The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 82.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

News Briefs

Questions Raised About a Market System for Mercury


As the Bush administration presses ahead with a market-based plan to let power companies swap their rights to emit mercury, scientific and economic uncertainties leave a significant question unanswered: whether the plan will leave “hot spots” with extremely high levels of mercury around the country.

That issue will be among those explored Wednesday at hearings in Chicago, Philadelphia and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, as the Environmental Protection Agency moves to draw up mercury regulations for coal-burning power plants by the end of the year.

Mercury emissions from coal-burning plants are not regulated under federal law, though the Clinton administration had moved toward strict regulation by classifying mercury as a hazardous pollutant under the Clean Air Act in 2000. Hazardous air pollutants, which include asbestos and lead, are generally subject to strict controls at each source, a requirement intended to bring down the level of pollutants everywhere.

The Bush administration wants mercury to fall under a less stringent section of the Clear Air Act that governs pollutants like those that cause smog and acid rain, which are not as toxic to humans.

Under the current proposal, power plants will buy and sell the rights to emit mercury into the air; the administration says this trading system is intended to cut mercury emissions by 70 percent by 2018. Critics say that developing technology will make it feasible to reduce mercury by 90 percent on a faster timeline.

Army Cancels Helicopter Program


The Pentagon announced the cancellation on Monday of the $38 billion Comanche helicopter program, a weapons system from the Cold War era that was decades behind in development and that became a victim to new technology and rising concerns over military costs and the federal budget deficit.

The decision brings an end to a program that began in 1983 and has, so far, cost $8 billion, but has yet to produce a single operational craft. Moreover, the Comanche, a heavily armed reconnaissance helicopter, was designed for operations against massive Soviet and Warsaw Pact armies and has been overtaken by the Army’s need for lighter and more flexible aircraft to fight against terrorists and guerrillas.

“It’s a big decision.” said Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff. “We know it’s a big decision. But it’s the right decision.”

The cancellation must be approved by Congress when it reviews the Pentagon’s budget for the 2005 fiscal year, which includes money for the Comanche. But many observers say the helicopter program lacks widespread support in Congress that many other weapons have and the Pentagon may not have a difficult time scrapping it.

In a Pentagon briefing Schoomaker, along with the acting Army secretary, Les Brownlee, said that the termination of the Comanche program would free up money for other Army aviation programs, mainly a modernization of the Apache attack helicopter now in combat use, along with increased purchases of Blackhawk helicopters and continued development of unmanned drones.

Modified Seeds Found Amid Unmodified Crops


Seeds that are supposed to be free of genetic engineering routinely contain biotechnology traits anyway, a public interest group said Monday.

The group, the Union of Concerned Scientists, said it had detected tiny quantities of genetically modified seeds in most of the bags of unmodified corn, soybean and canola seeds it tested.

If seeds do contain the traits, the group said, it would be virtually impossible for farmers to grow crops that are completely free of genetic modification. That could mean disruption of crop exports to countries that do not allow genetically engineered foods. It also makes it harder for organic farmers to supply customers who will not accept even tiny degrees of genetic engineering.

“The door to seed contamination is wide open,” said Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who added that her group’s study was the first to systematically look at the issue. In a conference call with reporters, she said the genetically engineered seeds might have come from a mixing of seeds by farmers or seed companies or from pollination of seed crops by genetically engineered crops.

Nader Says His Candidacy Won’t Hurt Democrats


In answer to a question on Monday morning after a speech at the National Press Club about his decision to run for president, Ralph Nader said, “This candidacy is not going to get many Democratic Party votes.”

His support will come largely from “conservatives and independents who are very upset with Bush administration policies,” Nader said, and he urged “the liberal establishment to relax and rejoice.”

But based on who voted for him four years ago, his analysis looks shaky. Voters leaving polling places in 2000 were asked by Voter News Service, a consortium of television networks and The Associated Press, how they would have voted if George W. Bush and Al Gore had been the only candidates on the ballot.

Among Nader voters, 45 percent said they would have voted for Gore, 27 percent said they would have voted for Bush, and the rest said they would not have voted.

In California, where Nader received 4 percent of the vote, 46 percent said they would have voted for Gore and only 14 percent said they would have gone for Bush.

Because there is no reason to believe the breakdown was not similarly lopsided in other states, it is safe to assume that Nader cost Gore states that Bush narrowly won.