AmeriScan: January 8, 2003

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Lawsuit Challenges Off Road Emissions Rules

WASHINGTON, DC, January 8, 2003 (ENS) - A lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday challenges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) new emission standards for snowmobiles, dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles.

Represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, Environmental Defense and the Bluewater Network argue that the Clean Air Act required far stronger standards than the agency issued last September.

"Snowmobiles in particular are egregious polluters," said James Pew of Earthjustice. "Many of the snowmobiles that are currently being built emit more pollution in one day than a modern car emits in 100,000 miles of driving."


Snowmobiles with two-stroke engines emit clouds of air pollution. (Photo courtesy Greater Yellowstone Coalition)
The groups contend that the regulations violate the Clean Air Act, which requires the EPA to set emissions standards that reflect the "greatest degree of emissions reductions" possible through the application of available technology.

"This is a forward looking statute, designed by Congress to provide the cleanest engines that can be built," said Pew. "Past experience with automobiles has shown that each time EPA has required cleaner engines, manufacturers have built them for a reasonable cost. Clean engines could also be built for offroad vehicles-right now and for a reasonable cost - but EPA has refused to require it."

For example, EPA's newest regulations require snowmobile manufacturers to reduce hydrocarbon emissions by just 50 percent, while four-stroke snowmobiles already on the market reduce hydrocarbon emissions by more than 95 percent. According to the California Air Resources Board, a day's ride using a conventional two-stroke engine similar to those employed by most snowmobiles in the U.S. releases the same amount of pollution as driving a modern automobile 100,000 miles.

The EPA rule also backs away from an earlier requirement for all-terrain vehicle (ATV) manufacturers to install catalytic converters that reduce smog forming emissions, despite the fact that catalysts are already used on many on road motorcycles, and have been used in automobiles since 1975.

"Once again, the Bush Administration is demonstrating utter contempt for protecting the nation's environment. By allowing the indefinite sale of dirty two-stroke engines in snowmobiles, backing off on catalytic converters for all-terrain vehicles, and failing to regulate noise pollution, we will sacrifice air quality, public health, and wildlife," said Russell Long, Bluewater Network's executive director. "We refuse to let Mr. Bush get away with this."

The EPA rules also fail to regulate noise from any of the off road vehicles covered by the rulemaking, the groups charge. Federal law requires the EPA to establish standards for engines that are major source of noise. On average, recreational vehicles such as snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and jetskis emit noise at levels ranging from 81 to 111 decibels.

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Meat Producer, Enviros Reach Cleanup Agreement

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 8, 2003 (ENS) - The Sierra Club has reached partial settlement of a lawsuit against the Seaboard Corporation, concerning pollution at one of the largest hog factories in North America.

The agreement comes in the wake of a major plant overhaul completed by Seaboard to improve water pollution controls at the 25,000 head Dorman Sow Farms hog factory in western Oklahoma, and to set up a sophisticated monitoring system to ensure that nearby drinking water sources are protected. Seaboard will also contribute $100,000 to wetlands conservation efforts through Ducks Unlimited and the Playa Lakes Joint Venture for conservation projects in Oklahoma's panhandle.

"Seaboard responded to our lawsuit by agreeing to build safeguards against the hazards posed by hog waste to local drinking water sources and the Beaver River," said Pat Gallagher, director of Sierra Club's Legal Program. "By improving the facility with technological solutions for many of the health and environmental problems caused by waste runoff, local communities will now be better protected from water pollution."

The settlement, announced Tuesday, represents one of the largest such agreements ever reached between an environmental group and an animal production company.

In addition to its recent facility overhaul, Seaboard has agreed to revise its pollution prevention plan to ensure that waste management systems will not pollute local surface or ground waters. The company will also monitor nitrogen levels in nearby soil, conduct regular inspections after hog waste is applied to land, and allow annual inspections by Sierra Club representatives.

The settlement requires Seaboard to address potential water pollution issues at four additional facilities in Oklahoma. Under the agreement, Seaboard will implement a step by step process to evaluate levels of nitrates in groundwater and wells at those facilities, and take steps to reduce high levels of nitrates when they pose a threat to human health or the environment.

Nitrate pollution is considered a serious threat to drinking water in many areas of the country, and is associated with so called "blue baby" syndrome.

Today's announcement partially resolves a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club in July of 2000. Under the lawsuit, Sierra Club had accused Seaboard's Dorman Sow Farms of violating environmental statutes including the Clean Water Act and the federal Superfund law.

The settlement resolves all of the water pollution claims in the lawsuit. The Sierra Club's federal Superfund claim will continue to be litigated in front of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. That claim concerns Seaboard's obligation to report ammonia gas emissions at the Dorman plant.

