AmeriScan: June 6, 2003

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EPA Failing to Enforce Clean Water Act

WASHINGTON, DC, June 6, 2003 (ENS) - An internal report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates the agency is doing a poor job of enforcing the Clean Water Act.

The internal study, obtained by the Washington Post, compiled by the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance in February 2003 that finds that 25 percent of the nation's largest industrial plants and water treatment facilities were in serious violation of pollution standards during the period 1999-2000, but only a fraction of them face formal enforcement actions.

According to the Washington Post story, half the serious offenders exceeded pollution limits for toxic substances by more than 100 percent, but when enforcement actions were taken, less than half resulted in fines that averaged some $6,000.

EPA officials quoted in the Post's article agreed their were problems with enforcement but said the findings reflect a decade old trend that the Bush administration is at least trying to remedy.

Environmentalists have repeatedly sounded warnings about the EPA's poor enforcement of the 30 year old Clean Water Act and many do not believe the Bush administration is interested in reversing the trend.

They cite a recent report by the agency's Inspector General that found the computer system for tracking pollution permits under the Clean Water Act is outdated and incomplete.

In addition, a report released last year by U.S. Public Interest Research Group, based on information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, found that more than 81 percent of U.S. polluters exceeded their Clean Water Act permit limits at least once in the three year period.

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Bush Air Plan Could Be Changed to Allow More Mercury

WASHINGTON, DC, June 6, 2003 (ENS) - Environmentalists have criticized the Bush administration's Clear Skies initiative for being too lax on reducing mercury emissions, but during a Senate hearing Thursday Republican lawmakers and industry officials raised doubts that the administration's proposal is even feasible.

Clear Skies calls for 70 percent reduction of emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) and it relies on the cobenefits of technologies to achieve those reductions to also reduce mercury emissions, administration officials explained.

Currently coal fired plants release some 48 tons of mercury each year - the administration's plan caps these emissions at 26 tons in 2010 and 15 tons in 2018. Critics of Clear Skies believe the Clean Air Act, if enforced, could reduce U.S. mercury emissions to five tons by 2007.

But Bush administration officials told the a subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Thursday that further review of the effects of reduction of NOx and SO2 are unlikely to produce the corresponding mercury reductions.

Instead of cutting mercury emissions to 26 tons, said Randall Kroszner, a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisors, the new estimates find "annual mercury emissions in 2010 after installation of NOx and SO2 controls vary between 34 tons and 46 tons."

Environmentalists, public health groups and some Congressional Democrats believe the industry should be forced to install technology specifically to reduce mercury emissions, but industry representatives testified that this technology is unproven and too costly.

"There are currently no commercial technologies that are available for controlling mercury from coal-fired power plants," said Larry Monroe, program manager of pollution control research at Southern Company, the nation's second largest user of coal in the utility industry.

"The industry does not hold the position that mercury reductions should not occur, but asks that right timeline should be followed, one that considers the practical aspects of the cost and impact of making these reductions," Monroe said.

He warned that forcing the industry to adopt controls before it is ready could prompt power companies to switch to natural gas, a move that could result in higher costs to consumers and disrupt the nation's energy supply.

But many critics of the Clear Skies initiative believe that the industry will never act until it is forced to do so and think the Bush administration and some Republicans in Congress are caving to industry demands.

The position that there is no commercial technology to reduce mercury emissions echoes "the classic industry argument used since the 1960s," Clean Air Trust Executive Director Frank O'Donnell told ENS.

"If we depended on that argument we would not have catalytic converters today," O'Donnell said.

There is a reason there is no "commercially available" mercury emissions reduction technology, he said, and that is because currently there is no market for it.

"We know that if the government sets a tough standard the industry rises to the challenge," O'Donnell said.

The primary health risk from the toxic metal emerges when airborne mercury falls into surface waters where it can accumulate in streams and oceans.

Bacteria in the water transform mercury into methylmercury, which fish absorb when they eat aquatic organisms and humans absorb when they eat fish.

Scientists have shown that methylmercury can cause brain and nerve damage and studies indicate children and women of childbearing age are at a disproportionate risk. Some 43 U.S. states currently have advisories in effect for mercury contaminated fish, a figure that has increased some 60 percent in the past decade.

Colorado Eyes 1866 Mining Law to Settle Right of Way Claims

DENVER, Colorado, June 6, 2003 (ENS) - Conservationists fear that Colorado Governor Bill Owens is seeking to use an 1866 mining law to turn hiking trails in the state's National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges and wilderness lands into paved highways.

Owens has asked Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton to develop a Memorandum of Understanding with Colorado over how to pursue claims and resolve disputes under the nineteenth century right of way law know as RS-2477.

The request from Colorado state officials comes on the heels of an agreement brokered between Bush administration officials at Interior with the state of Utah, an arrangement that enraged environmental groups and many in the outdoor recreation industry.

