AmeriScan: January 7, 2002


WASHINGTON, DC, January 7, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says Pacific salmon will not be harmed by a proposed $188 million dredging project in the Columbia River in Oregon.

In its revised biological assessment, released last week, the agency says the threatened fish will be minimally impacted by the project, which would open the river to larger container ships. The latest assessment, completed after a year long study, expands habitat restoration projects that the Corps says could make the project beneficial to the fish.

The dredging project would deepen the Columbia River from its current average depth of 40 feet to 43 feet along a 103.5 mile long stretch from Astoria, Oregon to river's confluence with the Willamette River in Portland.

The Corps' revised assessment was required after the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency responsible for managing the Columbia River's 13 threatened species of salmon, steelhead and bull trout, withdrew its initial approval of the proposed dredging project in August 2000.

Environmental groups, concerned that dredging activities could harm migrating fish and destroy sensitive salmon spawning habitat, filed suit to halt the project and prompted NMFS to order additional studies. The Corps hired the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute to perform an independent review, which was completed in August 2001, with a recommendation that the dredging project proceed.

The Institute's review also recommended that the Corps add a half dozen new salmon habitat restoration projects, to offset expected short term effects on the fish. The new projects include reconnecting side channels to the river, increasing food supplies for the fish at the river's mouth, and creating improved marsh and mudflat habitats for young salmon.

State and federal regulators must still approve the project before it can go forward, and Congress has yet to approve federal funding for the dredging. NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have 90 days to review the new Corps assessment and issue new biological opinions.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 7, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in the case of Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council vs. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA).

The American Planning Association (APA) says the primary issue before the court is whether or not a temporary moratorium on land development constitutes a taking of property under the U.S. Constitution.

The Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council, a nonprofit property rights advocacy organization representing some business and development interests in the area, challenged a temporary development ban ordered by TRPA to allow time for the study and drafting of development standards to prevent the pollution of Lake Tahoe.

In June 2000, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court ruling that had found temporary development moratoria to be a permanent taking of property worthy of compensation under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In the ruling, the Court noted "temporary development moratoria prevent developers and landowners racing to carry out development that is destructive of community's interests before a new plan goes into effect. Such a race-to-development would permit property owners to evade the land use plan and undermine its goals."

The APA has filed an amicus brief in support of TRPA, a bi-state organization created in 1969 to protect Lake Tahoe and the surrounding environment in California and Nevada. The APA argues that planners need to have to ability to use interim development controls and temporary bans on development to avoid making decisions that could harm the natural environment and human communities.

"Without the use of a temporary moratorium, the public would effectively exchange the right to think about development before breaking ground for impatience," said Jeff Soule, policy director for APA. "The property rights of Lake Tahoe include the right to remain unpolluted, scenic and reasonably planned."

The United States has filed its own amicus brief in support of TRPA, and U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson will deliver oral arguments before the Supreme Court. This will mark the first time that a U.S. Solicitor General has argued a takings case before the Supreme Court.

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MOSS LANDING, California, January 7, 2002 (ENS) - Removing oxygen from the water used as ballast in ocean going vessels could help stem the spread of invasive species, while also protecting the ships from corrosion, a new study suggests.

A novel method for combating ship ballast tank corrosion - using nitrogen gas to remove oxygen from the ballast water - presents a rare win-win solution for the shipping industry and environmentalists, says marine ecologist Mario Tamburri of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), who led the study reported in the January issue of the journal "Biological Conservation."

Non-native organisms can cause environmental problems when they are moved outside their normal range into a new region.

"Biological invasions of non-native species are one of the most devastating threats to native communities," said study co-author Kerstin Wasson of the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. Wasson has documented more than 55 non-native invertebrates in Elkhorn Slough, California, and became involved in this project because "we urgently need practical solutions to stem the tide of aquatic invasions."

Previous research has shown that ballast water from the shipping industry transports enormous numbers of aquatic organisms from one port to another. These invasive species have changed habitats, carry huge economic costs, and are thought to have contributed to 70 percent of native aquatic species extinctions in the last 100 years.

Current solutions to sterilizing ballast water, such as filtration, heat treatments and poisons, are expensive, can be dangerous to ship crews, and can harm the surrounding environment where the treated waters are discharged.

