Blurt: Seven Days Staff Blog

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58 posts categorized "Science" Feed

May 13, 2011

Special Report on DUI Breath-Testing Program

Image-dui In early April, Seven Days staff writer Andy Bromage broke the news that two chemists from the state's breath-testing program had raised questions about the equipment used to test drunk drivers.

Shortly after the story appeared, Gov. Peter Shumlin transferred responsibility for administering the program from the Department of Health to the Department of Public Safety, and the legislature held a hearing about the issue.

Bromage has continued to investigate the DataMaster breath testers, and today Seven Days published a follow-up story online. Bromage has uncovered a number of alleged problems with the machines.

Click here to read "With Breath Testers in Doubt, Vermont Prosecutors to Toss Dozens of DUI Cases."

May 02, 2011

New Plot Twist in Mac Parker Film Fundraising Story

BOI The real-life saga of storyteller Malcolm "Mac" Parker continues to prove itself a better script than the original movie that prompted his legal and financial troubles.

The movie, "Birth of Innocence," is currently only a five-minute trailer online, though a longer version is apparently screened for investors.

As “Fair Game” readers may recall, Parker is under investigation by state and federal authorities for possible violations of securities laws stemming from a more than 10-year film fund-raising effort that netted at least $14 million from hundreds of investors and no finished film.

Parker was charged with violating state securities law and scheduled to go on trial in state court last November, but Vermont Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford delayed the trial six months to allow the feds to complete their probe. That six months has come and gone and no charges have been filed. So officials at the Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration recently sought, and won, a request to delay the trial until October, so both sides could learn if federal prosecutors plan to file charges against Parker and others involved in the fund-raising scheme.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has interviewed Parker, film investors, Parker's original editor and reportedly others involved in the movie.

Meanwhile, a group of Parker's investor allies are raising money to complete the film, and have hired a couple of Vermont filmmakers to do it. Christopher White, a Parker ally, told Seven Days that the groups needs to raise another $15,000 to $20,000 to complete the film. Per court order, Parker is barred from  handling the money.

Continue reading "New Plot Twist in Mac Parker Film Fundraising Story" »

April 14, 2011

Bernie Sanders: Man of the people...and other two-legged primates

Never let it be said that Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont's self-described socialist and man of the people, doesn't give a damn about all working stiffs, be they human or tree-swinging variety. On Wednesday, Sanders was one of the lead sponsors of S.810, also known as the "Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act," which would ban "invasive research" on chimpanzees and send all government-owned chimps into early retirement at private sanctuaries within three years.

The bill, introduced yesterday, enjoys broad bipartisan support and had nearly 170 cosponsors when it was first introduced last year. Its backers include the Physician’s Committee on Responsible Medicine, as well as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Sanders joins Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) who are also looking to protect humanity's closest genetic relative.

At a DC press conference yesterday, Michael Markarian, HSUS's executive vice president of external affairs, reported that between 80 and 90 percent of the chimps currently in U.S.-run labs are no longer being used in active research, but are essentially warehoused at taxpayers' expense.

Under a federal law passed in 2000, government-owned lab chimps must be cared for throughout for their entire lives and cannot be euthanized. The price tag for Uncle Sam's simian safety net: about $44 per day, per chimp, or $25 million to $30 million annually. That'll buy a shit-ton of bananas.


In 2009, The HSUS released the results of a comprehensive undercover investigation of the New Iberia Research Center, part of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the largest chimp lab in the world with more than 325 chimpanzees. This investigation revealed the psychological and physical suffering that chimps are forced to endure every day — some for more than 50 years. According to Markarian, one elderly chimp, named Karen, was captured in the wild in the 1950s and has been languishing in the lab since Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. Another, named Kitty (seen here in an HSUS photo), was caught in the wild and estimated to be 49 years old. For most of her life, Kitty was kept in captivity and used to breed as many as 14 babies, which were taken from her and later used in animal experiments.

Continue reading "Bernie Sanders: Man of the people...and other two-legged primates" »

April 04, 2011

Nuclear Energy's Money Pit: An Energy Sinkhole?

Drycask A new report by the New England Center for Investigative Journalism and the Connecticut Hearst Media Group finds that New England ratepayers have pumped $1 billion into a federal waste fund for the past three decades, honoring their end of a 1982 bargain with the government to finance the permanent storage of thousands of tons of spent fuel from the region’s reactors.

The payoff?

A cavernous $11 billion hole in a Nevada mountainside, as well as a broken promise from the U.S. government to remove the radioactive waste and mounting bills that could still saddle New England with at least five mothballed plants and dozens of dry spent fuel casks, turning communities into mini nuclear storage sites for decades, if not forever.

This is the second report in an investigative series examining the state of nuclear power in New England. As noted last week, I have been contributing to this series. The latest installment I co-wrote with journalists from NECIR.

Continue reading "Nuclear Energy's Money Pit: An Energy Sinkhole?" »

April 01, 2011

Lockheed Martin to Buy Burlington Telecom for $65 Million

Lockheed* update *

At a news conference scheduled for later today, Mayor Bob Kiss and Lockheed Martin CEO Stephan James will announce that the global weapons maker has offered $65 million to become owners and operators of Burlington Telecom, the city utility that is more than $50 million in debt.

“BT has tremendous potential,” said James, according to a prepared press release leaked to Seven Days. “It’s a fair price, and we intend to pursue completion of BT's buildout in the city and then seek state approval to deploy this system to other towns in Chittenden County and across the state.”

Lockheed Martin learned of BT after it began working with the city on ways to combat climate change.