"The Bush administration opened Pandora's Box when it resurrected this loophole," said Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness. "Now there's a land grab on by developers who will attempt to use this loophole to prevent treasured lands from receiving permanent protection as wilderness."

Matz's organization, along with some 17 other local, state and national conservation groups, have asked Owens to reconsider his proposal.

On April 8, Norton signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Utah to establish a process to use RS-2477 to recognized rights of way across BLM lands. The law intended to grant the right to construct and use highways across public lands that were not otherwise reserved or protected for other public use.

Although repealed in 1976, claims on right of ways prior to the repeal can still be made. When announcing the settlement, Norton and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt said it only applies to existing publicly traveled and regularly maintained roads.

But critics say it could allow private interests and state and local governments to bulldoze through federal lands and some say the Colorado request could be even worse.

Conservationists cite a letter sent by Colorado Department of Natural Resources Director Greg Walcher to Norton on May 15th asking that Colorado and Interior cut a deal on routes claimed under RS-2477. The letter suggests that Colorado is keen to press claims through federal lands and that these claims for rights-of-ways for highways could include cattle trails, hiking trails, riverbeds, and jeep trails.

In particular, the letter says Colorado takes issue with the Utah decision that only provides rights-of-way claims to roads that can accommodate four wheel drive vehicles, instead asking for a ruling that deal that relies on "mere passage of vehicles" - or even no surface treatment whatsoever.

In addition, Walcher wrote Colorado should not be subject to federal environmental permitting requirements when routes under RS2477 are "upgraded" and that Colorado need not even show exactly where the right-of-way existed.

In his letter, Walcher writes that most modern RS-2477 claims originate out of the need "to protect public safety and resources" but conservationists are not convinced.

They contend the Colorado proposal puts at risk such lands as Dinosaur National Monument and Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge in northwestern Colorado, where Moffat County has proposed taking over hundreds of miles of cattle trails, hiking paths, jeep tracks, and nearly invisible routes as "constructed highways" using the RS2477 claims.

"This proposal would irreparably degrade Colorado's habitat and water quality, undermine the purpose and essence of the state's protected areas, and diminish Colorado's economy and quality of life," said Suzanne Jones, assistant regional director for The Wilderness Society. "The state's proposal defies explanation."

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Norton Calls for Local Solutions to Water Crises

DENVER, Colorado, June 6, 2003 (ENS) - Preventing conflict over chronic water shortages must be addressed by local communities in long range, cooperative planning efforts with state and federal agencies, Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton told Western officials today.

Speaking at a conference called "Water 2025: Preventing Crises and Conflict in the West," Norton told attendees that "long lasting solutions will come from the people who must live with or learn to live without the water they need."

Today's meeting is the first of nine consulting sessions in Western cities aimed at expanding the dialog on ways of preventing the water supply problems facing many communities.

Population growth is the major pressure on Western water supplies as it increases the competition for a finite supply among home owners, businesses, farmers, American Indian tribes, and fish and wildlife. Sustained drought, which currently affects much of the West, is adding further strain on the region's water supply.

Norton said the aging water infrastructure of the West must also be addressed, and communities must find agreements before a crisis hits.

"Many water supply facilities continue to use 19th century technology to attempt to meet 21st century problems," she said. "Some are 60 years old, while others have been in service for almost a century. In some instances, canals can lose up to 50 percent of their irrigation water either through seepage or through old, inefficient control structures."

Through the Water 2025 initiative, Norton says the federal government has "assessed the situation and come up with areas we consider to be hot spots with the potential for future conflict over water."

There is a role for the federal government, the Interior Department Secretary said, but "the hard work of preventing crises and conflict will take place in meeting rooms like these."

"For a long-lasting solution, we need everyone at the table, state and local governments, tribes, and stakeholders," Norton said. "We are looking to states and localities to take the lead. We can then help with technical expertise, with facilitation support, and with seed money."

Norton added that federal agencies are striving to better coordinate their efforts, citing a formal memo announced Thursday between the Interior and Agriculture Departments to create interagency Drought Action Teams to focus scarce resources quickly where and when they are needed.

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Returning Gulf Troops Face Mandatory Health Screenings

WASHINGTON, DC, June 6, 2003 (ENS) - More than 250,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who served in the Iraq war will undergo health screenings within 30 days of their return home, the Pentagon announced.

The screenings are in line with a 2000 National Academies of Science report commissioned by the Department of Defense.

"Protecting Those Who Serve: Strategies to Protect the Health of Deployed U.S. Forces" recommends that the federal government improve procedures for recording military health problems, better document troop locations during deployments and communicate more thoroughly with commanders about environmental and medical hazards that may exist in war zones.

The screening is designed to help the military avoid the confusion and delays in care experienced 13 years ago by troops returning from the first Gulf War. Since the end of the war, more than 100,000 of those veterans have reported chronic health problems such as headaches and memory loss, fatigue, sleep disorders, and joint and muscle problems.

