AmeriScan: November 13, 2002

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Air Pollution Trading Program Gets Poor Review

LOS ANGELES, California, November 13, 2002 (ENS) - An air pollution credit trading program often touted as the prototype for President George W. Bush's plan to revamp clean air regulations is performing below expectations, shows a new evaluation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The evaluation covers the Regional Clean Air Incentives Market (RECLAIM) program, adopted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) in October 1993. The program set an emissions cap and declining balance for many of the largest facilities emitting nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur oxides (SOx) in the South Coast Air Basin surrounding Los Angeles.

RECLAIM, which has the longest history and practical experience of any locally designed and implemented air emissions cap and trade (CAT) program, allows participating facilities to purchase air pollution credits in order to meet emissions regulations, rather than reducing their own pollution.

The program includes more than 350 participants in its NOx market and about 40 participants in its SOx market.

The EPA's evaluation of RECLAIM finds that the cap and trade model has not proven to be a pollution panacea for the region.

"The program has produced far less emission reductions than were either projected for the program or could have been expected from" the system it replaced, the EPA concluded. RECLAIM replaced a so called command and control system, in which industries must meet emissions caps or face fines.

The RECLAIM program has also been plagued by accounting abuses. For example, RECLAIM set caps for emissions that exceeded current emission by about 60 percent. RECLAIM inflated its baselines by setting future caps based on emissions levels from five to 10 years in the past - which is a key feature of the Bush administration's proposed changes to current Clean Air Act regulations.

RECLAIM, like most of the new trading programs, cannot rely upon market incentives to ensure program integrity, the EPA found, but will require additional government involvement to avoid industry manipulation.

"Despite this latest in a series of negative reports, EPA is moving full steam ahead to embrace trading without addressing any of the safeguards needed to protect public health," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). "The central irony is that these market-based plans require more government oversight, not less, in order to work."

The EPA's evaluation of the RECLAIM program is available at: http://www.epa.gov/region09

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Engineered Corn Contaminates Tons of Soybeans

WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2002 (ENS) - Thousands of bushels of soybeans from Nebraska may be headed for incinerators after they were found to be contaminated with a small amount of genetically engineered corn.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors were able to keep the contaminated soybeans from entering the food supply, but not before a small batch of the soybeans were mixed into much larger soybean harvests at a commercial grain elevator, contaminating about 500,000 bushels of soybeans.

The suspect soybeans, now held in quarantine, were grown in a field that had previously been used by biotechnology company ProdiGene Inc. to grow corn engineered to produce medicinal products. When the corn crop failed, ProdiGene plowed it under and planted food grade soybeans.

Some corn plants came up among the soybeans, and when the field was harvested, ProdiGene found a few corn stalks mixed in the soybeans. USDA inspectors have impounded the soybeans, which may be destroyed or used in a biomatter power generator.

Under federal law, the presence of even a tiny amount of a genetically engineered substance that has not been approved for human consumption makes the soybeans unfit as food for animals or humans.

ProdiGene has not revealed what substances the corn may contain. The company is working to develop crops that will produce pharmaceuticals like insulin enzymes or vaccines.

The USDA is investigating the incident, and ProdiGene is attempting to reach a settlement with the government.

Prodigene is working "to address compliance challenges at one location maintained by ProdiGene," said Anthony Laos, president and chief executive of Texas based ProdiGene, in a statement on Tuesday. "As part of its ongoing commitment to meet or exceed best practices in our industry, ProdiGene out the terms of a program to enhance our compliance and to ensure the safest and most responsible manufacturing processes."

"As with any new industry and new regulatory program, we can always do better," added Laos. "Working together with USDA, we intend to, now and in the future."

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Increasing Power Needs May Boost Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2002 (ENS) - Meeting future electricity demand may increase emissions of some harmful substances, concludes a new report from the General Accounting Office (GAO).

The report bolsters arguments that existing clean air regulations are helping to reduce power plant emissions of air pollutants, and should be maintained or strengthened.

The review by the investigative arm of Congress was conducted at the request of Senators Jim Jeffords and Joe Lieberman, chair and senior Democrat of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The GAO report suggests that growth in electricity production and consumption will lead to rising emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and mercury, although emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) may fall.

The GAO reviewed information from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) within the Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to projections by the EIA, U.S. electricity generation will increase by 42 percent by 2020.

