AmeriScan: January 22, 2001

SENATE CONFIRMS SEVEN BUSH CABINET NOMINEES

WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Senate approved seven of President George W. Bush's cabinet nominees just three hours after he took the oath of office on Saturday.

Meeting in a rare Saturday session, the Senate confirmed nominations including those of the President's senior national security and economic policy appointees.

All seven were confirmed in one voice vote, just minutes after the Senate convened and with almost no debate.

Several other Cabinet nominations are being held over for later consideration, including the two that have created the greatest controversy - those of former Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri to head the Department of Justice as Bush's Attorney General, and former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton, the President's choice for Secretary of the Interior.

Those four must still be approved by Senate committees, but Senate Republican leaders say they hope to complete the confirmation process for all of the President's nominees by week's end.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to approve the nomination of New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency later this week.

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$83.5 MILLION SETTLEMENT REACHED IN PUERTO RICO OIL SPILL

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, January 22, 2001 (ENS) - Caribbean Petroleum Corporation, MetLife Capital Corporation and Water Quality Insurance Syndicate will pay $83.5 million to the United States and Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to settle claims related to a 1994 barge grounding that caused an 800,000 gallon oil spill, the Justice Department announced last week.

The parties will reimburse the U.S. for the costs the government incurred while removing oil and cleaning up beaches and other areas near San Juan, which included damage claims submitted by fishers, hotels and small businesses. The settlement also compensates natural resource trustees of the U.S. and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico for injuries to natural resources and for assessment costs, and the Commonwealth for its economic claims.

On January 7, 1994, the barge MORRIS J. BERMAN ran aground off the coast of Puerto Rico as it was being towed from San Juan to Antigua in the British West Indies. The ship, carrying a cargo of almost 1.5 million gallons of oil, crushed a coral reef and discharged fuel oil into the surrounding waters, beaches and park lands.

The owners and operators of the barge assisted in cleaning up the oil for the first several days. The Coast Guard then undertook the remainder of the cleanup effort, which took more than five months.

Under the settlement, $60 million will be deposited into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The Fund, the largest recovery in the Fund's history. The Fund, which was created by Congress in 1990 following the Exxon Valdez spill, provides money to respond to oil spills and to pay damage claims.

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EPA PROPOSES SPECIAL OCEAN SITES

WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new protections for "Special Ocean Sites" that have outstanding environmental value, including prohibitions for new and expanded ocean development. The proposal is dependent on the approval of the new administration.

EPA released a draft report on Friday that found the overall condition of the nation's coastal waters to be fair to poor.

The agency proposed to establish four Special Ocean Sites: 1) Flower Garden Banks, located off Texas; 2) Gorda Ridge-Blanco Fracture zone, located off Oregon; 3) Escanaba Trough of the Gorda Ridge, located off California; and, 4) Northern Right Whale Critical Habitat Areas, located off Massachusetts and the Florida/Georgia border.

Permits for new discharges and expanded existing discharges would be prohibited in these areas.

"Today's proposal will define special places in the ocean that deserve extra protection," said J. Charles Fox, EPA assistant administrator for water. "Half of all U.S. citizens live near our coasts and 180 million people visit the coasts annually. Each year, the oceans generate billions of dollars for our economy."

Under Friday's proposal, ocean sites within U.S. jurisdiction that have outstanding value, such as critical habitat established under the Endangered Species Act, high value coral reefs, hydrothermal vents and others, could be designated as "Special Ocean Sites." The EPA is proposing a petition process to allow citizens and states to request additional Special Ocean Sites.

In a separate proposal, all ocean areas outside state jurisdiction, beyond three miles off shore, would be designated as "Healthy Ocean Waters." For the first time, these areas would have to meet 16 specific water quality criteria, in addition to other conditions necessary to support aquatic life and wildlife, recreational and aesthetic values.

More information is available at: http://www.epa.gov/ow, under "What's New."

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SCIENTISTS SEE EARLY SIGNS OF LOBSTER DECLINE

ORONO, Maine, January 22, 2001 (ENS) - A team of scientists has found indications of a decline in the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine. Preliminary estimates suggest that the decline in Penobscot Bay may be on the order of 40 percent.

"The abundance of juvenile lobsters in key lobster producing regions of mid-coast Maine appears to be declining," said Robert Steneck of the University of Maine. "We expect landings in those regions and possibly elsewhere to decline sometime during the next two to four years. Given that lobsters are the single most valuable species in Maine's fisheries, we think it is important to alert the lobster industry, state managers, policy makers and the general public to our findings."

For more than a decade, Steneck and his associates from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in West Boothbay Harbor have been working to develop a means of predicting lobster abundance and landings. The researchers monitor three different lobster life stages: larvae in the water, newly settled individuals on the bottom, and older juvenile lobsters.

"It's similar to counting the number of seeds you sow in your garden and finding that they correspond to some reduced number of seedlings and eventually the plants you harvest," said Steneck. "We can never be sure that we 'know' the abundance of any phase in a lobster's life. However, by going to the same locations and using the same methods over many years, we can detect trends."

