AmeriScan: April 30, 2003

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Fire at New York's Indian Point Nuclear Reactor

BUCHANAN, New York, April 30, 2003 (ENS) - A fire in the Unit 3 main turbine of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant early Tuesday morning caused the shutdown of the unit, and an emergency was declared by the plant's operator, Entergy Nuclear. The fire was out in 47 minutes, but the incident revived fears of surrounding residents that the Indian Point located on the Hudson River is a dangerous neighbor.

Located 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan, Indian Point is within a 50 mile radius of eight percent of the population of the United States.

In a statement about the incident, Entergy said that control room operators manually shut down Unit 3 after a fire started on the plant's main turbine in a non-nuclear area of the plant. The fire, located 53 feet above the floor of the turbine building, was extinguished by plant workers using fixed and portable carbon dioxide fire suppression equipment, the company said.

Entergy spokesman Larry Gottlieb said the fire smouldered in insulation around the turbine, and some flames were seen. The plant, which was returned to service April 23 following a refueling outage, was operating at 60 percent power when it was shut down.

Entergy Nuclear says the cause of the fire is being investigated, and Unit 3 will be returned to service after the investigation is completed.

Entergy immediately notified the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, New York State and Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Putnam counties. The emergency notice, declared at 3:13 am, was terminated at 5:09 am.

Indian Point Unit 2 was already shut down was and unaffected by the fire or the reactor trip in Unit 3. Unit 2 shut down automatically late Monday afternoon when a power outage occurred offsite causing the plant to disconnect from the electrical grid as designed. Electrical equipment in the plant's substation is designed to disconnect from the grid to protect itself from potential damage caused by power surges in the grid. Unit 2 is expected to be back in service within a few days.

Entergy Nuclear Northeast Indian Point Energy Center Site Vice President Fred Dacimo was pleased with the response of the Indian Point workers.

"In both situations Indian Point staff demonstrated their skills and training by safely and correctly responding to these events," said Dacimo.

But in February, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a report concluding it could not give "reasonable assurance" that emergency evacuation plans for the area around the plant would work in case of a nuclear meltdown.

The federal agency said its assessment was based mainly on the failure of New York State to provide important information, and asked state officials to comply by May 2 before it sends a final report to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In January a former FEMA administrator, James Lee Witt, produced a report stating that emergency evacuation plans in the event of a nuclear disaster at Indian Point "are not able to protect the public from an unacceptable dose of radiation." The Witt report, commissioned by New York Governor George Pataki in response to growing citizen concerns, found the regional evacuation plans were inadequate.

A broad coalition of over 40 local, regional and national environmental and citizens groups has formed the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition.

These groups are calling for immediate shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear reactors, securing of the irradiated "spent" fuel rods stored on site, an independent review of the safety of any future plant operations, and in opposing certification of what they say is an ineffective and unworkable evacuation plan.

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Bush Administration Sued for Ignoring Citizens, Desert Plant

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 30, 2003 (ENS) - A coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the Bush administration today for failing to respond to a citizens' petition to list a rare desert plant as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Federal law requires the government to process citizen petitions within ninety day. The conservationists say the Bush administration has had a petition to list the Desert Cymopterus for more than year but has not responded.

The organizations are asking the court to order Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton to comply with this mandatory deadline and issue a finding.

"The Bush administration is so busy trying to strip environmental protections that Secretary Norton cannot even respond to a scientific petition from the public to protect California's unique native plant heritage." said Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity in Idyllwild, a plaintiff in the suit. "The decline of the Desert Cymopterus mirrors the decline of natural values and quality of life across the west Mojave region."

The Desert Cymopterus, also known as the desert spring parsley, is a rare perennial herb in the carrot family. It is found only in the western Mojave Desert. Habitat loss from urban sprawl, off road vehicles and livestock grazing, have eliminated the plant from much of its former range and conservationists believe existing land management plans in the west Mojave fail to offer it any protection on public or private lands.

Only listing under the ESA will extend adequate legal protection to ensure this native species is conserved and recovered, according to Illene Anderson, a botanist with the California Native Plant Society.

"Conservation for this native plant has fallen through the cracks of the federal bureaucracy," said Anderson. "Without ESA protections, it is likely the Desert Cymopterus will go extinct."

The conservationist note that their lawsuit comes in the wake of recent reports by the World Conservation Union and the Nature Conservancy that found at least 30 percent of native flowering plants in the U.S. are currently at risk of extinction.

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EPA's Air Emissions Rule for Large Ships Headed to Court

WASHINGTON, DC, April 30, 2003 (ENS) - Bluewater Network, a San Francisco based conservation group, filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday to challenge a federal rule that establishes standards for air emissions of nitrogen oxides in the largest category of ocean going ships.

The organization contends that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) rule does not impose strict enough standards and is "essentially meaningless." They say that the standards are already met by most ships and do not meet the Clean Air Act's requirement to achieve the greatest reduction in emissions achievable with available control technology.