Continue reading "Lockheed Martin to Buy Burlington Telecom for $65 Million" »

March 21, 2011

NRC Issues New License to Vermont Yankee

Yankee * updated below *

Following through on its announcement less than two weeks ago, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission today officially issued a new, 20-year operating license to Entergy so it can keep Vermont Yankee running beyond March 2012.

The announcement on March 10 came one day before horrific events in Japan raised new questions about whether U.S. nuclear reactors could withstand multiple disasters.

Whether Entergy will keep the nearly 40-year-old plant open remains to be seen, given that to continue operation the company also needs a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board. Last year, the Vermont Senate — in a 26-4 vote — decided that keeping VY open beyond 2012 was not in the best interest of the state. As a result, the PSB has been unable to complete its review of Entergy's application before state regulators.

Today's NRC decision caps a review process that lasted more than five years.

Vermont's congressional delegation expressed its disappointment at the license renewal. The trio — Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) — issued the following joint statement:

“It is hard to understand how the NRC could move forward with a license extension for Vermont Yankee at exactly the same time as a nuclear reactor of similar design is in partial meltdown in Japan. We believe that Entergy should respect and abide by Vermont’s laws and the MOU signed with the state in 2002, which require approval by the Vermont Legislature, and then the Vermont Public Service Board, for the plant to continue to operate beyond 2012.”

Last week Gov. Peter Shumlin reiterated his contention that Vermont Yankee shouldn't be relicensed — regardless of the events in Japan.

An NRC spokesman told Seven Days there was no reason to halt the VY application given the unfolding nuclear events in Japan.

Continue reading "NRC Issues New License to Vermont Yankee" »

March 18, 2011

Public Versus Polluters (Round Two)

Stream * updated below *

A key House committee voted unanimously this week in support of legislation that would give the public a chance to weigh in on environmental enforcement actions handed down by state regulators.

The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee voted 9-0 in favor of the bill on Thursday. The bill goes before the full House on Tuesday.

The bill, as outlined in this week's "Fair Game," is in response to a ruling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that said Vermont wasn't doing enough to comply with key provisions of the federal Clean Water Act. Unlike most states As is the case with 45 other states, Vermont has been given the authority to enforce the Clean Water Act.

Business interests had lined up against the bill out of concern that extending this public participation process beyond the federal permits would "chill" economic development. Those business concerns were being voiced the loudest by two former top environmental officials under the previous administration.

Continue reading "Public Versus Polluters (Round Two)" »

March 15, 2011

As Goes Japan, So Goes Vermont Yankee?

BoilingWaterReactorDesign_3 As people remain tuned into the evolving story of a possible post-tsunami meltdown at multiple nuclear power plants in Japan, some are turning their attention toward Vermont's lone nuclear power plant.

It was just last week that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gave Vermont Yankee a new, 20-year license to operate.VY's boiling-water reactor design is identical to those in Japan.

Could Vermont Yankee withstand an 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami?

Well, it's unlikely either event would occur in Vermont. The fault line that runs underneath Vermont Yankee isn't nearly as active. The last quake that shook Vermont Yankee was last June. It measured 5.0 on the Richter Scale. VY is designed to survive a 6.5 quake, according to plant officials.

A tsnunami is also unlikely — but a major flood or hurricane isn't. In 1938 a major hurricane struck New England. It was strong enough to topple power lines and block roads in and around Brattleboro, which is just a few miles from the Vernon reactor.

The event at Fukushima Daiichi is called a station blackout (SBO), which means no power onsite or coming from offsite. According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the ability of reactors in the United States to sustain an SBO varies. Most reactors can last only four hours. Vermont Yankee, however, is designed to last eight hours on its batteries. So were the reactors at Fukushami Daiichi.

Continue reading "As Goes Japan, So Goes Vermont Yankee?" »

March 11, 2011

NRC to Issue New License to Vermont Yankee

VY Well, there is joy in Mudville: Despite years of repeated bad news, including cooling water tower collapses, tritium leaks, steam leaks and other mishaps, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted Thursday to end the five-plus-year legal proceeding regarding renewal of the operating license for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, and will grant the reactor a new, 20-year license.

In a statement, the NRC said its staff expects to issue the renewed license soon; the renewed license will expire March 21, 2032.

“This is the final step in the NRC’s detailed technical and legal process of examining whether it’s appropriate to issue a renewed license,” said NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko. “Since there are other approval processes outside the NRC, we’ll continue to ensure Vermont Yankee is meeting the appropriate public health and safety standards regardless of the reactor’s ultimate status.”

The commission voted unanimously, 4-0, to extend the license.

Continue reading "NRC to Issue New License to Vermont Yankee" »

March 10, 2011

And the Doyle Survey Says ...

Doylesurvey With 34 towns reporting and 3587 votes tallied, the 2011 Town Meeting Survey results were released this week by Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington).

Doyle has conducted this unscientific survey of residents across Vermont for more than 40 years, and said this year's 13 questions included what he believes to be a record number of "new" queries. In past years, Doyle has tended to rely on very similar questions. This year, several politicians, and members of the public, asked him to put specific items on the survey ballot.

Big winners from this year's survey are: expanding the bottle bill, keeping the state's motorcycle helmet law intact and,  once again, banning the use of cellphones will driving. Those who filled out the survey also said there should be tougher penalties for repeat DUI offenders.

By a slight margin, those who filled out the survey said that Vermont Yankee should not have its license renewed in 2012, and that people should not be mandated to buy health insurance.

Continue reading "And the Doyle Survey Says ... " »

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