AmeriScan: January 9, 2003

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Water Crisis Facing Entire Nation

WASHINGTON, DC, January 9, 2003 (ENS) - The United States is facing major challenges to its water resources, the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) has warned the Bush administration and Congress.

The group, a national trade organization representing publicly owned wastewater utilities, sent a letter to President George W. Bush, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader of the Senate, calling on them to address the problems. The letter is based largely on discussions that took place at the National Water Policy Dialogue, held in Washington DC in September 2002.

That conference was convened by AWRA, sponsored by 10 federal agencies, and cosponsored by 24 non-governmental organizations. It was attended by 267 persons representing 41 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

In the letter, AWRA points to ongoing drought, inadequate water for forecasted long term municipal and industrial uses, ports operating at the margin in terms of channel depths, and annual flood losses in the United States that continue to worsen. The letter also warns of annual losses of more than 70,000 acres of non-federal wetlands, a federal list of 1,260 threatened or endangered plants and animals, miles of rivers that do not meet water quality standards, and impaired coastal waters and estuarine areas.

The groups says there are major funding shortfalls for maintaining water infrastructure, and increasing support to remove dams that no longer serve their original purpose or threaten natural systems. Non-structural means of preventing flood damages are used with increasing frequency, the letter states, while new and innovative methods of producing energy and reducing and eliminating water pollution help reduce the need for hydroelectric dams.

The nation's courts have been asked to address a growing number of conflicts over the primacy of one water user over another, the rights of natural systems, and the rights of Native Americans to water.

The AWRA letter urges immediate action by the administration and the Congress to deal with national water resources issues, noting that failure to do so could impact the economy, reduce the country's capacity to participate in global markets and increase legal conflicts over rights and uses. Failure to act could reverse progress on cleaning up rivers and restoring natural areas, the letter states, and continue the escalation of flood damages.

AWRA calls on the administration and the Congress to develop a National Water Vision that would determine, in cooperation with the states and local governments, how the nation wants to deal with water resources. AWRA emphasized that it is not calling for a federal water policy that directs the actions of federal, state and local governments, but for a policy that defines the shared responsibilities at each level of government.

The national policy should ensure coordination and collaboration among federal agencies and with other agencies at state, regional and local levels, the letter states, and should deal with water issues on a holistic basis, using watersheds and basins as the setting for water resource projects and programs.

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Pennsylvania Coal Company Fined $2.1 Million

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, January 9, 2003 (ENS) - A Pennsylvania coal production company has been ordered to pay a $2.1 million fine for its illegal discharges of ammonia and benzene.

Koppers Industries Inc. was sentenced last month on two felony violations of the Clean Water Act and one felony violation of the Clean Air Act. Koppers pleaded guilty to the violations in August 2002.

Koppers will pay a $2.1 million fine, pay $900,000 in restitution to the Black Warrior-Cahaba Rivers Land Trust, serve three years probation and implement an environmental compliance program at its facilities throughout the United States.

The convictions resulted from releases of hazardous air and water pollutants that exceeded permitted limits at the company's coke production and coal byproducts facility in Dolomite, Alabama, which was shut down in 1998.

Koppers operated a wastewater treatment plant at the Dolomite facility and also had a stormwater discharge point source permit, which required it to limit the amount of ammonia in its water discharges. The company was required to submit discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management indicating the level of pollutants contained in its waste water.

Koppers had admitted that its employees knowingly discharged wastewater in January 1997 that exceeded the 35 parts per million level of ammonia allowed under its permit. In March 1997, the company admitted, its employees knowingly submitted a false DMR to the state agency that understated the level of released ammonia, claiming that the amount released was about 28.5 parts per million, instead of the estimated 50 parts per million of ammonia actually released.

The company also violated the Clean Air Act in 1997 by allowing sumps in its benzene suppression system to remain open to the air when they were required to be closed.

The release of ammonia to surface waters can harm fish and wildlife and exposure to benzene is a known cause of cancer.

J. Daniel Bell, Koppers' former Environmental Manager, has already pleaded guilty to a Clean Water Act felony charge.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) criminal investigation division and the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's office in Birmingham, EPA's Regional Criminal Enforcement Counsel and the Justice Department's environmental crimes section.

