AmeriScan: January 14, 2002

COAL MINE RUNOFF RULES PROMOTE REMINING

WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2002 (ENS) - New rules governing runoff from abandoned mine sites aim to encourage mining companies to remine and reclaim the sites.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released new runoff guidelines for mines in the western and Appalachian states. The guidelines for these sites are intended to provide incentives for remining abandoned sites instead of mining new land.

Abandoned mines often contain large quantities of coal. Their discharges degrade the environment and pose health and safety risks.

The EPA says that one of the most successful means for improving abandoned mine land is for coal mining companies to remine abandoned areas and extract the coal reserves that remain. Many of the problems associated with abandoned mines are addressed during remining, and as the area is reclaimed after mining.

Prior to 1977, the federal government did not require mining companies to reclaim mined lands, and coal miners were required to meet the same runoff standards for either new or existing mine pollution. Because of concerns over potential liabilities and environmental compliance costs, many operators focused their efforts on mining new areas and ignoring abandoned mine lands that still contain coal reserves.

The EPA is now reclassifying discharges from abandoned mine lands to address pre-existing discharges at coal remining operations. Under the new rules, remining operations will be required to control existing runoff and ensure that pollutant discharges during remining activities are less than the pollutant levels released from the abandoned site prior to remining.

After remining the sites, the operators will reclaim the land to meet the same standards now imposed on new mining areas.

Encouraging remining can provide the benefits of improving water quality, removing hazardous conditions and using remaining coal as a resource instead of mining new land, the EPA says.

The new guidelines for western alkaline coal mines will allow miners to install control technologies better suited to reclaiming mining lands in arid and semi-arid regions of the country. In the arid and semi-arid western regions of the country, natural vegetation cover is sparse, and rainfall often consists of short but very intense storms causing flash floods.

Controlling runoff in these areas can accelerate erosion and reduce water availability. To address these impacts, the new guidelines will require western coal mine operations to use runoff control measures that mimic the natural conditions that existed prior to mining activities.

More information about the new guidelines is available at: http://www.epa.gov/guide/coal/index.htm

* * *

SMALL SYSTEMS MUST PROVIDE SAFER DRINKING WATER

WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2002 (ENS) - About 18 million Americans are expected to benefit from new, tighter drinking water standards for disease causing microorganisms, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The new standards will affect 11,000 small drinking water systems, each serving fewer than 10,000 people. The new rule, which limits the amount of cryptosporidium and other disease vectors allowed to exist in drinking water, sets the same protective requirements already in place for large drinking water systems.

Cryptosporidium, found in animal wastes, can cause intestinal problems and sometimes death in some vulnerable populations. It has caused numerous episodes of sickness over the years, the largest reported in Milwaukee in 1993 when more than 400,000 residents became ill and 50 people died.

To provide maximum public health protection, the EPA is now requiring small systems to use the best available technology to remove 99 percent of cryptosporidium through enhanced filtration. Cryptosporidium spores cannot be eliminated by common disinfectants such as chlorine, but must be captured through enhanced filtration techniques.

Small systems have three years to comply with the enhanced filtration requirements. Technical and financial assistance will be made available to the states and utilities.

The EPA estimates that the annual cost of the rule will be $39.5 million. The average increase to annual household drinking water costs is estimated to be $6.24. About 90 percent of households will experience costs of less than $15 a year.

More information on the "Final Long Term 1 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule" is available at: http://www.epa.gov/safewater under "What's New."

* * *

USDA EXTENDS CONSERVATION RESERVE CONTRACTS

WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2002 (ENS) - Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts expiring this year may be extended for another year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced.

Producers enrolled in the CRP receive rental payments and other financial incentives to remove lands from agricultural production for a period of 10 to 15 years. CRP participants plant native grasses, trees and other vegetation to improve water quality, soil and wildlife habitat.

About 34 million acres are now enrolled in the CRP. But the Agriculture Department's budget to pay for CRP acreage has been slashed, and the agency is not planning to offer a general CRP signup in fiscal year 2002.

Farmers may continue to enroll small parcels with exceptional environmental value, such as buffers for streams and rivers, in the CRP at any time.

