AmeriScan: May 11, 2001


WASHINGTON, DC, May 11, 2001 (ENS) - The House of Representatives voted Thursday to withhold $244 million in United Nations (UN) dues next year to punish the organization for voting the U.S. off a human rights committee.

Sources say the secret ballot that led to the U.S. removal from the Human Rights Commission was influenced by ill feelings over the Bush Administration's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement on climate change, and other environmental choices.

The U.S. has also lost its seat on the UN International Narcotics Control Board.

By a vote of 252-165, the House approved an amendment to the annual State Department authorization bill, to withhold the third and final payment of overdue UN dues. The amendment was proposed by House International Relations Committee Chair Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, and the ranking Democrat on the committee, Representative Tom Lantos of California.

The Bush administration had urged the House not to withhold the funding, and the House did approve paying $582 million in back dues to the UN this year.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said he disapproved of the vote.

"We should not now try to find a way to punish the United Nations or the committee that did it. We lost the vote," Powell told reporters. "Let's take our loss, continue to commit ourselves to human rights, do what we think is right."

"Let's not be too irate to the point where we start to take actions in the heat of the moment, in the passion of the moment, that we may regret six or eight months from now," Powell urged.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he hoped the U.S. would regain its seat on the human rights commissions, while urging the nation not to place conditions on the payment of outstanding dues.

"I hope the dust will settle and that we will look forward to the future," Annan said. "I have no doubt that next year the U.S. will be back on the Commission, and I hope in the meantime they will work with other member states to get back on."

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 11, 2001 (ENS) - Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC has agreed to reduce air emissions from seven petroleum refineries in seven states by more than 23,000 tons per year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Justice Department announced the environmental agreement today. The states of Minnesota and Louisiana, and Wayne County, Michigan, are joining the settlement, which is part of the EPA's national effort to reduce air pollution released from refineries.

A consent decree filed today in U.S. District Court in Detroit calls for Marathon Ashland to spend an estimated $265 million to install pollution control equipment and reduce emissions from stacks, wastewater vents, leaking valves and flares throughout its refineries. The agreement provides Marathon Ashland with the flexibility to increase production capacity, while complying with clean air rules.

"This settlement will control pollution wherever it originates in the refineries," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "The settlement also is expected to facilitate efficiency upgrades and increased production of gasoline over the next eight years."

Under the settlement, Marathon Ashland will cut emissions by using innovative technologies, incorporating improved leak detection and repair practices, and making other pollution control upgrades. The agreement will affect refineries located in Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota.

These refineries comprise more than five percent of the total refining capacity in the United States.

"This is a victory for the environment," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "I am pleased to be working with the EPA in our fight for cleaner air and water. Enforcing environmental law is a top priority for the Department of Justice, and I look forward to protecting our natural resources and helping ensure that companies are in compliance with the law."

Marathon Ashland also will pay a $3.8 million civil penalty under the Clean Air Act and spend about $6.5 million on two environmental projects in communities affected by the refineries' pollution. The states of Minnesota and Louisiana will each receive $50,000 of the penalty under the agreement, which also resolves alleged violations of federal hazardous waste laws at the company's refineries in Michigan and Illinois.

A separate agreement calls for Marathon Ashland to reduce benzene emissions at its refinery in Robinson, Illinois, pay a $1.67 million civil penalty under the Clean Air Act and spend another $125,000 on an emergency response project.

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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho, May 11, 2001 (ENS) - The V-1 Oil Company of Idaho Falls has agreed to pay $1.2 million for failing to comply with a federal order requiring it to cleanup gasoline that leaked from tanks at its Preston, Idaho, filling station.

The settlement was reached after several years of litigation between the company, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Coast Guard and the Department of Justice. The agreement represents the EPA's first penalty issued for violation of a cleanup order under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

Federal enforcement action against V-1 followed a 1996 gasoline leak that led to local ground water contamination, dangerous fumes in home basements and explosive levels in the Preston sewer line.

Working with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Preston, EPA contacted V-1, identifying their tanks as a probable source of the leaking gasoline. The company denied responsibility and refused to grant investigators access to their property.

The company later refused to comply with the EPA cleanup order under the Oil Pollution Act, so EPA conducted a two phase removal at the site. During the removal, EPA removed hundreds of gallons of gasoline from the groundwater and about 2,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil.

Chuck Findley, acting regional EPA administrator in Seattle, said the company's refusal to cooperate increased the cleanup costs.

"By failing to cooperate on the cleanup, V-1 forced EPA to obtain a warrant, temporary restraining order, and preliminary injunction in order to gain access for investigation and cleanup," said Findley. "As a result, you're looking at cleanup that took longer and cost more to complete. The environment and the community suffered more than necessary and that's really a shame."

After these early difficulties, management changed and the company "stepped up to the plate" to resolve its responsibilities in the case, Findley said.

The $1.2 million settlement includes a $478,000 penalty for V-1's refusal to comply with EPA's cleanup order and $722,000 to reimburse the government for the cost of EPA's cleanup. This is the first time EPA has assessed a penalty for the violation of an oil spill cleanup order.