"Federal records prove that the EPA attempted to go much farther with this regulation, but the Bush administration forced the agency to back off on both the stringency of the standards and the deadlines, too," said Russell Long, executive director of Bluewater Network, the plaintiff in the case.

"The oil tanker owners lobbied the Bush administration to delay and weaken this regulation, and once again, fossil politics trumped the public interest," Long said. "It is a disastrous defeat for the environment."

In addition, the rule ignores all foreign ships, which comprise 95 percent of large vessel traffic in U.S. ports. These ships get a "free ride until at least 2007 since the rule does not force them to reduce emissions," Long said.

As engine builders for U.S. ships are already voluntarily meeting the new standards, Long said, the regulation does essentially nothing to improve air quality.

In a report issued in 2000, Bluewater Network found that large ships are the world's dirtiest transportation source, accounting for 14 percent of total nitrogen oxides and 16 percent of all sulfur oxide emissions from petroleum sources.

The organization warns that this problem will only grow in the future, as worldwide shipping is estimated to triple by 2020.

"These ships run on the dirtiest fuel available," said Martin Wagner, attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice, which is representing Bluewater Network in the case.

"While port communities from Los Angeles to Boston try to meet federal clean air standards, their efforts can be thwarted by just a few cargo ships a day belching the equivalent of the pollution from thousands of unregulated vehicles and stationary sources," Wagner said.

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States React to Declining Horseshoe Crab Population

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 30, 2003 (ENS) - New Jersey's chief environmental official signed an emergency order today that curtails the state's horseshoe crab harvest, following similar measures taken Friday by Delaware state officials.

The states are reacting to declines in the horseshoe crab population and migrating shorebirds, which stop over each spring on Delaware Bay beaches to feed on the fat rich eggs of the horseshoe crab.

"Sudden and dramatic declines in horseshoe crab and shorebird populations make clear that prompt action is needed to protect these resources," said New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell. "I am grateful to Delaware Secretary John Hughes for joining us in a common sense, bistate approach."

The emergency order signed today by Campbell halves the state's annual horseshoe crab harvest and prohibits all harvesting during the horseshoe crabs' prime spawning season from May 1 through June 7.

The commercial harvest is now set at 150,000 crabs. The order also requires the use of bait saving devices in conch pots, as horseshoe crabs are harvested primarily as bait for the conch fishery.

The concentration of horseshoe crab eggs on the bay shore has declined has declined significantly over the past decade, leaving many shorebirds without enough eggs to eat. According to New Jersey officials, the migrating shorebird species most in peril is the Western Hemisphere's Red Knot, a state-threatened species that scientists predict could be extinct within seven years.

"We need to bear in mind that our shorebird and horseshoe crab populations are indicators of the health of the bay as a whole," Campbell said. "By acting today, we aim not only to prevent the dire future predicted for the Red Knot, but also to preserve the ecological balance throughout Delaware Bay."

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Interior Department Lays Out Invasive Species Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, April 30, 2003 (ENS) - The looming and growing problem of invasive species is so severe that the federal government needs to create an interagency strategy and foster new partnerships with state and local officials, according to the science advisor to Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Invasive plants, animals and pathogens are estimated to cost the U.S. economy more than $100 billion, Interior's science advisor Jim Tate told House Resource Committee members in testimony Tuesday.

The problem with invasive species is damaging the nation's biodiversity, Tate said, citing an estimate that up to 46 percent of threatened and endangered species owe their listing in whole or in part to the uncontrolled spread of invasive species.

Tate touted the Bush administration's $250 million plan to boost interagency coordination for the 23 federal agencies that have invasive species programs and to improve invasive species prevention, early detection, rapid response and control and management.

Among the proposals in the Bush administration's plan is a plan to improve ship ballast water management and research - this is considered the most important aquatic pathway for invasive species.

Tate says the administration wants to set up improved early detection networks and in particular aims to control to serious plant pests in the Southwest, the Giant Salvinia and the tamarisk. Other specific species the administration is keen to contain are the Asian Carp and nutria.

There are seven bills pending before the House Resources Committee that take aim at invasive species, including proposals to implement cooperative weed management and to improve control of aquatic nuisance species at national and local levels.

Tate stressed the importance of new partnerships at state, tribal and local levels to combine scientific research on invasive species, but cautioned that much is still unknown about invasive species and more research is needed.

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EPA Offers Temperature Guidance For Northwest Salmon and Trout

SEATTLE, Washington, April 30, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released water temperature guidance on Tuesday to protect Pacific Northwest salmon and trout. The guidance, according to EPA officials, is intended to assist the states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington and Pacific Northwest tribes to develop temperature water quality standards that will meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Federal scientists believe elevated water temperature, caused in part by development and population growth, is a factor in the decline of threatened and endangered pacific salmon and bull trout. Warm water can kill cold water fish directly, but is more likely to stunt fish growth, increase disease and provide advantages to warm water species.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, elevated water temperature is the most widespread water quality problem in the Pacific Northwest and have identified some 1,500 rivers and streams in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington as "temperature impaired."

