Cobell, Plaintiffs Appeal Trust Case Reduction

Cobell, Plaintiffs Appeal Trust Case Reduction

September 9, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — A half-million American Indian plaintiffs are appealing a federal judge’s recent decision to award them much less than they wanted in a long-running trust case.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson said in an Aug. 7 decision that the plaintiffs are entitled to $455 million, a fraction of the $47 billion that they had sought. Robertson’s number was closer to government estimates in the 12-year suit, which claims the Indians were swindled out of billions of dollars in oil, gas, grazing, timber and other royalties overseen by the Interior Department since 1887.

“If this opinion was fair, I’d like to be out of court, but we certainly can’t let a decision like this stand,” said Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the case.

At issue was how much of the royalty money was withheld from the Indian plaintiffs over the years, and whether it was held in the U.S. treasury at a benefit to the government. Robertson said in his opinion that plaintiffs did not successfully argue that it was.

Because many of the records have been lost or destroyed, it has been up to the court to decide how to best estimate how much the individual Indians — many of whom are nearing the end of their lives — should be paid.

In their appeal, the plaintiffs say that Robertson is too narrowly defining the obligations of the government in managing the Indian trust. The government trust should be treated the same as a private trust, which would have been held to stricter standards, the plaintiffs say.

Robertson issued an order last week allowing the plaintiffs to appeal. He had originally intended to begin a new phase of the trial that would determine how and to whom the government should award the money. But he said at an Aug. 28 status hearing that he would allow the plaintiffs to appeal now so the process would not be delayed any further.

In a January decision, Robertson said the Interior Department had “unreasonably delayed” its accounting of the money owed to landholders and that the task was ultimately impossible. He called the June trial to consider whether money was owed, and, if so, how much was owed.

The class-action suit deals with individual Indians’ lands and covers about 500,000 Indians and their heirs. Several tribes have sued separately, claiming mismanagement of their lands.

Mary Clare Jalonick is a writer with tThe Associated Press


US-India Nuclear Deal Passes Major Hurdle

US-India Nuclear Deal Passes Major Hurdle

by Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS – Disarmament groups and peace activists are urging Congress to reject the Bush administration’s plan to send U.S. nuclear technology to India after the proposal gained the assent of an international monitoring body late last week.

[An Indian Political party worker holds a placard at a protest against India's disputed nuclear energy deal with the US, in Mumbai in June. The United States faces a final hurdle in the implemention of a landmark civilian nuclear pact with India -- convincing lawmakers that the deal has adequate safeguards as prescribed by US law. (AFP/File/Sajjad Hussain)]An Indian Political party worker holds a placard at a protest against India’s disputed nuclear energy deal with the US, in Mumbai in June. The United States faces a final hurdle in the implemention of a landmark civilian nuclear pact with India — convincing lawmakers that the deal has adequate safeguards as prescribed by US law. (AFP/File/Sajjad Hussain)

“It will undermine the security of the American people and people everywhere, if Congress allows it to go through,” said David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, about the U.S.-India pact on nuclear technology.On Friday, a global conglomerate of 45 nations that set the nuclear trade rules approved the U.S.-India nuclear deal by accepting New Delhi’s assertion that its nuclear cooperation with the United States was aimed solely at expanding energy production.

But many independent policy analysts in Washington, DC are not as convinced and see the Bush administration’s move as a fatal blow to international efforts aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

“We are concerned about this deal,” said Leanor Tomero of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, an policy think tank on Capitol Hill. “It sets a very dangerous precedent.”

Like many others, Krieger and Tomero think the nuclear pact with India would undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and encourage other countries to acquire nuclear weapons.

“[It] risks fueling a regional arms race with Pakistan, complicating negotiations over Iran, and unraveling the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” said Robert Gard, chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, about the nuclear technology deal.

At the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting held in Vienna last week, a small group of countries strongly opposed the deal, but eventually failed to sustain their dissent in the wake of intense diplomatic pressure from Washington.

