10 days, plus the freezing weather … might have had something to do with this,” he said in a news conference Monday on the site.
The area received almost 5 inches of rain this month, compared with the usual 2.8 inches. Freeze and thaw cycles may have undermined the sides of the pond. The last formal report on the condition of the 40-acre pond — an unlined, earthen structure — was issued in January and was unavailable Monday, officials said.
Neighbors Don and Jil Smith, who have lived near the pond for eight years, said that nearly every year TVA has cleaned up what they termed “baby blowouts.”
Ashen liquid similar to that seen on a much larger scale in Monday’s disaster came from the dike, they said.
“It would start gushing this gray ooze,” said Don Smith, whose home escaped harm. “They’d work on it for weeks and weeks.
“They can say this is a one-time thing, but I don’t think people are going to believe them.”
The U.S. Coast Guard, EPA, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation were among agencies that responded to the emergency.

Toxic irritants possible

Coal is burned to produce electricity at the Kingston Fossil Plant, notable for its tall towers seen along Interstate 40 near the Harriman exit in Roane County.
Water is added to the ash, which is the consistency of face powder, for pumping it to the pond. The ash is settled out in that pond before the sludge is moved to other, drier ponds, Kilgore said.
Coal ash can carry toxic substances that include mercury, arsenic and lead, according to a federal study. The amount of poisons in TVA’s ashy wastes that could irritate skin, trigger allergies and even cause cancer or neurological problems could not be determined Monday, officials said.
Viewed from above, the scene looked like the aftermath of a tsunami, with swirls of dirtied water stretching for hundreds of acres on the land, and muddied water in the Emory River.
The Emory leads to the Clinch, which flows into the Tennessee.
Workers sampled river water Monday, with results expected back today, but didn’t sample the dunelike drifts of muddy ash.
That could begin today, officials said, and the potential magnitude of the problem could make this a federally declared Superfund site. That would mean close monitoring and a deep, costly cleanup requiring years of work.
“We’ll be sampling for metals in the ground to see what kind of impact that had,” said Laura Niles, a spokeswoman for the EPA in Atlanta.
“Hopefully, it won’t be as bad as creating a Superfund site, but it depends on what is found.”
Stephen Smith, with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in Knoxville, said those concerned about water and air quality have tried for years to press for tighter regulation of the ash.
The heavy metals in coal — including mercury and other toxic substances — concentrate in the ash when burned, he said.
“You know where that is now,” he said. “It’s in that stuff that’s all over those people’s houses now.”
Chemicals and metals from coal ash have contaminated drinking water in several states, made people and animals sick in New Mexico, and tainted fish in Texas and elsewhere, according to Lisa Evans, an attorney with Earthjustice, a nonprofit national environmental law firm that follows the issue.
“It’s discouraging because this is an easy problem to fix,” she said.
Ash could be recycled by using it to make concrete and at the very least should be placed in lined, state-of-the-art landfills, she said.

Plant is still operating

TVA’s Kilgore said that chemicals in the ash are of concern, but that the situation is probably safe. The power plant is still operating, sending the ash to a larger pond on the site.
“There are levels of chemicals in there that we are concerned about,” Kilgore said. “We don’t think there’s anything immediate of danger because most of that’s contained, but that’s why we have sampling folks out.”
Officials were monitoring a water intake that serves Kingston City and is only a few miles downstream from the Kingston plant, but said no problem had been noted there as of Monday afternoon.
The power producer, which oversees the Tennessee River system, had slowed river flow in the area, releasing less water from key dams, so the pollution might be better contained for possible cleanup.
TVA has insurance for an event like this, spokeswoman Barbara Martucci said, but what the cleanup cost is and how much insurance will pay remains to be determined.
Otherwise, ratepayers in Tennessee could bear much of the costs. TVA provides virtually all the electricity in the state, along with parts of six others.
Contact Anne Paine at 615-259-8071 or

December 19, 2008

Federal and State Transportation Funds Need New Source

put it to rest!

put it to rest!

One of the reasons why transportation projects are being heavily slashed all over the place is because because the government raises these funds from the gas tax.  During the summer when gas prices rose very high, people cut back heavily on their driving, which caused tax revenues for the state and federal transportation funds to decline.  Then, when we had our ongoing economic crisis in the fall, people cut back on driving even more.  This led to an even sharper drop in revenues.  What we have going on around the country is extreme cuts in transportation with whole projects and fund allocations being slashed.   Not only are states facing the pinch, but the Feds had to pump an emergency 9 billion dollars into the Federal Transportation Fund to keep it running.  For a look at the situation Maryland and Virginia are facing click: Here

Now, there’s a good chance our transportation funding for the states will be bailed out, since Obama’s stimulus package is going to have a strong transportation component.  I have my own views on what kinds of projects should be funded, but I’ll save them for another day.  But the fact of the matter is that our transportation dollars are tied to an unreliable source of revenue.  Even if the economy recovers and people start driving more, gas prices will just go back up again, causing people to drive less.  Ultimately, we’re eventually going to find the cost of gas right back on track to where it was this past summer.  We were just “fortunate” *cough* enough to have the economy blow up.  Unless people and politicians want to be unsure of our transportation funding for the years to come, we need to find a new source for transportation dollars.

