AmeriScan: May 28, 2001


CALVERT CLIFFS, Maryland, May 28, 2001 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham made the rounds last week to promote increased support for nuclear power, calling it a "clean, safe and affordable energy source."

But Senator Tom Daschle, the next Senate majority leader, says America cannot build more nuclear plants until it solves the problem of what to do with nuclear waste.

During a visit to Calvert Cliffs, Maryland Nuclear Power Plant, the first nuclear power plant granted an extended operation license by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Abraham outlined the Bush Administration's National Energy Policy priorities to expand the use of nuclear energy.

In an address to plant employees, Abraham said that the National Energy Policy (NEP) embraces an expanded role for nuclear power by recommending that nuclear plants meeting stringent safety requirements are relicensed as fast as possible. Building on advancements in nuclear plant technology, Abraham said, the NEP also encourages the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to expedite applications for new advanced technology reactors to help meet the energy needs of the country.

Along with supporting legislation to extend the Price-Anderson Act, which insures speedy compensation in case of accidents, Abraham said that the Bush Administration will back legislation clarifying that qualified funds, which are set aside by plant owners for eventual decommissioning operations, will not be taxed as part of those decommissioning transactions.

"Nuclear energy is a safe, clean and efficient form of power generation," Abraham said. "America's demand for electricity is expected to grow by 45 percent over the next 20 years, and nuclear energy will play an important role in meeting that energy demand."

During an appearance on the NBC program "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Senator Daschle said he does not think this is "the right time" to increase the nation's dependence on nuclear power, because the U.S. has yet to settle on a location for a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel.

"Until we deal with how we're going to confront the nuclear waste issue I think it'd be impossible for us to expand nuclear power," Daschle said. "We've got a nuclear waste problem that still hasn't been solved. To aggravate, to exacerbate that problem doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

Instead, Daschle said he would emphasize conservation and alternative energy sources to meet the nation's energy needs.

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 28, 2001 (ENS) - A bipartisan Senate bill introduced last week would provide financial incentives for voluntary conservation efforts by farmers and ranchers.

Senators Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, and Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, unveiled the Conservation Security Act (CSA) to promote clean water and air and prevent soil erosion.

"Farmers were the first environmentalists and they can be our best allies in protecting the quality of the water we drink and the air we breath," said Smith. "Through innovative legislation like the Conservation Security Act, we will encourage farmers to implement sound farming practices that benefit us all. The CSA will provide us with a model for satisfying the interests that we all have in preserving both our natural environment and agricultural legacy."

Interested farmers and ranchers could enter into a Conservation Security Contract with the Secretary of Agriculture and receive annual compensation payments, ranging from up to $20,000 for the most basic conservation practices, to $50,000 a year for the most stringent conservation practices. The contract durations vary from five to 10 years.

Under the CSA, the Secretary of Agriculture will establish three tiers of conservation practices:

Tier I would encompass farmers pursuing basic conservation practices such as vegetative stream buffers

Tier II would include farmers who pursue a system of practices, such as vegetative stream buffers, sediment dams, and all other applicable conservation activities relating to water quality management

Tier III would cover farmers pursuing a farm conservation plan that addresses all applicable systems, including water quality, air quality, soil erosion and invasive species management

"The Conservation Security Act adds a major new element to farm policy that combines support for conservation and improved income on America's farms and ranches," Harkin said. "On farm conservation has a real and positive impact on the quality of natural resources, wildlife habitat, and life in rural communities. The Conservation Security Act would reward farmers for these practices, as well as encourage them to increase their conservation efforts."

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 28, 2001 (ENS) Senator Bob Smith has introduced legislation to ban MTBE and authorize cleanup funds for groundwater contaminated by the gasoline additive.

Smith, current chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced new legislation to eliminate the threat posed by the common gasoline additive, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). This action follows an MTBE hearing that Smith held in Salem, New Hampshire, in April.

"Once released into the environment, whether spilled or leaked out of a storage tank, MTBE quickly finds its way into water supplies rendering them undrinkable," Smith said. "It is critical for Congress to act this year to eliminate this threat from our communities in New Hampshire and across the nation. This is a complex issue, but I am confident that this legislation strikes the right balance between environmental protection, and a stable and reliable fuel supply."

MTBE, an oxygenate, is used in regions of the country that are having difficulty complying with toxic air pollution limits in the federal Clean Air Act. The additive allows gasoline to burn more cleanly, and reduces the toxic emissions from automobiles and other gasoline powered vehicles.

Smith's bill would ban the use of MTBE in gasoline and allow state governors to waive the oxygen mandate in the Clean Air Act, while preserving the environmental benefits of the air toxics limits in the statute. The legislation would also provide funds to help transition from MTBE to other fuels additives, such as ethanol.

The bill would authorize $200 million to be spent from the existing Leaking Underground Storage Tank trust fund to clean up MTBE contamination caused by leaking tanks and to address the integrity of the underground storage tank program.

"I am also very pleased that this bill is consistent with the President's National Energy Policy because it will help to reduce the intra-regional patchwork of what are known as "boutique" fuels," Smith said. "This will ease the burden on refineries and fuel supply, which in turn will reduce the risk of increased gas prices for the consumer."

