AmeriScan: December 16, 2002

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EPA Approves Ohio Nitrogen Oxide Rule

CHICAGO, Illinois, December 16, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved rules submitted by the state of Ohio requiring a 70 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants and other large boilers in the state.

EPA Region 5 administrator Thomas Skinner, who signed the approval, said, "We congratulate Ohio for developing this plan to cut an air pollutant that helps form ozone in Ohio."

The EPA required Ohio and 18 other states in the eastern part of the country, plus the District of Columbia, to regulate nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants. Ohio EPA's plan will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from regulated utilities and industries in Ohio by about 120,000 tons each year, beginning in 2004.

"The new rules are a significant accomplishment," said Ohio EPA director Christopher Jones. "This plan will be a great benefit to Ohio citizens, who will breathe cleaner air, and experience less ozone pollution."

The state's plan is a cap and trade program, offering opportunities for plants to get nitrogen budget allowances for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. One percent of the trading budget will be set aside for facilities that cut their demand for electricity or that use wind, solar, biomass, and landfill methane gas as power sources.

Nitrogen oxides combine in the atmosphere with other chemicals on warm, sunny days to form ground-level ozone, also called smog. Ground level ozone can cause breathing problems, reduced lung function, eye irritation, stuffy nose and reduced resistance to colds and other infections.

Ozone can aggravate asthma and speed up aging of lung tissue. Children, the elderly and people with chronic respiratory diseases are the most sensitive.

A notice of the action will be published soon in the Federal Register and will be available at: http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-AIR

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Corps Revokes Permit for Arkansas Dam

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas, December 16, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has revoked a permit for the construction of a dam on Bear Creek in Searcy County, Arkansas.

Critics of the project said the dam would have impounded a tributary of the Buffalo National River. Seven conservation and outdoor recreation groups had sued the Corps in federal court in October 2001 for issuing the permit before the National Park Service could determine the impacts on the protected river.

Following consultations with the Justice Department, Brigadier Robert Crear notified the Searcy County Water District on December 9 that the Corps had revoked the permit, noting "at such a time as the Water District secures the approval of the National Park Service for the project, the Water District may reapply with the Corps' Little Rock District for a new permit for the project."

The 135 mile Buffalo National River draws almost one million visitors to northern Arkansas each year, pumping some $36 million a year into the regional service economy. The clean, free flowing waters offer a mixture of whitewater rapids and placid pools and are home to more than 300 species of fish, insects, freshwater mussels and aquatic plants.

Conservation groups charged that the new tributary dam would disrupt flows and water quality in the Buffalo - concerns shared by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"The Corps' assertion that you can protect a river without protecting its headwaters is nonsensical. Congress charged the National Park Service with the responsibility to protect the river and expects them to develop the sound science to do so," said Don Barger with the National Parks Conservation Association.

Although pleased at the reprieve, the conservation community warned that several issues remain to be settled, chief among them Searcy County's legitimate water supply needs. The groups called on the water district to abandon the dam proposal, and pledged to support the county's efforts to work with regional authorities on a less environmentally damaging alternative: a pipeline to bring water from a neighboring county.

The Army Corps' Little Rock district office had twice cited this alternative as grounds for denying the permit application. That rejection was overturned higher up in the agency's hierarchy in August 2001, prompting the conservationists to file their suit in October of that year.

If Searcy County chooses to pursue the dam project, it will have to first secure the blessing of the National Park Service.

"We are glad to hear that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to suspend the permit for construction of a dam on the Bear Creek. We recognize however that the residents of Searcy County still have a legitimate need for an improved water supply," said Gordon Kumpuris with the Arkansas Canoe Club. "We have supported the pipeline option as a better and more environmentally friendly choice. We hope that the residents of Searcy County can soon see this option become a reality."

The conservation groups also called on federal judge William Wilson to issue a ruling on the existing legal issue that the permit should have never been issued, to prevent the Corps from issuing similar controversial permits in the future.

"We applaud the Justice Department's intervention in this instance, but the Army Corps' eagerness to issue permits still clouds the future of the Buffalo National River and 160 wild and scenic rivers across the country," said Jack Hannon, general counsel for American Rivers. "We hope the court will take the additional step to enshrine this into case law."

