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.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that she will attempt to dismantle the National Rifle Association (NRA), arguing that years of corruption and mismanagement warrant the dissolution of the activist organization, as CNN reported.
<div id="7eb49" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="83819841e380a7072ec66d3186c160e8"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291705003984510977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨RESPONSE to #Mauritius #OILSpill 🚨 “Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the #ClimateCrisis, as well as… https://t.co/PBLioZat6X</div> — Greenpeace Africa (@Greenpeace Africa)<a href="https://twitter.com/Greenpeaceafric/statuses/1291705003984510977">1596801446.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"There is no guaranteed safe way to extract, transport and store fossil fuel products. This oil leak is not a twist of fate, but the choice of our twisted addiction to fossil fuels. We must react by accelerating our withdrawal from fossil fuels," Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager Happy Khambule said in a <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/press/11864/greenpeace-africa-response-to-mauritius-oil-spill/?utm_campaign=oil&utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=post&utm_content=single-image&utm_term=mauritius-oil-spill-reactive" target="_blank">statement Friday</a>. "Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis" target="_self">climate crisis</a>, as well as devastating oceans and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/biodiversity" target="_self">biodiversity</a> and threatening local livelihoods around some of Africa's most precious lagoons."</p>
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By Gianna-Carina Grün
While the first countries are easing their lockdowns, others are reporting more and more new cases every day. Data for the global picture shows the pandemic is far from over. DW has the latest statistics.
What's the Current Global Trend?<p>The goal for all countries is to make it to the blue part of the chart and stay there. Countries and territories in this section reported zero new cases both this week (past seven days) and the week before.</p><p>Currently, that is the case for 14 out of 209 countries and territories. </p>
How Has the Covid-19 Trend Evolved Over the Past Weeks?<p>The situation has improved slightly: 87 countries report more cases this week than last week. </p>
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Hurricane forecasters predict the 2020 hurricane season will be the second-most active in nearly four decades.
Three years ago, scientists predicted it would happen. Now, new NASA satellite imagery confirms it's true: two ice caps in Canada's Nunavut province have disappeared completely, providing more visual evidence of the rapid warming happening near the poles, as CTV News in Canada reported.
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