As power generation increases, "power plants' annual carbon dioxide and mercury emissions will rise nationwide by about 800 million tons and four tons, respectively," notes the GAO report.

"This anticipated increase in emissions would result from power plants' increased use of fossil fuels to meet anticipated demand and the general absence of federal or state regulations establishing emissions standards for carbon dioxide and mercury from power plants," states the report. "The projected mercury emissions could decrease, however, once EPA proposes mercury limits, which are required by 2004."

At the same time, the EIA forecasts that power plants' annual emissions of NOx will decline by about 100 thousands tons, while SO2 emissions will decrease nationwide by about two million tons. The EIA forecasts also suggest that emissions of NOx and SO2 "will increase in some areas of the country; mercury will also increase in some areas, while carbon dioxide will increase in all areas."

Regional increases may "complicate efforts to improve air quality and curb acid rain," the GAO said.

The expected overall decline in NOx and SO2 emissions "results from the anticipated need for power plants to meet projected increases in electricity demand while complying with clean air regulations," the GAO concludes. "This will necessitate building new plants that emit relatively lower levels of these pollutants and installing emissions controls at some existing plants."

Using its own review methods, the GAO found that "EIA had not used the most current data on certain emissions limits in its model, although this had a limited impact on the forecasts."

The GAO report also estimates that power plants will use between three percent less and 17 percent more water by 2020, although they will use less water for each unit of electricity produced than they now do, due to the introduction of new technologies that require less water.

"The total increase in water use is not likely to create shortages, but it could affect companies' decisions about where to locate new plants and what type to build," the GAO notes.

The full GAO report is available at: http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-49

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Energy Department Focuses on Hydrogen

DEARBORN, Michigan, November 13, 2002 (ENS) - Hydrogen is the focus of the Energy Department's research and development efforts to improve the efficiency of transportation, said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in a speech Tuesday.

Delivering the keynote address to an international audience of senior government, industry and academic officials at the Global Forum on Personal Transportation in Dearborn, Abraham unveiled a "National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap" and the "New Vision for the 21st Century Truck Partnership," which focuses on improving the energy efficiency and safety of trucks and buses.

The roadmap is the result of a 12 month collaborative process that brought together scientific and engineering experts to chart the course to a hydrogen economy, Abraham said. The roadmap outlines the research, development, demonstration, codes and standards, and education efforts necessary to advance hydrogen powered transportation solutions.

"Whether it is fusion, a hydrogen economy, or ideas that we have not yet explored, I believe we need to leapfrog the status quo and prepare for a future that under any scenario requires a revolution in how we produce, deliver and use energy," Abraham said.

In the coming decades, the United States will need new energy supplies and an upgraded energy infrastructure to meet growing demands for electric power and transportation fuels, the secretary added. Reliance on oil imports threatens the nation's economic well being and national security, he said.

Abraham noted that clean energy alternatives are needed to reduce air pollution, curb greenhouse gas emissions and offer sustainable solutions for increasing global economic growth, and said that an energy economy based on hydrogen could help satisfy these needs.

Hydrogen produced from renewable sources such as biomass or wind power can provide almost unlimited energy with little impact on the environment. Hydrogen produces near zero emissions and is based on diverse, domestically available resources.

Abraham said he understands that achieving the "hydrogen economy" will be a long term process that neither government nor industry can undertake on its own. Future steps will include the development of detailed research and development plans for hydrogen production, delivery, storage, conversion and end use applications.

Abraham was joined in his announcement of a "New Vision for the 21st Century Truck Partnership" by officials of the Departments of Transportation and Defense and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as industry executives from the heavy duty truck and bus industry.

"Our goal is to dramatically improve the energy efficiency and safety of trucks and buses, while maintaining a dedicated concern for the environment," Abraham said. "The expanded 21st Century Truck Partnership will center on advanced combustion engines and heavy hybrid drives that can use renewable fuels."

The National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap is available at: http://www.eren.doe.gov/hydrogen

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Feds Collaborate on Brownfields Reclamation

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina, November 13, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with 21 other federal agencies and departments, have committed to work together to redevelop brownfields under the new Brownfields Federal Partnership Action Agenda.

The agenda makes more than 100 commitments for cooperative work to help communities more prevent, clean up and reuse brownfields, said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, speaking today at the "Brownfields 2002-Investing in the Future" conference in Charlotte.

