The Daily Grist: March 30

Do Good
Speak Up About Bush's Mercury Plan

If the Bush administration's plan for coping with mercury pollution sounds to you like a bum deal,
speak up and let the EPA know. Join other citizens in calling for strong regulations on mercury emissions from power plants to prevent brain damage and developmental problems in young children.

Against the Grain
GM Rice to Be Grown in California

California is finding itself planted squarely in the center of an international debate over genetically modified crops. Yesterday, a California Rice Commission advisory panel voted 6-5 to
allow the cultivation of a genetically modified form of rice designed to produce human proteins -- and, eventually, pharmaceuticals -- on the condition that Ventria Bioscience plant the crops in Southern California (well outside of the state's "rice belt") and follow stringent safety and monitoring requirements to ensure that its rice does not contaminate non-GM crops. Many rice farmers opposed the move, saying that contamination was inevitable, and that even the threat of contamination could hurt them in international markets. Also opposed are enviros, who are pushing California counties to follow the example of Mendocino County, where citizens earlier this month approved an initiative banning GM crops. So far almost a fifth of the state's counties are considering similar measures. Speaking of GM foods, don't forget to check out this week's Grist InterActivist, Rick North, who heads the Campaign for Safe Food for the Oregon chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Nuclear Weapons Plants Threaten Water Sources, Says Report

Radioactive and toxic byproducts from the 13 nuclear weapons facilities in the U.S.
pose a grave danger to several major water sources and tens of thousands of people who rely on them. So says a report released Monday by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, based on a two-year study by a coalition of environmental, health, and safety organizations called the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. The report accuses the Department of Energy of backing away from its commitments to completely clean the sites. Though the DOE has spent some $200 billion to date on cleanups, a toxic soup of contamination still threatens Texas's Ogallala Aquifer, Tennessee's Clinch River, Washington's Columbia River, and other critical water sources around the country, says the report. "It's time for DOE to obey all environmental laws, clean up its mess, and end plans to generate even more pollution by building new weapons plants," said alliance director Susan Gordon.

Rubber Ducking
On Family Planning, the U.S. Faces International Isolation

As if the rest of its international agenda weren't unpopular enough, the Bush administration is
further isolating itself from the global community with its positions on family planning and women's reproductive rights in developing countries. To appease its socially conservative political base at home, the administration has proposed language in international agreements that stresses abstinence over contraception -- language opposed by an overwhelming majority of other countries and NGOs. A recent report by the Guttmacher Institute, an international reproductive-rights organization, found that unmet contraceptive needs in developing countries are responsible for 52 million unwanted pregnancies each year, resulting in 1.5 million maternal deaths and more than 500,000 motherless children. Despite this evidence, the Bush administration renewed its push for abstinence language at a U.N. meeting last week that marked the 10th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. The National Wildlife Federation's Caron Whitaker was at the gathering and sent daily dispatches, which you can read -- you guessed it -- only on the Grist Magazine website.

So Far, Sow Good
Foundation Sells Businesses on Green Practices

Across the U.S., businesses are being pressured to adopt more eco-friendly, sustainable practices -- not by government regulation, but by their own shareholders. This ground-up movement is
coordinated by organizations like As You Sow, a San Francisco-based consulting firm that helps grassroots shareholder groups find major-investor backing and put their requests into the language of business -- that is, the language of dollars and cents. The firm outlines the economic case for reform, stressing that long-term financial health hinges on the value of the corporate brand name, which is best served by resolving controversies over social and environmental issues. Its efforts have led to green initiatives at Dell, Home Depot, and a host of other large companies. "The best management incorporates environmental and employee practices that are more sustainable long term," says As You Sow's Thomas Van Dyck. "You can make as much money by doing what's right as [by doing] what's exploitative; and in the long run, you'll do better."

For more environmental news and humor go to Grist Magazine.

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