AmeriScan: June 18, 2003

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Court Sends Atlanta Smog Plan Back to EPA

ATLANTA, Georgia, June 18, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency violated federal law when it extended the deadline to cleanup Atlanta’s ozone pollution. The court remanded the region’s ozone cleanup plan back to the agency with orders to bring it into compliance with the Clean Air Act.

The court’s ruling means that the Atlanta area will now receive a classification of “severe” nonattainment of ozone pollution standards rather than the lesser “serious” classification.

Under the Clean Air Act, areas in “severe” nonattainment of the ozone standard must comply with enhanced pollution control measures, including mandatory use of low sulfur gasoline and mandatory restrictions of vehicle miles traveled in the region.

More important, the region must employ any other measures necessary to meet the new deadline and achieve a three percent improvement in air quality each year.

The reclassification would set a new deadline of 2005 to clean the air and triggers stronger cleanup measures, including holding the line on the number of miles driven in metro Atlanta to avoid increasing tailpipe emissions, the region’s single largest source of ozone pollution. Cash penalties for major stationary sources will apply if the 2005 deadline is missed.

“This is tremendous news for everyone who lives in the Atlanta region,” said Ciannat Howett, director of the deep south office of the Southern Environmental Law Center, a plaintiff in the case. “This ruling holds the region legally accountable for taking action to cut pollution as soon as possible.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center’s lawsuit, initiated in 2000, challenged an EPA policy of allowing polluted areas like Atlanta to extend its cleanup deadline by blaming upwind sources of pollution.

Only nine percent of Atlanta’s ozone pollution is attributable to upwind sources.

Three other federal courts recently struck down EPA policy as it related to other metro areas. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay of the plan in August 2002 while it reviewed the merits of the case.

The agency admitted at a March court hearing in the Atlanta coalition’s lawsuit that the policy was illegal.

In its ruling, the appeals court called the EPA policy an “invalid exercise of the EPA’s delegated authority and contravened the text and goals of the Clean Air Act.”

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Habitat for 99 Hawaiian Plants Marred by Disclaimer

HONOLULU, Hawaii, June 18, 2003 (ENS) - The final critical habitat designation for 99 endangered and threatened plants native to the Hawaiian island of Oahu was announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tuesday. But a disclaimer, attached to a critical habitat designation for the first time, seeks to undermine all critical habitat designations.

Once designated, critical habitat protects habitat that is essential to a species' survival and recovery from being destroyed or adversely modified by actions that federal agencies carry out, fund or approve.

Fifty-five of the plant species receiving critical habitat protection are found only on Oahu. At least half of those species have fewer than 100 individual plants remaining in the wild.

Many of the Oahu plants were added to the federal Endangered Species List more than a decade ago, but it has taken a long legal struggle undertaken by conservation and native Hawaiian groups to protect habitat for the island's most unique and fragile plant species.

Conservationists are concerned about the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to exclude from the final designation nearly one-third of the habitat - 26,946 acres of the 81,987 acre total - identified as essential to the recovery of Oahu's imperiled plants. The excluded habitat is all on Army installations.

The service excluded these areas based on the Army's Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan, despite the service's findings in the proposed designation, published last year, that the Army's "current management is not sufficient to address ongoing threats to the listed species on these lands" and that "there is currently no guarantee of long-term funding for management actions that are ongoing or future management actions."

In 1998, in response to a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Conservation Council for Hawaii, the Sierra Club and the Hawaiian Botanical Society, the District of Hawaii federal court ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service violated its mandatory duty under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) to protect the plants' habitat and ordered the service to make new critical habitat decisions.

A disclaimer attached to the rule by the Department of Interior seeks to undermine all critical habitat designations, according to Earthjustice. This is the first use of the disclaimer, which the Interior Department intends to add to all future designations.

Despite years of court decisions supporting critical habitat, the disclaimer asserts that the protections offered by the ESA's critical habitat provisions have no value in species protection, and claims that agency poverty and workload prevents the service from creating meaningful, scientifically valid descriptions of the areas that rare species need to survive and recover.

"Contrary to the service's claims, protecting recovery habitat through critical habitat designation is essential to achieving the ESA's goals," said David Henkin, staff attorney for Earthjustice in Honolulu.

"Congress understood this when it enacted the ESA 30 years ago and declared that one of the law's basic purposes is 'to provide a means whereby the ecosystems on which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved.' Protecting habitat is particularly important in Hawaii, where introduced species and rampant development have devastated native ecosystems," said Henkin, "earning Hawaii the dubious distinction as endangered species capital of the nation."

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Pesticides Tied To Underperforming Sperm

COLUMBIA, Missouri, June 18, 2003 (ENS) - Three chemicals in farm pesticides have been linked to poor sperm quality in rural midwesterners.

Missouri men exposed to high amounts of the bug spray diazinon and weed killers alachlor and atrazine are far more likely than men with less contact to have diluted or deformed and sluggish sperm, are among the findings of a study published today in "Environmental Health Perspectives."

