The Daily Grist: Feb. 19

Science Friction
Top Scientists Accuse Bush Administration of Distorting Science

The Bush administration, reeling from a series of unflattering stories and unfavorable poll numbers, took another kick in the pants yesterday when 60 of the world's most influential scientists -- including 20 Nobel laureates and 19 recipients of the National Medal of Science -- accused the administration in an open letter of systematically distorting scientific research and misleading the public about the likely results of its policies. In an accompanying report, the Union of Concerned Scientists detailed numerous instances in which the administration has suppressed scientific results, gagged its own science officials, and replaced independent scientists on its research panels with industry representatives. John Marburger, chief of the White House Office of Science and Technology, dismissed the criticisms as a "conspiracy report" and explained that the real problem was not distortions of science but his failure to "communicate" effectively with scientists.

Corn to Be Wild
U.K. to Approve Planting of GM Corn

The British government is set to give the go-ahead for genetically modified corn to be grown in the nation, according to documents leaked yesterday from a meeting of top government officials. A formal announcement is expected next week, though the government maintains that no final decision has been reached. The leaked discussion notes that "the public [is] unlikely to be receptive," but that an outright ban on GM crops would be "the easy way out" and "an irrational way for the government to proceed." It adds hopefully that "opposition might eventually be worn down by solid, authoritative scientific argument." Response from U.K. enviros was immediate and furious. Greenpeace campaigner Ben Ayliffe summarized: "The public has said no, the science has said no, even his own economists have said no, but [Prime Minister] Tony Blair is desperate to spin us into accepting GM."

Ethanol and Mirrors
Bush Administration Extends Contentious "Dual-Fuel" Rules

In a move that will make it easier for automakers to meet fuel-efficiency standards without actually improving the fuel efficiency of their vehicles, the Bush administration announced yesterday that it will extend for four years a system that gives auto manufacturers credits for producing "dual-fuel" vehicles that can run on either gasoline or an ethanol blend. Environmentalists criticized the move, pointing out that only 1 percent of dual-fuel vehicles actually do run on an ethanol blend, in part because fewer than 200 of the 176,000 gas stations in the country offer it. Enviros also argue that the credits automakers get for dual-fuel models enable them to produce more large, inefficient vehicles -- mainly SUVs. A 2002 government study estimated that extending the credit would result in 9 billion to 14 billion more gallons of gasoline being consumed over the next four years.

Yucca Will Leaka
Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Dump Beset With Problems

The perpetually beleaguered nuclear waste dump being constructed at Nevada's Yucca Mountain is coming under fire again, from several directions. Yesterday, Paul Craig, who recently resigned from the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board to make his concerns public, stated flatly that the Department of Energy's current design for Yucca Mountain would leak radioactive waste. "The science is very clear," Craig said. "If we get high-temperature liquids, the metal would corrode and that would eventually lead to leakage of nuclear waste." Also yesterday, Margaret Chu, director of the DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, made public a letter in which she accused DOE officials of allowing employees excavating the tunnels in Yucca Mountain to work without face masks despite knowing they were being exposed to unsafe levels of airborne silica particles. And a deposition from a former Yucca Mountain employee was uncovered, claiming that she was forced to falsify her field reports on the levels of silica in the tunnels.

For more environmental news and humor visit Grist Magazine

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