Bill Would Cut Four Power Plant PollutantsWASHINGTON, DC, February 13, 2003 (ENS) - Three senators have reintroduced legislation to limit four pollutants emitted by power plants, including the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
The Clean Power Act of 2003, which has 19 cosponsors, would use the successful cap and trade system spelled out in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments to slash emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and mercury - pollutants that cause smog, acid rain, respiratory disease, mercury contamination and global warming.
The bill was introduce by Senators Jim Jeffords, a Vermont Independent; Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat; and Susan Collins, a Maine Republican. The Clean Power Act won approval last year in the Environment and Public Works committee but was never considered on the Senate floor.
"The nation has made some impressive strides in reducing air pollution since 1990," said Jeffords, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "But there is a lot of unfinished business, a fact confirmed every day by more and ever better science."
"Power plants are still the nation's single largest source of air pollution, including greenhouse gases," he added. "They are responsible for 60 percent or more of national sulfur dioxide emissions, 25 percent of nitrogen oxides, 40 percent of carbon dioxide, and about 45 tons of mercury annually."
The bill is designed to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide by 81 percent from 2000 levels, to a 2.25 million ton cap. Nitrogen oxides would be reduced by 71 percent from 2000 levels, to 1.51 million tons. Carbon dioxide will be capped at 21 percent below 2000 levels, or 2.05 billion tons. Mercury emissions will be reduced to 90 percent below 1999 levels, or five tons.
Almost two-thirds of the pollution credits created by the bill would go to households and consumers. The rest would go to renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, transitioning industries and existing power plants, rewarding the cleanest power producers.
"In my home state of Connecticut, people are plagued by the smog caused by nitrogen oxide emissions, forests have been devastated by acid rain caused by sulfur dioxide emissions, and has nary a fishing hole where there isn't a warning about mercury levels in the fish," said Senator Lieberman. "If we don't fight this problem today, it may become impossible to right it tomorrow."
The senators timed their announcement to coincide with the Bush administration's announcement Wednesday of its voluntary plan to address global warming. In contrast, the Clean Power Act would set requirements for reducing the pollution most responsible for global climate change.
Lieberman said that the Bush plan's reliance on voluntary compliance would be ineffective in combating global warming, and that far stronger measures - including hard limits on carbon dioxide emissions - are necessary.
"The president's plan is based on voluntary reductions from industry, which past experience has shown means that pollution will continue to increase," said Thomas Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association. "Sooty haze, unhealthy levels of ozone, acid rain and global warming threaten national parks from Acadia in Maine to Big Bend in Texas to Sequoia in California."
The Bush administration's voluntary agreements with industry supplement a pollution control plan that the president outlined last year, the Clear Skies Initiative. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency analysis of that plan concluded that current Clean Air Act regulations, if properly enforced, would deliver greater pollution reductions sooner than those proposed in the administration's plan.
"Global warming is expected to transform Glacier National Park into Puddles National Park within a few decades," Kiernan added. "Our national parks deserve the best protection possible, but the Bush administration is going in the wrong direction, promoting plans supported by industry special interests that will not protect public interests, including national parks."
Agency Downplays Terrorism Risk at Indian PointNEW YORK, New York, February 13, 2003 (ENS) - Even as the Bush administration issues repeated warnings about potential terrorist attacks, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is downplaying the risks at the controversial Indian Point nuclear power plant, located 40 miles north of New York City.
On Wednesday, NRC chair Richard Meserve sent a letter to Senator Hillary Clinton, a New York Democrat, stating that the agency believes critics of the power plant are overestimating the risk of an attack. The letter came in response to a January report commissioned by New York Governor George Pataki, which called the plant's safety plants "not adequate" to protect the public.
"We believe the draft report appears to give undue weight to the impact of potential acts of terrorism on emergency planning and preparedness," Meserve wrote. "Necessary protective actions and offsite response are not predicated on the cause of events. Whether releases from the plant occur as a result of terrorist acts or equipment malfunctions, emergency plans guide decision makers and responders in the same way."