Deoxygenation presents the first solution that removes the majority of organisms found in ballast water while also providing an economic benefit for ship owners.

"Deoxygenation was seen as too expensive for controlling invasive species in ballast water but our study shows that the anticorrosion benefit of this technique is a strong economic incentive for the shipping industry," said Tamburri. "It's a win-win treatment for solving an environmental problem and reducing ship maintenance costs."

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DAVIS, California, January 7, 2002 (ENS) - Researchers in the United States, Japan and Switzerland have decoded a key step in insects' sense of smell, a discovery that could lead to insecticides that stop insects from communicating through chemical signals.

Using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), the researchers showed how a protein in an insect's antenna picks up chemical signals called pheromones, then changes its shape to eject them onto sensitive nerve endings.

Many insects depend on pheromones to communicate with each other, whether searching for food or finding a mate, said University of California at Davis entomologist Walter Leal, who collaborated in the project.

"One could design new compounds that fit in the binding pocket of the protein, but cannot be ejected. This would prevent the insect from detecting other chemical signals," Leal said. These insects would not be able to survive without their sense of smell, he said.

Insects smell with their antennae. Pheromone binding proteins pick up pheromones at pores in the outside of the antenna and carry them through a watery layer to the nerve endings, where they are released.

The new NMR results showed that the pheromone binding proteins changes their shape to eject the pheromone molecule. The shape change is triggered by a drop in acidity when the pheromone complex reaches the nerve endings.

The study appears in the December 4, 2001 issue of "Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences."

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LOS ANGELES, California, January 7, 2002 (ENS) - The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the clean air agency of the Los Angeles region, has approved almost $3 million in incentive funding to help purchase more than 300 new, clean fueled airport taxis.

"Between aircraft, ground equipment and vehicles delivering passengers and freight, airports are one of our region's largest source of air pollution," said Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the AQMD.

"By replacing more than 300 gasoline fueled taxis with low emitting compressed natural gas models, we will significantly cut air pollution around airport terminals, where thousands of travelers and transportation workers breathe vehicle exhaust every day," Wallerstein added.

Under funding approved on December 21 by AQMD's governing board, six taxicab operators will purchase the new compressed natural gas (CNG) Ford Crown Victoria sedans and use them at Los Angeles International Airport, John Wayne, Burbank and Long Beach airports and Ontario International Airport this year.

Compared to existing gasoline powered Crown Victorias, the new CNG models will reduce smog forming emissions by 88 percent.

As of January 1, airport taxicab operators in the region are required to purchase clean burning taxis when they replace older gasoline powered models or add new vehicles to their fleets. Operators are exempt if funding cannot be secured to reduce the cost to a taxi owner to $10,000 per vehicle.

Taxi companies will pay $10,000 for each vehicle. AQMD will provide $9,543 and the remaining cost will be covered by manufacturer incentives and buy down programs from the California Energy Commission and the Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee.

Funding for the taxi purchases comes from AQMD's Air Quality Investment Fund. Regional employers with more than 250 employees at a work site are required to reduce vehicle emissions, and one option for doing so is to pay into the investment fund.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 7, 2002 (ENS) - A U.S. Forest Service (USFS) plan to manage the nation's grasslands would reduce the amount of land recommended for wilderness and open more wildlife habitat to oil and gas development, environmental groups charge.

The public has until January 22 to comment on the USFS plan, which conservation groups note fails to recognize any wild and scenic rivers in the grasslands.

Two centuries ago, the center of the U.S. was a sea of grass teeming with herds of bison, pronghorn antelope and elk, grizzlies, wolves, foxes and prairie dog towns. Today, most of the prairie has been converted to farmland and oil development, with losses continuing today.

The ten national grasslands and forests in the northern Great Plains include some of the most outstanding examples of prairie left in public ownership, environmental groups note. Cattle are allowed to graze on almost all the national grasslands, oil and natural gas development dots the landscape, and many prairie dog towns have been destroyed to prevent injuries to cattle.

The new USFS plan for how these national grasslands will be managed is a major step backwards," according to the Predator Conservation Alliance, which recommends that the agency concentrate on maintaining healthy populations of all native species on all national grasslands.