The NSG is an international consortium that is responsible for monitoring and approving nuclear exports worldwide.

The resistance to the deal, according to observers, was led by six like-minded countries — Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland — which stressed that India must accept certain conditions before starting the nuclear trade.

Those conditions would have required India to guarantee that it would not use the deal to expand its nuclear weapons-related activities. In response, top Indian officials assured delegates that their country was fully opposed to nuclear proliferation.

But for critics like Tomero and Krieger, that is hard to believe because, like two other nuclear armed states, Israel and Pakistan, India remains unwilling to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“As one of only three countries that has never signed the NPT and by continuing to refuse to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, India has shunned meaningful nonproliferation commitments,” said Tomero.

“[It] may promote not only a possible arms race between India and Pakistan, but also [between] India and China,” added John Boroughs of the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Nuclear Policy, in a recent interview with OneWorld.

In addition to calling for actions against the spread of nuclear weapons, the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty also requires the five declared nuclear powers — Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States — to engage in “good-faith negotiations” toward eliminating their nuclear stockpiles.

Analysts see the approval of the U.S.-India nuclear agreement as a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1172, which prohibits the export of technology that could in any way “assist programs in India or Pakistan for nuclear weapons.”

The 1998 resolution was adopted with consensus soon after both India and Pakistan tested nuclear devices in defiance of international agreement against the spread of nuclear weapons.

Since the 1947 partition when the British ended their colonial rule in the Indian sub-continent, India and Pakistan have gone to war with each other three times. Currently, both countries are in possession of a sizeable arsenal of nuclear weapons.

According to the Uranium Resource Center, India has as many as 14 nuclear energy reactors in commercial operation and 9 under construction. Currently, its nuclear power supplies are estimated to account for about 3 percent of total electricity production.

Though India strongly denies that it intends to use the deal with the United States to expand its nuclear weapons program, its officials have also argued that the deal does not preclude the country from carrying out further nuclear tests.

Critics have described the U.S. acceptance of India’s nuclear weapons program as amounting to ”a major concession” for a country that has refused to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

But in reflecting on the consequences of the U.S.-India agreement and its approval by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Tomero also held Russia and other major powers responsible for the breach of international rules governing the non-proliferation regime.

“The U.S. nuclear industry has pushed hard for this deal,” she said. “[However], Japan, Russia, and France will also gain from this because they think more nuclear competition is profitable. I think the Congress will have to look at this very carefully.”

Congress to Have Final Say

Observers say they expect the Bush administration will try hard to get the nuclear deal with India approved by Congress before the presidential polls are held in November.

“I think Berman will put on a lot of pressure,” said Tomero, referring to Howard Berman, chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee. In a statement last Monday, Berman made it clear that any final agreement “must be consistent” with the 2006 Hyde Act, which calls for “immediate termination” of all nuclear trade by NSG members if India detonates a nuclear explosive device.

“Congress needs to study the NSG decision, along with any agreements that were made behind the scenes,” said Berman. “If the administration wants to seek special procedures, it will have to show how the NSG decision is consistent with the Hyde Act.”

“The burden of proof,” according to Berman, “is on the Bush administration so that Congress can be assured that what we’re being asked to approve conforms to U.S. law,” he added in a statement.

Meanwhile, peace activists are stepping up their lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill, amid calls for voters to urge their Congressional representatives to take a firm stand against the nuclear trade deal with India.

“It’s time for action,” said Kreiger. “Other countries will be looking at this deal as a model that will serve their own interests as well. If the United States can do it with India, why not China with Pakistan? Or Russia with Iran? Or Pakistan with Syria?”

India arrests for ‘uranium theft’

India arrests for ‘uranium theft’

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Photo by Anirban Roy

Local objections have stopped mining from officially starting

Police in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya say they have arrested five people on charges of smuggling uranium ore.