"Preliminary results from our vulnerability studies do not indicate an increased source term or quicker release from terrorist initiated events than is already addressed by the emergency planning basis required by NRC regulations and in place at Indian Point," he added.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a variety of groups and officials have been calling for the permanent shut down of the Indian Point plant. Last month, Senator Clinton joined a group of elected officials petitioning the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to withdraw its approval of the Indian Point radiological emergency preparedness plan.
Clinton's decision to join the petition was based largely on the Witt Associates' report findings, which identified major deficiencies in the emergency preparedness plan for the areas of New York State around the Indian Point nuclear power plant.
"The Witt report makes it clear that we must be doing more to ensure the safety and security of communities surrounding Indian Point. We need to be sure that we can evacuate schools, keep people safe, and provide our first responders with the training and equipment they need to defend our communities," Clinton said. "All government agencies at all levels should be looking at this report and taking appropriate action."
In letters to FEMA and the NRC, Clinton requested that both agencies review the Witt report, and that FEMA respond to the petition first submitted last summer.
According to FEMA's regulations, if FEMA determines that a state or local plan is no longer adequate to protect public health and safety or is no longer able to be implemented, FEMA must advise the state governor of that determination. The state then has four months to correct any noted deficiencies in the plan, or to submit an acceptable plan for correcting such deficiencies.
If the state fails to do either within the four month period, FEMA then must withdraw its approval of the plan. On January 30, Governor Pataki announced that the state could not approve the emergency plan covering the area around the Indian Point plant.
"I strongly urge FEMA and the NRC to consider the concerns raised by the counties and continue working with us to ensure that these plans will protect our residents in the event of a nuclear emergency," Pataki said.
Climate Linked to Rural PovertyLONG BEACH, California, February 13, 2003 (ENS) - A team of scientists has examined the relationship between climate and income, and has concluded that the climate plays an important role in determining the distribution of rural poverty.
The scientists, led by Alan Basist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center, analyzed upper level soil wetness data along with population densities and economic data from the most recent U.S. Census. They also used climate data provided by NOAA to identify relationships between climatic and agricultural production, per capita income, and land value in rural districts across the United States and Brazil.
The climate data, including surface temperature and wetness, were derived from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager, flown by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. Another climatic variable, the vegetation halth index, was derived from NOAA's polar orbiting environmental satellites.
Three separate analyses were conducted for rural counties in Brazil and the United States. The first analysis established that climate is correlated with income. Higher temperatures are associated with reduced income in both Brazil and the United States.
Over the United States, higher incomes correspond with higher amounts of upper level soil moisture. In Brazil, lower incomes correspond with lower amounts of soil moisture.
The second analysis showed that the predicted value of land, or net revenue, has a strong direct relationship with income. Areas with more valuable land have higher incomes.
The third analysis separated the impact of the climate from other factors that affect farm productivity. Findings reveal that climate explains most of the variation in agricultural production.
The evidence from the United States and Brazil reveals that climate influences income, and plays a role in determining rural poverty. It is more difficult to generate income in places with lower productivity. This is evident even in the United States, which has plenty of access to capital and modern technology.
The results of the study, which was funded by the World Bank, were presented February 11 at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Long Beach.
Conservationists Offer Alternative for Arctic DrillingWASHINGTON, DC, February 13, 2003 (ENS) - Conservation groups are touting their own proposal for balancing oil development and environmental protection in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
On January 17, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) analyzing four alternatives for the future management of the 8.8 million acre Northwest Planning Area of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), also known as the Western Arctic.
Three of the alternatives would make part or all of the Planning Area - the nation's largest remaining block of unprotected public land - available for oil and gas leasing.
Conservation groups have united behind a fifth alternative - the "Wildlife Habitat Hotspots Alternative," which is based on the scientific findings in a new Audubon report on "biological hotspots" in the region.
"The draft EIS for oil and gas leasing and drilling on the Western Arctic is totally inadequate. Americans deserve better than the only two alternatives seriously at play - as they allow leasing on all or nearly all of this wild land," said Sara Chapell, Alaska representative of the Sierra Club. "While we recognize that there will be oil development in America's Arctic, there are some places that are too special to drill. These biological hotspots in the Western Arctic - like the Arctic Refuge coastal plain - deserve permanent protection from roads, pipelines and drill pads."