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Ballast Water Violators Face Hefty Fines

WASHINGTON, DC, January 9, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Coast Guard has proposed imposing fines of up to $25,000 a day on vessels that fail to exchange their ballast water at sea before entering a U.S. port, or to submit reports documenting the exchange.

The agency has also proposed widening the application of reporting and recordkeeping requirements regarding ballast water, to apply to all vessels bound for ports or places within the United States, with minor exceptions.

ballast water

A ship discharges ballast water at sea, one of the best ways to prevent the spread of exotic marine species. (Photo courtesy Smithsonian Environmental Research Center)
The Coast Guard says the proposed actions would increase the agency's ability to protect against introductions of new aquatic invasive species via ballast water discharges, as required by the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990 and the National Invasive Species Act of 1996.

Ships carry thousands of gallons of ballast water to help stabilize them during voyages. Ballast water exchange involves replacing coastal water with open ocean water during a voyage. This process reduces the density of coastal organisms in ballast tanks that may be able to invade a recipient port, replacing them with open ocean organisms with a lower probability of surviving in coastal waters.

Ballast water exchange is believed to be the best available management tool to reduce the risk of invasion by species carried in ballast water. Among the nonnative species that are believed to have invaded the U.S. by catching a ride in ballast water are the zebra mussel, rapa whelk and green crab, and researchers are concerned that disease carrying microbes may also be carried in ballast.

Under the new Coast Guard proposal, any person who violates U.S. regulations requiring ballast water exchange at sea could face fines as high as $25,000 for each violation, with each day of a continuing violation equaling a separate violation.

The penalty would apply to all vessels, U.S. and foreign, equipped with ballast tanks, that operate in the waters of the United States and are bound for ports or places in the United States.

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Headwaters Logging Leads to Mudslides

SCOTIA, California, January 9, 2003 (ENS) - Mudslides caused by logging activities are burying ancient redwood trees and salmon streams in California, environmentalists charge.

Redwoods along California's Avenue of the Giants are being buried alive in sediment torrents originating in Pacific Lumber's logging sites in northern California, warn the Humboldt Watershed Council and the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters.

Neighbors of the controversial timber sales are reported to be working to save their houses, vehicles and other possessions from the storm related torrents that originate in hillsides laid bare by logging.

"This is a travesty, because logging can be done in a responsible manner, in a manner that respects the rights of downstream property, and our irreplaceable heritage," said Jesse Noell, a local licensed timber operator, and long time foe of irresponsible logging.

The environmental groups say the storms of December 2002 have exposed the failure of the Headwaters Deal, signed in 1999, that included a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) aimed at protecting the threatened species residing in forestland on California's north coast. The Headwaters Deal allowed the preservation of the largest remaining privately owned tract of old growth redwoods on Earth, about 7,500 acres.

In exchange for selling the tract to the state and federal governments, Pacific Lumber received guarantees under the HCP that critics say will allow damaging levels of logging that could endanger a number of rare species and the health of the forest as a whole.

As many as eight landslides are now visible along roads into active logging operations in Nanning Creek near the historic mill town of Scotia. These virgin ancient redwood stands are being clearcut by Pacific Lumber as permitted under the HCP.

These forest stands were once home to the marbled murrelet, an endangered seabird, and the endangered coho salmon. Those two species are among threatened and endangered species subject to an "incidental take permit" issued as part of the Headwaters deal HCP process that allows killing of endangered species and habitat destruction, normally prohibited under the Endangered Species Act.

Once crystal clear salmon and steelhead fishing streams are now choked with mud, and local residents are cleaning up from flood damage that used to occur only during extreme storms.

One resident of the Elk River valley reported that he waded through almost two feet of mud slurry contaminated with floating septic spoils inside his home as he tried to save his family's possessions from the flood waters flowing from Pacific Lumber's lands. Other families in Elk River were evacuated by emergency response teams late into the night on December 27.

"We are seeing no one in the legislature, the agencies, or the county government who has the courage or integrity to speak up," laments Ken Miller, a local physician. "They are all bound by contract to defend this Headwaters Agreement even though it is violating laws and destroying the natural resource base of our economy."

Al Cook, a chiropractor who lives in Freshwater, was separated from his family by floodwaters several times in December.

"We are not against logging," Cook said. "Good logging makes good neighbors. But the pace of Pacific Lumber's clearcutting wreaks havoc on downstream residents. Pacific Lumber has cut nearly our entire watershed in 12 years. The county has reduced the appraisal and tax assessment value on my house as a result of damage over the past four years."