Each of the semen problems can reduce the ability of sperm to reach and fertilize an egg and could make conception harder, the researchers found. However, all the men in the latest study were fathers, so the impact of the chemicals on fertility, if any, is uncertain.

"These chemicals are among the most commonly used throughout the Midwest," said research leader Shanna Swan, an expert in reproduction and the environment at the University of Missouri.

The chemicals most likely reach men through the water supply, the researchers said.

Swan says her future work will focus on whether the pesticides affect female fertility. She is now analyzing evidence from men in Iowa City, where the chemicals are also common and where, in the 1970s, researchers found low sperm counts.

A previous study by the group found that more rural men than city dwellers had underperforming sperm, and Swan suggested the connection might involve exposure to pesticides.

This time, she and her colleagues identified the particular substances within farm chemicals that appear to be causing problems with semen. Missouri men exposed to high levels of each substance in their urine were many times more likely than those with less exposure to have abnormal sperm.

Alachlor had the strongest negative effect on sperm. High levels of alachlor exposure were associated with a 30 fold increased risk of diluted or struggling sperm.

Atrazine, the most commonly detected herbicide in the U.S. drinking water, has been shown to disrupt the proper sexual development of frogs. Another study found a link between exposure to the chemical and prostate cancer, Swan says.

The U.S. Geological Survey has found higher than recommended levels of the three chemicals in Midwest groundwater. Neither water processing plants nor home filtering devices remove them, Swan says.

John Heinze, executive director of the Environmental Health Research Foundation, called the latest study interesting, but he said there are reasons to be cautious about the conclusions.

None of the three chemicals have been shown in animal studies to adversely affect sperm quality.

"You would expect to see that in an animal study that uses massive doses," Heinze said. And, all of the men had children, so the impact of the substances on male fertility does not appear to be that strong, he said.

The study found no evidence that the widely used insect killer DEET and other pesticides used around the home affected sperm quality. However, Swan observes, DEET is typically absorbed through the skin, and is not ingested in drinking water like atrazine, alachlor and diazinon.

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Nuclear Plants Called Terrorist Time Bombs

SHELBURNE FALLS, Massachusetts, June 18, 2003 (ENS) - Nuclear power plants and their spent fuel can be regarded as pre-deployed radiological weapons that await activation by an enemy, a threat of which the U.S. government and Nuclear Regulatory Commission seem unaware, says a new study published today.

"Responsibility for overseeing the security of civilian nuclear facilities has been delegated to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," wrote Dr. Gordon Thompson of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies. The study, "Robust Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel: A Neglected Issue of Homeland Security," was commissioned by the Citizens Awareness Network.

"This agency has a longstanding policy of not requiring its licensees to protect their facilities against enemy attack, and has continued this policy with little change since the terrorist attacks of September 2001," Thompson said.

As a result, he said, U.S. nuclear facilities are lightly defended, and citizens are exposed to the risk of widespread radioactive contamination," he said.

"This situation is symptomatic of an unbalanced U.S. strategy for national security," he said, "which is a potentially destabilizing factor internationally."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the federal government agency responsible for civilian nuclear plant safety, says, "Although nuclear power plants were not designed to withstand an intentional attack from a large commercial airliner, reactor containments are massive structures, typically constructed with two to five feet of steel reinforced concrete. The containments have an interior steel lining, and redundant safety equipment to add further protection."

NRC licensees must be able to defend their facilities against a commando attack by several skilled attackers, armed with automatic weapons, with hand carried explosives and incapacitating agents, and with assistance by an insider, the use of a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and a vehicle bomb.

Thompson was asked to analyze the vulnerability of irradiated fuel pools, using the Indian Point and Vermont Yankee nuclear reactors as the prototypes. The report outlines a plan to remove the irradiated fuel from the overstocked pools and transfer it to a hardened form of onsite storage.

Citizens Awareness Network and other groups are advocating a system known as hardening on-site storage to better protect reactor sites. Hardening storage means that each fuel storage module would be shielded from instruments of attack by layers of concrete, steel, gravel or other materials.

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California Governor Backs Water Storage Plans

SACRAMENTO, California, June 18, 2003 (ENS) - In a letter to the Department of the Interior, Governor Gray Davis hasexpressed his support for exploring options to preserve water purchased by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).

"I appreciate your offer to provide temporary storage for Metropolitan Water District's recent purchase of 100,000 acre feet of water from Northern California," the governor wrote to Assistant Secretary of the Interior Bennett Raley. "I pledge to you the full cooperation of the state of California. If we work together, I am optimistic that MWD will receive the water it purchased."

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a consortium of 26 cities and water districts that provides drinking water to nearly 18 million people in parts of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

Water managers predicting a dry year have been surprised by spring rains that have filled reservoirs this spring. The state currently has no storage capacity to absorb the additional water purchase.