The Wildlife Habitat Hotspots Alternative calls for the designation of four new special areas, in addition to the existing special areas at Teshekpuk Lake and on the Colville River, which were established by the Department of the Interior:
Conservationists contend that the BLM's draft EIS does not study the lands and rivers in the northwest planning area for their wilderness and wild and scenic river potential. The conservation community is calling for an adequate review of wilderness and wild and scenic river potential, as a way of further refining the hotspots alternative, as well as the use of best management practices throughout the area to minimize future threats from industrial development on valuable fish and wildlife resources.
"Today we are calling on the Bureau of Land Management to go back to the drawing board and present plans to the public that provide a responsible balance between protection of this area's spectacular wildlife and wilderness values, and oil development," said Deb Moore, Arctic coordinator for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. "The Wildlife Habitat Hotspots Alternative strikes a true balance between protection and development. While safeguarding the Western Arctic's most special places, it actually also provides significantly more industry access to areas of high oil and gas resource potential than the BLM's 'conservation' alternative."
Noting that the Bush administration earlier this week issued new leases in the Beaufort Sea off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Western Arctic, Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness, charged the administration with planning to "hand over all of northern Alaska to oil and gas companies."
"This shouldn't all be handed over to special oil and gas interests," Matz said. "This administration's plans for the Western Arctic are an irresponsible abrogation of our responsibility to protect special areas for our children."
The public comment period on the administration's plan for the northwest planning area ends March 18, though a coalition of conservation organizations have requested a 30 day extension to give the public the more time to comment. Hearings in Alaska began Wednesday, but no hearings have yet been scheduled in the lower 48 states.
The same conservation coalition has requested that public hearings be held in the Lower 48 states, as the BLM did when it leased lands for oil development in the northeast planning area in 1998.
For more information, visit: http://www.ak.blm.gov/nwnpra/index.asp
Nature Conservancy Buys Tract on Tieton RiverELLENSBURG, Washington, February 13, 2003 (ENS) - The Nature Conservancy has launched a project to save more than 10,000 acres in the Tieton River canyon west of Yakima, Washington.
The group has already purchased almost 700 acres from Elk Haven Timber Co., LLC, and has signed an option to buy 9,700 acres in phases from Plum Creek Timber Company. The parcels cover an undulating expanse of forest that contains some of the state's most imperiled habitat.
Once completed, the public/private effort will conserve almost eight miles of the Tieton River and all of the adjacent uplands, a place of remarkable ecological diversity due to its location between the Columbia Basin shrub-steppe and the forested eastern front of the Cascade Mountains.
The Nature Conservancy's project is contained within the boundary of the Wenatchee National Forest and adjacent to the state owned Oak Creek Wildlife Area. Because of the checkerboard ownership pattern in this part of the state, successful completion of the project will mean that more than 20,000 acres - almost an entire township - of now fragmented lands will be knit into a contiguous landscape of protected habitat.
"This is an opportunity to conserve a truly spectacular place," said David Weekes, director of the Conservancy's Washington chapter. "It's ecologically diverse; it's strategically located; it's also a place of immense natural beauty. Without question, our state's natural legacy will be made richer by the Tieton's protection."
In January, the Conservancy purchased 695 acres of the project area from Elk Haven, a small group of timberland investors and developers. In making that purchase, the Conservancy took assignment of Elk Haven's option to buy another 9,700 acres from Plum Creek.
Elk Haven had secured a permit to harvest the parcel the Conservancy just purchased. The firm planned to log and subdivide or develop the entire area over several years.
As public funds become available, the national forest and the state wildlife area are expected to take ownership of much of the acreage the Conservancy plans to purchase from Plum Creek. The Conservancy will recover its cost but make no profit in these transactions.
The Conservancy will look to both the public and private sector for support for the project. Some of that public fundraising has already begun. With help from the Conservancy, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking $2.55 million from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program in the current legislative session to purchase about 2,500 acres.
