"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

A submitted reading, from Tami Thatcher, about Earth Day and cleanup at the Idaho National Laboratory.

On Earth Day, it is fitting to understand the “forever” contamination sites the Idaho National Laboratory’s cleanup is leaving behind. Ignoring the spent nuclear fuel and calcine that will supposedly be shipped out of state some day, there are roughly 55 “forever” radioactively contaminated sites of various sizes, and about 30 “forever” asbestos, mercury or military ordnance sites.

The areas contaminated with long-lived radioisotopes that are not being cleaned up will require institutional controls in order to claim that the “remediation” is protective of human health. People must be prevented from coming into contact with subsurface soil or drinking water near some of these sites — forever.

The Department of Energy downplays the mess and usually doesn’t specify how long the controls are required when the time frame is over thousands of years: they just say “indefinite.”

A summary of the INL “forever” sites here.

Institutional control of “forever” contamination means they put up a sign, maybe a fence or a soil cap — and assume it will be maintained for millennia. “Don’t worry about the cost. And besides,” they always add, “you and I won’t be here.”

Frequently cited stringent EPA standards such as 4 mrem/yr in drinking water are emphasized. But cleanup efforts often won’t come close to achieving the advertised standards.

DOE argued against digging up meaningful amounts of transuranic and other long-lived radioactive waste at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex. Only the most egregious chemically-laden buried waste is being removed. Denying that exorbitant cost to dig up waste and lack of another place to put it may have played a role, DOE argued that the incremental risk to a worker was too high given the small incremental benefit to a member of the public.

The analysis of the “worker” didn’t come down to concern over radiation workers monitored under DOE programs — which they argued were by definition protective. They argued that a state worker inspecting radioactive shipments would get an excessive radiation dose if working 30 years at the job, unmonitored for radiation. Then the benefit to the public was minimized by ignoring post-10,000 year contamination. Despite “remediation” radionuclides trickle into the aquifer at RWMC over the next millennia creating 30 to 100 mrem/yr doses, depending on the soil cap.

Cleanup decisions need to protect workers and the public. But studies continue to find that US radiation protection standards aren’t protective for either. A study of a large population of radiation workers getting an average 200 mrem/yr found elevated cancer risk. Find that study here. A prominent National Academy of Sciences study called the BEIR-VII report found radiation health risk for women double that of men, and female infants seven times more vulnerable than adult men.

Past and current decisions are based on ignoring the health risk to the most vulnerable. Current industry pressure is on loosening radiation standards to allow more emissions and to make waste burial easier.

Technical estimates of the rate of radionuclide migration to Idaho’s Snake River Plain Aquifer from the Idaho National Laboratory are biased to minimize the migration in the short term, avoid discussing the migration of contaminants in the long term and to ignore the spikes of contaminant migration during times of higher water infiltration. Experts have not been right very often about predicting contamination migration over the last several decades, they continue to be surprised by contamination migration now and in no way are their estimates of future contamination reliable or conservative. Naturally, the INL is planning to dump more radioactive waste over the aquifer.

What folks downstream of the INL from Rupert to Hagerman don’t understand about the aquifer — is a lot. And if they continue to rely on the nuclear boosters for information they will continue to be misinformed.

If the Department of Energy has its way, maybe all we will need is big sign placed on planet Earth, readable to potential visitors orbiting in space: “High radiation, don’t linger here and don’t drink the water.”

Thatcher is a former nuclear safety analyst at the Idaho National Laboratory and is now a nuclear safety consultant. Find out more at www.environmental-defense-institute.org.

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An Oregon Department of Agriculture article on the 88 new exotic terrestrial invertebrates that have come to Oregon in the last nine years.

Playing the craps table in Las Vegas or buying a lottery ticket for a chance at more than a billion dollars doesn’t seem as risky as gambling that the high number of new, exotic insects, slugs, and other terrestrial invertebrates discovered in Oregon the past nine years are harmless.

“It’s a crap shoot and we are gambling every year,” says Jim LaBonte, an entomologist with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “The vast majority of species we have found are believed to be relatively harmless. In some cases, a few species have actually proved to be beneficial. But a certain percentage are seriously bad and can do damage. It comes out to be one out of every seven. Every year that we roll the dice, there is a strong likelihood we will come up with a significant or major pest.”

