AmeriScan: January 19, 2001


WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2001 (ENS) - BP Corporation has agreed to spend an estimated $650 million to reduce air emissions from eight petroleum refineries by more than 40,000 tons per year. The environmental settlement between BP, the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was filed Thursday.

BP agreed to install up to date pollution control equipment, reducing emissions from stacks, leaking valves, wastewater vents and flares, at refineries in Whiting, Indiana; Toledo, Ohio; Texas City, Texas; Yorktown, Virginia; Mandan, North Dakota; Salt Lake City, Utah; Carson, California; and Cherry Point, Washington.

BP also will pay a $10 million penalty to settle Clean Air Act violations. The states of Ohio and Indiana and the Northwest Air Pollution Authority in Washington state will join in the settlement with the United States.

BP Corporation is the parent company of Amoco Oil Company, Atlantic Richfield Co., and BP Exploration Corp., each of which operate refineries covered by the settlement.

The air pollutants addressed by today's agreement can cause serious respiratory problems, exacerbate cases of childhood asthma, and in the case of toxic air pollutants, can cause cancer and death. They include toxic air pollutants and smog causing compounds such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and volatile organic compounds.

The agreement will cut nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from the eight refineries by more than 40,000 tons a year, through the use of upgraded technologies. Improved leak detection and repair practices and other pollution control upgrades will also result in significant reductions in smog causing volatile organic compounds and benzene, a known carcinogen.

The agreement also includes measures to improve safety for workers and local communities by reducing accidental releases of pollutants.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2001 (ENS) - A coalition of advocacy groups has launched an online education and action campaign tied to the first 100 days of the Bush administration. The Web site and twice weekly email newsletter are available at

Coalition members include the American Civil Liberties Union, Feminist Majority, Greenpeace and the International Campaign for Tibet. Additional groups are expected to join as the campaign gets under way.

TransitionWatch offers a consolidated venue for keeping abreast of key appointments, policy and budget decisions from a progressive perspective. Spanning issues including the environment, human rights, the death penalty and a woman's right to choose, the TransitionWatch Site and email alerts will offer opportunities for individuals to take action, both via the Internet and by more traditional means.

"The next 100 days could be critical for a whole range of issues of great concern to millions of Americans," said John Passacantando, Greenpeace executive director. "By combining our forces, we are confident that we can help shape a more positive social and environmental agenda."

TransitionWatch will monitor more than presidential appointments. While President elect Bush's cabinet choices have generated an initial wave of scrutiny, executive orders and budget recommendations may have even larger implications for participating causes.

TransitionWatch will conclude at the end of April 2001. Participating groups hope to continue working together to gather increased support from the American public and engage more citizens in the political process.

"The only memorable promise President Elect Bush made has to be a uniter, not a divider," Passacantando said. "The first 100 days will determine if Bush has chosen to keep that promise."

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PORTLAND, Oregon, January 19, 2001 (ENS) - A $40 billion onslaught of highways, railroads, hydroelectric projects and burgeoning population is overwhelming current efforts to promote conservation in the Amazon Forest of Brazil. If left unchecked, it will soon destroy the greatest tropical rainforest on Earth, experts say.

A new study published today in the journal "Science" shows that the well intentioned conservation programs now underway in the Amazon are inadequate to offset the destruction from agriculture, timber and mining that are taking place in the name of economic development.

"We've heard a lot about ecotourism, sustainable forestry and other conservation efforts in the Amazon," said Scott Bergen, a forest scientist at Oregon State University and coauthor of the report. "But if these development plans go through, we'll lose the largest remaining wilderness on Earth and a huge amount of the world's remaining biodiversity. And that, of course, doesn't even consider the enormous impacts on the carbon cycle, global climate and greenhouse warming."

Coauthur Mark Cochrane, a researcher at Michigan State University, used satellite data to paint detailed pictures of the impact of past development and create the first models of what proposed development would do to Brazil's rainforest. Investments totaling $40 billion are planned in the next seven years under the huge new "Avanca Brasil," or Advance Brazil economic development program.

The study projects the impacts of population growth, economic policies, pipeline construction, roads, power lines, an influx of multi-national timber companies, slash and burn farming, ranching, mining, oil exploration and other issues on the Amazon landscape 20 years into the future.

The results of allowing current trends to continue is devastating, the researchers say.

As a result of the planned highways and infrastructure projects during the next 20 years, the rate of forest destruction is expected to increase more than 25 percent per year under the least optimistic scenario, and about 14 percent under the most favorable scenario.

The article notes that already several domestic and international efforts are under way to protect the Amazon's environment, but the research models indicate such conservation efforts "will be overwhelmed by prevailing destructive trends."

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PHOENIX, Arizona, January 19, 2001 (ENS) - TRW Vehicle Safety Systems Inc. will pay $17.6 million to resolve violations of hazardous waste laws at its airbag manufacturing plant in Queen Creek, Arizona. VSSI will also spend an estimated $12 million to cleanup pollution at the Arizona airbag plant.

The civil settlement and criminal plea agreement were filed Thursday between TRW, the United States and the State of Arizona.