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 11, 2001 (ENS) - Environmental groups released a set of trade and environment principles Thursday and challenged the Bush Administration to include environmental concerns in all future trade negotiations.

The groups said they acknowledge that trade can contribute to sustainable development, but only if trade agreements support rather than undermine environmental protection.

Earlier this week, President George W. Bush gave a speech outlining the benefits of free trade, while exhorting Congress to grant him the authority to negotiate international trade deals that can be voted up or down by legislators without changes.

The environmental groups said they are concerned that principles to be announced by President George W. Bush will be vague, and will not contain specific mechanisms that ensure environmental standards will be protected or that sustainable development is an equal goal of trade agreements.

"The President has failed to clearly address the specific threats we face from trade rules that can override environmental laws," said David Waskow, trade director for Friends of the Earth. "President Bush talked about a tool box, but it appears that if the President's wielding the hammer, we'll just continue blindly banging out trade rules that directly undermine environmental protections."

Any proposal to expand trade must include three basic tenets, the groups argued:

These conditions are not met by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and many other international trade pacts supported by the U.S., the groups said.

"Experience with NAFTA, the World Trade Organization and other trade agreements proves that the way nations trade matters for the environment," said Claudia Saladin, senior program officer for the sustainable commerce program at the World Wildlife Fund. "If trade policies are to deliver real benefits for people and our planet, they must take account of environmental concerns. To be 'green,' trade policies don't need to be protectionist, but U.S. trade policy needs to be about more than increasing corporate profits.''

The environmental principles released by the group area available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 11, 2001 (ENS) - Jean-Mari Peltier has been named as of Counselor to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator on Agriculture Policy, a new position created this week.

"I am pleased that Jean-Mari Peltier has agreed to come on board and take on the challenges of this position," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "Certainly her familiarity with both agricultural and environmental issues will ensure that we balance the two when pursuing our goal of a cleaner environment."

Peltier, most recently represented the California Citrus Quality Council, serving as its president since May of 1999. Peltier served on numerous industry and government advisory committees including the U.S. delegation to the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Pesticide Residues, the EPA Committee to Advise on Reassessment and Transition, the North American Plant Protection Organization and the Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee on trade.

"Since assuming the role of EPA Administrator I have stressed an approach to decision making that carefully considers the concerns of various stakeholders in our communities," said Whitman. "By establishing this position we will be better able to integrate the concerns of the agriculture community when making important decisions about how best to protect our natural resources."

The new advisor will also serve as the central contact for EPA cooperation with the Department of Agriculture. This will include working on joint policy, cooperative efforts between agency staff, and other interagency issues.

"In addition to bringing valuable input to the table, she will help enhance communications with non-agency agriculture groups," Whitman continued. "This process will allow us to better convey and explain the rulemaking processes, public participation opportunities and regulatory decisions that are made and foster a more transparent process."

A similar position was created by the previous Bush administration.

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HELENA, Montana, May 11, 2001 (ENS) - Buffalo management plans in the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem are harming bald eagles, trumpeter swans and their habitat, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by conservation groups.

The groups, including Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers, Buffalo Field Campaign and The Ecology Center, Inc., charge that the Montana Department of Livestock, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service are in violation of several federal environmental laws. They are seeking an injunction prohibiting the hazing and capturing of Yellowstone's wild buffalo herd on the Horse Butte Peninsula, part of the Gallatin National Forest near Yellowstone National Park.

The area provides habitat for several threatened species and sensitive migratory birds including bald eagles, grizzly bears, gray wolves, and trumpeter swans.

The complaint alleges that the agencies are violating the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Administrative Procedure Act by:

"We have repeatedly warned the Montana Department of Livestock and the Gallatin National Forest that they are illegally impacting threatened bald eagles and their habitat," said Darrell Geist of Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers. "There is not one biological opinion, environmental analysis, or permit that they are in compliance with, and they've misrepresented themselves in court."

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska, May 11, 2001 (ENS) - Alaska Governor Tony Knowles has called a special session of the state legislature to try to pass a bill to regulate cruise ship discharges in state waters.

Saying inaction on legislation to protect the health of Alaska's marine environment is unacceptable, Knowles announced that he was calling the Legislature into special session beginning May 21 to take final action on the bill.

"This bill enjoys widespread support in this Legislature. It passed the House 35-3. I believe it would pass the Senate by a similar large margin," Knowles said. "It's unfortunate a single senator is permitted to exercise a pocket veto over a majority of the Legislature. Alaskans won't stand for it - our environment and coastal communities should not be held hostage."

The bill has been approved by the state House and has the support of the cruise ship industry. Knowles said the bill is being held hostage by the state Senate Transportation Committee chaired by Senator John Cowdery, a Republican.

Knowles made cruise ship discharges a top priority this session after a voluntary testing program last summer found that 79 of 80 samples failed to meet federal standards.

