AmeriScan: February 26, 2002
PENNSYLVANIA STEEL MILLS FINED $8.2 MILLION
PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, February 26, 2002 (ENS) - Allegheny Ludlum Corporation must pay a $8.2 million fine for chronic violations of the U.S. Clean Water Act at the company's Pittsburgh area steel mills and finishing plants, a judge ruled last week.
In a 33 page decision, U.S. District Judge Robert Cindrich imposed the penalty for 1,122 days of unlawful pollution discharges from Allegheny Ludlum's mills in Brackenridge, West Leechburg and Vandergrift. Cindrich's penalty was one of the largest ever imposed in the nation for a water pollution case, exceeded in the mid-Atlantic region only by a $12.6 million penalty in 1997 against Smithfield Foods in Virginia.
The penalty follows a six week jury trial in January and February, 2001, and a court ruling finding the company liable for Clean Water Act permit violations from July 1990 through February 1997.
"This decision should send a clear message that pollution does not pay, and EPA is committed to full enforcement of the Clean Water Act," said Thomas Voltaggio, deputy regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The government's lawsuit, filed in June 1995 by the U.S. Justice Department on behalf of the EPA, alleged chronic, severe violations of Clean Water Act limits on discharges of toxic pollutants, including chromium, copper, zinc, nickel and oil.
The company exceeded its state issued Clean Water Act permits limiting discharges from the Brackenridge facility to the Allegheny River. Allegheny Ludlum also exceeded its discharge limits at its West Leechburg facility to the Kiskiminetas River, and at its Vandergrift plant, it sent excess discharges to the local sewage treatment plant, which discharges into the Kiskiminetas River.
The court found that a significant penalty was warranted by the "substantial number, magnitude, and environmental and public health threat of these violations," which included 893 violations of toxic pollutant limits. There were 180 days when the company exceeded its permit limits by at least 1,000 percent, and a massive oil spill from West Leechburg in July 1994 spread a sheen 30 miles downstream.
"The court can only conclude that the violations continued because defendant did not consider compliance with the [Clean Water] Act a priority," Judge Cindrich wrote.
In setting the penalty, the court doubled the company's $4,122,335 "economic benefit of non-compliance," the sum saved by the company by avoiding or delaying expenditures for wastewater treatment equipment, spill control programs, and staffing that would have been necessary to comply with the law.
The court recognized that Allegheny Ludlum has improved its environmental compliance record in recent years, but observed that "this form of good faith sprung not from internal willingness to comply with its statutory obligations," but from "more intense government enforcement."
HYBRID CARS HELP BUSH TOUT ENERGY PLAN
WASHINGTON, DC, February 26, 2002 (ENS) - President George W. Bush stood with U.S. automakers on the south lawn of the White House Monday to promote fuel cell powered vehicles and again promote his comprehensive energy plan.
This week, the U.S. Senate will begin debate on two major pieces of energy legislation. Senator Jeff Bingaman, the New Mexico Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced S 517 last year to reauthorize funding for Department of Energy national laboratories. The bill has now become a vehicle for a host of Bush administration energy initiatives, including public lands drilling.
Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota introduced a new bill, S 1766, in an attempt to replace Bingaman's legislation with a more environmentally friendly measure.
"It's important for Americans to remember that as we debate an energy bill, as we have a discussion about an energy plan, that America imports more than 50 percent of its oil - more than 10 million barrels a day," Bush said Monday. "This dependence on foreign oil is a matter of national security. To put it bluntly, sometimes we rely upon energy sources from countries that don't particularly like us."
Noting that the transportation sector consumes more than two-thirds of all the petroleum used in the U.S., Bush said new technology is needed to "safely make cars and trucks more fuel efficient." Several American manufacturers brought prototype hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles to the press conference as examples of such technology.
"I was told by the representatives of the manufacturing companies that more and more hybrid cars will be available in the marketplace next year," Bush said. "It's good news for our environment, and it's good news for American consumers who are not only worried about the environment, but understand the ramifications of dependency on foreign sources of crude oil."
Notably absent from Monday's event were the hybrid cars manufactured by Japanese automakers, including the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius, which are already available to consumers.
Bush also touted his new FreedomCAR plan, a $150 million initiative that aims to bring zero emissions fuel cell powered cars to market.
"We need to have a focused effort to bring fuel cells to market, and that's exactly what my administration is dedicated to do," added Bush.
On Saturday, Bush used his weekly radio address to call on Congress to approve his comprehensive energy plan.