There’s another reason why changing the source of funding would be useful.  A lot of transportation advocates, environmental advocates, and politicians talk a lot about increasing access to transit and providing new and improved mass transit.   I think we all would like to reduce our consumption of foreign oil.  Naturally, there is on one hand a strong incentive to take cars off the road, and reduce the amount of gas people use.  On the other hand, the need for funding  from the gas tax for both our roads, as well as all of these transit projects provides a contrary incentive for people to drive more!!! How are we going to actually reduce driving and promote smarter growth if our gas tax forces decisions in favor of more roads and more driving?

This has to change.

So I think there are a couple of ways to go about this, and they’re pretty simple.  This goes for both the feds and the states.

#1.  Keep the gas tax, but have it just go into the general fund that the rest of our tax dollars go to.  Then, draw from the general fund for transportation projects, as opposed to drawing from the separate fund we draw from now that it reliant on the gas tax.

#2.  Just eliminate the gas tax, and provide transportation funding from the general fund.

I know a lot of Americans would like to see an even lower price of gas, as well as one less tax.  However, this would encourage more driving, and increase our use of oil.  So I would support just feeding the gas tax into the general fund.  However, as a compromise, I would be open to looking into just eliminating the gas tax altogether in exchange for unchaining our transportation fund and our gas consumption, and increased funding for mass transit.

That’s my take on the situation.  I will probably write an Op-Ed column next semester related to this issue for my school paper.

December 18, 2008

Bush Gutting Endangered Species Act

Filed under: National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 6:00 pm
Tags: , , ,

I had brief post about this a few days ago, but I wanted to bring light to it again.  What the Bush Administration is basically doing is changing a rule that mandates that federal wildlife scientists review federal projects in order to provide an accurate report of what kinds of damage will be done to the ecosystem and the species in it.  So basically, whenever we want to build something like a road or a mall, or we want to drill in Colorado, there’s no scientific review of what the environmental impact will be.  Anyone who gives half a damn what happens to wildlife, our natural environment, and our ecosystem should find this unacceptable.  There is a very good overview by an environmental organization “Earth Justice” who is leading the legal charge to stop the rule change: Here

Also, I have not followed the legal actions of Earth Justice very closely until recently, but this is an organization that represents local environmental groups and people on legal cases involving preservation and protection of the planet.  I think this is a very important organization since there are always battles to be fought, and as much as activism and letter writing are useful, a lot of decisions come down to who has a good lawyer.  If you’re looking for an organization to donate a little money to for the holidays, I would recommend to donate to them Here

December 17, 2008

Piece in Sierra Club Chesapeake Newsletter

Filed under: Dernoga,MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 4:51 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

So I wanted to share an article I wrote for the Maryland Sierra Club’s seasonal newsletter The Chesapeake.  I worked as a summer intern(and helped into the fall) on a Congressional election in the 1st Distrct of Maryland.  The race was between Frank Kratovil and Andy Harris.  I wrote this shortly after my guy Kratovil was declared the winner after the absentee ballot count.  Check it out Here, and I’m also posting what I wrote below.

Hey Sierra Club members, as some of you may know, there was a very close contest in the 1st Congressional District of Maryland. The Sierra Club endorsed Frank Kratovil in his face off against long time environmental foe State Senator Andy Harris. At the beginning of the year and into the summer Frank Kratovil was trailing Andy Harris by double digits in the polls. The Harris campaign had lots of special interest money and resources. All of the political pundits that rank races by competitiveness all around the country labeled the seat as “safe” for Andy Harris’s taking. At one point I read that Andy Harris had said that the 1st district was one that a conservative could win every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Frank Kratovil has just been declared by the AP to be the winner after an absentee ballot count added significantly to his narrow vote lead. As Kratovil said when addressing supporters Tuesday night “this might not be a Sunday”.

What’s fantastic about this race being so close, is that I watched the Sierra Club make a difference. I oversaw, and coordinated many of our efforts over the summer, working as an intern from our College Park office. Without getting too deep into the tax code and how my number one priority was to not violate it and earn us a day in court with IRS, lets just say doing outreach was interesting. Our rules had it to where I couldn’t talk to anyone about voting for Frank besides our members and my mother. Okay I couldn’t talk to my mother either. Every action and breath I took had to be run through our national compliance office to make sure the rules were followed. I don’t like rules, but I liked the Sierra Club so I played along. I gained from this an infinite amount of respect for our Sierra Club organizers and leaders who have to do so much with so many rules, and such little money. They could teach Wall Street a thing or two.