Only one packet of unprocessed uranium was found on them, but the police say the gang could have stolen more.

It is not clear how much ore the group had, or what it planned to do with it.

The arrests are at an embarrassing time for India, just days after the Nuclear Suppliers Group ended a ban on civilian nuclear trade with the country.

Indian officials had worked hard to persuade members of the group, which governs global trade in nuclear components, that its nuclear industry was in safe hands.

Uranium is the basic fuel for nuclear weapons, but it has to go through complex processes before it it is sufficiently enriched for use.


Police are not sure whether those detained were part of an organised global enterprise, or simply some amateurs, trying to make some quick money.

The seizure was made in the village of Mairang on Monday when police detained four people, including a village headman, for stealing a quantity of uranium.

A fifth man surrendered to the police on Tuesday after police carried out a search of the area.

“We seized a packet, just one packet, containing uranium ore from a village headman. It has the seal of India’s Atomic Minerals Division, so we are taking this very seriously,” said M Kharkrang, police superintendent of West Khasi Hills district in Meghalaya.

Mr Khakrang said they were looking for the son of an employee of the Atomic Minerals Division – , which looks after the country’s uranium mines – who is alleged to have stolen the packet from Domiosiat.

“The young man is still absconding,” he said.

In May this year, police in Meghalaya arrested five people for stealing uranium ore.

Others have been arrested in the past for trying to smuggle uranium out of the state.

“But we don’t know yet whether this is an organised racket. It could well be and we may have not yet found the kingpins,” Mr Khakrang said.

Proposed mines

Early in the 1990s, India’s Atomic Minerals Division discovered huge deposits of uranium at Domiosiat and Wakkhaji in the West Khasi Hills.

The Indian government announced in January it wanted to open cast mine 375,000 tonnes of uranium ore annually in the area.

But mining has been unable to start so far because of objections from local tribes people who fear radiation contamination.

Officials say the proposed mines contain 16% of India’s known uranium deposits.

India is desperate for enriched uranium to boost its nuclear power generation.

It recently signed a controversial accord with the US under which it will receive civilian nuclear fuel and technology. The deal now awaits approval from the US Congress.

Nuclear is the real threat to the fuel-poor, not wind energy

Nuclear is the real threat to the fuel-poor, not wind energy

Recent allegations that a dash for wind would cause a big increase in fuel poverty crumble when you do the numbers, says Oliver Tickell. Nuclear is the real worry

“Wind power could put another half million people into fuel poverty” – shock, horror! That was how BBC Radio 4 promoted last week’s The Investigation into the future of wind power in the UK.

Who can blame them? It got me listening. But do their figures stack up? And what exactly was Sir David King, former government chief scientific advisor, up to when he uttered his dire warning? In case you missed it, here’s that warning in full:

“If we overdo wind, we are going to put up the price of electricity and that will push more people into the fuel poverty trap. Numbers of half a million are not at all unrealistic … this is an issue that does need to be revisited, and I say this as somebody who feels that we really have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions very substantially. But in my view it is an expensive and not a clever route forward to go for 35 to 40% from wind turbines.”

Shocking stuff indeed. But back to basics: where does the 35% figure come from? In 2007, EU leaders agreed that 20% of all energy used in the EU should come from renewable sources, and the UK’s own national target is 15%. It’s hard to get much renewable energy into heating, transport, industry and other big energy uses, so most of the target must be met from green electricity. According to the programme, this means that, by 2020, the UK will have to get 40% of its electricity from renewables generally, and 35% from wind, specifically.

The UK currently uses about 360bn units (kW/h) of electricity per year, and this is expected to rise to about 380bn units by 2020. So, if 35% comes from wind, that is 133bn units. Over a year, wind turbines typically produce 28% of their rated capacity, so a typical 1MW turbine generates about 2.45m units per year. It would, therefore, take about 55,000 1MW wind turbines to achieve our 35%. Given we already have 2,000MW of wind power, and it costs about £1m to install a 1MW turbine, we would be looking at an investment of £53bn.