President Bush said that his energy plan would increase funding for energy efficiency; modernize power lines; invest in new technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells; offer tax credits for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources; and encourage domestic drilling for oil and gas, including opening a section of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy exploration.
"As our economy continues to grow, U.S. oil consumption is projected to increase by about one-third during the next 20 years. Our demand for electricity is expected to rise by 45 percent," Bush said. "America is already using more energy than our domestic resources can provide, and unless we act to increase our energy independence, our reliance on foreign sources of energy will only increase."
DOE PLANS TWO NEW MOX REACTORS
WASHINGTON, DC, February 26, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) is proposing to build two additional nuclear reactors to burn mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel as part of its controversial disposal program for weapons grade plutonium.
A February 15 DOE report to Congress on the disposal program revealed substantial changes to the program, according to the Nuclear Control institute (NCI).
"It is impossible for DOE to safely achieve its accelerated plutonium disposition rate with only two more reactors," said Dr. Edwin Lyman, NCI's scientific director. "DOE will need at least three more reactors for its redefined program. DOE must explain in an amended Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) how the accelerated rate can be achieved and which reactors it will be using."
"Unfortunately, the plutonium disposition plan which DOE has presented to Congress is highly speculative and unlikely to succeed without significant additional costs and delays to the program," Lyman added.
The fiscal year 2002 Defense Authorization Act required that DOE review disposition options for plutonium to be taken to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and present costs of implementation of the various options and a firm schedule for construction of necessary facilities for the MOX option. The DOE has discarded another option of immobilizing the plutonium, along with other high level nuclear wastes, in glass for permanent disposal.
"Rather than charting a clear path forward with the plutonium disposition program, this DOE report only amplifies the problems facing plutonium disposition," said Lyman. "Immobilization of plutonium in nuclear waste, which DOE confirms is cheaper than MOX, is safer from an environmental and non-proliferation perspective and must be restored as a disposition option."
In the report, the DOE states that "successful implementation" of the program will require two additional nuclear reactors to dispose of 3.5 metric tons (MT) of plutonium a year, but fails to identify those reactors or how they will be selected.
The DOE has already designated four reactors owned by Duke Power to use plutonium fuel, disposing of two MT per year. In April 2000, Virginia Power pulled its two North Anna reactors out of the MOX program based on a business decision not to proceed.
The NCI believes that identification of new reactors for the program could prove controversial in communities located near the reactors. An NCI study found that a severe accident at a reactor using MOX fuel could result in 25 percent more cancer deaths as compared to a severe accident using conventional uranium fuel.
The DOE document is entitled "Report to Congress: Disposition of Surplus Defense Plutonium at Savannah River Site."
BLM REVIEWS ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION
WASHINGTON, DC, February 26, 2002 (ENS) - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is planning to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will address ecosystem restoration on millions of acres of BLM lands in western states.
The EIS will address the spread of noxious weeds as well as restoration of native vegetation, wildlife habitat and watersheds. The plan will consider treatments such as prescribed fire, riparian restoration, restoration of native plant communities, control of invasive species, fuels reduction and other prescriptions.
Between 1985 and 1995, weed coverage increased on the public range from four million to 17 million acres. The BLM estimates that weeds spread at a rate of 4,600 acres per day on agency lands.
The worst invader may be cheatgrass, a flammable but fire loving non-native that has taken over almost 25 million acres of public land in the Great Basin.
Noxious weeds reduce biological diversity and threaten sensitive fish and wildlife species. Flammable weeds can alter natural fire regimes, which may lead entire ecosystems to collapse.
Weeds are present on all landscape types managed by the BLM, including Pacific Northwest forests, Mojave Desert, Chihuahuan Desert, Sonoran Desert and the Sagebrush Sea.
Conservation groups including American Lands are concerned that the BLM may address the symptoms of noxious weeds without considering the causes. Weeds are often spread by soil disturbance or stress on ecosystems from domestic livestock grazing, road building, off road vehicle use, logging, mining, fire and other activities.
These uses and activities are permitted on public lands by the BLM. Weeds are also spread by deliberate planting of invasive species either by state or federal agencies attempting to enhance or restore areas, or by private citizens to beautify their properties.
Conservationists are concerned that the agency will propose expensive, invasive techniques to halt the spread of weeds without also requiring reductions and restrictions in the activities that cause weeds to spread in the first place.
Many future regional and local restoration projects will be developed according to the EIS.
The BLM has requested public scoping comments for the EIS, which may be submitted in writing or at public meetings to be hosted by the agency this winter at locations across the country. Comments can be sent to Brian Amme at BLM via Fax: 775-861-6712
HUMAN HARASSMENT THREATENS MARINE MAMMALS
WASHINGTON, DC, February 26, 2002 (ENS) - The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is considering developing regulations to protect whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions from human harassment.
