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Government Concentrates

May 16, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 20

White House wins energy panel suit

The White House need not make public names or other details of meetings Vice President Dick Cheney and other government officials held with industry advisers to draw up a national energy policy, according to a unanimous opinion of the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Released last week, the decision concerns private meetings held in 2001 in the first months of the then-new Bush Administration. The Sierra Club, an environmental organization, and Judicial Watch, a conservative group, sued to obtain details of the meetings, arguing that the meetings were covered under federal open-meetings and disclosure laws. The two litigants won partial victories from the district court and the appeals court, which ordered that basic information be released to the two groups to allow them to prepare their case. The White House petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, however, and the Supreme Court returned the case to the appeals court, ordering it to reconsider the case in light of special burdens that the release of details would impose on the executive branch. The latest ruling says the Administration's energy policy decisions were made only by federal officials, which the court based on sworn declarations of these officials, and that nonfederal officials provided only advice to the White House. Therefore, the meetings were internal to the Administration, the court ruled, and expecting the President to provide details would restrict his executive branch authority and his constitutionally assigned powers.

Boston University, medical center cited by OSHA

OSHA has cited Boston University and Boston Medical Center for three serious violations of its personal protective equipment standard and has proposed a penalty of $8,100. OSHA defines a serious violation as one in which there is high probability that death or serious physical harm will ensue and where the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard. Last year, three researchers at the medical center became ill and were hospitalized after exposure to tularemia, or rabbit fever, bacteria. OSHA learned of the exposures through media reports, not from the institutions. Among the violations was failure to ensure that all employees wore gloves and eye protection when working with tularemia live vaccine strain and failure to retrain employees in proper safety protection. The researchers thought they were working with a noninfectious strain of the bacterium, and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, investigating the incident, has not been able to determine the source of the organism. OSHA has also issued a letter of significant findings and recommendations to the director of the Office of Environmental Health & Safety at BU and the medical center.

Court orders solvent off TRI

Methyl ethyl ketone, a widely used solvent, should be taken off EPA's Toxics Release Inventory, a federal appeals court said on May 10. Ruling in favor of the American Chemistry Council and against EPA, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit determined that the chemical is not toxic, and thus should not be listed on TRI. In its arguments, EPA contended that the substance should remain listed because it helps form toxic ground-level ozone. The appeals court ruled the agency's interpretation was not allowed under the federal right-to-know law. ACC says the decision supports its position that chemicals should not be listed on TRI "solely because the substances are classified as volatile organic compounds" that contribute to ozone formation. Facilities reported releasing 25 million lb of methyl ethyl ketone in 2003, according to TRI data.

Four chemicals targeted for phaseout

Two pesticides and two brominated flame-retardant chemicals are under consideration for global phaseout through the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). The pesticides are chlordecone (kepone) and lindane and its hexachlorocyclohexane isomers; the fire retardants are pentabromodiphenyl ether (shown) and hexabromobiphenyl. Treaty partners meeting May 2-6 in Punta del Este, Uruguay, also established a group of experts called the POPs Review Committee to evaluate these and future chemical nominations for phaseout under the Stockholm convention. The committee then will make recommendations as to what chemicals should be added to the 12 substances currently controlled under the treaty (C&EN, Dec. 18, 2000, page 4). Governments at the meeting also agreed that 25 developing countries may continue using DDT inside houses to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes, even though it is one of the banned compounds. Treaty partners will review progress on the development of "safe, affordable, and locally effective alternatives to DDT" in 2008. U.S. officials attended the meeting only as observers because the U.S. is not a party to the convention.


The Department of Health & Human Services has awarded BioPort Corp. of Lansing, Mich., a $122.7 million contract to produce 5 million doses of anthrax vaccine for civilian biodefense. It's for the same controversial vaccine Bioport supplies to the Pentagon.

The Senate has passed the $82 billion fiscal 2005 supplemental spending bill. Included is a provision giving the secretary of homeland security the authority to waive any and all laws in the course of building roads and barriers along the U.S. borders. The provision is part of the immigration bill, the REAL ID Act of 2005. The House attached the provision as a rider to the war supplemental spending bill, which the President has signed.

Pete Nanos has resigned as director of Los Alamos National Laboratory to take a new position at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a part of the Department of Defense. Taking over at LANL will be Robert Kuckuck, a longtime employee and the former deputy director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.



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