The government also says it wants 33,000MW of the new wind capacity to go offshore, where costs are higher, while improvements to the grid will be required to accommodate the new power sources, and interconnectors to Europe will need to be beefed up to handle supply fluctuations. Let’s say all this doubles the cost to £100bn. Radio 4 quoted E.ON as estimating the cost of this scale of wind power programme at £10bn per year until 2020 – so our figures roughly match up.

But according to the programme, this would add £400 per year to the average family electricity bill. This is scary, but is it true? Only if you make two completely false assumptions. First, that the entire cost is loaded onto domestic consumers, even though they only use 36% of the UK’s electricity production. Second, that they pay the entire capital cost in their bills every year for 10 years. But this is not how large energy projects are financed. Just as most people buy their homes on a mortgage, which they pay off over 20 or more years, so power companies borrow the money, and pass on the cost of servicing their loans.

Financing the whole £100bn at 6%, this would create a capital cost of £6bn per year. Since domestic consumers use 36% of electricity supply, the domestic share would be £2.2bn per year. Divided among 25m households, this would cost us £88 per year per household. This figure does not include maintenance and running costs – but then these are small for wind turbines, since (unlike coal and gas power stations) they do not burn fuel.

But remember that the power companies are preparing to invest billions in new fossil generation capacity, anyway. For example, E.ON is seeking approval for a new 1,600MW coal fired plant at Kingsnorth in Kent, at a cost of £1bn, and similar projects are in the pipeline to replace old coal-fired plants and nuclear power stations approaching closure. With 53,000MW of new wind capacity, we won’t need those investments in new coal-fired generation, and we will save money on the fuel that won’t have to be burnt. Just how much will be saved depends on future fuel costs. But if fuel turns out to be expensive, wind will actually be the cheaper option.

So The Investigation’s figure that wind power will add £400 to the average’s family’s annual electricity bill is plain wrong. In fact, with the savings on coal, we can probably achieve 35% wind penetration in our electricity supply by 2020 for under £50 per household per year, and in the high fuel cost scenario, it would add nothing at all. It will also yield security benefits by making the UK less dependent on politically sensitive Russian gas imports. And that’s before even starting on the environmental cost of carbon dioxide emissions.

As for fuel poverty, the National Housing Federation has estimated that 5,700,000 households (about 13.7 million people) will be in fuel poverty by 2010 as typical household electricity and gas bills soar to £1,400 a year. So King’s estimate of an extra 500,000 people in fuel poverty as a result of wind power investments barely registers against this background increase. Moreover, King provided no indication as to where his figure actually came from. Was it guesswork? Maybe he could let us know.

In any case, we know the cause of the fuel poverty surge: more expensive fossil fuels. So the precautionary approach is to make our energy costs less sensitive to future fuel price shocks, and diversify into renewables. To generate 35% of our electricity from wind would be an important step in this direction. The bulk of our electricity would still come from fossil fuels, mostly coal and gas, but the wind component (and additional contributions from other renewable energy technologies) would represent an important counterbalance.

There is one repect in which The Investigation got it absolutely right, which was in lambasting the UK’s mechanism for delivering our renewable electricity targets, the Renewables Obligation (RO). As the Guardian revealed, and I wrote about last week, the RO is both ineffective and very expensive, and has received widespread criticism. As Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford University, told Radio 4, the RO is “probably the most expensive way of developing wind power” and “it would be hard to think of a worse policy.” Yet the inside word is that the government is absolutely determined to stick with it, for essentially ideological reasons.