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 28, 2001 (ENS) - The Department of Energy and the State of Missouri have agreed to a series of safety enhancements that will be applied to shipments of spent nuclear fuel on Interstate 70 through Missouri.

Based on the agreement, the Energy Department (DOE) has also set a schedule for shipping spent nuclear fuel by the end of June 2001 from the University of Missouri's research reactor to the Department's Savannah River site in South Carolina.

"We believe the transportation issues surrounding the use of Interstate 70 have been resolved and we are pleased with the outcome," said Dr. Carolyn Huntoon, the DOE's assistant secretary for environmental management. "Over the last few months the department worked with the Missouri Governor's office to address the safety concerns they raised to the use of Interstate 70 for spent fuel shipments."

The safety measures include vehicle inspection at the point of entry into the state using enhanced North American standards established by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, training for Missouri inspectors, and the provision of shipment escorts by the State Highway Patrol while the shipments are in transit through Missouri.

The shipments will be scheduled to avoid transit during specified rush hours in St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City. If necessary, shipments will go to designated safe parking areas to avoid specified rush hours in these areas.

The state will be provided access to the DOE's satellite tracking system regulation to monitor the shipments' progress through Missouri. The DOE will include these safety measures in its instructions to the carrier providing transportation services for the University shipments.

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PENSACOLA, Florida, May 28, 2001 (ENS) - Florida has announced a cooperative agreement between the International Paper Company and Escambia County Utility Authority (ECUA) that will result in the protection and restoration of Perdido Bay.

Lt. Governor Frank Brogan and Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) David Struhs said the agreement includes a first of its kind commitment by a bleach kraft paper mill in the U.S. to eliminate direct surface water discharges, recycle treated wastewater, and restore wetlands for improved water quality.

"This is a remarkable tribute to what can be achieved with a collaborative approach to environmental problem solving," said Brogan.

Under the plan, up to five million gallons per day of treated wastewater from a new ECUA treatment plant will be tested as an alternative water supply for industrial processes at the mill. Reuse of the domestic wastewater will reduce groundwater consumption by up to five million gallons per day, and decrease pollutant discharges to regional ground and surface waters.

The agreement also expands regional wastewater treatment capacity in advance of anticipated development in the area. The effluent from this project will be used to restore wetlands for improved water quality.

"This has been a long time coming," said Struhs. "We are delighted that the plant's new ownership has agreed not only to be the first to eliminate this type of industrial discharge, but to do it quickly. We will see real improvements, real soon."

The project will improve water quality and provide long term protection for Elevenmile Creek and Perdido Bay by eliminating effluent discharge into Elevenmile Creek.

The total cost of the project, including construction of ECUA's Advanced Wastewater Treatment facility and upgrades to International Paper's industrial wastewater facility, is $92 million. ECUA's share of the project will be funded in part with a package of state grants and loans equivalent to about $19 million.

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SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 28, 2001 (ENS) - Black Mesa Pipeline Inc. will pay penalties totaling $128,000 for discharging almost 485,000 gallons of coal slurry into the environment over a two and a half year period.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) announced the settlement with Black Mesa last week.

The violations were discovered by the ADEQ through a series of inspections of Black Mesa's facilities.

"Had the pipeline been properly maintained, these spills would not have occurred," said Alexis Strauss, the water division director for the EPA's Pacific Southwest office. "Desert ecosystems are quite fragile and filling arroyos with crushed coal is unnecessary and unacceptable."

"Black Mesa has accepted its responsibility to maintain its pipeline to prevent violations of state and federal law and to protect Arizona's environment," said ADEQ water quality division director Karen Smith. "The preventative maintenance program to be conducted by Black Mesa is a major commitment on the part of the company and should work well to prevent future spills."

The 273 mile pipeline runs from the Peabody's Western Coal Company's Black Mesa Mine near Kayenta, Arizona to the Southern California Edison Company's Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada.

Black Mesa has agreed to pay $49,000 to the state of Arizona and $79,000 to the U.S. Treasury to settle charges of violations of state law and the federal Clean Water Act. The company has also committed to increased maintenance of its pipeline over the next three years, and will pay penalties in increasing amounts for any future spills.

Coal is pulverized at the mine and mixed with water, which then flows to the generating station. Corrosion of the pipeline can cause ruptures, releasing the coal slurry into the environment. The coal can be transported to waterways, which can harm the local wildlife.

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LAS CRUCES, New Mexico, May 28, 2001 (ENS) - On Wednesday, federal agencies will light a prescribed fire in the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge, within the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Conditions permitting, fire personnel from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, White Sands Missile Range, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Forest Service and New Mexico State Forestry Department will begin ignition of the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge Bennett Mountain prescribed burn. The 12,000 acre burn unit is located about 14 miles northeast of Las Cruces.

The fire will be lit only if weather conditions laid out in the Prescribed Burn Plan are met, insuring that the fire is contained within the burn unit and that smoke generated by the fire bears little impact in sensitive population areas.