Participants with contracts expiring on September 30, 2002 have from January 14 to May 31 to apply for a one year extension, the Agriculture Department says. Some 30,000 contracts are affected.

"The expiration affects 1.8 million rural acres now protected by the CRP," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. "This action will help ensure the continued safeguarding of this sensitive land as a new farm bill is developed."

Local offices of USDA's Farm Service Agency are notifying eligible CRP participants of their option to modify and extend their CRP contracts. The deadline to apply for an extension is May 31.

The extension option applies to CRP participants with contracts scheduled to expire on September 30, 2002. The original contract with extension must not exceed 15 years.

The extension will not change participants' rental rates. All or a portion of the acreage under contract may be included in an extension, but no new acreage may be added.

More information on the CRP program is available at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crp.htm

* * *

LAWSUIT LOOMING OVER FISH KILLED BY WATER PUMPS

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 14, 2002 (ENS) - Environmental, commercial fishing and sportfishing groups are planning a lawsuit over threatened and endangered fish which the groups charge are being killed each year by federal and state water export pumps.

The groups have filed a 60 day notice letter of intent to sue for protection of the Sacramento River winter run chinook salmon and Delta smelt. Winter run salmon were listed as endangered in 1994 and the Delta smelt were listed as threatened in 1993.

Every year, federal and state water export projects kill more of these fish than allowed by law, posing an ongoing threat to these species and violating the Endangered Species Act, the groups charge.

"The water project pumps in the Delta are like the worlds largest vacuum cleaner sucking billions of young fish and larvae in the southern Delta to their death," said John Beuttler of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. "This has resulted in staggering economic losses to the sport and commercial fishing industries."

"The project pumps are so powerful that they frequently reverse the natural outflow patterns of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, which results in chaos for the estuary's ecosystem and fisheries," added Beuttler. "After nearly a decade, its time for water projects to operate in a manner far less damaging to winter run salmon and Delta smelt."

The water projects have exceeded the winter run salmon take limit in four out of the past seven years, and in the most recent season exceeded the limit by 170 percent. Taking of the Delta smelt has exceeded monthly limits seven times since 1995, including six times in the last three years alone.

"In their operation of the Delta export pumps, the water agencies have routinely exceeded the take limits for winter run salmon and Delta smelt ever since these fish were listed under the Endangered Species Act and the take limits were established," said Mike Sherwood, an attorney for Earthjustice who is representing the coalition. "These unconscionable fish kills are threatening the very existence of these species, and are illegal. It is time for these agencies to comply with the law and to give the winter run salmon and Delta smelt a chance to recover."

The California Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operate the Delta water export pumps under a joint operating agreement. The water projects control the flow of water in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers into and out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

At times, the Projects' water export facilities capture more than half the total water that flows into the Delta.

* * *

HATCH NUCLEAR OPERATIONS APPROVED FOR 20 MORE YEARS

BAXLEY, Georgia, January 14, 2002 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved another 20 years of operations at the Edwin I. Hatch nuclear power plant near Baxley.

The agency renewed the operating licenses for the Hatch Units 1 and 2 for an additional 20 years on Friday. The plant is operated by Southern Nuclear Operating Company.

Southern Nuclear Operating Co. submitted an application to the NRC on February 29, 2000, to renew the licenses for Hatch Unit 1, which expires on August 6, 2014, and Unit 2, which expires on June 13, 2018. The NRC conducted environmental and safety reviews of the license renewal application.

The NRC's environmental review concluded that there were no impacts that would preclude renewal of the license for environmental reasons. In its safety review, the agency concluded that there were no safety concerns that would preclude license renewal, because Southern Nuclear had demonstrated the capability to manage the effects of plant aging.

On November 16, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards - an independent body of technical experts which advises the NRC - issued its recommendation that the operating license for Hatch Units 1 and 2, be renewed.

The Hatch facility is the fourth plant to win approval for another 20 years of operations. Twenty year extensions have also been granted to both units of the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant near Lusby, Maryland; the three units of the Oconee Nuclear Station near Seneca, South Carolina; and for Arkansas Nuclear One, Unit 1, near Russellville, Arkansas.