LaBonte has been tracking all known new exotic species of terrestrial invertebrates detected and established in Oregon since 2007. There have been 88 of them, some new to North America. Out of roughly 25,000 insects, mites, slugs, and other related spineless species currently in the state, he estimates that about 1,000 are exotic. The number may also just be a tip of the iceberg.

“There has been a huge influx of species and limited resources to detect and deal with them,” says LaBonte. “This is a vast tsunami that is probably only going to get bigger.”

Exotic species are not necessarily invasive species. Exotics originated somewhere other than Oregon. Invasives cause damage of varying degrees. Of the 88 that have made Oregon their home the past eight years, 13 are known invasive species.

LaBonte has two good examples of bad actors.

“The spotted wing drosophila has had a huge impact on Oregon’s fruit industry and another recent newcomer– the azalea lace bug– is causing a lot of damage to azaleas and rhododendrons.”

Even though ODA has a contingent of experienced experts who can identify these species when they are discovered, it isn’t easy to keep tabs on so many invertebrates. Some sneak in undetected. For many species, there are no traps or lures. Sometimes the only way to find them is to literally turn over a rock. That’s why several of the exotics may be legacy species that have been present in Oregon for decades or longer with nobody recognizing them until the past few years.

Spread over the nine years, the average number of new species established in Oregon comes out to nearly 10 per year. Last year was a banner year, in a negative way, as 20 new exotic terrestrial invertebrate species were found in the state for the first time. The 20 new species are nearly twice as many as the previous two years combined. The reason for the increase is a combination of factors, not the least of which is that ODA is out there looking for insect pests in general. Surveys for specific, known pests included traps that were able to capture some previously undetected species.

The list of known major pests included in the detections since 2007 contain some names well-known to agricultural industries and others–barred fruit-tree tortrix, cabbage whitefly, ash whitefly, rose stem girdler, hemp russet mite, and garden slug. Some were found because of ODA’s survey work, others were samples submitted to the agency’s Insect Pest Prevention and Management Program experts.

Where do the new exotic species come from? The answer may be surprising. Despite Oregon’s strong trade ties with Asia, nearly half of the 88 species detected since 2007 originated in Europe. Asia is responsible for 19 percent, another 19 percent came from other regions of the United States– dispelling the notion that exotic or invasive species all come from other countries.

The onslaught of new species may seem overwhelming. But for the “glass half full” crowd, at least it’s not as bad as it could be.

“We aren’t like California or Florida– both of whom have huge ports that can bring a major influx of exotic species through global trade,” says LaBonte. “On the other hand, Oregon is a popular place for people to move to and they sometimes unknowingly bring in some species. Gypsy moth and Japanese beetle are exotic pests established in other parts of the US that have been brought to Oregon by people who’ve moved here.”

LaBonte has a few targeted messages for Oregonians who would rather be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

“When you travel abroad or purchase items from other countries, be cautious. It’s easy to unwittingly bring in infested material. Suitcases are one of the primary modes of introduction to Oregon as many of these species are excellent hitchhikers. Also, be aware of damage in your vicinity. If you see something suspicious like trees dying that you wouldn’t expect or insects that seem unfamiliar, contact ODA.”

LaBonte will present the latest information on Oregon’s exotic terrestrial invertebrates at an international conference of entomologists meeting in Orlando, Florida later this year, hoping others recognize that Oregon is actively looking for new species, especially those that can cause harm. Interest in the topic at the conference is a reminder that every state and country has similar issues with exotic species crossing borders on a regular basis.

“The conference will hopefully give us an opportunity to collaborate and get better ideas on what to look out for, how to look for it, and what to do about some of these species that are Oregon-bound,” says LaBonte.

Surveillance will always be the first line of defense and ODA remains active in survey work. In 2015, more than 140 species were targeted, but LaBonte says that was a drop in the bucket as there are thousands of species out there that could cause problems. Nonetheless, LaBonte and his cohorts will not wave the white flag.

“We have detected species early on in the past, before they became permanently established, and we’ve been able to eradicate them. Just because the issue is daunting doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tackle it.”