This plan forbids lighting fires in dry and windy conditions to avoid the kind of catastrophic wildfire that resulted last year when a prescribed burn in Bandolier National Monument grew out of control, burning homes and businesses in the New Mexico town of Los Alamos. That fire threatened radioactive and chemical materials at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The San Andres National Wildlife Refuge, located on military lands, is not open to the public.

Earlier this spring, fire crews backed by aerial support burned out fuels along the edge of the main burn unit at the refuge, creating a black lined protective barrier.

The burn is expected to restore habitat and increase quality and quantity of forage for the refuge's endangered desert bighorn sheep population. The prescribed fire will help reduce the risk of future wildfires, reduce woody species such as pinyon and juniper, and increase native grasses, decreasing soil erosion.

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 28, 2001 (ENS) - The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has recommended funding for 26 projects that will investigate the causes of the decline of Steller sea lions.

Since the 1960s, the population of Steller sea lions has declined by more than 80 percent. The decline continues, with an estimated average drop of more than five percent each year during the 1990s.

"We are pleased to see this focus and support for Steller sea lion research coming at such a critical time for our agency and the Steller sea lion," said Jim Balsiger, Alaska regional administrator for NMFS. "This research initiative will advance our understanding of the Steller sea lion, the ecosystem it lives in, and their potential for interactions with commercial fisheries."

A total of 74 proposals for grant money were received by NMFS. The proposals were ranked by a panel of fisheries and environmental stakeholders, as recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, as well as a technical team made up of NMFS scientists, for their potential to contribute to a comprehensive understanding of Steller sea lions.

The 26 selected proposals are undergoing final negotiations and reviews, with the expectation that the majority of grants will be awarded in time for the 2001 research season.

Pending completion of the NOAA grants process, the projects will be funded through a budget of $15 million, and will be performed by non-federal researchers. The funding is part of an overall fiscal year 2001 appropriation of $43.7 million an increase of $38 million over the FY 2000 level for Steller sea lion programs.

These programs are continued in President George W. Bush's budget request for fiscal year 2002. This represents an elevation in priority by Congress and the administration for Steller sea lions.

A list and description of the proposed projects is available at:

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska, May 28, 2001 (ENS) - Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness in Alaska is once again threatened by a proposal to build a road across the wilderness - despite the fact that Congress rejected the idea three years ago.

The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge lies at the tip of the Alaska Peninsula. Designated a "Wetland of International Importance," it provides seasonal habitat for many waterfowl, including the entire population of Pacific black brant, half of the world's threatened Steller's eiders, emperor geese, tundra swans and harlequin ducks. It is also prime habitat for brown bears, caribou and salmon.

Some Alaska residents and lawmakers want to build a $30 million road through the wilderness of the Izembek Refuge to connect the villages of King Cove and Cold Bay. Three years ago, Congress rejected the proposal and instead gave the local government - the Aleutians East Borough - $37.5 million for road, ferry, airport and medical improvements.

The law passed at the time states, "in no instance may any part of such road, dock, marine facilities or equipment enter or pass over any land within the Congressionally designated wilderness in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge."

The Aleutians East Borough wants to re-open this compromise and take another look at building a road through the Izembek Refuge Wilderness. They have persuaded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to include several alternatives in an upcoming King Cove Access Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that would require a road through the Wilderness.

The Corps is accepting comments on a total of 14 alternatives for the EIS through June 4. One of the alternatives would connect the two Alaska villages by ferry, instead of by road. But several alternatives would require a road through the Izembek Refuge or Wilderness, in some cases threatening the Kinzarof Lagoon, an important waterfowl habitat.

Comments may be sent by email to Kathleen Kuna at the Corps:

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 28, 2001 (ENS) - Efforts to restore the original landscape of President George Washington's Virginia home at Mount Vernon have found new help through a major reforestation project using America's Champion Trees.

The grounds of the historic site, located down the Potomac River from Washington, DC, have suffered in recent years from a lack of new forest growth. Under the existing canopy of mature trees, there are no young trees or seedlings. Grazing by deer has been the major reason for the loss of new growth.

A new 10 year project, the Mount Vernon Special Collection of Champion Trees, will plant dozens of species that Washington had selected for his estate. The trees will be planted over about two hundred acres beginning in the fall of 2001.

Champion trees are the largest, and often the oldest, living examples of each tree species. The Mount Vernon Special Collection of Champion Trees will be genetic duplicates, or clones, of these national champions.

"As these new champion trees mature, the reforestation initiative will secure the future of the Mount Vernon forests as Washington admired them in the 18th century," said Dean Norton, director of horticulture for Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.

The first species scheduled to be planted this fall is a genetic duplicate of the National Champion white ash, found in Palisades, New York. Washington chose the white ash to provide shade for the walkways along the sweeping lawn at the front of the mansion, an area known as the Bowling Green.

"We will be providing ChampTrees(tm) of species noted in the historical record and diaries," says David Milarch, cofounder of the Champion Tree Project. "Our goal is to use George Washington's own notes as a guide to ensure that his original intent remains at the core of the reforestation efforts."

The Champion Tree Project has been cloning the nation's Champion Trees since 1996. Major funding for the initiative is being provided by the National Tree Trust, a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting volunteerism through tree planting and maintenance.