The Daily Grist: March 16

Biotech Dot Con
U.S. Government Funds Biotech-Boosting Website

The U.S. government has launched
a new website that trumpets the benefits of genetically modified foods -- paid for with taxpayer dollars. It's part of a larger State Department effort to "encourage broader adoption and acceptance of biotechnology in the developing world," said department official Deborah Malac; the program got half a million dollars this year, and a million over the previous two. Some farming and environmental groups have protested that the government should be funding research on the safety of GM crops rather than accepting (and pushing) corporate claims about their beneficial qualities, and that an allegedly free-market society should not be subsidizing individual industries. No complaints, though, from the industry being subsidized: Said Lisa Dry of the Biotechnology Industry Association, "The State Department clearly sees value in this technology and they are trying to share that with other countries."

Regulate First, Ask Questions Later
Flurry of Charges Leads EPA to Revisit Mercury Regs

Amid
a swirl of angry charges from states, environmental groups, and its own employees, the U.S. EPA is promising to revisit controversial proposed regulations on mercury emissions from power plants. Several EPA staffers -- who remain anonymous to avoid retaliation -- revealed what enviro groups have long suspected: The process whereby the regulations were developed was driven almost entirely by political appointees doing the bidding of industry lobbying groups and a sympathetic White House. According to the staffers, an expert advisory board's 21 months of work was ignored and staffers were instructed not to conduct the analysis the board requested. Language for the regulations was taken directly from industry lobby proposals. The EPA claimed its regs would reduce mercury emissions from power plants by 70 percent by 2018, but its own database reveals this to be utterly implausible. EPA chief Mike Leavitt is now backing away from the claim and promising to conduct the very analysis staffers were forbidden to undertake previously. Leavitt called post-regulatory analysis the agency's "normal process."

For more environmental news and humor go to Grist Magazine.

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