The bill would set state standards for cruise ship discharges of sewage, gray water, hazardous wastes and other pollutants. The legislation would also establish a state monitoring and enforcement program, penalties for noncompliance, and a funding mechanism to pay for the effort.

"We have made so much progress on this bill this session than to let the momentum be lost," Knowles said. "Voluntary assurances are not enough. We need a law that establishes state control over the cleanliness and health of our marine waters. As the state regulates other industries to protect the state's interests, this cruise ship bill is fair, responsible, and essential to the future of the cruise industry itself."

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MIDLAND, Michigan, May 11, 2001 (ENS) - Women representing groups from across the country demonstrated at the Dow Chemical Company's shareholder meeting on Thursday, demanding that Dow change its products and operations to prevent environmental chemical contamination.

The silent demonstration, which included women holding paper mache pregnant bellies, depicted the potential risk pollution in the environment and in the food chain. Developing babies are considered to be most at risk.

All Americans carry a body burden of industrial chemicals in their bodies, including dioxin, solvents, plastic additives and pesticides.

"We are demanding that the chemical industry get these contaminants out of our bodies," said Monica Rohde, director of the National Stop Dioxin Exposure Campaign. "It is unacceptable that we are exposed to chemicals that threaten our health and the health of our children. We are demanding today that Dow Chemical get their products out of our children and our communities."

Dioxin is a carcinogen, and can also disrupt the immune, hormone and reproductive systems even in small amounts.

Through food alone, Americans are getting 22 times the maximum dioxin exposure suggested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Campaign charged, based on a study released last month. Among nursing infants, that level is 35 to 65 times the recommended dosage.

Recent testing by the Centers for Disease Control also found breakdown products of a common pesticide, chlorpyrifos, in most Americans tested. Dow's Dursban is the most common chlorpyrifos product, accounting for more than 50 percent of the compound used.

In speeches given to shareholders and Dow senior management, activists called on Dow to take "bold action" to reduce and eliminate the creation of dioxin. They also called on the company to clean contaminated dioxin hot spots in communities around their manufacturing plants like Midland, Michigan.

"Midland residents are exposed to unnecessary and dangerous levels of dioxin in our community. The legacy of the company's activities continues in the next generation of children," said Diane Hebert, Midland resident and director of the group Environmental Health Watch. "It's time for Dow to take responsibility for the contamination, and start by cleaning up their own backyard."

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LONDON, England, May 11, 2001 (ENS) - A United Kingdom company will open a new fuel cell manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Ridge announced this week.

Ridge joined ZeTek Power officials in London to announce the company's decision to open its new U.S. fuel cell manufacturing plant in Lebanon County, resulting in up to 330 new Pennsylvania jobs over the next five years.

"This company had lots of eager bidders for its new U.S. plant, but ZeTek picked Pennsylvania," Ridge said. "That's because we have what employers are looking for - a first class workforce, a great jobs climate, a wonderful quality of life and a shared commitment to a clean environment."

Governor Ridge has agreed to provide ZeTek with a $3.7 million financial package, including grants, tax credits and customized job training, to support the company's project.

"ZeTek Power is delighted at the opportunity to expand its U.S. operations to Pennsylvania," said ZeTek Power PLC chair and CEO Nicholas Abson. "Pennsylvania is demonstrating an aggressive and dynamic approach to developing and supporting clean energy industries, and ZeTek Power is proud to be part of these activities and support the vigorous development of this program."

ZeTek Power Corp. is a United Kingdom based manufacturer of fuel cells for stationary and mobile power generation, such as cars. The Lebanon County plant will manufacture alkaline fuel cells, which produce electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen without the release of carbon dioxide.

ZeTek is the only manufacturer that uses an automated production process.

Governor Ridge was in London to begin a trade mission to four countries in Central Europe that are not now major trade partners with Pennsylvania.

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GOLDEN, Colorado, May 11, 2001 (ENS) - Forty-two teams of middle school students from across Colorado will gather Saturday to race model cars that run on the sun.

The cars, designed to tap into energy from the sun, are powered only by solar electricity.

Sponsored by the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Kaiser-Hill, Midwest Research Institute, Battelle and Bechtel, the Junior Solar Sprint gives students the opportunity to show off their engineering and design skills by building and racing the model solar powered vehicles.

Each team starts with a motor and a silicon solar cell, which converts light into electricity. Using any other materials, competitors design and build vehicles no larger than 12 inches wide, 24 inches long and 12 inches high.

The 20 meter race is a double elimination competition with awards going to the five fastest cars. Five design awards also will be given out for technology, craftsmanship and innovation.

The Energy Department began the Junior Solar Sprint 11 years ago to help educate young people about renewable energy and the environment.

The students will compete from 11 am to 2 pm May 12 at NREL's Solar Energy Research Facility in Golden, Colorado. The event is open to the public.

The Solar Energy Research Facility houses 42 laboratories where about 170 employees pursue research in photovoltaics, superconductivity and related material sciences. The Facility itself incorporates a number of energy saving features, making it one of the government's most energy efficient buildings.