"This year saw some of the most important accomplishments in years in our national Brownfields effort," said Whitman. "The year 2002 will be remembered as the year we knocked down the roadblocks, strengthened the partnerships, affirmed Washington's financial commitment, and unleashed the energy and creativity of the private sector."

Brownfields are properties where the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant complicates reuse or redevelopment.

Under the new Brownfields Agenda, the EPA has committed to providing up to $850 million over the next five years to states, tribes, counties, municipalities, and non-profit groups for brownfields assessments, cleanups, loans, grants and job training.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Departments of Interior, Justice, and Labor have committed to offering funding priority to brownfields communities through their various grant mechanisms.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will lead an interagency "portfields" project that will focus on the redevelopment and reuse of idled or abandoned lands in and around ports, harbors and marine transportation hubs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plans to announce eight new pilots under its "Urban Rivers Initiative" to address restoration in and around urban rivers.

Other initiatives include an effort to share program information with interest groups, by methods such as linking web sites, changing federal agency policies to facilitate brownfields redevelopment, and making funding and technical assistance to brownfields communities a budget priority at all federal agencies.

Whitman made the announcement at the seventh annual brownfields conference, cohosted by the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania and the International City/County Management Association. The program includes more than 75 different technical sessions and workshops, over 40 roundtable discussions, an exhibit hall and presentations of the Phoenix Awards, which were created in 1997 to recognize innovative, practical remediation projects which bring brownfields sites back to productive use.

For more information about the 2002 Brownfields Conference, visit: http://www.brownfields2002.org

For a copy of the Brownfields Federal Partnership Action Agenda, visit: http://www.epa.gov/brownfields

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Great Lakes Bill Funds Sediment Cleanup

WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2002 (ENS) - Congress has passed legislation to fund the cleanup of contaminated sediments in parts of the Great Lakes and in Lake Champlain on the New York-Vermont border.

The Great Lakes Legacy Act of 2002 (HR 1070) provides $250 million for fiscal years 2004 to 2008 for the monitoring, remediation and prevention of sediment contamination in the Great Lakes. The bill was introduced in the House by Representative Vernon Ehlers, a Michigan Republican and a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

"Longstanding pollution from contaminated river sediments continues to harm water quality in the Great Lakes and restricts our use of this valuable resource," said Ehlers. "After many years of dumping harmful, toxic substances into the waterways surrounding the Great Lakes and the lakes themselves, the pristine environment of the lakes has suffered. This bill will correct this problem by providing the resources to clean up contaminated sediments in the lakes and rivers."

The bill authorizes $50 million a year for the next five years for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to carry out qualified projects for monitoring, prevention and clean up of sediment contamination. In addition, the bill provides money that can promote local efforts to address contaminated areas.

These actions are intended to stimulate public and local support, corporate involvement and public private partnerships to provide matching funds for the cleanup, Ehlers said. The bill also provides $2 million a year for research and development of innovative ways to do this work.

"The Great Lakes are a national treasure that deserve national attention," said Cameron Davis, executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation. "Congressman Ehlers' leadership in bringing federal resources to help clean up the Great Lakes will benefit West Michigan and the entire region."

An amendment added by the Senate includes an authorization for $11 million per fiscal year in assistance to state and local governments to improve the water quality of Lake Champlain, which is not one of the Great Lakes.

"The Great Lakes are a vital resource for both the United States and Canada, but have been adversely impacted by over 200 years of development and industrialization," said Representative Don Young, the Alaska Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

"This is not a situation that can be addressed by pointing fingers and suing people under the Superfund law or other liability statutes," Young added. "The solution provided by the Great Lakes Legacy Act is to address sediment contamination through cooperative efforts and public private partnerships."

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Chemical Exposure May Reduce Sperm Quality

COLUMBIA, Missouri, November 13, 2002 (ENS) - Exposure to environmental chemicals may be responsible for differences in human sperm quality in different parts of the nation, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia and their collaborators say they have found convincing evidence that semen quality differs significantly between regions of the United States. Their study results suggest that fertile men in more rural areas have lower sperm counts and less vigorous sperm than men in urban areas.

The researchers believe that environmental factors, such as extensive use of agricultural chemicals, might contribute to these differences.