"Priority should be given to adequately protect imperiled species - such as the swift fox, mountain plover and ferruginous hawk - and to restore native species such as the black-footed ferret and bison," the group says.

The Alliance also urges that livestock grazing be barred on at least one third of the national grasslands at any one time, allowing the prairie to recover from the effects of grazing.

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ANETH, Utah, January 7, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached a $295,000 settlement with Texaco Exploration and Production, Inc. for violations of the Clean Air Act and the federal community right to know law at its gas plant and oil field in Aneth, Utah, on the Navajo Nation.

Texaco has agreed to pay a $243,725 penalty and perform an environmental project of $51,275 to provide emergency response equipment and preparedness training to the Navajo Nation's Montezuma Creek Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department. Texaco will also ensure that its gas plant complies with the leak detection and repair requirements of the Clean Air Act.

"Facilities have an obligation to the community for operating safely and being in compliance with environmental laws," said Jack Broadbent, the EPA's Pacific Southwest air division director. "We are pleased that Texaco has agreed to amicably resolve this enforcement action."

The EPA's judicial complaint, filed December 28 in the Central Division of the U.S. District Court for Utah, alleges that Texaco failed under the Clean Air Act to monitor and file reports on equipment leaks, and failed to properly equip and test its gas plant flare.

Texaco was charged with failing to report releases of sulfur dioxide to the Tribal Emergency Response Commission in December 1997 and January 1998. The complaint also alleges that both Texaco and its contractor, Envirotech Inc., failed to properly remove and dispose of material containing asbestos.

Envirotech is required to pay $10,000 for its involvement in the asbestos violations.

The EPA is also pursuing enforcement actions in the Aneth area of the Navajo Nation against both Exxon Mobil and Texaco for violations of the Clean Water Act, and against Exxon Mobil for violations of the Clean Air Act.

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PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, January 7, 2002 (ENS) - The University of Pittsburgh has been cited for failing to register and label containers of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking a $25,300 penalty for the alleged violations, which occurred at the university's Oakland, Pennsylvania campus.

The EPA's administrative complaint charges the university with failing to register eight PCB containing transformers with the agency until April 12, 2000 - more than 16 months after the December 1, 1998 registration deadline. The EPA's April 18, 2000 inspection of the campus also revealed a failure to affix a required PCB warning label on a PCB transformer vault at Victoria Hall.

PCBs, a probable human carcinogen, were used as a common, nonflammable coolant for transformers and other electrical equipment until the 1970s, when Congress enacted strict requirements on the manufacture, use and disposal of this toxic substance.

The university has the right to a hearing to contest the alleged violations and proposed penalties.

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BRIDGEPORT, Connecticut, January 7, 2002 (ENS - Cleanup has begun in Bridgeport at a former metal plating shop containing abandoned containers of cyanides, metals, acids and bases.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has secured the site from trespassers, and agency contractors will be identifying and removing all toxic or hazardous materials for disposal.

"It's important that we take care of this problem quickly because of the potential exposure of the people in the neighborhood," said Robert Varney, regional administrator for EPA's New England office.

Noting that urban neighborhoods often bear the brunt of greater public health and environmental threats, Varney added, "We owe it to inner city neighborhoods such as this one to get these kinds of hazards cleaned up sooner rather than later."

The former Progressive Plating facility is a one story building that was used for the electroplating of metal parts with cadmium, nickel and zinc until fall 2001, when the company shut down operations and left the site unoccupied. Containers of hazardous substances remain in the building, including toxics such as cyanides and metal solutions, and hazardous materials such as acids and bases which pose a risk of fire or explosion.

The site is abandoned and without electricity, heat, water or fire protection utilities.

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Bridgeport Fire Department have been monitoring the situation and have inventoried the site's hazardous materials. In November, the DEP requested the EPA's assistance with the site.

Last week, the EPA secured the site and prepared the building for removal activities, scheduled to begin today. The cleanup will include sampling and characterizing the hazardous substances present, consolidating and repackaging containers as needed, and disposing hazardous substances at approved off-site disposal and recycling facilities.

If the EPA identifies hazardous substances which could be reused, the agency will seek to return the products to the manufacturer or to another secure facility for reuse. The cleanup is expected to take three to four months and to cost about $1 million.