AmeriScan: April 29, 2003

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EPA Announces $600 Million Clean Air Act Settlement

WASHINGTON, DC, April 29, 2003 (ENS) - The Bush administration announced a $600 million settlement today with Wisconsin Electric Power Company (WEPCO), resolving charges that the company violated the New Source Review requirements of the Clean Air Act.

According to officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Justice, the settlement is expected to eliminate more than 105,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions annually from five coal fired electricity generating plants in Wisconsin and Michigan.

It is fourth major settlement of New Source Review violations by the Bush administration this month. The government alleged that the company, also know as We Energies, undertook major modifications at several of its plants and increased emissions of air pollution without installing required controls.

The New Source Review program requires that new pollution controls be installed when plants are expanded or modified.

Under the settlement, Wisconsin Electric will install state of the art controls or elect to shut down units, representing 80 percent of its total coal fired megawatt generating capacity.

All the units covered under the agreement must also comply with a declining systemwide rate and cap for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

"EPA continues to aggressively enforce the nation's environmental laws, and it shows," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "Our air is cleaner as we continue to reach enforcement milestones. We expect companies to act responsibly and within the law when it comes to protecting public health and the environment."

In addition to the $600 million the company is expected to spend to reduce emissions, it will pay pay a $3.2 million civil penalty and spend at least $20 million to finance an environmental mitigation project demonstrating a new technology to significantly reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The announcement of the settlement comes as critics continue to hammer the Bush administration for its clean air policies, including proposed revisions to New Source Review, and for its enforcement efforts.

"The administration has argued that the current law can not reduce pollution," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director with the Clean Air Trust. "This agreement, like others, is further evidence that the Clean Air Act does work if those in power bother to enforce it."

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Bush Commitment to EPA Enforcement Questioned

WASHINGTON, DC, April 29, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) enforcement of pollution laws has "dropped dramatically" under the Bush administration, according to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

A survey of agency investigators and enforcement attorneys released today by PEER - a self described national alliance of local, state and federal resource professionals, working to protect the environment - indicates that the enforcement program is less than a priority for the administration.

"EPA Administrator Christie Whitman is quietly presiding over the largest enforcement rollback in agency history," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Field agents say that EPA management is not interested in investigating corporate crime; as a result the enforcement program is dying from the roots."

The PEER survey uses figures from Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys figures compiled by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. It finds that new criminal pollution cases referred by EPA for federal prosecution are down more than 40 percent since the start of the Bush administration.

In addition, new civil pollution referrals are down by more than 25 percent under and the number of environmental prosecutions is also beginning to fall, according to the survey.

PEER say new criminal prosecutions are off nearly one third and civil filings by more than a quarter from levels during the Clinton Administration. Ruch criticized EPA Administrator Whitman for touting recent Clean Air Act settlements with Alcoa, Archer Daniels Midland and Dominion Energy without noting that these cases were developed and brought during the Clinton administration.

These settlements, Ruch said, were also won enforcing Clean Air Act rules the Bush administration is eager to rewrite.

"Enforcement is a process, not an event," Ruch said. "The process begins with inspections and investigations - this is the seed corn that is being squandered."

According to the EPA, the agency has opened more cases than ever before, but PEER says that enforcement agents contend that agency numbers are vastly inflated and count matters that have no hope of being prosecuted.

The numbers used in PEER's survey, Ruch explained, only detail cases referred for civil or criminal prosecution and measure the enforcement outcomes of each case.

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California Fights Bush Changes to New Source Review

SACRAMENTO, California, April 29, 2003 (ENS) - California state lawmakers unveiled a new bill Monday that would remedy the Bush administration's proposed changes to the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program, which requires older industrial plants to install state of the art pollution control equipment when they expand or upgrade their facilities.

California's SB 288 - "The New Source Review Restoration Act" - was introduced yesterday by three Democrats, Senator Byron Sher and Assemblymembers Marco Firebaugh and John Laird.

The legislators agree with environmentalists who have decried the administration's revisions to New Source Review, which they believe undermines the law. The Bush administration believes its changes will clarify and improve a program that is too complex for industry to follow even though it recently announced four record clean air settlements that emerged because of enforcement of the existing New Source Review program.

The bill drew immediate praise from environmental and public health groups, who noted that if it is enacted, it would be the second time in a year that the state has passed a law to counter changes enacted by the Bush administration. Last year, Governor Gray Davis signed a law making California the first state to regulate global warming pollution from cars.