The NRC is now reviewing license renewal applications for Turkey Point Units 3 and 4 near Florida City, Florida; Surry Units 1 and 2 near Surry, Virginia; North Anna Units 1 and 2 near Mineral, Virginia; McGuire Units 1 and 2 near Cornelius, North Carolina, Catawba Units 1 and 2 near Clover, South Carolina; St. Lucie Units 1 and 2 near Ft. Pierce, Florida; and Peach Bottom Units 1 and 2 near Delta, Pennsylvania.

* * *

COLORADO WILL ALLOW CAPTURE OF PEREGRINE FALCONS

DENVER, Colorado, January 14, 2002 (ENS) - The Colorado Wildlife Commission has approved a citizen petition to allow falconers to take eyas, or nestling peregrine falcons, for use in the sport of falconry.

The Commission voted 5-3 in favor of the proposal last week. The Commission also passed a motion directing the state Department of Wildlife (DOW) and falconry representatives to come up with recommendations on how to regulate the live take of falcons from the wild.

The Commission's approval means falconers can take either five percent of Colorado's annual peregrine production or four eyas per year.

Commissioner Olive Valdez said she had first intended to vote against the petition, but changed her mind after learning that falconers use the same techniques as DOW biologists to care for the birds. She also noted that young falcons have a better chance of survival in captivity.

"I voted in favor of the lives of the falcons," Valdez said. "Biology supported our decision."

When peregrines were removed from Colorado's endangered species list in May 1998, the Commission voted to defer takes for five years after delisting, or until 2004. The vote reversed this position and drew opposition from some Commission members.

"Continuity of promise is important," said Commissioner Phil James. "Division recommendations usually weigh pretty heavily in our decisions." James voted against the petition.

The Commission heard testimony from conservation groups both in favor of and opposed to the petition. Representatives from the Audubon Society of Greater Denver and the Birds of Prey Foundation testified against the petition, while the Colorado Hawking Club, the authors of the petition, spoke out in favor.

The Commission will review recommendations for the regulation of live take of peregrine falcons in the next two to three months.

* * *

WEST VIRGINIA EXPANDS BLACKWATER FALLS STATE PARK

DAVIS, West Virginia, January 14, 2002 (ENS) - Blackwater Falls State Park will soon be 500 acres bigger, thanks to the efforts of West Virginia Governor Bob Wise.

The acquisition was announced during the governor's State of the State address delivered last week. The state is acquiring 500 acres of land along the existing eastern boundary of the park. The land, which is now owned by The West Virginia Allegany Power Company, includes more than a mile of the Blackwater River.

"One of our goals must be the protection of the special places held dear by our citizens. For generations, we have enjoyed the beauty of the Blackwater Canyon," said Wise. "We have permanently guaranteed public access to this land for recreation."

The acquisition will take place over two years. The state is purchasing 250 acres and the Allegany Power Company is donating 250 acres. All 500 acres will be under state protection.

"While some states are closing state parks, West Virginia continues to build one of the best state park systems in the nation," said Paul Pritchard, president of the National Park Trust (NPT). "This initiative shows a great commitment on the part of the Governor to the state as a whole and to future generations specifically."

The park has been identified by the National Park Service as having "national significance." The NPT was approached by the Friends of Blackwater Canyon and assisted them in their efforts to win additional protection for Blackwater Canyon. NPT visited with citizens and other officials and suggested that this parcel be purchased.

Judy Rodd, director of the Friends of Blackwater Canyon, said NPT has "always been there for us, supporting our National Park Campaign, pointing out threats to the current state park in the Canyon and helping us educate citizens about the unique Blackwater Canyon...[Their] advice has been invaluable."

"We all appreciate the cooperation of Allegheny Power which sold and donated the land to the state," added Pritchard. "The company helped create the park. They could have developed the land but they have been instrumental in preserving the park and the new national wildlife refuge near the park. We need more farsighted companies like Allegheny."

* * *

20 SITES DESIGNATED FOR CONSERVATION DOLLARS

WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated 20 areas in 17 states to receive technical assistance for conservation and environmental enhancement.

The sites were selected under the agency's Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) program.

"The areas were selected through a competitive process based on local needs and proposed actions," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. "These areas will benefit from increased conservation of natural resources, economic development and enhanced standards of living."