NMFS managers want to gauge how to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) regulations or provide other measures to prevent harassment and harm to marine mammals in the wild caused by human interactions or inappropriate viewing activities.
"We encourage people to view and enjoy marine mammals in their natural habitat, but in a responsible way. We're becoming increasingly concerned with the number of inappropriate activities and close interactions that may harm the animals and place people at risk," said NMFS assistant administrator Bill Hogarth. "We're asking for the public's guidance in developing appropriate rules that better protect wild marine mammals, yet still promote responsible marine wildlife viewing on our waters and beaches."
An increasing number of people are attempting to approach, swim with, touch or otherwise interact with wild marine mammals. NMFS agents and managers have observed or received complaints about people chasing or swimming with wild dolphins and whales, using vessels to make dolphins ride the bow wave or surf the stern wake, throwing objects at seals or sea lions to make them 'pose' for pictures, and attempting to pet, touch or feed the animals.
These activities can disturb and injure marine mammals. Animals that are resting, foraging, caring for young, or using particular habitats for shelter are at special risk from harassment by humans.
The MMPA now provides general prohibitions against harassing or feeding wild marine mammals, and includes specific restrictions on approaching humpback whales in Hawaii and Alaska, and North Atlantic right whales in the Northeast.
NMFS already offers an official policy to supplement the MMPA, which states "interacting with wild marine mammals should not be attempted, and viewing marine mammals must be conducted in a manner that does not harass the animals."
NMFS "cannot support, condone, approve or authorize activities that involve closely approaching, interacting or attempting to interact with whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals or sea lions in the wild. This includes attempting to swim with, pet, touch, feed or elicit a reaction from the animals," the policy states.
The current proposal seeks to clarify which activities can be disruptive to wild marine mammals, and provide appropriate solutions for addressing human activities of concern.
NMFS will accept comments on the proposal until April 1. Comments should be addressed to the Chief, Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910.
More information is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/prot_res/MMWatch/MMViewing.html
GRANT SUPPORTS HORSESHOE CRAB CONSERVATION
WASHINGTON, DC, February 26, 2002 (ENS) - The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has awarded a $10,000 grant to Ecological Research and Development Group, a Delaware based horseshoe crab conservation organization.
The conservation group will use the funds to continue saving thousands of horseshoe crabs by providing a no cost way for mid-Atlantic conch and whelk fishermen to use fewer of the prehistoric anthropods as bait.
The decline of horseshoe crabs on the Atlantic coast in recent years has led to state and federal restrictions on their harvest. These restrictions have caused bait shortages for whelk fishermen who use whole crabs as bait in whelk pots.
Ecological Research and Development Group will use the funds to distribute simple devices, known as bait bags, free of charge to whelk fishermen. Constructed of plastic netting, bait bags are placed in the bottom of the whelk pots and secured with a bungee cord.
The bags prevent undesirable species from devouring the horseshoe crab bait, resulting in higher whelk catches. Some fishermen who are already using the bait bags have reported a 75 percent reduction in the amount of horseshoe crab bait they need.
Conch and whelk are large marine mollusks whose meat is sold in ethnic and Asian markets. In 2000, an estimated 1.8 million horseshoe crabs worth about $2 million in landings were collected along the U.S. Atlantic coast for use as bait in eel and whelk fisheries.
"The introduction of bait bags in the whelk fishery has proven to be a simple win win way to help conserve a portion of the horseshoe crab resource without burden on the commercial fishing industry," said William Hogarth, director of NMFS. "We're pleased that many fishermen have gladly decided to use the bait bags in their work."
Use of bait bags is now mandated in the Virginia whelk fishery. Last year, NMFS worked with Ecological Research and Development Group to promote their use throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
This year's project will provide more than 7,000 bait bags to conch fishermen in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Horseshoe crabs are an ancient group of marine animals related to spiders. They are an integral part of the marine ecosystem, providing a crucial food supply for declining populations of migratory seabirds, which feed on crab eggs in Delaware Bay before moving north to their Canadian nesting areas, and for endangered sea turtles.
Horseshoe crab blood, with its extraordinary infection fighting system, has improved the ability of pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to assure that their products are free of contaminating endotoxins. Most crabs used by the pharmaceutical industry are returned unharmed to the sea after some of their blood is extracted.
CALIFORNIA'S LIVING MARINE RESOURCES REVIEWED
DAVIS, California, February 26, 2002 (ENS) - A comprehensive new guide to California's marine life developed by leading government and university scientists promises to become a landmark reference for the general public and researchers alike.