"The Tieton River canyon is already much loved by a variety of recreationists, and this project will ensure the area's availability for public recreation in the future," said Sonny O'Neal, supervisor of the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests. "The area also has some unique values for fish and wildlife. We're very pleased to be partners with the Conservancy in helping to ensure this area becomes a part of our public heritage."
Kinkos Invests in Green EnergyDALLAS, Texas, February 13, 2003 (ENS) - Kinko's, Inc. has increased its projected annual use of green power by 37 percent to about 11.2 million kilowatt hours (kWh).
The move is part of the office supply company's ongoing efforts to integrate sustainable business practices into its operations.
"Caring for the environment is part of Kinko's culture and our core values. Our recently adopted Kinko's Global Commitment is driving us to identify and integrate more sustainable business practices," stated Larry Rogero, director of environmental affairs for Kinko's. "Using renewable power is a necessary step for our business to take on its journey to becoming a more sustainable business. This action delivers the lasting environmental, economic and social benefits derived from using clean, renewable and locally produced energy."
Already, 66 Kinko's locations in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington have joined the company's efforts to support the development and use of renewable energy. Kinko's new purchases will help prevent more than three million pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions - equivalent to taking more than 250 cars off the road this year or planting more than 270,000 trees during the same period.
"Kinko's has consistently shown its dedication to building the business case for and the creation of new, cost-competitive green power," said Jonathan Lash, president of World Resources Institute (WRI). WRI is an environmental think tank that convenes the Green Power Market Development Group, a collaboration of WRI, Kinko's, and nine other leading corporations dedicated to building corporate markets for green power.
"Kinko's new agreements are yet another example of the company's continued leadership in the pursuit of sustainable business practices," added Lash, "and we at WRI encourage other companies to explore the potential for their businesses."
Kinko's new agreements include new purchases in and around Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland and Seattle.
In Southern California, 19 Kinko's locations have joined the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's Green Power Program. Participating branches will purchase between 10 and 20 percent of their electricity needs in the form of renewable energy through the Green Power Program, a part of LADWP's Green LA Program.
In the Philadelphia area, Kinko's has expanded its existing renewable energy relationship with Green Mountain Energy Company. Kinko's has upgraded 10 stores to 100 percent renewable energy and added four participating locations in Philadelphia and Greensburg, Penn.
Kinko's also added to its green power purchases with Portland General Electric in Oregon by becoming one of the first commercial customers for PGE's Clean Wind product, a new wind power product designed to meet the needs of medium and large businesses. Five Portland area locations signed up to purchase 20 percent of their power needs through this new program, joining seven locations that qualified for PGE's Green Mountain Energy electricity program last year.
Twenty-nine Kinko's locations in the Seattle/Puget Sound area have begun purchasing renewable energy to fill between five to 25 percent of their power needs. The new agreements were made possible by Seattle City Light's Green Power program, Snohomish County PUD's Planet Power, and Puget Sound Energy's Green Power Plan, which is supplied by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.
Other sustainable initiatives underway at the company include energy conservation, use of recycled products, incorporating green building concepts into its retail locations, product stewardship guidelines for suppliers, and waste minimizing and recycling programs.
Dioxin Limits At Paper Mills Help Clean Up WaterOLYMPIA, Washington, February 13, 2003 (ENS) - Dioxin discharges from pulp and paper mills in Washington are declining, according to a new report from the state Department of Ecology (Ecology).
Beginning 12 years ago, Ecology set limits for dioxin in the effluent of four pulp and paper mills in western Washington: the Weyerhaeuser mills in Everett and Cosmopolis, the Simpson Kraft mill in Tacoma and the Rayonier mill in Port Angeles.
According to monitoring data described in a report titled, "Effectiveness Monitoring for Dioxin Total Maximum Daily Loads in Western Washington," dioxin discharges at all four mills have dropped from more than 10 parts per quadrillion to non-detectable levels. The improvements were achieved by changing additives used in the paper bleaching process, and by using chlorine dioxide in place of elemental chlorine.
