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Know the West



Speaking to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in mid-April, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns suggested his agency may relax its ban against "downer" cows being slaughtered for human consumption. The agency adopted the ban in December 2003, after a Washington cow was diagnosed with BSE, or mad cow disease (HCN, 1/19/04: Have another pig-brain/beef-blood/chicken-spine hamburger). Although some question whether that cow was actually a downer, many consumers agreed that sick or injured cows shouldn’t be sold as human food. Johanns, the former governor of Nebraska, was quoted suggesting that the ban is overwrought: "If you’ve got an animal that’s clearly under 30 months that broke a leg in transit, there is no threat of BSE whatsoever."

Rocket fuel regulations are official — though still nonbinding — in California. The state’s Environmental Protection Agency has set its goal for perchlorate in drinking water at 6 parts per billion (HCN, 3/29/04: California scores a goal for perchlorate cleanup). The quick-moving toxin has contaminated groundwater in at least 43 states, and exposure during fetal development can cause mental retardation. Although public health activists aren’t thrilled about the new limit — since 1997, the state’s advisory level had been set at 4 ppb — the Golden State’s limit is still more protective than the national one, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently changed from 1 ppb to 24.5 ppb (HCN, 03/21/05: Safe dose’ of rocket fuel now larger).

Less mercury for the Four Corners? Maybe. PNM, New Mexico’s largest electricity provider, has settled with the state and environmental groups over its 1,600-megawatt coal-fired power plant near Farmington. After three years of court battles, a federal judge agreed with environmentalists, and said the plant had violated air quality standards more than 42,000 times. Now, the company has promised to spend $200 million at the San Juan Generating Station to cut its mercury emissions by 75 percent, and to reduce its emissions of both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. As reported by the Durango Telegraph, however, energy companies have proposed two new coal-fired power plants for the Four Corners area.