The Regional Water Board convened a panel last summer to look at the relationship between Pacific Lumber's rate and intensity of logging and the impacts to the streams.

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New York to Buy More Renewable Energy

ALBANY, New York, January 9, 2003 (ENS) - New York Governor George Pataki has pledged to ensure that within 10 years, at least 25 percent of the electricity bought in New York will come from renewable energy resources like solar or wind power.

The commitment was made in Pataki's State of the State speech, which the governor delivered Wednesday.

"We can also make New York a national leader in renewable energy usage," Pataki said. "I am directing the Public Service Commission to implement a Renewable Portfolio Standard - a program which will guarantee that within the next 10 years at least 25 percent of the electricity bought in New York will come from renewable energy resources like solar power, wind power, or fuel cells."

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) praised Pataki for his commitment to a statewide expansion of renewable energy. The trade group said the measure will ensure that more electricity is generated from wind, biomass and other domestic, non-polluting and renewable sources.

"Governor Pataki's enlightened and forward looking decision places New York solidly ahead on the path toward a clean and secure energy future," said AWEA executive director Randall Swisher. "The very achievable goal set by the Governor will spur the development of wind power, a power source that is abundant in New York."

Renewables, including hydroelectric power, now supply about 17 percent of electricity sold in New York. Most of the increase in renewable power generation is expected to result from wind and biomass energy development.

AWEA estimates that the governor's new initiative will generate about $300 million dollars a year in income and local tax revenue to farmers and communities that host wind power generators in New York. Farmers earn income from leasing their wind rights and continue to grow crops up to the base of the turbines located on their land.

A renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requires each retail electricity company to use renewable energy to supply a small percentage of the power consumed by homes and businesses. Renewable energy companies bid against each other competitively to provide the required renewable electricity supply.

"The RPS announced by Governor Pataki will make the state's energy supply less dependent on imported fossil fuels and help stabilize prices of electricity and natural gas," said AWEA's regional representative David Wooley. "Wind power acts as a buffer against electricity price volatility because the wind is free and inexhaustible."

Because New York is still dependent on coal, natural gas and oil for much of its electricity generation, the development of wind and other renewable energy resources can help reduce air pollution emissions. AWEA estimates that Pataki's new policy will reduce carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse gas, by more than two million tons per year.

By replacing fossil generation that emits more than 55,000 tons per year of acid rain and summer smog pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, switching to renewables will help protect health and lower the cost of meeting New York's acid rain and smog control rules.

Pataki also called for reform and refinancing of the state's Superfund program and for the adoption of new carbon dioxide emission standards for motor vehicles, which will further reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

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Grants Available for Environmental Education

WASHINGTON, DC, January 9, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is accepting applications for grants that can be used to fund innovative ways to educate the public about the environment.

The EPA funds environmental education projects that focus on educating teachers, students or the general public about human health problems from environmental pollution; improving teaching skills for educators, typically through workshops; building state or local capability to develop and deliver environmental education programs; or promoting environmental careers among students.

The program also encourages projects that educate members of a community through a community based organization, or educate the general public through print, film, broadcast, or other media to be more environmentally conscious and make environmentally responsible decisions.

Schools, universities, not-for-profit organizations, tribal education agencies, and state and local governments are all eligible to apply for the grants.

Applications fall into two categories: nationally significant projects costing more than $25,000, and local efforts costing less than $25,000. Grants for the larger amounts are issued by EPA headquarters, while the smaller grants are issued by EPA's regional offices.

The EPA gives special encouragement to local efforts, according to Sally Hanft of EPA's regional environmental education program in Seattle.

"Often the catalyst for learning about the environment occurs at the community level," said Hanft. "Teachers, environmental professionals, and even scout leaders often have wonderful ideas to raise awareness about environmental issues. With a little community support and some funding from EPA, they turn those ideas into an educational experience."

Awarding of the grants is contingent on securing the necessary funding from Congress. Because the fiscal year 2003 budget has not been completed, the EPA is not sure how many grants it will be able to issue.

Applications for the next round of grants must be postmarked by February 14. More information about the grant program and application forms are available at: http://www.epa.gov/enviroed/grants.html

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Chevron Removes MTBE From California Gas

SAN RAMON, California, January 9, 2003 (ENS) - Oil giant Chevron USA Inc. has taken another step toward phasing out the use of the additive MTBE in all the gasoline it sells in California.