Vehicle Safety Systems Inc. (VSSI), a subsidiary of TRW Inc., will pay a $6 million criminal penalty to the U.S. and a $6 million criminal penalty to Arizona. The company will establish an environmental management system at two airbag factories in Arizona and one in Nevada.

VSSI also agreed to pay a $5.6 million civil penalty that will be divided between the U.S. and Arizona. VSSI must also perform more than $5.7 million worth of projects to enhance the environment and contribute $1.5 million to clean up the Butterfield landfill in Mobile, Arizona, that is contaminated with hazardous waste produced by VSSI.

"These two vigorous enforcement actions superbly demonstrate how the federal government and states can partner to achieve significant environmental benefits," said Steve Herman, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. "These settlements also serve as a warning to other companies that mismanage hazardous waste. If you break the law, you will pay the penalty."

VSSI uses sodium azide, a toxic and explosive compound, to manufacture vehicle airbag restraint systems. Sodium azide is a component of the propellant that inflates the airbag.

In the criminal plea agreement, the company admitted that it knew the Butterfield landfill was not authorized to accept hazardous waste and that the sodium azide contaminated waste was harmful to the public and the environment. VSSI also admitted that it knew it was illegal to store this waste onsite at its factory, without a permit.

"Companies that work with the most hazardous materials cannot duck their legal obligation to protect the public and the environment," said Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general for the environment at the Justice Department.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has approved two new wildlife refuges extending protection to the lands and waters of two of the most undeveloped atolls in the Pacific Ocean.

Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef - part of the Line Islands in the central equatorial Pacific - include both land and marine habitats for seabirds, shorebirds, sea turtles, reef fishes, marine mammals and land crabs. The atolls are located about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt praised the role that The Nature Conservancy played in negotiating the purchase of Palmyra Atoll from private landowners.

"This latest addition to the National Refuge System will be a lasting legacy for [former Nature Conservancy President] John Sawhill, who saw the incredible value of protecting Palmyra as one of the last undeveloped atolls in the Pacific," he said. Sawhill died last year.

"Today we have ensured that some of the best examples of coral reef ecosystems, as well as one of the largest Pisonia rainforests and a significant seabird nesting site, will be forever protected within the National Wildlife Refuge System," said Anne Badgley, Pacific regional director for the USFWS.

The boundaries for Kingman Reef National Wildlife Refuge include three unvegetated coral islets and about 483,700 acres of submerged lands and waters, including 25,874 acres of coral reef habitat.

"The refuge will protect a spectacular diversity of coral reef fishes, corals and other marine organisms, as well as provide habitat for migratory seabirds and shorebirds and threatened green sea turtles," said Badgley.

More than 16,000 acres of coral reef habitat will be protected within the 515,232 acres of tidal and submerged lands at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

"Palmyra hosts the second largest nesting colony of red-footed boobies in the world and large colonies of other seabirds, including 750,000 sooty terns," Badgley said. "These birds rely on the surrounding waters to provide the food they and their chicks need, and it's critical that the entire atoll ecosystem be protected."

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2001 (ENS) - The endangered Mexican spotted owl woke up today with new protections on millions of acres of habitat stretching across four southwestern states. Following a court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has designated 4.6 million acres on federal lands in four states as critical habitat for the endangered bird.

The designation includes 830,000 acres in Arizona, 525,000 acres in Colorado, 54,000 acres in New Mexico, and 3.2 million acres in Utah. No private, state, or tribal lands are included in the designation.


Mexican spotted owl (Photo by Pat Ward, courtesy USFWS)
The acreage was altered from a draft proposal released last July, which identified 13.5 million acres across the four states. Much of the decrease came from excluding federal lands under the jurisdiction of agencies that have agreed to conservation measures that protect the owl.

Based on previous consultations with federal agencies, the USFWS does not expect the designation of critical habitat to affect activities such as thinning small trees, brush clearing to reduce wildfire risk and Christmas tree cutting.

Livestock grazing in upland habitats, most recreation activities including hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, cross country skiing, off road vehicle use and wildlife observation activities are not targeted by the designation.

Not all the areas within the mapped boundaries have habitat elements important to the owl. The USFWS will require consultations only on the activities that affect those areas that contain the physical and biological features necessary for the species' survival. Private inholdings may appear in the mapped areas but are not included in the designation.

The designation was prompted by a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. The USFWS published a final rule designating critical habitat for the Mexican spotted owl in 1995, but the designation was set aside by the court for failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2001 (ENS) - Interior Secretary Nominee Gale Norton's role in a controversial Colorado land deal undercuts her claim as a defender of local citizens' control of land use issues, critics say.

In a press conference on Thursday, Three Republican residents of Chaffee County, Colorado said that Norton, the former Colorado Attorney General, was hired by an out of state developer to intimidate an entire local community opposed to a housing development on 180 acres of prime elk wintering grounds.

"Gale Norton has positioned herself as the defender of local communities' right to determine how their lands are used, free from outside interference. In this case, Gale Norton was the interference from outside. She didn't care what we in the community wanted. She jammed this development down our throats," said David Wright, a local video producer. "She chose to take this case, and she chose to handle it in the manner in which she did."