With an emphasis on science, the book uses the best available information on oceanic and environmental conditions, law enforcement efforts and socioeconomic considerations that affect management of the state's marine resources. The report provides readers with photos, along with population and biological information on the current state of more than 150 marine species.
"This book will serve as the vehicle for resource managers to evaluate the effectiveness of California's fishery management programs," said Patricia Wolf, manager of the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) marine region.
"California's Living Marine Resources: A Status Report" is a 592 page, spiral bound handbook published by the DFG and the University of California's (UC) Sea Grant program.
The report examines the current status of the state's commercial and recreational fisheries and discusses the natural history of many of the plants and animals of California's marine environment. The book draws on the expertise of more than 125 leading scientists and provides valuable insight into the relationship between the ecological health of California's marine resources and its contributions to the state's economic prosperity.
Among the report's findings:
"California's dynamic and highly productive marine environment is home to a diverse array of marine life supporting valuable fisheries, recreation, tourism and aquaculture activities that generate billions of dollars and immeasurable enjoyment for the state's citizens," said UC marine fisheries specialist Christopher Dewees. "California's growing population, the increasing worldwide demand for seafood, and the accumulating stresses on marine and coastal habitats make it a challenge to sustain our living marine resources and activities associated with them. Management of our marine resources needs to incorporate the best available scientific information."
To download a free copy of the report or to print individual chapters, visit: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mrd/status
INSECTICIDE SHOWS PROMISE AGAINST ASIAN LONGHORNED BEETLE
WASHINGTON, DC, February 26, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to treat 46,000 trees in Illinois with the insecticide imidacloprid to prevent the spread of Asian longhorned beetles.
The USDA says imidacloprid has displayed promising results in combating the invasive beetles in the United States. Treatments with the insecticide are monitored by project officials and are administered by injecting the chemical into the soil around the tree's root system or by small capsules placed at the tree base.
The insecticide is dispersed throughout the tree through its circulatory system. This enables the insecticide to reach Asian longhorned beetle adults and larvae as they feed on leaves and small twigs and beneath the bark of host trees.
Imidacloprid is used in store bought lawn and garden products and by lawn service companies to kill lawn grubs, and is in some domestic pet treatments to kill fleas. Combined with ongoing inspections, rapid removal of infested trees, and established quarantine regulations, these treatments have helped to reduce the incidence of this exotic pest in Chicago.
The Asian longhorned beetle, native to China, bores into healthy hardwood trees and feeds on living tree tissue during the larval stage. Later, throughout the summer, adult beetles emerge from exit holes and feed on the leaves and small twigs of host trees.
To fight this destructive pest, agriculture officials removed and destroyed more than 1,500 trees in the Chicago area and close to 5,700 trees in New York City and state, including a recent infestation in New York's Central Park.
Tree destruction has been the only method for controlling this beetle since its initial discovery in New York in 1996 and the later discovery in Illinois in 1998.
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) officials are optimistic that using imidacloprid will decrease beetle populations and future tree loss. However, if a tree is found to be infested, it will be removed regardless of treatment.
The goal is to eradicate the destructive insect from Illinois and New York before it can establish itself elsewhere.
U.S. SUPPORTS ENVIRONMENTAL INITIATIVES IN CZECH REPUBLIC
PLZEN, Czech Republic, February 26, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (TDA) has awarded a $234,500 grant to a heating company in Plzen to help assess a potential waste to energy facility for the city.
Plzenská teplárenská, a.s. will use the money to fund a feasibility study on the proposed facility, which would transform about 120,000 metric tons of municipal solid waste per year into energy. The feasibility study will help assess various technical and financial options for this waste to energy facility.
Plzenská teplárenská is now considering installation of two incinerators to handle its waste capacity. This project will assist the region in complying with new, more stringent Czech Waste Regulations.
Another $123,000 grant will fund a biomass to energy feasibility study by an agricultural company, Druid, a.s. Druid intends to use waste biomass to fuel cogeneration units to generate heat and electricity for its operations.
Frequent power interruptions from an outdated grid now make it difficult for the company to maintain productivity. The feasibility study will assist in selecting an appropriate technology for the pilot project and formulate a strategy for its implementation.
The biomass units would reduce the need for landfills and use of coal as a fuel source, benefiting the environment.
The U.S. Trade and Development Agency helps U.S. companies pursue business opportunities in developing and middle income countries by funding feasibility studies, orientation visits, specialized training grants, business workshops and various forms of technical assistance.