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Washington Bans Genetically Engineered Salmon

SEATTLE, Washington, December 16, 2002 (ENS) - Washington has adopted the nation's toughest restrictions on genetically engineered salmon.

On December 7, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted sweeping new regulations banning genetically engineered salmon from fish farms in all its marine waters. The move came in the wake of repeated, large scale escapes of farmed fish, and heavy media coverage of recent biotech industry blunders including food crop contamination incidents.

"Simply engineering designer fish and dropping them into our public waterways puts already endangered salmon at greater risk of extinction," said Shawn Cantrell, Friends of the Earth's Northwest regional director. "Washington State has taken a bold step to protect the environment by permanently banning genetically engineered fish."

The tough new state regulations placed on fish farms operating in Puget Sound and other coastal areas were adopted in the face of growing scientific evidence that federal agencies have put the environment and public health at risk by failing to prevent the unintended and uncontrolled release of genetically engineered organisms. The new rules will require state agencies to implement new enforcement and oversight measures to address the negative impacts of poorly regulated fish farms.

Genetically engineered, or transgenic, fish are custom designed to possess certain desirable traits otherwise impossible to acquire in nature by breeding. They are often the product of much trial and error, created by scientists who alter their DNA in laboratories by inserting genetic material culled from different animals, insects, plants, bacteria and viruses.

One company, A/F Protein, has developed an Atlantic salmon genetically engineered to grow four to six times the rate of wild type salmon. The consequences of engineering such life, and the technology used to accomplish it, is still experimental and unpredictable.

"The introduction of transgenic fish into fish farms could have led to a major ecological disaster," said Joel Hanson, a citizen activist who helped persuade the Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt the ban. "I am very pleased Washington State will not allow such a risky technology into our marine waters."

Scientists from Purdue University determined that if just 60 transgenic salmon escaped from fish farms and joined a population of wild salmon, the wild population could theoretically become extinct in 40 generations. A new study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) also recognized serious human health, environmental and ethical concerns associated with the use of genetically engineered animals, including fish, in the food supply.

In addition to the ban on transgenic fish, the new rules adopted by Washington State are intended to address other serious risks that fish farms pose to wild type fish and wildlife and their habitat. In response to public outcry, the rules were strengthened to require improved procedures to prevent escapes from fish farms, and to limit the duration of farm permits to five years.

The rules also require better disclosure of drug and pesticide treatments used on the fish, inspections of every facility at least once a year, and expanded public and agency review of permit applications.

"Several hundred thousand Atlantic salmon have escaped from fish farms in Washington State in recent years, crowding out native Pacific salmon and spreading disease," said Cantrell. "These new rules are an important step in protecting threatened and endangered Puget Sound salmon populations from some of the worst impacts of non-native, farmed fish."

Ongoing problems with escapes as well as massive outbreaks of disease among farmed fish highlight the urgent need for tighter regulation of aquaculture operations.

"It is essential that these new rules are immediately implemented and aggresively enforced," said Cantrell. "Our wild salmon populations are already struggling to survive - the last thing they need is more competition from exotic species escaping from fish farms."

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Two Biotech Companies Fined for Violations

SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 16, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has settled cases with two Midwest companies over their alleged mishandling of genetically modified corn grown for seed under strict field testing conditions in Hawaii.

The action, announced Friday, settles complaints against Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., a subsidiary of DuPont, and Dow AgroSciences. The EPA charged the companies with failing to comply with the conditions of the agency's Experimental Use Permits for growing genetically modified corn seed.

An Experimental Use Permit is issued under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) which is overseen by the EPA to allow for field testing of new pesticides in order to generate the data necessary to support their registration as pesticides. These corn varieties have been modified to contain genes that help protect the corn plant from pests.

The EPA contends that the companies did not comply with certain permit requirements to grow genetically modified corn.

While Dow and Pioneer neither admit nor deny any wrongdoing under the settlement, both companies have agreed to pay penalties to resolve the enforcement actions. The settlement reached with Dow is for $8,800 and the settlement reached with Pioneer is for $9,900.

