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Government Concentrates

June 6, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 23

Storage igloo at Blue Grass, Ky., depot.
Storage igloo at Blue Grass, Ky., depot.

House budgets for chemical arms destruction

The House-passed fiscal 2006 defense authorization bill (H.R. 1815) includes a budget request of $1.4 billion for the destruction of chemical weapons among several chemical-weapons-related provisions. An amendment introduced by Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.) and others would block wastewater from the treatment of the by-product (hydrolysate) of VX nerve agent neutralization from being discharged into the Delaware River until EPA and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention certify the effluent is safe. If the amendment survives Senate deliberations, Andrews believes it will effectively derail Army plans to ship the hydrolysate from Newport, Ind., to a DuPont facility in Deepwater, N.J., for final treatment. Another provision in the bill would transfer management of the destruction of weapons at Blue Grass, Ky., and Pueblo, Colo., from the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics to the secretary of the Army. The Army secretary currently oversees the destruction of weapons at six other U.S. storage sites.

EPA renews environmental justice group

EPA has extended the charter of its National Environmental Justice Advisory Council until September 2006. NEJAC, which advises the EPA administrator on integrating environmental justice issues into the agency's policies, was established in 1993. It has made recommendations to EPA on a variety of issues, including fish consumption advisories, pollution prevention, and permits for facilities that generate hazardous waste or release air or water pollution. The advisory council, composed of representatives from industry, community groups, tribes, and state and local governments, has not met for more than a year. Its charter was set to expire this September before EPA granted the extension in late May. Meanwhile, seven of NEJAC's 23 advisory positions are open. An EPA spokeswoman tells C&EN that the agency is looking to fill the NEJAC vacancies and then will call a meeting of the group.

Canadians urge temporary nuclear waste storage

For at least 300 years, radioactive waste generated by Canadian commercial nuclear reactors should be isolated and contained in a monitored, retrievable system, recommends Canada's Nuclear Waste Management Organization in a draft report released in late May. Rather than disposal in a permanent underground repository, as the U.S. proposes for Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, the organization urges an "adaptive phased management" approach in which waste would be managed and could be retrieved. The organization was created by the Canadian government and is led by the nation's nuclear power industry. The report argues that its approach would require the current generation of Canadians to take charge of their waste but leave options available "for future generations to make decisions in their own best interests." The report proposes that waste be managed in three phases, beginning with on-site storage for 30 years, followed by movement possibly to an interim underground storage facility and then to deep underground storage in a retrievable and monitored system in suitable rock formations. The site selection process would focus on provinces that currently benefit from the nuclear fuel cycle, the report says. It estimates the total costs to be $24 billion.

Energy bill moves to Senate floor

The full Senate takes up comprehensive energy legislation later this month. The debate is likely to be intense. Amendments are expected on offshore oil and gas drilling, renewable energy requirements, vehicle fuel efficiency, oversight for locating liquefied natural gas facilities, climate change, and more. These thorny provisions were largely avoided or only partially addressed when the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee on May 26 cleared its as-yet-unnumbered bill on a 21-to-1 vote. That bill, however, holds many titles that most lawmakers could agree on. Those provisions would modernize and expand the U.S. electric grid; require an inventory of offshore oil and gas resources; double the use of ethanol in gasoline; and establish national energy efficiency measures to reduce use of natural gas, oil, and electricity over the next decade and a half. In April, the House passed its version of the bill (H.R. 6) that, with its tilt toward traditional energy sources, would have a difficult time clearing the Senate. Consequently, the future success of energy legislation in Congress is likely to turn on what takes place in and emerges from a House-Senate conference committee. That panel will be established once the Senate passes its bill.

Fast track for drugs called unsafe

FDA's fast-track system for approving life-saving drugs is "broken and failing to ensure patient safety," says a congressional report released on June 1. The study, prepared by Rep. Edward J. Markey's (D-Mass.) staff, says pharmaceutical companies often fail to carry out promises to do clinical trials after drugs are marketed. In 1992, FDA established an accelerated approval process that allows the agency to approve drugs on an expedited basis using limited information if the manufacturers agree to conduct further studies to confirm the products' efficacy. Data from FDA and the Securities & Exchange Commission show that 42 of 91 required postmarket clinical trials were not completed, and 21 of these were not even started, the report says. The 21 drugs with unstarted trials have continued to be sold to the public. Jeff Trewhitt, spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, responds: "FDA's regulatory program works well. There has been no change in the drug withdrawal rate since the fast-track approval system was implemented in 1992."



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