Starting with the Southern California market in January 2003, in a changeover that will be completed by May, Chevron will offer the third generation of California Cleaner-Burning Gasoline, which uses ethanol as an oxygenate instead of MTBE. Chevron will complete its statewide phase out of MTBE in compliance with the December 2003 deadline established by California Governor Gray Davis.

"Our customers have told us they want MTBE out of gasoline, and we have been moving forward diligently and carefully with plans to eliminate MTBE from gasoline in California," said Dave Reeves, president of North America Products, a refining and marketing division of Chevron USA Inc.

To meet the regulatory requirement that oxygen be added to gasoline to make it burn more cleanly, Chevron has made the infrastructure changes needed to replace MTBE with ethanol in Southern California. Starting in 2004, ethanol is the only approved oxygenate for California Cleaner Burning Gasoline.

"We've made good progress with meeting the many difficult logistical, technical and permitting challenges that must be overcome to remove MTBE statewide," said Reeves. "We began in 1997 by making non-oxygenated gasoline at our Richmond refinery in Northern California, where we recently produced our four billionth gallon of cleaner burning gasoline without adding MTBE or any other oxygenate."

"We're taking this important step in Southern California now and will complete the transition to gasoline without MTBE in Northern California later this year," Reeves continued.

In 1999, water pollution concerns attributed to methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE, led Governor Davis to order that MTBE be phased out of California's fuel supply by 2003. Studies have shown that the additive may cause cancer as well as neurological, dermatological and other problems.

Gasoline spilled from cars, boats and underground storage tanks has contaminated groundwater supplies in California and many other parts of the nation with MTBE.

But in March 2002, Davis issued an executive order giving California refineries until January 1, 2004 to transition from MTBE to ethanol to help avoid spikes in gasoline prices.

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Florida Town Hires Planner to Protect Environment

HARMONY, Florida, January 9, 2003 (ENS) - A small planned community in Florida has hired a full time environmental planner to ensure protection for the town's natural resources.

Environmental planner Greg Golgowski once worked to ensure developments such as the town of Harmony did little harm to the state's natural environment. Now, Golgowski does that work for Harmony alone.

Harmony, located about half an hour's drive from Orlando, is a planned community that includes 11,000 acres of meadows, wetlands, stands of southern pines and two 500 acre natural lakes. The land was once the Triple E Ranch, a working citrus and cattle farm.

"This is a very unique and progressive action for a development to take," Golgowski said of his new role with Harmony. "It's unheard of for a Florida developer to hire someone as staff to get its residents involved in the community's environment and to make sure natural habitat is managed in order to preserve and protect it."

Under the master plan for Harmony, just 30 percent of the property is to be developed, while the rest of the land will remain untouched, save for unpaved footpaths that will follow the natural contours of the woods and wetlands.

The land is home to diverse plant and animal life, including deer, otters, sandhill cranes, bobcats, ospreys and owls, as well as hundreds of types of plants, including a number of threatened or endangered species.

Golgowski's job will include overseeing the manner in which Harmony's general plans are executed. These plans call for no home sites to be developed on either the almost four miles of shoreline of Harmony's two sandy bottom lakes or its golf preserve, and no gas powered boats will be allowed on either lake.

All Harmony homes are required to be Energy Star compliant and reclaimed water to be available to every home for lawn maintenance. More trees must be planted on the site than removed, and all public outdoor light fixtures to be totally shielded to minimize light pollution.

"I hope my work here at Harmony helps not only the community to better understand our world, but I also hope what we're doing here will serve as a model for communities and developments around the state, the country and the world for environmentally intelligent development," Golgowski said.

Before joining Harmony, Golgowski served as deputy executive director of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, directing the review of more than 125 large land developments around the Orlando area for almost two decades.

Harmony General Manager Jim Lentz said that Golgowski's experience and knowledge of the environmental nuances of large scale projects - as well as the Orlando area flora and fauna - made him a perfect candidate.

"We needed someone like Greg to act as steward of the land, to help us make sure that as we develop our home town of Harmony, it remains a true sanctuary for us, our children and their children," Lentz said. "This commitment to preservation goes to the soul of what Harmony is all about."