This would be a serious mistake, with two undesirable consequences. First, whatever target is set within the RO, it is certain to be undershot. Second, it will create billions of pounds of extra cost for consumers above and beyond the actual cost of building and operating the plants themselves – part of which will be excess profit for wind power operators, and part of which will go as a “windfall tax” to the government itself. The RO should be scrapped and replaced with a feed-in tariff. Wind developers also face considerable cost and risk in getting their schemes through the planning process, which is reflected in consumer prices. Again, reform is badly needed. If King’s doomladen prediction comes true, it will not be because of the price of wind, but rather thanks to the RO and the planning system – both of them manifestly unfit for purpose.

So what was King up to? Here’s my guess. He is a known supporter of nuclear power, and is widely credited for having overturned the anti-nuclear conclusion of the 2002 energy review, and for the government’s current pro-nuclear stance first promulgated in its 2006 Energy Review. Perhaps his real problem with bringing 35% wind into our electricity supply is that it leaves little space for new nuclear power – that much wind would more than close the anticipated energy gap caused by the impending closure of our 23 nuclear stations over coming decades: their total contribution is just 80bn units a year, compared to the 133bn units we would be getting from wind.

But for anyone worried about cost to both electricity consumers and taxpayers, nuclear power is the truly scary option. The cost of decommissioning our existing nuclear power stations has already escalated to £83bn and seems certain to keep on climbing towards £100bn – roughly the cost of our whole wind power programme. If King’s concern really is for the Britain’s fuel-poor households, he must abandon his nuclear dream, and look instead to a clean, green future for the UK’s electricity.

Prague approves US missile base forces accord

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Russia plans to carry out four strategic missile tests by the end of 2008
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Prague approves US missile base forces accord

PRAGUE (AFP) — The Czech government approved Wednesday an agreement on deploying US forces at an anti-missile radar, with Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek dismissing a Russian general’s threat to target the site as “nonsense.”

Topolanek told a press conference that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) would go to the Czech parliament in December at the earliest, in other words “after the US presidential elections.”

The agreement was the last hurdle before the missile shield plans, which are strongly opposed by Russia, go before parliament, but public opinion is hostile and it is not yet certain to get majority backing.

Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova announced that the government had succeeded in having many of its demands included in formal agreement.

Prague and Washington in July signed a preliminary deal to base a powerful radar system in the Czech republic to support a battery of 10 anti-missile missiles in neighbouring Poland.

Shortly before Parkanova’s announcement, a senior Russian general said Russia could point its own missiles at the Polish and Czech sites, which the United States says are designed to counter attacks by “rogue states” such as Iran and North Korea.

Moscow “is obliged to take corresponding measures that prevent under any circumstances the devaluing of Russia’s nuclear deterrent,” Interfax agency quoted General Nikolai Solovtsov, head of Russia’s strategic missile forces, as saying.

While the interceptors planned for Poland could not themselves undermine Russia’s arsenal, Solovtsov said Moscow was troubled by a lack of transparency in the project.

Moscow sees the plans for new US missile defence facilities in central Europe as part of an effort to encircle Russia. The US denies this, and Topolanek rejected the latest Russian threats as “nonsense.”

“I do not intend to contribute to cold war provocation or rhetoric,” he said. “The radar is purely defensive, designed to deal with long-range missiles from rogue states,” he said.

The radar “cannot either technically or militarily be aimed at a state such as the Russian Federation, which has an arsenal of thousands of these missiles.

“This is nonsense on the technical, security and military aspects.

“The fact that the Russian administration, or rather Russian generals, use such rhetoric, with some even talking of a new cold war, gives me no pleasure, but it does not change our position in any way.

Europe needed a “defensive umbrella,” Topolanek added.

SOFA, which could be officially signed in September at NATO defence ministers’ talks in London, restricts US troops largely to the interior of the radar base, Parkanova said.

The area and buildings, on a former Soviet military base at Brdy, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) southwest of Prague, will remain Czech property, and Czech forces will be responsible for its protection and external security.

“The US military will be authorised to operate outside the radar station to maintain the discipline of their personnel, but only with the agreement and supervision of the Czech side,” Parkanova said.