"We cannot afford to let the federal government drag us down," said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "California has a strong tradition of leading the nation in finding innovative solutions to environmental problems. We need to continue to make progress to clean the air we breathe."

At least ten states, including California, have filed legal challenges to stop the Bush administration's changes to New Source Review from entering into effect.

"The Bush administration is letting industry rewrite the rules that protect your health. We are not going to stand by and let this happen," said Rico Mastrodonato, executive director of the California League of Conservation Voters. "This bill tells the federal government that it cannot tell California to lower its air quality standards."

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New York Governor Calls for Regional Climate Change Plan

ALBANY, New York, April 29, 2003 (ENS) - New York Governor George Pataki has asked his fellow governors from Maine to Maryland to partner on a regional strategy to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants. The initiative includes the creation of a regional market based emissions trading system to require power generators to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The announcement by Pataki, a Republican, comes as many Northeastern state officials grow increasingly frustrated with the Bush administration's proposed changes to air pollution laws and its steadfast refusal to bind industry to specific CO2 reductions.

The governor said he has contacted governors from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, to develop a strategy that will help the region lead the nation in the effort to fight global climate change.

"While New York State has already implemented some of the nation's toughest air pollution regulations and developed effective energy efficiency initiatives to improve air quality, we can build on these efforts through a regional approach that promotes further emission reductions at power generating facilities," Pataki said.

"The debate about global warming has often been marked by confrontation and litigation," said the New York governor. "Today we are pursuing a course of cooperation and we are confident this will achieve meaningful reductions in harmful emissions without disrupting electricity markets."

Pataki hopes the states will work together over the next two years to develop a flexible, market-based cap and trade program for CO2 emissions from power plants, building on similar programs that have helped reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.

These 10 states were included because, along with New York, they constitute the three major electricity systems in the northeast, Pataki explained, and the New York governor believes it is important to design a program that does not interfere with the free flow of interstate electricity markets.

"Governor Pataki's invitation to northeastern governors to work together to control global warming pollution from power plants is excellent news," said Ashok Gupta, air and energy program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "A market based cap and trade program combined with aggressive energy efficiency measures will unleash new technology and innovation that will reduce pollution and lower electricity costs."

Pataki said he hopes to have a good idea of how many states are committed to his initiative with 90 days.

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Winter Lettuce May Come With Rocket Fuel

OAKLAND, California, April 29, 2003 (ENS) - A new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) finds that lettuce grown in Southern California and Arizona in the fall and winter may contain levels of toxic rocket fuel in excess of what is considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In the report "Suspect Salads" EWG says that 18 percent of lettuce samples contained detectable levels of perchlorate, and an average serving of contaminated lettuce contained four times more perchlorate than the EPA says is safe in drinking water.

Perchlorate is the explosive component of rocket and missile fuel. Although there are currently no enforceable perchlorate safety standards, the EPA's currently recommended safe dose is equal to one part per billion (ppb) in drinking water.

EWG, a nonprofit environmental research firm, believes a national safety standard should be no higher than 0.1 ppb.

Based on its study, the organization estimates that that by eating lettuce, 1.6 million American women of childbearing age are exposed daily during the winter months to more perchlorate than the EPA's recommended safe dose.

The tests are the first ever of perchlorate in supermarket produce, according to EWG, but they confirm previous research on greenhouse grown lettuce seedlings and field-grown lettuce, kale and spinach.

It is estimated that perchlorate contaminates more than 500 drinking water sources in 20 states, serving well over 20 million people. This includes the Colorado River, a major source of drinking water for many in the Western U.S. and a key irrigation source - 70 percent of the nation's lettuce grown from October to March relies on water from the Colorado.

Of the 15 leading lettuce growing counties in the U.S., according to EWG, 10 have known or suspected sources of perchlorate pollution.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, introduced a bill in March to unearth the extent of perchlorate contamination. In a letter sent Monday to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Boxer cited EWG's study and urged the agency to investigate perchlorate contamination in food.

"The federal government is already woefully behind in addressing perchlorate contamination in drinking water," Boxer wrote. "This delay is unacceptable. We cannot exacerbate the problem by ignoring the possible contamination of our food."

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Sea Otter Deaths Puzzling to Experts

MONTEREY, California, April 29, 2003 (ENS) - Federal and state wildlife officials say they do not know why 44 southern sea otters have washed up dead on California beaches in the month of April, bringing the year's total to 91. The mortalities this month are more than double the 10 year average, officials said.

The dead include adults in the prime breeding population as well as pups and older animals, said Dave Jessup, a senior wildlife veterinarian with the California Department of Fish and Game, which takes the lead in conducting necropsies on stranded otters.