"Our lawsuit was intended to compel Seaboard to use practices and technology that protects local communities from the water pollution that so often accompanies these huge animal factories," explained Gallagher. "This settlement ensures that human health and the environment will be protected, and we hope this will encourage other large meat factories to act responsibly and adopt similar safeguards."

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Judge Hears Suit On Bald Eagles, Yellowstone Bison

HELENA, Montana, January 8, 2003 (ENS) - A federal judge heard arguments Tuesday in a case seeking additional protection for bald eagles and trumpeter swans that conservation groups charge are threatened by government policies regarding bison.

Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell is overseeing the case brought against the Montana Department of Livestock, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service by a trio of environmental groups.

Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers (CMCR), the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), and the Ecology Center Incorporated (TECI) filed suit in May 2001 alleging that the state and federal agencies' bison management operations are illegally impacting the birds and their habitats. The lawsuit implicates the government's ongoing policy of hazing, capturing and slaughtering wild bison that stray from Yellowstone National Park onto adjacent public lands.

To keep Montana cattle free of the abortive disease brucellosis, which some bison may carry, the state's Department of Livestock hazes them back inside the park, as allowed by the Interim Bison Management Plan agreed to by state and federal agencies. Critics of the program charge that there is no evidence that the bison can pass the disease to cattle, and that the program harasses bison regardless of whether they are carrying the disease.

The hazing program also impacts other species, the lawsuit charges.

"Hazing is taking a tremendous toll on bison, on threatened bald eagles, and on native wildlife in the Yellowstone ecosystem," said CMCR's Darrell Geist, "It needs to stop."

Among the issues raised by the groups is the Department of Livestock's consistent use of helicopters to haze bison in areas where helicopters are prohibited.

The groups are represented by the Helena law firm Reynolds, Motl, and Sherwood. According to their attorney, Brenda Lindlief Hall, "When the sun sets on all of the issues, what remains is that no analysis of helicopters on wildlife has ever been done. This failure is a clear violation of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act."

The groups are seeking relief from what they say are ongoing violations of the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the Special Use Permit authorizing bison capture operations on the Gallatin National Forest.

"We hope that Judge Lovell will make a quick decision and give the bald eagles the relief we are asking for," said TECI spokesperson Jim Coefield.

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Sonar Experiment Could Harm Whales

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 8, 2003 (ENS) - At a hearing this morning in San Francisco, a coalition of U.S. and Australian animal and environmental groups asked a federal court to halt a planned experiment involving gray whales.

Dr. Peter Tyack of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute planned to begin deploying sonar from Pacific Gas & Electric's property at Point Buchon, California from January 8 through the 24th. Tyack's sonar experiment could affect a migrating gray whales, including pregnant whales and newborn calves.

At the recent International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Japan, the U.S. delegation revealed that the gray whale population has fallen from 9,000 animals to a low of 17,000.

With no evidence of recovery and a continuing low calf count, the deployment of mid and high frequency sonar at unprecedented levels has the potential to send the species to extinction, said attorney Lanny Sinkin, who is representing the Hawai'i County Green Party, Australians for Animals, Stop LFAS Worldwide Network, Channel Islands Animal Protection Association, Sea Sanctuary Inc., and naturalist Robert Puddicombe.

Tyack intends to broadcast sonar at levels of 180 decibels. The conservation and animal groups say this is the equivalent of standing next to an F-16 taking off.

In his deposition, leading whale expert and research biologist Ken Balcomb testified that "it is a published fact that avoidance behavioral responses have been shown to occur in a variety of marine mammals from a variety of underwater sound frequencies" at levels far below those that Tyack plans to use.

Several species of beaked whales have been killed by exposure to high intensity underwater sound. Sound sensitive beaked whales occur along the California coast along with the migration of the gray whales, Balcomb said.

Balcomb's deposition also highlighted the fact that whalers used intense underwater sounds to increase the efficiency of their catch when chasing whales. The behavior of many whale species is modified when exposed to the whalers' sonar device, which has similar frequency characteristics to the device Tyack is proposing to use.

Sinkin told the court that the frequency levels Tyack proposes to use have the capacity to interfere with whale calf communication.

"We have no research on the effects of mid and high frequency sonar on calves in utero, or newborn calves," Sinkin said. "What we do know is that broadcasts at 180 decibels are recognized by the U.S. Navy, the scientific community and at least one federal judge as harmful to the extent of causing physical injury."

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California Water District: Less Water? No Problem!

LOS ANGELES, California, January 8, 2003 (ENS) - One of the water districts most impacted by an Interior Department order reducing California's water allotment from the Colorado River says it will have no trouble meeting the needs of its customers for at least the next two years.