"EPA required strict conditions in these particular permits to maximize containment to ensure that no pollen from the experimental corn is transferred to other corn," explained Wayne Nastri, the regional administrator of the EPA's Pacific Southwest region. "Companies using experimental permits to field test genetically modified corn need to abide by the conditions in the permit."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), while applauding the EPA's enforcement actions against the companies, said the monetary fines issued are too small to deter other companies from making the same violations.

"EPA needs to institute a strong inspection and compliance program if the food supply and the environment are to be protected from GE crop experiments," said CSPI biotechnology project director Gregory Jaffe. "EPA should regularly inspect all field trials of experimental GE crops and conduct random inspections of commercial plantings of approved GE crops. Also, additional containment measures should be imposed on new permits issued to violators such as Pioneer and Mycogen."

The violations in Hawaii, as well as recent violations in Iowa and Nebraska by Prodigene, "provide ample evidence that the biotechnology industry cannot be trusted on its own to safeguard the food supply and environment," Jaffe added. "It is ironic that the biotechnology industry itself is jeopardizing public acceptance of a potentially invaluable technology."

The cases in Hawaii were initiated after the EPA conducted inspections in March 2002 at Dow AgroSciences and Pioneer's research fields on the islands of Molokai and Kauai.

According to the complaints, the EPA inspector found that Dow AgroSciences did not have an appropriate tree buffer around its experimental corn field and failed to use hybrid corn varieties as a buffer crop, both of which were required to ensure pollen containment. Pioneer Hi-Bred planted its experimental corn in an unapproved location, which was within 1,260 feet of other Pioneer seed production corn.

In addition to paying a monetary penalty in this case, Pioneer Hi-Bred must perform additional crop testing to determine if any genetic material from the experimental plants were transferred to unmodified corn grown by Pioneer Hi-Bred in the adjacent fields. This testing will ensure that the corn seed grown under the permit restrictions is contained.

For more information, visit: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides

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Floridians Sue Over Sewage Sludge

ARCADIA, Florida, December 16, 2002 (ENS) - Several residents of a small Florida town have filed suit to stop two sewage sludge transportation companies from contaminating their neighborhood with sewage residues.

Earthjustice filed the suit last week on behalf of the residents against American Water Services Residuals Management and Blue Septic Tank Service. Sewage sludge dumped by the two companies on land owned by ranchers Clyde Hollingsworth and Michael Boran, among others, washes into the Hidden Acres neighborhood, leaving a foul odor and sticky residue and sickening residents.

Concerns have been raised about the safety of local drinking water supplies. Residents have suffered health problems attributable to the sludge and now seek an end to sludge dumping near their community.

"We learned centuries ago that improper disposal of human wastes causes human illnesses," said Earthjustice attorney Eric Giroux. "It's time these sludge haulers and ranchers joined us in modern-day America."

Sewage sludge, made up primarily of human waste, is a solid, semi-solid, or liquid residue generated during the treatment of sewage. According to a National Research Council report released this summer, sewage sludge can contain everything from toxic metals to living bacteria, viruses and parasites.

DeSoto County receives sludge from 71 sewage plants in cities and counties throughout Florida, earning it the distinction of being called the sludge capital of Florida. Last year, sludge haulers dumped more than half a million wet tons of sewage sludge onto land in DeSoto County, Florida.

American Water Services - formerly Azurix North America, an Enron subsidiary - the largest sludge hauler in DeSoto County, applies much of this sewage sludge to open fields within the immediate vicinity of a residential neighborhood known as Hidden Acres. Because the area is a floodplain, the sludge flushes through the Horse Creek watershed onto the property of Hidden Acres residents when it rains.

Disposal of sewage sludge near Hidden Acres has caused a periodic sharp, foul stench in the neighborhood and leaves a pungent, persistent residue. Many Hidden Acres residents suffer health problems that they blame on the sludge, including chronic headaches and diarrhea, nausea, rashes, upper respiratory and sinus problems and illnesses such as rotavirus.

One 17 month old baby has suffered two bouts of rotavirus, requiring emergency medical treatment.

"Thanksgiving was the worst," said Molly Bowen, referring to Thanksgiving Day, 2000, when, according to Hidden Acres residents, the sewage sludge odor spiked in intensity. "The stench was so strong that I wanted to vomit. We closed all the doors and windows but it didn't go away."