We did a pretty good job at contacting our members and getting them involved. Throughout the summer myself and volunteers made thousands of phone calls to our members in the 1st District. We asked people a few simple things. One was whether or not they knew about the race, and who we had endorsed. The other was whether or not they would vote for Kratovil, wanted a sign in their yard, or wanted to write a letter to the editor supporting him. My reasoning behind this was that if we could get people involved on a small level, aware of the race, thinking about the race, talking about the race, following the race in the news…we could get them more involved later on when they were really needed. In the later months when the race was tight and canvassing and phone banking opportunities were everywhere, we’d know who to call. Of course, when we found very enthusiastic people, we’d try and plug them into Kratovil campaign activities(and boy were there a lot of them) right away!
I was inexperienced at a lot of this when it came to outreach for an election. I made a lot of the strategy up as I went along, and probably made some mistakes. But the key part of our strategy I was counting on came to fruition in the end. The race tightened, people got enthusiastic and pumped up, and the Sierra Club had a nice list of people to call and tap into. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’d estimate we collectively made over 1,000 phone calls and canvassed over 1,000 doors just in the last two months. It paid off.

But the real heroine in the last couple months has been the Sierra Club’s Conservation Coordinator Alana Wase. Thanks to an anonymous donor(I know who you are, thanks!), we could afford to set Alana loose right at the same time I had to go back to school, so I got to just become another volunteer assisting her. She’s really responsible for our most productive moments, and deserves far more credit than me. I’d also like to give special thanks to Janet Schollenberger for all the work she did with outreach to Baltimore County group. David Prosten for helping with Anne Arundel, and tolerating the phone scripts I gave him and his group. Betsy Johnson for making phone calls, and telling me I was doing a good job even when that may not have been entirely true. Laurel Imlay for showing me how to do things competently, and for lending me her mother for a phone banking session(best phone banker ever).

And of course, to everyone else I don’t have the space or memory to name. Those who agreed to canvass, make calls, give your time, your money, and your vote, thanks a million. We just helped Frank Kratovil pull off one of the biggest upsets in this election cycle in the country. We taught Andy Harris that if you vote against the environment, there will be consequences. It goes to show that nothing it set in stone. Nothing is a done deal. All it takes is for a group of people to believe, roll up their sleeves, and go to work. That’s what the Sierra Club is all about.

December 16, 2008

Column by Me

So I had a column that came out yesterday.  I usually prefer to write about specific issues and arguments pertaining to legislation etc.  However, I wanted to try something different and talk about the issue of compromise when it comes to the environmental movement.  Now although most of my column was left intact, there were a couple of edits which I think broke up the flow of my column, so I’m going to link the column to the paper’s website, and then post what I originally wrote down below:
my column

I’ll walk into a politician’s office ready to ask tough questions, make bold demands, and pile on pressure.  Then it hits me.  Doubt creeps in about whether “all or nothing” is the best way.  Sometimes it feels uneasy.  Sometimes you want to let up and appreciate what people are doing, even if it isn’t enough.
There was an article a few weeks ago about environmental activists protesting outside the Bank of America on Route One about them funding coal and mountaintop removal.  Bank of America made a reasonable concession in light of many similar protests all over the country on the same day.  They’ve decided to phase out and eventually cease funding for mountaintop removal projects, which make up a sizable portion of all coal mining.
But the bank is still funding coal companies in the rest of their activities.  What should the reaction be from environmentalists?  Should we thank the bank and back off?  Give them some breathing room?  Reward a good policy with good will?  Or dismiss the bone that’s been thrown, and go after the entire carcass?  This kind of dilemna with politicians can be even tougher.  Their postions vary across the board.  What do you say to someone who is on the right side of every environmental issue, except one big one where they’re wrong?  How hard should you push when you don’t want to alienate them?
Being uncompromising is difficult at times for me.  I recognize and appreciate when someone who doesn’t see eye to eye with me on everything is trying to accomodate.  As someone who is progressive, my four best friends I grew up hanging out with are all conservatives.  We haven’t killed each other yet.
But when it comes to environmental activism, compromising to find common ground causes the carpet to get pulled out from under your feet.  Deals constantly result in two steps back for every one step forward.  Settling for less usually gets you nothing in the end.  Our timeline for saving the planet before it descends into a fiery pit of hell probably doesn’t match yours.  It’s more of a deadline actually.  There isn’t much of a difference between failing miserably and failing gracefully.       Failing gracefully is how you end up with Barack Obama talking about clean coal when it doesn’t exist.  It’s how after decades of inaction, Congress gets credit for raising fuel economy standards to a pathetic 35 mpg by 2020.  It’s why too many politicians in Maryland think you can cut carbon emissions while building giant roads like the ICC.  It’s why the Purple Line has stayed a good idea for decades.  It’s why everyone is pro Chesapeake Bay, but the bay is in shambles.  It’s how Bank of America can claim to be environmentally concious, yet still fund coal.  None of that is leadership.
I’m still in the office.  My moment of doubt passes.  The good will turns to iron will.  The regret melts in the fire.  I straighten my shirt, check the agenda, and grip the folder.  The choice of “all or nothing” isn’t a choice.  I stand up, walk to their door, and turn the knob.  Deep breath.  No letting up.  No slowing down.  Full speed ahead.

December 14, 2008

Kill Endangered Species!

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 1:58 pm
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Might as well put them outta their misery, right? Or that’s what a final parting shot by the Bush Administration is doing here by making it unnecessary for independent scientific reviews on the impacts of proposed development projects. Read the whole story below, and lets hope that Obama overturns this when he gets into office…

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