High water temperature, combined with low water levels, was a major cause of last year's massive fish kill that killed more 30,000 adult fall chinook in the lower Klamath River.

States and tribes that meet the EPA's guidance on water temperature are likely to satisfy requirements for both the Endangered Species Act and the Essential Fish Habitat rules, according to NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator Bob Lohn.

The Clean Water Act requires states and authorized tribes to adopt water quality standards and requires the EPA to approve or disapprove the standards. The Endangered Species Act requires EPA to consult with NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure state standards do not jeopardize the continued existence of salmon and trout listed on the Endangered Species Act.

"We strongly encourage states and tribes in the Pacific Northwest to adopt the recommendations in EPA's guidance to protect and aid in the recovery of the Bull Trout and other threatened and endangered salmonids," said USFWS Regional Director David Allen.

State and tribal water temperature standards that differ from EPA's guidance may also be acceptable as long as EPA determines they meet Clean Water Act requirements and they don't jeopardize the fish in accordance with the Endangered Species Act.

"We think the guidance will help set the stage for the states to revise their water quality standards to protect threatened and endangered fish," said Dave Peeler of the Washington Department of Ecology.

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Group Warns of Continued Asbestos Threat in the Workplace

DES PLAINES, Illinois, April 30, 2003 (ENS) - Asbestos is still a significant workplace safety concern, according to a new paper from he American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

The group warns that materials containing asbestos are still being produced in the United States, even as negotiators for businesses, insurers, labor unions and Congressional leaders iron out an agreement aimed at creating an industry-financed national asbestos trust fund to pay several billion dollars to hundreds of thousands of people with asbestos-related illnesses.

In an ASSE paper titled "It's Back - Asbestos Gets a Second Wind," the organization details that that asbestos is still a problem and could grow even larger with new issues and risks evolving every day.

A ban by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1989 on asbestos products was altered by a 1991 court decision that allowed materials containing asbestos that were being produced in the United States at the time of the ban are now legal to produce, import and use today, according to the paper's author Jeff Camplin.

Exposure to asbestos can cause various forms of cancers and symptoms may take 20 years or more to develop.

A mineral fiber that is extracted from rock, asbestos has been used for centuries for its fire resistance and because it is not easily destroyed or degraded by natural processes. But these qualities that made asbestos such a useful material make it extremely difficult to completely remove.

"Asbestos can reappear even if all asbestos has been removed from the building," Camplin said. "It can still be an issue even if inspection reports state no asbestos is present in a building."

Camplin, a licensed asbestos professional and ASSE staffer, reports that a U.S. Geological Survey study found that 13,000 metric tons of asbestos were imported into the United States in 2001 and that worldwide mining of asbestos was estimated by the government at 2,050,000 metric tons in 2001.

According to Camplin, the following materials may still be imported or produced with asbestos include cement, clothing, pipeline wrap, roofing felt, vinyl floor tile, cement shingle, millboard, cement pipe, automatic transmission components, clutch facings, friction materials, disc brake pads, drum brake linings, brake blocks, gaskets, non-roofing coatings and roof coatings.

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Catering Giant To Serve Eco-friendly Food

PORTLAND, Oregon, April 30, 2003 (ENS) - Sodexho, a major international provider of food and facilities management services with $5.5 billion in annual global sales, announced that it plans to feature foods endorsed by the Food Alliance, a certifier of environmentally friendly and socially responsible agricultural practices.

The company plans to offer Food Alliance certified foods on its menus at select venues throughout the Pacific Northwest and Midwest regions, including college and university campuses such as Seattle Pacific University and University of Minnesota, Morris.

"We are thrilled to be working with Sodexho in these two regions," said the Food Alliance's Executive Director Deborah Kane. "As a major player in the food industry, Sodexho is showing real leadership and sending a strong message - that the sustainable marketplace is real and that visionary companies will work to meet market demand for environmentally friendly and socially responsible food."

The Food Alliance is a national non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon, is dedicated to promoting expanded use of sustainable agriculture practices using market-based incentives.

Under its eco-label program, the Food Alliance has certified more than 175 farms and ranches growing more than 200 different products have been certified.

According to Kane, certification requires adherence to a set of specific criteria that include pesticide reduction and elimination, soil and water conservation, wildlife habitat preservation, safe and fair working conditions, and healthy and humane care for livestock.

"We pay close attention to our customers' preferences," explained Kirt Ingram, regional vice president for Sodexho. "Increasingly we are hearing that they want us to offer healthy food grown locally with respect for the environment and farm workers. Working together with the Food Alliance, we will be able to satisfy our customers and do the right thing."

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