AmeriScan: September 19, 2000


SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - In an unprecedented decision, a U.S. district judge is holding the owners of several California drinking water companies liable for endangering the health of more than 20,000 local residents, by falsifying lab reports to hide high bacteria levels. The alleged violations are against Robert and Natholyn (Patricia) Adcock and the 11 drinking water supply systems they own in Monterey County, the largest of which, Alco, serves 18,000 people in Salinas. The decision marks the first time in the country that the corporate owners of a drinking water system have been found personally liable for violations under the public water system provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Adcocks could face fines up to $27,500 per day per violation.

The case, filed in the U.S. District Court in San Jose in 1997 on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, alleges that the defendants deliberately falsified lab reports for public water systems submitted to the state and Monterey County from 1991 through 1994 in order to hide violations. Last month, the court issued an order granting liability of the corporate and the individual defendants for bacteriological, lead and copper violations. "Customers of these Adcock owned systems faced a health risk when bacteria was detected in their water supply. They faced another risk when the Adcocks hid these violations from state and county health officials," said John Rothman, senior attorney for the EPA's Pacific Southwest Office. "Public water systems must not be allowed to make unilateral decisions about public health."

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LOS ANGELES, California, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - Air quality officials in Los Angeles have adopted a rule aimed at reducing cancer risk by requiring the production of cleaner diesel fuel in the region. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) Governing Board voted in the measure on Friday. The new rule will cut the 23.5 tons of diesel soot emitted daily in the region by 4.7 percent, or 1.1 ton, when it becomes effective. Diesel fuel produced or imported into the area will be limited to no more than 15 parts per million of sulfur. The current limit is 500 parts per million and the average sulfur content of fuel sold is 133 parts per million.

AQMD’s new rule will take effect on January 1, 2005 - unless statewide rules are written. The statewide California Air Resources Board is now considering clean diesel rules, and AQMD wants to keep pace with the rest of the state. The agency says its new rule will take effect on the same day as a statewide rule, if one is passed - which could push the AQMD rule back as far as June 1, 2006. Environmentalists had pushed for an earlier effective date of June 2004. AQMD’s economic analysis projects the rule will increase the cost of diesel fuel in the region between two and five cents a gallon. Removing the sulfur is the key to using particulate traps on trucks and buses to reduce their emissions of soot. These filter like traps can remove up to 90 percent of the particulate from diesel engines. High sulfur fuel degrades the traps.

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found that although urban air pollution is expected to increase in the coming century, it will not have a big effect on global temperature change. While there may be temperature increases in certain regions, global mean surface temperature will not go up significantly because of urban air pollution, researchers at MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change wrote in a paper to be published in the September 27 issue of the "Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres."

Using a method that allows global climate models to take urban air pollution into account in a new way, MIT researchers found that compared to a reference run excluding urban air pollution, the average atmospheric ozone concentration decreases while high concentrations of ozone are projected in the urban areas. As a consequence of the change in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, the lifetime of methane increases. This leads to higher ambient methane concentrations, even if emissions are unaltered. As ozone decreases and methane increases, the net effect on the radiative budget of the Earth is small, because the contributions from these two greenhouse gases partially cancel each other out. "People thought things would go in this direction, but they couldn't quantify it before," said Monika Mayer, research scientist at MIT's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and lead author on the paper, "Linking local air pollution to global chemistry and climate."

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MISSOULA, Montana, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - The entire state of Montana has been declared an agricultural disaster area because of losses caused by drought and excessive heat this year. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced Monday that farmers and ranchers in all 56 Montana counties are eligible for emergency farm loans. "The same extreme dry, hot weather that has contributed to severe wildfires has caused devastating pasture losses for Montana's cattle ranchers," said Glickman. "We at USDA are using every tool at our disposal to help." A federal fire emergency was declared in most Montana counties last month.

Many counties in Montana have been approved for emergency grazing of Conservation Reserve Program land. Adjoining counties in the adjacent states of Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming are also eligible for emergency loans. This designation makes all qualified family sized farm operators in Montana and adjoining counties eligible for low interest emergency loans. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of this declaration to apply for the loans to help cover part of their actual losses. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available, repayment ability and other eligibility requirements.

