The Environmental Protection Agency has imposed new curbs on the mining practice of mountaintop removal. On Thursday, the EPA said it will no longer allow coal companies to fill neighboring valleys with the rubble from destroyed mountain peaks. EPA Administration Lisa Jackson cited evidence showing so-called “valley fills” pollute surrounding mountain streams. Coal mining companies say the new regulations could bring their operations to a halt. Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association said the new rules are “tantamount to saying the intent is to strictly limit coal mining in Appalachia.” The regulations, however, will only apply to new mining permits, not existing operations. Amanda Starbuck of the Rainforest Action Network said, “The EPA has confirmed what science tells us, that mountaintop removal is harming water resources and public health in real and measurable ways, which is why these new guidelines should apply to existing mining permits — not just new ones.”
The Obama administration, meanwhile, has formally submitted its fuel efficiency standards for limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks. Automakers will be required to improve fuel economy at an annual rate of five percent until reaching 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016. The new fuel standards will mark the first time the US has imposed limits on greenhouse gas pollution.
In Kansas, the murderer of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller has been sentenced to life in prison. Scott Roeder was convicted in January for first-degree murder. He shot Dr. Tiller point-blank in the forehead as Dr. Tiller attended Sunday church services. In a lengthy tirade at his sentencing hearing, Roeder repeatedly defended his crime.
Scott Roeder: “Had the courts acted rightfully, I would have not shot George Tiller. The blame for George Tiller’s death lies more with the state of Kansas than with me. The state of Kansas permits, protects and promotes the slaughter of these children. George Tiller was their hit man.”
The fifty-two-year-old Roeder won’t have parole eligibility for at least fifty years, the maximum allowed by law. Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston said Roeder had flouted the US justice system.
Nola Foulston: “Mr. Roeder has made a mockery of the system from day one. He has made a mockery of the system that we live by the laws of our land and that he chose his own way.”
The one-year anniversary of Tiller’s murder will be marked next month.
Israel is threatening to launch a new all-out offensive on the Gaza Strip after bombing several areas on Thursday. At least three Palestinian children were wounded in the Israeli strikes. Israel called the attacks a response to Palestinian rocket fire. One Palestinian rocket was fired into Israel earlier in the day, causing no injuries. Critics have warned Israel could be trying to provoke a Palestinian reaction to in turn justify a new assault on Gaza to divert attention from growing US opposition to Israeli settlement expansion on the West Bank. Earlier this week, Israel killed a Palestinian teenager and wounded several others as they took part in a nonviolent demonstration to protest discriminatory land policies. Four Palestinian teenagers were also killed in other Israeli attacks last month. Earlier today, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom warned Israel could launch “another military operation… in the near future.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has issued a harsh rebuke of Western and United Nations involvement in Afghanistan. On Thursday, Karzai criticized what he called “massive interference from foreigners” who he says want a “puppet” and “servant” government. Karzai singled out Peter Galbraith, who was fired last year as the second-top UN official in Afghanistan. Galbraith said he was let go for speaking out against widespread electoral fraud in Karzai’s re-election, but Galbraith’s former superior said he was fired for conspiring to replace Karzai with a different leader. Karzai said Galbraith was responsible for interfering with the elections.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: “This is the reality, my bothers. That is why today I have come here for the service of the election commission members, for the service of the election commission. There was fraud in the presidential and provincial election. With no doubt, there was massive fraud. This wasn’t fraud by Afghans, but the fraud of foreigners, the fraud of Galbraith, of Morillon. And the votes of the Afghan nation were in the control of an embassy.”
Although he did not cite the United States by name, Karzai’s comments come days after President Obama visited Afghanistan to pressure Karzai in part on tackling corruption.
In Brazil, a top Amazonian land reform activist has been shot dead in a targeted attack. Pedro Alcantara de Souza was killed Thursday by two gunmen on motorcycles. Souza headed a union of landless farmers in the Brazilian state of Para. He had led a series of occupations of large farms in a campaign for equitable distribution of land. His murder came hours after a trial was delayed for the suspect accused of murdering the American nun and rainforest activist Dorothy Stang, who was killed in 2005 in the same state.
A new report says Africa has lost over $1.8 trillion in illegal capital flights over the last forty years. The US-based research firm Global Financial Integrity, or GFI, says commercial tax evasion, drug trafficking, racketeering and counterfeiting account for the bulk of the outflows, with most of the money flowing to Western financial institutions. Using what it calls conservative estimates, GFI says the outflows have cost the average African nearly $1,000 since 1970.
The Obama administration has announced a revamped set of airport screening rules for travelers to the United States. The US will no longer automatically screen visitors from a list of fourteen countries on a controversial watch list announced last year. But in a measure critics say could increase ethnic profiling, travelers could be stopped if they match a suspect’s physical description, even if security officials don’t have a suspect’s name.
The Justice Department has filed a civil lawsuit against the war contractor KBR for allegedly billing the US military for unauthorized security costs in Iraq. The suit accuses KBR of repeatedly charging the Army for private security guards without permission.
A top Army official has reversed a previous pledge to ease enforcement of the ban on openly gay and lesbian military servicemembers. On Thursday, Army Secretary John McHugh said soldiers can still be discharged for violating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Earlier this week, McHugh had suggested the ban would no longer be enforced as the Pentagon conducts a review.
New figures show more Americans filed for bankruptcy last month than at any point since federal bankruptcy laws were modified in October 2005. The data collection firm Aacer says over 158,000 bankruptcy filings were submitted in March, a 35 percent increase from February.
In California, a state investigation has cleared the anti-poverty group ACORN of unlawful activity in videotapes appearing to show staffers offering advice to right-wing activists posing as intermediaries of a prostitution ring. California Attorney General Jerry Brown says a few ACORN staffers acted inappropriately but did not commit any prosecutable offenses. The videos helped fuel a new right-wing campaign against ACORN, which has long been targeted for its work helping low-income Americans with voter registration, tax problems and foreclosures. ACORN announced its disbandment as a national organization last month.
And forty Haitian earthquake survivors have been freed after spending more than two months in Florida immigration jails since their arrival in the United States. Some of the survivors came in on US military planes only to be detained for not having visas. None of them have any criminal history. The survivors were released on Thursday after the New York Times published a widely circulated story on their incarceration. Lawyers say the detainees received little or no mental healthcare for the trauma they suffered during the earthquake. At least two earthquake survivors are said to remain at the jails, including one who was flown to the US for medical care.