The challenges are significant, but when there are successes in keeping invasive species at bay, the effort is worthwhile. (photo, ash whitefly/Oregon Department of Agriculture)

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A December guest opinion from Tami Thatcher, a former nuclear safety analyst at the Idaho National Laboratory and a nuclear safety consultant.

The headline that “Radiation, chemicals likely killed 396 INL workers” by Rocky Barker at the Idaho Statesman last December understates the historical occupational health issues at the Idaho National Laboratory. As of last November, 5,397 INL workers had applied for radiation or chemical illness compensation under the Energy Employee compensation act. Only 636 radiation claims and 926 chemical claims have so far been approved.

There are now two petitions for radiation exposure cohorts being investigated by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health: one for INL and one for ANL-W. So far, one cohort for the Chem Plant from 1963 to 1974 has been recommended largely because of inadequate plutonium contamination monitoring.

The INL including ANL-W has conducted a tremendous variety of nuclear operations over the years at various facilities. While radiation monitoring practices and nuclear operations have changed over the years, here’s one thing that hasn’t changed: the deliberate understatement and omitting of important facts by the Department of Energy concerning contamination and exposures at these facilities.

Congressional testimony when the Energy worker act was created documented how the DOE deliberately withheld information it considered might erode public confidence, increase its liability, or prompt workers to demand hazard pay.

As I review recent reports by the DOE which still deceptively minimize historical radiological releases to southeast Idaho, it is clear that not much has changed. A DOE report published in 2014 depicts public offsite radiation doses all being below 10 mrem/yr, yet its cited source shows annual doses three times that amount. And various releases have been found by NIOSH to have been underestimated. Add to these low-balled INL releases the Department of Energy weapons testing releases that continued from underground testing after the above-ground weapons test ban in 1963.

I stumbled across serious errors in annual reporting of radionuclide emissions for 2013 at the INL that no one at DOE, INL or IDEQ had noticed, it is clear that the illusion of environmental monitoring is far more important that the actual monitoring, evaluation of results or looking for ways to reduce emissions. Emissions are often estimated without verification and then downplayed. The State of Idaho should care about the accurate current and historical reporting of contamination of air and water.

While other federal agencies such as the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission post public comment as received whether or not the proposed action is pursued. The DOE has yet to post public comment regarding the Two Proposed Shipments to INL citing the reason that it has altered its original plan. DOE has long eluded having to post or respond to solicited public comment this way.

A recent large epidemiology study combining France, the UK and the US has provided more evidence that it is cumulative dose that matters and doses below radiation protection standards yield increased cancer risk. You can count of the Department of Energy to make only muffled responses and it is unlikely that radiation worker training will discuss these results. The DOE has yet to reconcile radiation health findings from 2006 that found children were 7 times more vulnerable to radiation exposure, and women twice as vulnerable as men or the INL worker epidemiology showing elevated risk of brain tumors and blood cancers for INL workers, whether or not the workers were radiation workers.

NIOSH conducts radiation dose reconstruction with available dose reports. And it has yet to come to grips with serious americium-241 shallow perched water contamination at the ATR complex. The secrecy caused an absence of record keeping of the quantities of americium and other long-lived radionuclides flushed down the drains to open-air pecolation ponds.

And the US Geological survey which wrote a report specifically about shallow and deep perched water failed to monitor either americium or gross alpha levels. Even tiny community wells must monitor gross alpha levels. The USGS gave as an excuse that they do not read CERCLA reports that reported the americium levels at 100 times the maximum contaminant levels. The DOE has for years avoided mentioning long-lived radionuclide contamination at INL because it knows that the truth could erode public confidence.

NIOSH has continually been misled by the DOE about the adequacy of radiation controls at INL. NIOSH interviews are conducted but current workers cannot discuss problems without risk of retribution. Former workers need to step up and assist NIOSH in understanding past and current issues at INL that may have led to inadequate monitoring of radiation exposure as NIOSH investigates the petitions.

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Hells_Canyon_Oregon

A reminiscence from Brock Evans, a long-time leader in the Sierra Club and one of the original advocates for preservation of the Hells Canyon area. Now retired and living in Washington, D.C. he is a frequent contributor to magazines on environmental issues and has authored several books on environmental advocacy.

