A leading Republican and a leading Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives have slammed the proposed congressional bailout of USEC Inc. and its so-called "American Centrifuge Plant" or ACP. In a letter to members of the Transportation Conference Committee dated May 7, Steve Pearce (R-NM) and Ed Markey (D-MA) recount the excruciating history of USEC since its ill-fated privatization in 1997, and call upon colleagues to "stop the expenditure of taxpayer dollars on USEC's failed ACP."
Among the many digs the congressmen take at backers of the USEC bailout, Pearce and Markey identify the spending proposal from the top as an earmark. Bailout backers, including most especially south Ohio congressman and Speaker of the House John Boehner, have bent over backwards to argue that the explicit earmark isn't an earmark. Boehner is supposed to be enforcing a House rule against any earmarks.
The letter at the links above is addressed to Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), a member of the Conference Committee. Identical letters were sent to all other House conferees who will be meeting to craft a Transportation bill, and the Pearce-Markey letter is being otherwise widely circulated in both chambers of Congress.
The Transportation Conference Committee is considering an amendment authored by U.S. Senators from Ohio Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, advertised as making up to $150 million available to USEC in 2012 appropriations. It is widely regarded as the last chance USEC has to obtain 2012 congressional appropriations, which are needed to implement a proposed two-year "Research, Development and Demonstration" (RD&D) project, itself seen as a last-ditch effort to salvage the flagging eleven-year ACP endeavor.
If 2012 appropriations are not secured before May 31 of this year, USEC will miss a number of critical deadlines, and it's unlikely that any part of ACP then could be salvaged even with future federal funding. USEC executives themselves acknowledged on a May 2 webcast conference call that the May 31 deadline is an inflexible term of the company's new credit facility. USEC investors, creditors and shareholders have all strongly soured on ACP, since it has mired the company in expenses and debts with no productive outcome.
It remains very unclear whether USEC can avoid bankruptcy or other acute financial distress long enough to join in any new public-private partnership as envisioned in the RD&D proposal, whether the terms of a congressionally-authorized bailout would be sufficient or acceptable for USEC, and whether the federal interest in RD&D could not be met by partnership with other companies in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, leaving the Piketon, Ohio, site to decommissioning, cleanup and redevelopment.
Steve Pearce, a former minority whip, is chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus which advocates for uranium mining interests and energy independence, a member of the Financial Services Committee, vice-chair of the Native American Caucus, and a member of the Tea Party Caucus. Ed Markey, serving his 36th year in the House, is ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, former chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence, current co-chair of the Bipartisan Caucus on Nonproliferation, and a member of the Progressive Caucus.
Uranium miners are enraged that continuous Department of Energy (DOE) handouts to USEC, not authorized by Congress, have been accomplished through the extra-legal mechanism of "uranium barter," which dumped government stockpiles of uranium onto the market, depressing prices and increasing unemployment among miners. USEC uranium enrichment competitors, including companies with projects in New Mexico, Idaho and North Carolina, are enraged that three successive administrations have shoveled federal subsidies, gifts, and no-bid contracts to USEC, in flagrant violation of the USEC Privatization Act and despite USEC's non-performance in creating a viable enrichment project in Ohio. Communities in Ohio and Kentucky are enraged that USEC broke numerous agreements regarding the shutdown of its gaseous diffusion plants at Piketon and Paducah, while simultaneously maintaining its lease-hold on the two federal sites, preventing the planning of alternative development.
That Pearce and Markey have joined to lead an unlikely full-spectrum coalition to end federal support of USEC Inc., is perhaps the worst news the company has received in a string of very very bad news. Just this week, Japan shut down its last operating nuclear reactor, and Francois Hollande was elected president of France, on a platform calling for a one-third reduction of French reliance on nuclear power. France and Japan have been the second and third largest markets for enriched uranium fuel after the U.S. On Monday, May 7, shares of USEC hit a new all-time low of 75 cents, 97 percent off of the 2007 high of $23.91.
Ninety-seven percent losers are generally frowned-upon by the investment community.
As the dismal financial outlook is summarized in the Pearce-Markey letter:
The company's stock has been trading at under $1/share for weeks and is at risk of being de-listed from the stock exchange. There is substantial uncertainty USEC can generate future taxable income and this is reflected in its last publicly-reported credit rating of CCC+. In addition to its dismal credit rating, USEC's default rating was downgraded to Caa1, poor standing and high credit risk. Decline in profit and income is not the only concern; the world-wide demand for uranium enrichment services, which had been expected to increase, is down sharply. The $150 million in support contemplated by the Senate is almost $60 million higher than the current total market capitalization of the company. Any further taxpayer support for this company thus would carry with it a stunningly high level of risk that the entire investment would be lost.
Compared to USEC, Solyndra looks as rock solid as a Christmas account in an FDIC-backed savings bank.
Readers of the Pearce-Markey letter will note a striking parallel with predictions I made in my petition of intervention against ACP licensing in 2005, elaborated more recently in a series of articles at Ecowatch.org and SONGSheetOhio.blogspot.com. It is sad that it's taken seven years for public officials to take action on the massive corruption scandal that was already in full flower in the south Ohio hills at the time I began to sound the alarm in 2005. On the other hand, it is gratifying to learn that sometimes, some elected officials in Washington do take seriously their duty of public trust.
Let's hope that we hear no more about shoveling U.S. Treasury funds and government inventories toward USEC Inc. But I'm here to tell you that hope won't be enough. We'll have to work for it.
Also posted on the blog of Southern Ohio Neighbors Group.
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They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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