Hundreds of studies have examined possible causes of a "Gulf War Syndrome," including stress or exposure to nerve gas, pesticides, depleted uranium or other chemical agents. Its origin remains unknown.

The screenings are part of a Pentagon plan announced in May to help the transition from the stress of combat operations back to normal life. Returning soldiers and civilians will remain with their unit or organization through the medical screenings, as well as reunion training designed to ease the move back into family relationships before heading home.

The health screening includes a blood sample and a health questionnaire, which will be reviewed with a doctor and a mental health counselor.

The five page questionnaire asks troops to list any symptoms they developed during their Gulf tours, including cough, rashes, headaches, chest pain or dizziness, whether they received any vaccinations before or during their deployment or were exposed to pesticides, oil fires or biological and chemical weapons and if they are having problems with depression or stress.

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NRC Gives Early Nod to Renewal of Nuclear Plant License

WASHINGTON, DC, June 6, 2003 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gave an early indication that it believes there are no environmental impacts that would stop a nuclear plant in South Carolina from renewing its license.

The agency has been reviewing the application for extension of the H. B. Robinson Steam Electric Plant, Unit 2 in Darlington County, South Carolina, since Carolina Power and Light Company, which operates the plant, filed it in June 6002.

The NRC made its preliminary finding in a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the proposed license renewal. The draft EIS is open for public comment until July 30 and will also be the subject of public meetings June 65 in Hartsville, South Carolina.

Under NRC regulations, the original operating license for a nuclear power plant is issued for up to 40 years. The license may be renewed for up to an additional 20 years if NRC requirements are met. The current operating license for the H. B. Robinson Steam Electric Plant, Unit 2, will expire on July 31, 2010.

The possible environmental effects of an additional 20 years of nuclear plant operation are described in the NRC's Generic Environmental Impact Statement, or GEIS (NUREG-1437).

The NRC issues a site-specific supplement to the GEIS on each plant requesting license renewal to address the potential environmental impacts.

Issues specific to the H.B. Robinson Steam Electric Plant are addressed in Supplement 13, which was published in draft form in May. The NRC staff's preliminary recommendation is that the Commission determine that the adverse environmental impacts of license renewal for the H.B. Robinson Steam Electric Plant are not so great that preserving the option of license renewal for energy-planning decision makers would be unreasonable.

At the conclusion of the public comment period on July 30, the NRC staff will consider and address the comments provided and issue a final supplement to the GEIS. That supplement will contain a recommendation regarding the environmental acceptability for license renewal.

The draft supplement to the GEIS, along with other related documents, is available at http://www.nrc.gov.

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Oregon's Powerdale Hydroelectric Project to Shut Down

SALEM, Oregon, June 6, 2003 (ENS) - Oregon Governor Theodore Kulongoski today announced a cooperative agreement for the decommissioning and removal of the Powerdale Hydroelectric Project, which is located on Oregon's Hood River.

The agreement was reached among state and federal resource agencies, the plant's owner PacifiCorp as well as the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, American Rivers and the Hood River Watershed Group.

"I would like to commend all parties to the settlement process for working together to reach common ground," said Governor Kulongoski during a ceremony today in his office at the State Capitol. "Constructive, collaborative settlement talks like these are the model for how difficult natural resource issues should be handled."

Powerdale's federal operating license for the six megawatt project expired in 2000, and rather than accepting a new license, PacifiCorp approached parties to the licensing process to see if an alternative to a new license could be negotiated.

The future economic viability of the project, which can serve the needs of some 3,000 typical residential customers, was doubtful and a new license would have come with more-restrictive operating conditions. In addition, the plant would have also required a considerable amount of new capital investment to keep it operating for the next 30 to 50 years.

The company determined that it made more sense for its customers to close the plant in 2010 and use its capital resources for other more cost effective generating sources.

"We believe this agreement is in the best interests of our customers because Powerdale will continue to operate for several more years providing low cost power," said Judi Johansen, chief executive officer for PacifiCorp. "But at the same, time the agreement supports the longterm objectives of the resource agencies and other interest groups in the Hood River Basin."

The Powerdale Project now has a small diversion dam with an operating fish ladder. Water is conveyed via a three mile long flow line to the downstream powerhouse close by where the Hood River flows into the Columbia River.

A fish counting station connected to the dam's fish ladder is owned by the Bonneville Power Administration and operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, and the facility is critical to fish research that will help with salmon and steelhead recovery efforts in the basin.

For this and other reasons, the agreement permits continued project operation until 2010, at which time the dam will be removed.

"This agreement demonstrates that we can work together and do what is right for rivers and the fish, wildlife, and people who depend on them," said Brett Swift of American Rivers. "We commend PacifiCorp for its leadership. The Hood River will be healthier thanks to the improved flows and fish passage."

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