The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California, which includes 27 cities and water agencies serving 18 million people in six counties, said Monday it expects it will even be able to meet southern California's imported water needs for the next 20 years.

The MWD lost access to 415,100 acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado River as of January 1, due to California's failure to reach an agreement on voluntary cuts in water use. The cuts were part of a seven state agreement that would reapportion Colorado River water, reducing use by states like California and Nevada that currently draw more water than they are legally entitled to.

The Imperial Irrigation District, which voted to reject the statewide plan last month, triggering the Interior Department's order, lost access to 204,900 acre-feet per year on January 1. Nevada, which also is affected by the seven state agreement, lost access to 30,000 acre-feet.

Cities in Southern California are expected bear the brunt of the shortfall, losing as much as half of the Colorado River water they now receive. But because the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California has developed alternative water supplies, the agency says people there will continue to see water flow from their taps.

"Although the immediate cutoff of surplus Colorado River water supplies due to the federal government's suspension of the Interim Surplus Guidelines results in a serious situation for the state, there clearly is no emergency in urban Southern California because of the planning and foresight of Metropolitan and its 26 member public agencies," said Ronald Gastelum, president and chief executive officer of the MWD.

"Metropolitan's latest supply projections show that Southern California will have enough imported water from the Colorado River and California aqueducts to meet demands in 2003 and 2004, without having to dip into water stored in Southland surface water reservoirs," Gastelum continued. "In fact, with the region's continued commitment toward conservation, recycling, groundwater cleanup and storage, and a CALFED Bay/Delta solution, along with additional investments in seawater desalination, water transfers and groundwater banking partnerships, Metropolitan expects to meet Southern California's imported water demands for the next 20 years."

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Space Shuttle Will Test Green Firefighting Technology

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama, January 8, 2003 (ENS) - Astronauts on this month's space shuttle mission will test a new fire fighting system that battles blazes with a fine water mist or fog, instead of using harmful chemicals or large quantities of water that damage property.

To fine tune the designs of their fire fighting systems, two companies are flying a commercial experiment on the STS-107 flight. The study will be managed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Space Product Development Program.

"The fire-fighting industry is in search of a new tool that doesn't use dangerous chemicals or douse fires with huge quantities of water that cause extensive property damage," said Mark Nall, director of the Space Product Development Program at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. "By flying this commercial experiment on the STS-107 Columbia mission, NASA is helping industry design a cost effective, environmentally friendly system for putting out fires."


Fire fighters on Earth may benefit from a new water mist fire system being tested on Space Shuttle Columbia. (Photo courtesy NASA)
Until recently, halons, bromine-based compounds, were used to attack fires, particularly in places like computer rooms, aircraft, and document storage rooms where water sprinklers were inappropriate. In 1998, the production of these chemicals was banned worldwide because they damage Earth's protective ozone layer.

"We are working to find an acceptable replacement for halons, and water mist appears to be the best choice," said Dr. Thomas McKinnon, lead scientist for the research at The Center for Commercial Applications of Combustion in Space (CCACS) at the Colorado School of Mines.

"The shuttle tests use a humidifier like device to produce water drops about 20 microns in size," explained Dr. Angel Abbud-Madrid, the project scientist at the NASA Commercial Space Center. "That's about one-tenth the diameter of a human hair, as opposed to drops produced by conventional sprinklers that are about one millimeter, or 50 times the size of our droplets."

The water mist research team is working with MicroCool Inc., a division of Nortec Industries Inc., and Fogco Systems Inc. These companies manufacture water mist systems for putting out fires and for other purposes, such as outdoor cooling and industrial humidification.

"Firefighters in Denver and at the Arvada Fire Training and Research Center have tested our ultra-fine mist nozzles," said Mike Lemche, general manager of MicroCool. "The cooling effect of this mist removes one of the key components of fire - heat."

Since the fog removes heat and replaces oxygen as the water evaporates, it prevents the fire from expanding and starting new fires.

Gary Wintering, president of Fogco, said his company will use information from the STS-107 experiment to fine-tune their designs of fire-fighting systems. Prior combustion experiments have shown that space is the ideal place to study the physics of fire.

On Earth, gravity causes lighter, hotter air to rise, creating air currents that make it difficult to study combustion processes. In microgravity - the low gravity inside the shuttle orbiting Earth - air currents are reduced or eliminated, making it easier for scientists to observe how water interacts with a flame to put it out.

"The shuttle experiment will help us determine the optimum water concentration and water droplet size needed to suppress fires," said Abbud-Madrid. "We have learned from short tests on NASA's KC-135 reduced gravity aircraft and inside drop towers that water mists take one-tenth the water of traditional sprinklers to extinguish a flame."

