The Daily Grist: April 2

Critical Massey
Bushies Let Political Contributor Off Easy for Spill, Says Whistleblower

The Bush administration suppressed an inquiry into a massive 2000 coal-slurry spill to protect a political contributor,
says a whistleblower involved in the investigation. The accusation -- the latest in a growing string from ex-administration officials -- comes from Jack Spadaro, former head of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy, in an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" that will air on Sunday. Spadaro helped the Mine Safety and Health Administration investigate what he calls "the most serious environmental disaster in the history of the eastern United States": a spill from a containment pool that poured some 300 million gallons of coal sludge into Kentucky and West Virginia water supplies. Massey Energy, the company that owned the offending facility, is a large contributor to the Republican Party. Spadaro says the MSHA curtailed his investigation -- which found that Massey knew the pool was weak and had leaked before -- and ended up charging the company with only two violations and levying a puny fine of $5,500. Spadaro then resigned from the investigation.

The Agony of Beef Eat
Amazon Deforestation Driven by Brazilian Beef Industry

The explosive growth of cattle farming in Brazil seems to be the primary culprit behind an increase in destruction of the Amazon rainforest, says
a report released today. While spreading soybean cultivation and logging frequently get the headlines, the Center for International Forestry Research report says that it is beef exports -- driven mainly by European demand for certified foot-and-mouth-disease-free meat -- that are behind the loss of some 10,000 square miles of the world's largest continuous rainforest in 2002. That figure is up 40 percent from 2001, and researchers expect even higher 2003 figures, available shortly. European Union countries import almost 40 percent of Brazil's beef; 35 percent is taken in by Egypt, Russia, and Saudi Arabia; the U.S., which has tight import controls to protect domestic producers, accounted for only 8 percent. Once the province of small local farmers, the Amazon rainforest is now being consumed in large chunks by industrial farms connected with large supermarkets. Enviros have called on the Brazilian government to take measures to slow the destruction.

Freedom From Misinformation Act
Federal Judge Orders Release of Energy Task Force Documents

The legal wrestling match between Vice President Dick Cheney and critics of his secretive energy task force took a dramatic turn yesterday, when a
federal judge ordered several federal agencies to release thousands of documents relating to their work with the task force. The order stemmed from a case filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Judicial Watch against Cheney based on the Freedom of Information Act. NRDC charged that even if the president and VP are protected by executive privilege, employees of other federal agencies who worked with the task force aren't -- they were not, as Cheney's lawyers claim, temporary employees of the executive branch. The judge gave the agencies -- including the Department of the Interior and Department of Energy -- until June 1 to examine and release the documents. Cheney is expected to appeal. The case is one of three that has sought information about the task force -- one, by the General Accounting Office, was dismissed; another, by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, is pending before the Supreme Court.

For more environmental news and humor go to Grist Magazine.

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