"The dioxin levels in these mills' discharges have gone from very low to non-detectable," said Bill Backous, who manages Ecology's environmental assessment program. "It's exciting to see that our water cleanup efforts do make a difference."
Dioxins are toxic, do not break down in the environment and build up in the bodies of animals and humans, where they may cause long term health problems. The chemical is of such concern in Washington that Governor Gary Locke has proposed spending $309,000 in the next budget cycle to create a chemical action plan for eliminating discharges of dioxin into the environment.
Of seven pulp and paper mills now operating in Washington, three discharge into water bodies that do not meet water quality standards. As part of the effort to clean up the waterways, Ecology established limits for dioxin discharges into them. The fourth mill highlighted in the report, Rayonier, closed in 1997, but dioxin studies were completed before it closed.
Other mills in Washington are required to monitor their effluent, and the four mills on the Columbia River also have had dioxin limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to Ecology's report, all the state's pulp and paper mills have shown measurable success in reducing dioxin.
The EPA reports that more than 40 percent of tested waters in the nation do not meet water quality standards. Under federal law, states are required to develop strategies to reduce the discharge of toxic pollutants from identifiable sources.
The Ecology report is available at: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/biblio/0303002.asp
Student Helps Brazil Balance Conservation, EcotourismANN ARBOR, Michigan, February 13, 2003 (ENS) - A University of Michigan graduate student is helping officials in Brazil to better manage conservation and ecotourism at the wetlands of the Pantanal.
Brazil's Pantanal, a vast wetland situated in the center of South America, has become the next frontier for ecotourists in search of exotic flora and fauna.
"It's where people go after they've been to Africa," said Shannon Bouton, a PhD student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) at the University of Michigan.
The problem, as in many other areas that have become popular eco-tourism destinations, is that the influx of humans can destroy the attractions that the tourists are flocking to see. In the case of the Pantanal, the tourist industry is still quite new, with very little infrastructure or regulation.
"As the number of people, boats, and hotels in the Pantanal grow, local wildlife populations are going to be increasingly disturbed," Bouton said.
This month, Bouton is publishing the results of her unique study of a wading bird colony in the Pantanal in the February issue of "Conservation Biology," the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology. The article, co-authored with Peter Frederick of the University of Florida, is titled "Stakeholders' Perceptions of a Wading Bird Colony as a Community Resource in the Brazilian Pantanal."
Unlike other research projects that consider only the biological effects of tourism, Bouton has combined her biological research with a study of how the colony serves as a resource for the local community. Her suggestions for meeting the twin goals of managing and developing tourism and conserving the colony have attracted the attention of top government officials and diplomats in Brazil and have made her study site at Porto da Fazenda a model for similar efforts in the region.
Bouton found that regular visits by tourists were changing the nesting success and breeding behavior of wood storks.
"Guides took tourists on walking tours through the middle of the colony and drove boats directly under nests overhanging the river. There were even reports of fireworks being set off to make the birds fly," Bouton said. "The perception in the community was that the birds were moving out, and that uncontrolled tourism was responsible."
Bouton and her team interviewed stakeholders in the community, including licensed guides, hotel owners and managers, boat drivers and local landowners. She developed a model of the interactions among the various groups, identified the areas of potential conflict, and developed strategies that have since been implemented for satisfying tourists while not unduly disturbing the birds.
As a result of Bouton's suggestions, local forestry police have posted a guard in front of the colony to control the behavior of tourists and fishers. A local conservation group, Associação Ecológica Melgassense (AMEC) has established a staffed observation post that is occupied year round to protect the birds and the forest.
AMEC trains young people from the community as guides to take tourists along new trails at a safe distance from the colony, and runs workshops for local children and adults so that everyone is aware of the biology of the birds, their importance to the community and how to behave so as not to disturb them.
"The tourists really appreciate the new amenities," Bouton said. "Now there's a little shop to buy cool drinks, an orientation talk that tells them what to look for and well informed guides to accompany them on the trail. Those who prefer not to walk can take advantage of spotting scopes on top of an observation tower."
"Tourism has increased ten fold since our study, and at the same time the birds are happier and many more are staying in the colony," she added.