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White House Installs Solar Panels

WASHINGTON, DC, January 8, 2003 (ENS) - The Bush administration has installed the first-ever solar electric system on the grounds of the White House.

The National Park Service, which manages the White House complex, installed a nine kilowatt, rooftop solar electric or photovoltaic system, as well as two solar thermal systems that heat water used on the premises.

"We believe in these technologies, and they've been working for us very successfully," said James Doherty, the architect and project manager at the National Park Service Office for White House Liaison. "The National Park Service as a whole has long been interested in both sustainable design and renewable energy sources. We also have a mission to lower our energy consumption at all our sites, and we saw an opportunity to do both at the White House grounds."

Solar Design Associates designed and oversaw the installation, which was placed on the roof of the main building used for White House grounds maintenance. The PV system feeds solar generated power into the White House grounds' distribution system, providing electricity wherever it is needed.

"The Park Service is supporting the use of clean, renewable energy from the sun by overseeing this installation. It's an important milestone in building awareness for solar energy usage in residential and commercial buildings, and a step in the right direction in promoting energy independence," said Steven J. Strong, president of Solar Design Associates. "Sustainable, environmentally responsive solar electric systems have been in use from Maine to California for three decades, but there is something special about an installation at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

The company selected Evergreen Solar, Inc. to supply the 167 American made solar electric panels that were placed on the roof of the main building used for White House grounds maintenance.

"We are very pleased to see this kind of governmental support for solar electricity," said Mark Farber, president and chief executive officer of Evergreen Solar. "We hope the success of this project will spur future applications of highly reliable, pollution free solar power. Whether it is on a single residence or a commercial building, solar electricity is an important option in the quest for energy independence."

Two solar thermal systems, one to heat the pool and spa and one to provide domestic hot water, were also installed. While the White House has been home to a solar thermal system in the past, this is the first solar electric system to operate at the White House complex.

"With solar systems popping up on homes, businesses and farms across the country, it's most appropriate to have solar providing energy for America's most recognizable home," said Glenn Hamer, executive director at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). "The White House is now a mini power plant producing clean, reliable solar energy thanks to the excellent team of Solar Design Associates and Evergreen Solar."

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Wetlands Clean Selenium From Farm Runoff

BERKELEY, California, January 8, 2003 (ENS) - Researchers from the University of California have found a natural detoxification program for selenium contaminated farm runoff: wetlands vegetation and microbes.

Results from a two year study by researchers at the University of California - Berkeley show that manmade wetlands in the state's San Joaquin Valley were able to remove an average of 69.2 percent of the selenium in agricultural drainage water. Some plant populations showed promise at converting selenium into a harmless gas, meaning less of the selenium would end up in sediment or plant tissue.

The new study, published online last week in the journal "Environmental Science and Technology," follows previous research at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California. The researchers found that wetland ponds built in Richmond could take out as much as 89 percent of the selenium from millions of gallons a day of refinery discharge, preventing it from reaching San Francisco Bay.

"We thought that if wetlands could filter selenium from oil refinery wastewater, then they could probably be used for agricultural runoff," said Norman Terry, professor of plant biology at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources and principal investigator of the study. "We're basically learning that some of the best, most efficient filters for pollutants can be found in nature."

Terry said the entire wetland ecosystem is acting as a bio-geo-chemical filter.

"Everything is working in concert to take the selenium out of the drainage water," said Terry. "The extensive root system of the plants slows down the water flow so the selenium gets trapped in the sediment. The plants also provide a source of fixed carbon to fuel microbes, which metabolize the selenium into non-toxic gas. It is truly an amazing process."

The toxic effects of selenium made headlines in 1983 when high levels from polluted farm water were found at the Kesterson national wildlife refuge in the San Joaquin Valley, part of the Central Valley. The soil on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley is rich in natural selenium, which leaches into the shallow groundwater of the region. Agricultural irrigation accelerates this leaching process.

A large quantity of selenium-polluted agricultural drainage water was being discharged into the reservoir in the early 1980s. The selenium was linked to severe deformities suffered by birds and other wildlife at the Kesterson refuge.

"Kesterson lacked proper environmental monitoring and management, so the selenium continued to build up, becoming concentrated over time through the food chain," said Zhi-Qing Lin, lead author of the study and former post-graduate researcher with Terry at UC Berkeley.

Terry said wetland plants could become a major wastewater remediation tool for both agriculture and industry.

"The upshot is that wetlands are a very efficient and affordable solution to ridding polluted water of a toxic chemical," said Terry. "Plants grow year after year, and while a constructed wetland system would need to be monitored, it would be relatively easy to maintain."