Such a strange-sounding, mysterious place: a whisper of an echo of something ancient and far-off, forbidding even in its very name.

Springtime 1967.1 had just left my law practice in Seattle take on a new position as Northwest Representative of the Sierra Club—the only paid, full-time conservationist position (we weren’t called environmentalists until after Earth Day, 1970) north of San Francisco. My “territory,” as it turned out (my boss, David Brower, had a rather loose management style!) was everything on the Pacific Coast from the North Pole to California, plus Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Alberta, and the Yukon Territory-Northwest North America.

I had actually heard of Hells Canyon for the first time the year before. By a strange turn of fate, the law firm I worked for had as its major client, the Washington Public Power Supply System-­one of two premier dambuilding entities in the Northwest—and mortal rivals of the other dambuilders: the private power companies, equal in numbers and political power. The struggles between these two over who got to plug up the great northwest rivers seem grotesque to us today, but those were the realities of that not-so distant past—when the words “wild river” were subjects of scorn and derision from all the Northwest powers-that-be. It was in the struggle between these two dam-building titans that I was first introduced to Hells Canyon as a place.

“Brock, we just got our appeal to the Supreme Court approved [challenging a license recently granted by the Federal Power Commission (precursor to the the present FERC) to PNPC, a combine of private power companies, to build a big dam in Hells Canyon, flooding out the last 120 miles of its inner gorge]. We’d like you to work on the brief for us,” said one of the firm’s senior partners.

A brief before the Supreme Court—every young lawyer’s dream! But I hated dams—the whole idea of dams—even then, and I knew I just could not do it. I begged off, wanting no part of what I considered a dirty business.

The wheel of fate turned again. A year later in my new position, I attended my first meeting of the Executive Committee of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Sierra Club, at a member’s home on Puget Sound. Not only was the Club much smaller in those days—about 40,000 members nationwide—but its tiny membership in the Northwest was almost exclusively located in the “westside” Seattle-Portland-Eugene axis. Although knowledgeable and determined on issues there—wilderness, parks, and forests—few knew much about the vast deserts, rivers, wild mountains and forests of the Northwest interior, much less had ever visited there.

On that bright spring morning, from “Darkest Idaho,” across the rivers and the deserts and the mountains, came a visitor—one Floyd Harvey, of Lewiston. Floyd, longtime boatman and guide in the Canyon, loved the great river, knew every bend and cove and cliff. His quiet earnestness, eloquence, and passion moved us all as he told us of the loss of a great living river if the dam was built, and pleaded with us to try to save it.

“OK Brock—take a look and see what we can do,” said my ExCom.

Yeah, sure, I thought. I hate this river-killing dam, the whole idea of it— but what could be done at this late date? The license had been already granted, and the only issue before the Supreme Court was now only about who got to do the terrible deed-not whether. I was morose and unhappy about it for weeks, and could come up with no solution to the problem, given our very few resources in those distant times.

But hope came—and from a totally-unexpected place: the Supreme Court itself (this was long before there was any such thing as “environmental law”). That June a small headline in the Lewiston Morning Tribune screamed out at me: “Hells Canyon Case Sent Back by Court for More Hearings.”

What’s this?

What happened, it turned out was a now-famous opinion of the great Justice, William O. Douglas—one which had nothing to do with any of the legal arguments presented by those who argued the case. But Supreme Court Justices don’t have to worry about such niceties; it is they who decide what the law is. Justice Douglas’ opinion (known in Latin legalese as an opinion obiter dictum—meaning outside the parameters of the case itself) was a landmark in American environmental history. And for me and our tiny band who wanted to save the Canyon—it represented Hope, a fighting chance—if we could seize it.

Douglas said that “the Court will not now make a decision on who gets to build this dam. The first question that must be answered is whether there should be any dam at all. Therefore, we remand this case back to the FPC for a determination on this one point: should there be a dam or not.” The very words themselves amounted to a stunning legal precedent; never before had the Court—any court-ever even questioned the ‘common wisdom’ of dambuilding.