Since 1995, the scientists found, newly settled lobsters on the bottom have been declining in the Boothbay monitoring region. Similar trends were detected in larvae in New Hampshire and new settlers in Rhode Island. The larvae and settlement studies suggest widespread declines at least west of Penobscot Bay. No larval monitoring has been done east of there.

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RECORDS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL ENFORCEMENT IN 2000

WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2001 (ENS) - In fiscal year 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a record total of 6,027 civil judicial, criminal and administrative enforcement actions, requiring polluters to pay $2.6 billion for environmental cleanups, Superfund site remediation, pollution control cleanup, improved monitoring and additional environmental improvements.

Continuing its focus on the most serious health and environmental violations, the EPA placed a high priority on correcting violations among major corporations with multiple facilities throughout the nation.

Polluters were required to pay $224.6 million in civil and criminal penalties. The combined total of civil and criminal penalties assessed in fiscal year 2000 was the third largest in EPA history.

EPA's enforcement actions were taken in response to significant emissions or discharges of toxic or hazardous pollutants.

The major pollution reductions achieved through civil enforcement included:

The criminal cases the agency resolved helped clean up:

The EPA referred 368 civil cases to the U.S. Department of Justice, including the cleanup of three million gallons of oil spilled from pipelines in six states. A record 1,763 administrative complaints and 3,660 administrative compliance orders and field citations were issued, almost double the number issued in fiscal year 1999.

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ECONOMIC INCENTIVES AID IN PROTECTING ENVIRONMENT

WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2001 (ENS) - Over the last 20 years, and particularly during the last decade, economic incentives have seen increasing use to control pollution and improve environmental and health protection. Examples include acid rain emissions trading and energy saving volunteer programs.

The 20 year assessment is contained in a new EPA report, "The United States Experience with Economic Incentives for Protecting the Environment." The diverse cost saving inducements are used as a substitute for or supplement to traditional "command and control" regulations and the trend is occurring at all government levels.

Congress still requires, under laws EPA administers, reliance on regulations to reduce pollution and to improve environmental and health protection. However, the agency has used a wide variety of economic incentive mechanisms in recent years. State and local governments are applying economic incentives to the same efforts.

Economic incentives are expected to be useful in reducing pollution not subject to regulation. For instance, citizens can be encouraged to reduce curbside garbage by composting and other means, if there is a disposal charge based on the volume of garbage.

Other examples in the report include:

The report is available at: http://www.epa.gov/economics under Our Publications, then Environmental Economics Report Inventory, then New Downloads

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INTERNATIONAL STANDARD HELPS MEASURE ENERGY SAVINGS

WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2001 (ENS) - The Department of Energy has released the third edition of the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP). Developed in collaboration with hundreds of organizations and experts from more than 25 countries, the publication has become the international industry consensus standard for building energy efficiency measurement and verification.

"Energy efficiency is the most cost effective way for industrialized and developing countries to limit the enormous financial, health and environmental costs of burning fossil fuel," said outgoing Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on Friday. "By providing an international standard to measure energy savings, the IPMVP will help nations improve the energy efficiency of buildings, lower the cost of financing energy efficiency projects, increase energy savings, reduce pollution and improve public health."

Earlier editions of the protocol have helped reduce the cost of energy efficiency financing loans. The department studied 1,000 building upgrades, and found those that followed strict guidelines for energy measurement and verification had energy savings 50 percent higher than those with little or no measurement and verification.

The DOE estimates that if cost effective energy efficiency improvements were made to all U.S. public and commercial buildings, within a decade, more than $10 billion in energy and water costs would be saved each year, 100,000 permanent jobs would be created and greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced.

The new edition is expected to increase investor confidence in renewable energy by helping to quantify the benefits of projects involving wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy. For developing countries, the protocol offers cost effective ways to construct energy efficient buildings, control the costs of new power and water treatment plants and limit the costs of importing energy.

The protocol has been translated into Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Portugese, Czech, Korean, Japanese and several other languages. More information is available at: http://www.ipmvp.org

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CALIFORNIA JOINS FARMLAND CONSERVATION PROGRAM

WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2001 (ENS) - Outgoing Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced a $24 million partnership on Friday with the State of California to enhance water quality and improve wildlife habitat, under the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

"This partnership will help protect California's precious land, wildlife, and water quality while helping many family farmers," said Glickman.

CREP uses federal and state resources to help meet agriculture related environmental challenges. The California CREP will fund voluntary agreements with farmers to convert cropland to native grasses, trees and other vegetation.

The project aims to retire 12,000 acres of sensitive cropland and create wetlands and protect riparian areas in the North Central Valley. Most of the land likely to be enrolled is marginal agricultural land.

"This new program rewards farmers in the Central Valley who are practicing good environmental stewardship and will help secure the future vitality of the Central Valley's farming and wildlife resources," said California Governor Gray Davis.

Retiring environmentally sensitive cropland and planting it with native vegetation can reduce erosion and the amount of pollutants entering surface and ground water supplies. Tree buffers and filter strips planted on the banks of streams and rivers filter runoff water and reduce the risk of pathogens entering public water supplies, while providing habitat for wildlife.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will pay up to 75 percent of the estimated $24 million program costs, and California will pay the rest. Private organizations will provide further assistance.

More information is available at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crep.htm