Environmentalists protest against Belene nuclear power plant

Environmentalists protest against Belene nuclear power plant

18:20 Tue 09 Sep 2008 – Elitsa Grancharova

On September 9 Bulgarian and international environmental organisations, including the local coalition BeleNE (No to Belene nuclear power plant) and Greenpeace, sent a letter to the European Union (EU) Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes asking him to investigate the tender procedures for subcontractors in the construction of Bulgaria’s Belene nuclear power plant.

Subcontracts worth more than one billion euro are to be granted without tender to Bulgarian companies. Under the agreement with Atomstroyexport, the Russian company chosen to construct the power station has to subcontract 30 per cent of the value of the Belene construction contract to Bulgarian companies, which means procurement contracts worth a total of 1.3 billion euro.

The environmentalists asked Kroes to investigate whether such tender procedure is not breaking EU competition legislation and might give the nuclear power project an illegitimate advantage.

They also criticised “the propaganda war that the Bulgarian government is waging to hide the problems around the project”. Ten activists presented Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev with a toy dragline, pointing out that playing around with nukes wastes time for serious energy policy.

Their protests took place in front of the Cabinet on September 9. Later, during the day, the environmentalists gave a news conference.

The demonstration follows the groundbreaking ceremony for Belene nuclear power station that took place on September 3 2008.

The power station gave new scope to Bulgaria’s energy sector, Stanishev said during the official ceremony. “The development of the Belene nuclear power plant and our nuclear energy sector will make us a lot more independent,” he said. “It is clear to everyone that without developing nuclear energy, there is no way of dealing with climate change. This is the biggest project Bulgaria has undertaken in the past 18 years.”

Sellafield strike will cost ’£1m a day’

Sellafield strike will cost ’£1m a day’

STRIKE action at Sellafield could end up costing the British taxpayer more than £1m a day.

The last time workers walked out at the plant, in November 2003, that was the estimated financial damage.

But with an historic privatisation of the site on the horizon in November, reputations as well as cash are on the line.

Nuclear Management Partners, an American-Anglo-French consortium, is due to take over the running of the complex in November, subject to finalisation.

NMP has already denied that strike action would threaten its takeover.

The GMB and Unite unions have voted “overwhelmingly” for industrial action.

Their 4,000 members represent almost half the entire Sellafield workforce.

The dispute is over the 2008 pay offer which was overwhelmingly rejected by more than 95 per cent of GMB members.

The offer was for a two per cent increase in pay and a possible 2.5 per cent on an efficiency bonus.

Speaking to Sellafield’s in-house newspaper Energize in July, current managing director Barry Snelson explained why the company was taking such a hard line just months before it was due to hand over to a new Parent Body Organisation (PBO).

He said: “The pay settlement for 2008/09 falls on our watch, and we will do what is required of us, painful or not, until the last moment.

“It is not right to stall difficult decisions just so they land in the next executive’s period of responsibility.

“The opening offer was actually five per cent, but all funded by productivity improvements.

“We embarked on a genuine debate on consolidation of some of this amount as it could be consolidated at the start, progressively or at the end of the financial year in question.”

Asked why Sellafield Ltd had moved from the traditional way of settling pay offers using the rate of inflation, Mr Snelson said: “The previous settlements show that when we have been in a position to give a higher settlement we have been more than willing to do so.

“But the years of being the nation’s biggest yen earner are behind us.

“We do not make a profit and we are now wholly funded by the Government through taxation.

“We are thus being exhorted to be bound by the public sector pay guidelines.

“We have striven, through all our efficiency programmes, to redeploy, retrain and reassign to minimise the risk of redundancies,” added Mr Snelson.

“We have continued to pay bonuses and have asked for no changes to terms and conditions throughout this debate other than to ask for a move to greater productivity and efficiency.”

The GMB meets tomorrow where it is expected to name a date for strike action.