"We've been getting sludged for years now," Bowen added. "Something must be done to make our children safe again."

Hidden Creek residents are suing for trespass, nuisance, damages, and an injunction to stop the sewage sludge dumping. The complaint was filed in the Florida Circuit Court of DeSoto County.

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Nuclear Plant Must Pay for Fish Kill

TRENTON, New Jersey, December 16, 2002 (ENS) - AmerGen Energy Company, owner of the Oyster Creek Generating Station, has been fined $190,000 for violations of the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act that led to a fish kill.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued the fine to the nuclear power plant, and is seeking $182,912 in natural resource damages for the more than 5,800 fish killed by the illegal plant operations.

"AmerGen's serious permit violations caused significant damage to the area's natural resources, " said DEP commissioner Bradley Campbell. "The fines and damage assessment reflect a major loss of aquatic resources and AmerGens's apparent disregard for the environmental consequences of their actions."

The Oyster Creek Generating Station, a nuclear powered energy plant, uses water from the South Branch of the Forked River to cool its reactor and then discharges the resulting thermal wastewater to a manmade canal that flows into Oyster Creek. The generating station discharges about 1.2 billion gallons of cooling and dilution water each day through two independent outfall structures.

The DEP regulates and sets temperature limits for the discharges to protect the marine life inhabiting the canal and Oyster Creek.

On September 23, 2002, AmerGen's operators shut down the station's dilution plant in order to perform scheduled maintenance work on a transformer. Under the facility's DEP issued permit, scheduled maintenance work - which may cause violations of thermal limitations - is prohibited during the months of June, July, August and September.

The generating plant was in full operation when the dilution plant was removed from service, causing a rapid increase of water temperature in the discharge canal. Within an hour of the dilution plant's shut down, the water temperature rose to 101 degrees Fahrenheit and at least 5,876 fish died from heat shock.

AmerGen's permit requires that when the surrounding water temperature reaches 87 degrees Fahrenheit four feet below the water's surface, a dilution pump must be activated. A violation occurred when no pumps were available for activation.

AmerGen was also cited by the DEP for failing to provide the department timely notification of the temperature violations and the resulting fish kill. As required under their permit, AmerGen must notify the DEP within the first two hours of becoming aware of a problem. More than five hours passed before the department was alerted.

Due to the severity of the combined permit violations, the DEP issued AmerGen a $190,000 penalty. In addition to the penalty for permit violations, the DEP is seeking a natural resource damage claim in the amount of $182,912 to compensate the public for injuries to its natural resources.

"Oyster Creek represents a high use recreational fishery," added Campbell. "New Jersey's citizens deserve to be compensated for the loss of aquatic life caused by AmerGen's actions."

Twenty-four fish species were affected by the illegal discharge, resulting in the loss of more than 5,800 fish. Almost three-quarters of the fish collected from the discharge canal and Oyster Creek were striped bass, Atlantic menhaden and white perch. Spot and American eel each comprised about five percent of the fish collected, and the remaining 17 fish species and two invertebrate found comprised less than one percent.

The DEP's natural resource damage assessment is based upon the hatchery value of the dead aquatic species. The DEP allocates money from natural resource damage settlements for restoration projects.

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Groups Threaten Suit Over Aplomado Falcon Habitat

SANTA FE, New Mexico, December 16, 2002 (ENS) - Three conservation groups have announced plans to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to force the agency to designate critical habitat for the northern aplomado falcon.

Forest Guardians, the Chihuahuan Desert Conservation Alliance, and Texas Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sent a notice of intent to sue to the USFWS today. The agency has failed to make a 90 day finding on the groups' petition, filed in early September, to designate critical habitat for the rare falcon.

The groups argued in their petition that the original basis for excluding critical habitat - that none of the birds existed in the United States - is indefensible given confirmed observations of aplomado falcons in southwestern New Mexico over the past three years. The groups are concerned over the erosion of habitat protections needed to support falcon reintroductions underway in south and west Texas, and under negotiation in New Mexico where a population of the falcons already exists.

The groups say protection of habitat, is vital for falcon recovery, despite reintroduction efforts.