RC&D areas are led by grassroots councils comprised of volunteers, civic leaders and local elected officials. RC&D projects provide practical solutions for community development, land and resource conservation, environmental enhancement and water management.

The USDA, through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, provides technical assistance in the form of a coordinator for this program. The coordinator serves as a point of access to USDA programs and services that help the RC&D council address local environmental issues.

A number of other USDA agencies also work with designated areas on a wide variety of activities, including the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service; Food and Nutrition Service; Forest Service; and Rural Development.

Projects now underway in the 348 existing RC&D areas include ones that reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, enhance wildlife habitat, create jobs and businesses, protect heritage sites and improve sewage treatment.

The new RC&D areas are located in Alaska, American Samoa, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

* * *

GRIZZLY HABITAT SECURED NEAR GRAND TETON PARK

MISSOULA, Montana, January 14, 2002 (ENS) - A former sheep grazing allotment on national forest land near Grand Teton National Park will be retired to serve as habitat for grizzly bears, Defenders of Wildlife (DoW) announced Friday.

Retirement of the 16,370 acre Badger/Jackpine allotment northeast of Driggs, Idaho will secure vital grizzly bear habitat in the Yellowstone Ecosystem and solve chronic problems of sheep depredation by bears, DoW said. The group worked with the allotment permittees and representatives from the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and Wyoming Game and Fish Department for two years to reach the agreement.

"This is a win-win solution for everyone involved - the sheep growers, the Forest and particularly for the grizzly bears," said Minette Johnson, Northern Rockies field representative for DoW. "The retirement of the lease will provide important habitat where grizzly bears can roam freely without coming into conflict with domestic sheep. It is also a permanent solution to the chronic problem of livestock losses for the permittees, instead of a quick fix, and all those involved should be commended for their hard work and willingness to negotiate."

Domestic sheep killings by grizzly bears have been a problem on the Badger/Jackpine allotment for years. From 1996 through 1998, grizzly bears killed 34 sheep, resulting in $4,080 in payments by Wyoming Game and Fish Department for the losses.

Five bears were relocated from the allotment, including two reproductive age females. Both females returned and killed more sheep. Bear biologists and livestock permittees made many attempts to reduce depredation problems, including the use of livestock guard dogs, fencing, alarm systems, and aversive conditioning, without success.

Defenders of Wildlife initiated this agreement using a new program, The Bailey Wildlife Foundation Proactive Carnivore Conservation Fund. This program provides money for collaborative efforts to reduce potential conflict between large predators and livestock.

Tactics may include electric fencing, livestock guarding dogs, scare devices, alternative grazing lands, or even retirement of grazing allotments from willing permittees like this one.

"This action is part of a broad effort by Defenders to step forward and do what it takes in partnership with local communities and stakeholders to restore imperiled and absent carnivores to ecosystems where they belong," said Bob Ferris, vice president for species conservation at DoW.

* * *

VOLKSWAGEN RECALLS CARS WITH BUM EMISSIONS SENSORS

WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2002 (ENS) - German automobile maker Volkswagen is recalling about 324,000 Golf, Jetta and New Beetle cars due to their faulty emissions sensors.

The recall includes four cylinder, two liter gasoline engine vehicles sold in the U.S. in model years 1999, 2000 and 2001.

Testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the 1999 model year vehicles at the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory found a malfunctioning heated exhaust gas oxygen sensor (O2 sensor) problem, which led to elevated exhaust emissions. The EPA's recall program routinely tests vehicles to determine if they comply with the federal emission standards.

Volkswagen volunteered to recall the 1999 as well as 2000 and 2001 model year vehicles, which have similar defective O2 sensors. Vehicles with this defective component may release excess emissions of harmful pollutants including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.

Volkswagen has agreed to reprogram the engine control module with updated O2 sensor control software and inspect and replace the defective O2 sensor if needed, at no cost to vehicle owners. The company is sending letters to vehicle owners directing them to take their vehicle to a Volkswagen dealership for repair.

Once owners receive this letter, they should schedule an appointment with a Volkswagen dealer to have their car repaired at no cost. They may also contact Volkswagen Customer Relations at 800-893-5298.