Welcome to "The Watchdog," which will keep a close eye on regulatory agencies and how their actions impact the lives of everyday Americans. Though the rules and regulations they write -- from determining how much arsenic is allowable in your drinking water to whether your favorite TV show can drop the F-bomb in primetime -- affect all of us, their deliberations and the way that lobbyists influence their decisions receive very little coverage. To make sense of these debates, follow the implementation of health care and financial reform and decipher the minutia of the Federal Register, "The Watchdog" is on the case. If you have any tips, send them to email@example.com.
The controversy over President Obama's decision to pull the plug on the decades-long, multi-billion-dollar Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project keeps brewing.The latest Government Accountability Office report, "Commercial Nuclear Waste:
Effects of a Termination of the Yucca Mountain Repository Program," should only fuel the fire. Though terminating the program has some benefits, the report finds it will cost the government billions and perhaps 20 years to restart the whole process of finding a safe place to store such waste. Located deep underground, the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada was intended for permanent storage of spent nuclear fuel from power plants and high-level radioactive waste from Pentagon facilities, and attracted intense opposition from some environmentalists and safety watchdogs.
The administration's move frees up the Energy Department to explore more-popular alternatives to radioactive waste management. But since an affordable and effective option doesn't yet exist, the prognosis is grim. The decision will also prolong the need for interim storage of spent fuel on-site at nuclear plants -- a practice which helped intensify the recent nuclear crisis in Japan. By failing to take custody of the waste by 1998, as required by law, such on-site storage has cost the government more than .4 billion.
Currently, about 65,000 metric tons of commercial spent nuclear fuel are stored at 75 sites in 33 states, and the amount is increasing by about 2,000 metric tons a year, GAO said. Here is the Nuclear Energy Institute's map of nuclear waste storage sites in 2009.
Meanwhile, Rep. Darryl Issa (R-Calif.), frustrated with the lack of response to his request for documents about the project, is threatening the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with a subpoena.
In the May 6 letter, Issa calls the delay "unacceptable." The agency has refused to make public whether it will allow the Energy Department to withdraw its license application for the repository, reports the Bureau of National Affairs.
• At least 219 former Securities and Exchange Commission officials have left since 2006 to help clients lobby the agency or represent clients targeted in SEC probes, according to a comprehensive new report by the Project on Government Oversight.
• Speaking of POGO, check out this great video that details the group's 30-year history of exposing corruption.
• Could the fate of financial reform be at stake due to uncertain leadership? "The Obama administration has not announced nominees for several positions that Congress created last summer, nor has it nominated new heads for three agencies," reports The New York Times.
• A BBC investigation looks at how countries (and oil companies) are racing to "carve up" Arctic resources -- oil, gas and even rubies -- as the ice retreats.
• If you're not sure what fracking is but you're concerned about the environment and you're a fan of synth-driven low-tech rhythms, watch this music video -- "My Water's On Fire" -- from the folks at ProPublica and NYU's Studio 20.