"The numbers are high enough that it is a major concern for the population," Jessup said. "Four more came in this weekend, and it is not stopping."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which earlier this month released its comprehensive sea otter recovery plan, may soon declare that the deaths constitute an "unusual mortality event." The declaration would free additional resources to search for an underlying cause for the deaths.

"I am not ready to push a panic button," said Greg Sanders, Sea Otter Recovery Coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ventura, California. "But anytime you see a large number of southern sea otters dying, it is a concern."

The southern sea otter is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The historic range of the southern sea otter extended from Oregon south to Baja California, Mexico.

During the 18th and 19th centuries otters were hunted for their luxurious pelts and by the early 1900s the species was believed to be extinct. Today the species ranges from Half Moon Bay to Point Conception off the coast of central and southern California, with some 2,000 animals believed to exist in this range.

Officials with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which cares for otters that strand alive on beaches and rocky-shore areas, say they have also logged a record number of sea otters in 2003.

In the first four months of 2003, 17 animals have come into the stranding program, said Andrew Johnson, the aquarium's sea otter program manager, compared with the previous high of 12.

"If the population were growing, you'd expect to see more strandings and more dead animals," Johnson said. "What makes this worrisome is that strandings have increased at a time when the population is essentially static."

No patterns are emerging that offer an easy explanation for the deaths, Johnson said.

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Confiscated Tiger and Leopard Cubs Recovering

RAMONA, California, April 29, 2003 (ENS) - Tiger and leopard cubs rescued last week from a private home in rural California are recovering well and are in excellent condition, reports The Fund for Animals.

The animal rights group assisted state wildlife and animal control investigators in confiscating the animals, which are now being cared for at its Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near San Diego.

"Our staff members are working around the clock, bottle feeding the babies, checking them all for parasites, and giving them the best care available," said Cindy Traisi, who comanages The Fund for Animals' Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. "They arrived malnourished and dehydrated, but now their appetites are stronger and they are all in good health. We are so pleased that we can give these babies a second chance at life they would otherwise never have known."

Last Tuesday state officials found the nine tiger cubs and two leopard cubs in a raid on a house in Riverside, California that also unearthed two alligators, and the carcasses of some 30 tigers and 58 cubs. California police arrested John Weinhart - the owner of the nonprofit Riverside organization Tiger Rescue - along with his wife Marla Smith and their veterinarian Wendlin Rignel in connection with the raid.

The animals now being cared for at The Fund's facility include nine baby tigers, estimated to be only one to two weeks old. These animals are doing well, Traisi said, and are being bottlefed around the clock, as are two baby leopards, also only one to two weeks old. In addition, a four month old tiger cub and a seven month old tiger cub show signs of improvement.

"The plight of these babies demonstrates why people who care about animals must boycott the exotic pet industry as well as commercial animal displays that often pass themselves off as sanctuaries," said Michael Markarian, President of The Fund for Animals. "Congress can save young tigers and leopards from this cruel fate by passing the Exotic Pets Bill."

Legislation introduced by U.S. Representatives Howard McKeon, a California Republican, and George Miller, a California Democrat and a companion Senate bill, sponsored by U.S. Senators Jim Jeffords, a Vermont Independent, and John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, would ban the interstate commerce of lions, tigers, leopards, and cougars for the exotic "pet" trade.

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Florida Keen To Recycle Carpets

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, April 29, 2003 (ENS) - The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has joined a national effort to encourage the recycling and reuse of post consumer carpet. The DEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship last week, joining nine other states and the U.S. Environmental Protection as part of the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE).

"Waste carpet makes up one percent of the municipal waste stream - about the same amount as plastic bottles, steel cans and tires," said DEP Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs Allan Bedwell. "This partnership will provide us with ways to more effectively recover materials for recycling and better protect Florida's environment."

The recovery effort was launched by the carpet industry in 2001, who forged the plan with federal, state and local government agencies, and non-government organizations to improve the management of waste carpet in the United States.

CARE sets goals to recover, reuse and recycle post consumer carpet over ten years and fosters market based solutions for recovering value from discarded carpet and a schedule for the phase out of its land disposal and incineration.

Most components of carpet can be recycled or reused, but only four percent of waste carpet is currently recovered.

More than 2.5 million tons of carpet are discarded each year and according to CARE, it is responsible for two percent of annual landfill waste in the United States.

The goal of the CARE is to achieve a 20 percent landfill diversion by 2012. Recycled carpet can be used to produce plastic lumber, parking stops, pallets and new carpeting.

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