Threats to the aplomado's habitat include oil and gas development and livestock grazing on extensive tracks of public lands. The falcon is also threatened by pesticide contamination, which causes eggshell thinning and failed reproduction, and by drastic declines in falcon prey species such as grassland birds.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service's foot dragging on our critical habitat petition is irresponsible, as serious habitat degradation continues to prevent the recovery of aplomados in the Southwest," said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, endangered species coordinator for Forest Guardians. "With the escalating threat of large scale oil and gas development, and the continued destruction of desert grasslands by livestock, habitat protection for the aplomado falcon is vital."

Oil and gas exploration and development is cited in the petition as a threat to falcon habitat. Existing wells and roads have caused extensive habitat fragmentation, and planned development on Otero Mesa, an area targeted for oil and gas extraction under the Bush Energy plan, will increase this threat to falcon habitat. Otero Mesa contains important habitat for the falcon and planned exploration and drilling on the Mesa will reduce the usability of this key natural area to falcons.

The petitioners also point out that over a century of livestock grazing has transformed much of the falcon's habitat from high quality black grama grassland to scrubland, degrading its suitability for falcons. Livestock also damage soaptree yucca and may limit the ability of this slow growing desert plant to reach sufficient heights to provide falcon nests.

Biologists have suggested that a yucca plant of sufficient height for a falcon nest would take a century to replace. The decline of grasslands is an ongoing trend in the Chihuahuan Desert, and the petition underscores that protecting falcon habitat would help safeguard whole ecosystems in this region.

The critical habitat petition and related information and maps are available at: http://www.fguardians.org/aplomado020903.html

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Nature Magazines Challenged to Switch to Recycled Paper

WASHINGTON, DC, December 16, 2002 (ENS) - The publishers of nine environmental magazines are challenging the publishers of four other nature oriented publications over their use of virgin fiber paper in their magazines.

Last year, 737,809 trees were logged to print four of the leading nature magazines - National Geographic, Smithsonian, Sunset and Condé Nast Traveler. Now, some of their colleagues are asking the publishers of these four magazines - which often celebrate the world's forests with lavish photo spreads - to switch from 100 percent virgin fiber paper to paper containing a minimum of 10 percent post-consumer content.

"The natural wonders that appear in our magazines are threatened by each page of virgin paper," write the publishers of nine independent environmental magazines, who all print on paper containing a minimum of 10 percent recycled content. "We know of no better place to take the next step in protecting our world's wild forests than right here at home."

In the last year, these four nature magazines could have saved over 100,000 trees by printing on paper containing 10 percent post-consumer content, the letter notes. More than 95 percent of magazine paper in the U.S. has no recycled content at all, and the industry consumes 35 million trees each year.

For example, National Geographic, one of the largest circulation magazines in the world, distributes eight million copies 12 times a year.

"Environmental magazines such as ours can and do set the moral standard among publishers for environmental practices," the letter admonishes. "If we don't use recycled paper, why should the rest of the industry?"

Changing the practice of printing on 100 percent virgin paper is the goal of the Magazine PAPER Project, a nonprofit collaboration that assisted the environmental publishers in drafting their appeal to the nature magazines.

"There's no excuse for these magazines to resist using recycled paper," said Frank Locantore of Co-op America, one of the partner groups in the Magazine PAPER Project. "Publishers who truly care about the environment can find that high-quality and cost-competitive post-consumer content papers are available."

The signers of the letter include publishers H. Emerson Blake, Orion; David Bolling, Whole Earth; Tom Butler, Wild Earth; Denise Hamler, Co-op America Quarterly; Frances Korten, YES! Magazine; Kathrin Day Lassila, OnEarth; Doug Moss, E Magazine; Earth First! Journal publishing collective; and Audrey Webb, Earth Island Journal.

The Magazine PAPER Project coalition includes the national non profit organizations Co-op America, Conservatree, and the Independent Press Association. The PAPER Project works to preserve the health of forests and communities by encouraging magazine publishers to make environmental commitments, educating them about their environmental impact, and assisting them in adopting environmentally preferable practices.

A complete copy of the letter is available at: http://www.EcoPaperAction.org/ecomagletter.html