"April has been a particularly wet month," the governor wrote. "This is actually very good news for MWD and our other state water contractors."

The governor said that state continues to work with Southern California water agencies to reach agreement on the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) and water transfer.

The QSA is a proposed seven state agreement allocating use of water from the Colorado River. Under the agreement, California would have 15 years to reduce its draw on the river from about 5.2 million acre feet to its basic annual apportionment of 4.4 million acre feet a year in the absence of surplus water.

"I am therefore calling the principals of the four water agencies to Sacramento on Monday to discuss how the state can further assist in finalizing the QSA, which will reinstate surplus Colorado River water to Southern California," the governor wrote.

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No-Till Farming Can Increase Yields

FORT COLLINS, Colorado, June 18, 2003 (ENS) - Farmers on the northern Great Plains can increase their crop yields by switching to no-till farming using three and four year rotations, concludes a 12 year study by Colorado State University and the federal Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

No-till farming can help farmers increase yields, diversify crops and reduce soil erosion, according to the study, conducted by ARS Great Plains Systems Research Unit, a research group of the United States Department of Agriculture, and Colorado State University.

The traditional method of tilling soil on the Great Plains calls for two year rotations of wheat the first year and then not growing crops the second year.

Using no-till experiments on three farms in three diverse climate zones, the researchers found the best rotation is one that grows wheat one year, corn the following - or sorghum in warmer areas - and then leaves the field fallow the third year.

The researchers also found that a four year rotation of planting wheat, corn or sorghum, millet and then leaving the land fallow the fourth year also works.

Grain production can go up by as much as 70 percent in the three and four year systems, and it can increase profit by 25 to 40 percent over the traditional wheat fallow model, the researchers said.

Similar results were found at ARS' Central Great Plains Research Station in Akron, Colorado.

The scientists found that farmers can plant corn, sorghum, millet or forage if soil moisture in the spring is good and the forecast for summer rainfall is average or above.

Rainfall can be scarce in Colorado, but no-till helps capture precipitation and retain the moisture in the soil better than traditional farming, the scientists said. No-till farming, they said, also builds up soil organic matter levels and cuts down soil erosion.

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Massachusetts Property Manager Fined for Lead Paint Crime

BOSTON, Massachusetts, June 18, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a $102,410 penalty against a Pepperell, Massachusetts property management company for failing to notify tenants in the Pepperell area about possible lead paint hazards in rental units.

Notification about lead hazards is required by federal law, which says that sellers and landlords selling or renting housing built before 1978 must disclose any known lead paint and hazards in living units, allow a inspection by home buyers, maintain records of compliance with federal laws and provide an EPA approved lead hazard information pamphlet, called "Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home."

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that the Nissitissit Group, which manages about 98 commercial and residential units in the Pepperell area, violated federal disclosure requirements in eight leases in 2000 and 2001 by failing to transmit required lead paint related information to tenants.

Two of the eight non-compliant leases cited in the administrative complaint involved tenants with children less than six years of age. One of the eight leases involved tenants with children between six and 18.

If children are involved in a lease, the violations are considered more serious because of children's vulnerability to lead poisoning and its consequences.

The case is among a half dozen lead related civil and criminal cases the EPA has taken in New England since launching an initiative to make sure landlords and property owners and managers comply with federal lead disclosure laws.

"The lead paint disclosure law helps ensure that all prospective home owners and tenants are informed of the dangers of living in homes and apartments that may contain lead paint," said Robert Varney, regional administrator of the agency's New England Office.

"This company's repeated violations are a major concern. Realtors and property managers such as the Nissitissit Group have an important role in preventing lead poisoning and need to follow all federal lead paint disclosure requirements."

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Federal Grants to Be Used For Beach Cleanup

WASHINGTON, DC, June 18, 2003 (ENS) - As part of a national effort to ensure the safe enjoyment of America's beaches, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman presented the Florida Department of Health with a $544,552 beach monitoring grant. The funds will be used to monitor beach water quality, issue timely warnings or closures, and protect public health.

A total of about $10 million is available in 2003 to help 35 states and territories improve their water testing and public notification.

Nationwide, beach grants to states vary from $149,025 to $544,552. The grants are based on criteria including the length of beach season, the miles of beaches in the state, and the number of people using those beaches.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that Americans make a total of 910 million trips to coastal areas each year, spending about $44 billion.

"One of the most effective tools we have to ensure continuous improvement in water quality is monitoring water quality on an ongoing basis," Whitman said.

"That is why EPA is making these grants available across the nation to help state and local governments keep closer track of ocean water quality at beaches. These funds will help ensure that a day at the beach is a day to remember for all the right reasons - the warm sun, the salt air, the sand in your shoes, and the refreshing brace of the water."

State and local monitoring and notification programs often differ across the country and provide varying levels of swimmer protection.

EPA Beach Grants are intended to ensure that the public receives better protection when traveling to various beaches across the country. The program is authorized by the the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2002.

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