Aha, I thought: “I’m a lawyer. I know what remand means! It means a whole new hearing, new witnesses-a new trial. YesP’At least that’s what it ought to be. (I did not know then that the FPC “Trial Judge” was not only furious about this decision, but that he was irrevocably pro-dam, determined to issue a new license no matter what. But that’s a story for later.)

So now, what to do? We weren’t parties to the previous proceeding; would there be any chance that they would let the upstart Sierra Club into it now?

Remember, no such thing then as “environmental law.” NEPA and the Clean Air Act were a full three years away; the Clean Water Act, five, the Endangered Species Act not even a gleam. There was nothing out there-no guidance, no precedents, no law review articles—nothing. Not even the word ‘environment.’

I wrote a letter to the Supreme Court. It read something like, “hey, you never heard of me before, but I just read this opinion, see, and I have a question: if the case has been remanded for a new trial, does that mean that any new parties can intervene [get involved]?” I can only imagine the bemused contempt at such temerity from the provinces on the part of the Court official who saw the letter!

But I did get a brief response, about a month later: “well yeah sonny, I guess you can [intervene] if you want to …”

OK, here we go, I thought to myself- “I’m a lawyer, I know how to do these things…” I did what I had always done in my (few) years of law practice — marched right down to the King County (Seattle) Courthouse, went up to the Clerk’s desk and said: “get me the Form Book for Petitions for Intervention before the Federal Power Commission, please…”

Eyebrows raised. “Sonny, what on earth are you talking about?” It was about then that I began to realize: whatever was to be done would have to be created, in its entirety — by me. There was no body of environmental law, no cases, no procedure — no nuthin’. This was to be, in lawyerspeak, a case entirely de novo (brand new).

OK. I went back to my office, read all the materials I could find about the Canyon and its values, read some of the literature about rivers, and dictated out a Petition of my own, with a whole lot of whereases and a lot of reasons why the Sierra Club — which to my knowledge had ever been involved in any sort of legal proceeding before — was qualified to present the evidence about why the Canyon was more valuable to the public as a free-flowing river.

Then another consideration started to dawn: this is going to be more than just a legal proceeding. Given the overwhelming pro-dam climate of the times, we are certain to be fiercely attacked by politicians and media. We must demonstrate that we have local support, too. Which means I’ve got to “find” more plaintiffs. (I also had to explain-in those innocent days—just exactly what a “plaintiff was!)

That took some doing. It was early August, and the deadline for filing the Petition was the 31st. Hurry, hurry, much to do. I tracked down the President of the Sierra Club, and the President of the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs-which represented many local northwest groups. After obtaining their permission (how much easier then than the cumbersome processes of today), I searched Idaho for a likely “true local” candidate.

I found it in the Idaho Alpine Club — a FWOC member group, based in Idaho Falls. It turned out that I had, inadvertently, also stumbled onto some of the finest ecowarriors in the whole state: Jerry Jayne, Russ Brown, Boyd Norton, Pete Renault, and Jim Campbell.

They agreed to sign on IAC as a party—and then went on, a few months later, to form the organization that became the passionate heart and soul of our whole campaign thenceforth: the Hells Canyon Preservation Council itself.

Now time was very short. The deadline pressed in, and many other issues were simultaneously overwhelming my one-person operation. No such thing as desktop publishing in 1967! This was the age of typewriters and rotary phones, mimeograph machines and carbon paper. Everything was cumbersome, all logistics painfully slow. The Petition somehow did get finished, the required thirty duplicate copies painfully put together. At 11:40PM on the evening of August 31, 1967, I deposited them all, duly stamped and dated, at the Post Office desk at Sea Tac Airport, for the next flight to Washington, FPC headquarters.

It was done. Now, at least we had a chance to fight for the Canyon we loved.

PS: Of course this was only the beginning of a new chapter in the story—also a beautiful and terrible one, as they all are: a tale of joys and despairs, violent twists and turns of fortune, as the case then made its way through a three year new trial, and then five more years in the halls of Congress. The “other side,” enraged at our intervention, did its best to get us and our evidence out of the case, touting the Snake as “The River that Wants to Work. ” We successfully escalated the whole cause into a major national issue. But all that is a story for another time, perhaps. (photo/by X-Weinzar)

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A remarkable ad from the John Kasich presidential campaign, aimed at Donald Trump.

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