Dr. Shanna Swan, an epidemiologist and research professor of Family and Community Medicine, led a group of researchers who studied 512 couples receiving prenatal care at clinics in Columbia; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Los Angeles, California; and New York, New York. The research is part of the ongoing Study for Future Families funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Swan found that semen quality was equally high in Minneapolis and New York, and slightly lower in Los Angeles. However, men in mid-Missouri had counts and quality that were significantly lower than men from any of the urban centers.

"We believe that agricultural chemicals could be contributing to this decrease in semen quality," Swan said. "The county in which our Missouri participants lived is quite rural. In 1997, 57 percent of the land was used for farming, compared to 0 to 19 percent for the other three counties we studied. We are continuing this research and examining the exposure of men to specific chemicals used in farming."

Prior studies of semen quality were often conducted in large metropolitan areas. The only other published study on a comparable semi-rural population analyzed semen quality among men in Iowa City, and also found reduced sperm concentration. Swan and her colleagues are now studying semen quality in Iowa City.

Since the 1930s, there has been considerable interest in semen quality as a key predictor of male reproductive dysfunction. However, semen analyses are sensitive to laboratory methods, the equipment employed, and the nature of the population, all of which may vary from one study to another.

The detailed protocol used by this research team supported the differences between geographic areas after adjusting for other factors known to alter sperm quality such as age, smoking and recent fever.

The study, funded by a $2.8 million grant from the NIH, was conducted in collaboration with researchers at the University of Minnesota, the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the University of California at Davis, and researchers in Denmark and Japan.

The study appears in the November 11 online edition of "Environmental Health Perspectives," the scientific journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The study can be accessed at: http://www.ehponline.org/swan2002

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California Town Launches Diaper Recycling

SANTA CLARITA, California, November 13, 2002 (ENS) - The city of Santa Clarita has launched the nation's first diaper recycling program, which will turn soiled diapers into building materials and other products.

Recycling diapers in Santa Clarita will soon be as easy as recycling soda cans, newspapers or yard trimmings. About 200-500 residents, selected by the city, will participate in a free, six-month pilot program, placing used diapers in special plastic bags and/or curbside bins to be picked up on their regular trash pick up day.

A process developed by Knowaste LLC will sanitize and recycle the diapers' primary components. The recycled plastic can be used in the production of plastic wood, roof shingles and vinyl wood siding.

Knowaste says the long fibrous wood pulp from the diapers can be used in many different applications, including wallpaper, shoe insoles and oil filters.

"This marks the first time a municipality in the United States has decided to make recycling diapers an environmental priority and provided a solution to the overwhelming amount of diapers in the waste stream," said Santa Clarita Mayor Frank Ferry. "Santa Clarita has a long history in environmental stewardship and leadership and we are very pleased to add one more innovative component to our city's overall recycling strategy."

California faces shrinking landfill capacities, compounded by a rising population that is estimated to add 25 million new residents by the year 2040. Local cities and communities are mandated via state legislation to reduce their trash diversions to landfills by 50 percent or face stiff financial penalties, so innovative recycling concepts are required.

Some cities, such as Santa Clarita, have stated their intent to divert as much as 75 percent of trash from landfills.

Disposable baby diapers, used by about 98 percent of all parents, are one of the largest single contributors still going to landfills, after excluding components routed to existing recycling programs. Almost 20 billion disposable baby diapers, almost seven billion pounds, enter landfills each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and research indicates that a single diaper can take almost 500 years to decompose.

The environmental impacts of disposable diapers are also severe - it takes almost a quarter of a million trees to meet the annual demands for diapers in the U.S. every year.

The diaper recycling program was made possible by state and local matching grant funds. Santa Clarita chose Knowaste's program for its proven track record, first in Canada and the Netherlands, and now in Santa Clarita, in handling and recycling millions of diapers.

The Knowaste processor in Santa Clarita will be a small-scale version of the company's Netherlands facility and will be capable of processing up to a ton of diapers per hour.

"We are delighted that the city of Santa Clarita has chosen the Knowaste technology to recycle disposable diapers," said Roy Brown, president and chief executive officer of Knowaste LLC. "As environmental and land use planning concerns mount, there is obviously a compelling need nationwide for municipalities to explore new recycling opportunities and technologies, expanding our current efforts beyond soda cans, glass and paper goods."