The Chaffee County Planning Commission had concerns about the environmental effects of development, which were supported by studies conducted by state agencies.

Norton forced the community to hire expensive legal counsel to defend its growth plan, the Coloradans charged. The chair of the County Board of Commissioners has since told residents that the county would have been sued if it had not approved the plan.

"If she was able to roll over our county, what would she do as Secretary of the Interior to any county in the nation having federal lands within its borders?" asked Ed Rogers, a rare book business owner.

"I'm here as a Republican who is uncomfortable opposing a nominee of President elect Bush's. However, I'm trying to help him avoid making a mistake by having Gale Norton as his Secretary of the Interior," said Dick Scar, an owner of an outdoor specialty shop.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2001 (ENS) - Three men have been indicted for a conspiracy to falsify lab results on hundreds of millions of gallons of reformulated gasoline. The Justice Department announced the indictments of the former president of a New Jersey testing laboratory and the president and operations manager of a Houston based gasoline blending company on Thursday.

Charged in the 11 count Indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Newark are:

The indictment represents the latest charges in the government's prosecution of employees and executives of Caleb Brett's Linden facility, and now BMS, for a long running scheme to falsify laboratory reports on multi-million gallon batches of gasoline. The scheme was designed to make it appear that the fuel met cleaner burning standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when, in fact, it did not.

RFG is a cleaner burning gasoline that is required by federal law to be used in nine major metropolitan areas of the U.S., including New Jersey, with the worst ozone air pollution problems. RFG has also been required by local initiative in other areas.

Kaminski allegedly instructed Caleb Brett employees to falsify lab analyses for favored commercial clients. He faces maximum $250,000 fines and five year prison sentences for each of three criminal counts.

The Schroeders allegedly falsified test results on RFG being sold by BMS to various purchasers. The brothers face $250,000 fines and five year prison sentences on counts of conspiracy and wire fraud.

BMS faces charges of conspiracy and wire fraud, with each carrying a maximum penalty of $500,000. The company could also be put on probation.

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PORTLAND, Maine, January 19, 2001 (ENS) - In two years, The Nature Conservancy has raised more than $50 million in private funds for conservation projects throughout Maine. Corporate contributions topped $6 million.

Maine Governor Angus King recognized new gifts by 18 Maine companies, including Hancock Land Co., which has made a contribution of land interests at Jugtown Plains worth $280,000 and Energy East/CMP, which contributed $250,000 to the Conservancy campaign. A total of 40 Maine businesses have taken part in the For Maine Forever campaign.

"Private business and private conservation make a very strong team," said King. "The people of Maine will join you in securing our natural heritage through the Land for Maine's Future program."

The Governor noted that just one year after Maine voters passed a $50 million bond to secure public lands, the Conservancy had matched that figure.

"From the St. John River in the north to Mount Agamenticus in the south, there are both threats to our state's natural habitats and opportunities to save them for future generations," said Roger Milliken, chair of the Conservancy's board of trustees in Maine. "This campaign is about overcoming those threats and fulfilling those opportunities."

In 1998, the Conservancy announced the purchase of 185,000 acres of forestland along 40 miles of the Upper St. John River and the intention of raising the $35 million purchase price in private funds. Last February, the land conservation organization increased its fundraising goal by $15 million to meet pressing conservation needs at sites statewide.

In recent months, the Conservancy has announced additional protection along the Upper St. John River, almost doubling miles of river corridor in conservation.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio, January 19, 2001 (ENS) - Trash in a municipal landfill could decompose almost 10 to 20 times faster through a system that keeps the trash wet, new research suggests.

Landfills are dry environments, and the lack of adequate moisture does not allow biodegradable trash to decompose as fast as it should, say researchers at Ohio State University.

Keeping a landfill saturated means it could stabilize in five to 10 years, instead of taking the average 100 years or longer to do so, said Ann Christy, an assistant professor of food, agricultural and biological engineering at Ohio State. In a stabilized landfill, the majority of trash has decomposed.


Food wastes decomposed faster in Ohio State's experimental bioreactor, but recyclable materials like paper slowed the process (Photo courtesy Ohio State University)
"Quicker decomposition rates mean more room for more trash in the same landfill, which would cut down on the need for additional landfill space," Christy said. "This also feeds into recycling - once the biodegradable material decomposes, we can extract recyclables from the landfills, then the landfills aren't filling up at as quickly."

Christy is experimenting with moisture levels in two laboratory scale wet tomb bioreactors. A wet tomb bioreactor is a self contained unit with water pumped in. The water creates an environment suitable for bacteria to decompose waste.

Initial results show that more moisture does hasten decomposition, particularly when most recyclables - paper, plastic and metal - are kept out of the landfill.

Because it is a self-contained system, constructing a full scale wet tomb bioreactor would be costlier at the outset, Christy said. Unlike current landfills, the bioreactors need the machinery, such as pumps and pipes, to recirculate water. But they would save money in the long run, because there would be no need to collect liquid leaking from the landfill and take it to a treatment facility, she said.