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - Six Western governors are backing a Clinton administration plan to increase thinning of underbrush and small trees on public lands to reduce wildfire risk. The governors of Idaho, Oregon, Montana, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming say the plan, which would increase federal wildfire management spending by about $1.6 billion, is needed to prevent uncontrollable fires from burning through Western communities. All of the governors except Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber are Republicans; Kitzhaber is a Democrat.

Much of the proposed funding increase would replenish federal wildfire coffers, depleted by the worst fire season in 50 years. Other funds would protect watersheds and restore burned lands. But the lion’s share would pay for increases in mechanical thinning - essentially logging of small trees and clearing of brush - and more prescribed burns. "This fire season has just been a season from hell," said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman at a meeting with the governors in Salt Lake City on Monday. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt told the governors that this year’s record fire season stemmed from decades of fire suppression that left public lands bursting with flammable underbrush and young trees. More than 6.76 million acres of land in 11 states have burned so far this year. "We need to get in the forest to thin out the dog hair pines that have created this hugely explosive log forest, where the fire ladders up and explodes into the crests of trees," said Babbitt. "We have to get the gasoline rags out, get the forest thinned out to the point where fire will lay down, stay on the ground."

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. House voted Monday to pass a bill devoting up to $600 million over three years to salmon recovery efforts in five Western states. Fifteen percent of the funds would be divided by Native American tribes to aid threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead runs. The remainder would be split by Alaska, California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington to support their efforts. California Representative Mike Thompson, a Democrat, drafted the bill based on a West Coast salmon initiative created by four western governors in 1998. President Bill Clinton has sought funding for that initiative for almost two years.

Last year, Congress approved just $58 million of the $100 million requested by Clinton. This year, spending bills under consideration in the House and Senate would again authorize just $58 million. Thompson’s bill is perhaps the best chance for increased funding for salmon recovery efforts, but no Senate version of Thompson’s bill has been introduced. With just seven weeks left in the scheduled Congressional session, environmentalists fear there will not be enough time to get the bill passed.

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JUNEAU, Alaska, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - The EPA is proposing a $60,000 penalty against the City and Borough of Juneau for repeated discharges of raw sewage into the Mendenhall River and Gastineau Channel. Faulty operations at the sewage treatment plant also caused sewage to back up into the homes of some Juneau residents last year. The EPA complaint notes repeated violations of the Clean Water Act between June and November of 1999 when the facility's discharge monitoring reports showed that fecal coliform counts in its discharges exceeded permitted levels by up to 437,000 percent. The complaint notes failure to properly operate the treatment plant, allowing overflow of raw sewage, and failure to notify EPA of an overflow of raw sewage.

Fecal coliform counts are an indicator of a number of bacteria, viruses and parasites present in discharge waters. These contaminants can cause gastroenteritis, fever, kidney failure and even death. High fecal coliform counts can also harm fish and wildlife in and around the discharge area, in this case the Mendenhall River and Gastineau Channel. "Large and small communities experience these kinds of problems. When you consider the particularly nasty organisms that are found in raw sewage, you realize that its release is a significant public health concern," said Bub Loiselle, manager of EPA's water permit compliance unit in Seattle, Washington. Marcia Combes, director of EPA's Alaska office in Anchorage said, "There's no excuse for a city the size of Juneau to have sewage problems like these. The fixes are affordable and clearly necessary in order to protect public health."

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - The Sierra Club has expanded its Environmental Voter Education Campaign to inform Latinos about Texas Governor George W. Bush's pollution policies and to inform African-Americans where their local public officials stand on environmental issues. The Spanish language television ad targeting Bush’s presidential campaign is airing across the nation in markets with a high Latino viewership. Radio ads aimed at African-Americans will air in Michigan, Kentucky and Virginia, urging listeners to call on their public officials to support sound environmental policies. These radio ads are a joint effort with the National Voter Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

"Latinos and African-Americans, like all Americans, want a clean and safe environment for their families," said Alejandro Queral, of the Sierra Club. "We have a right to know whether our politicians will protect or ignore our air and water quality. The Sierra Club's campaign provides important information to Latinos about Governor Bush's dismal record in Texas, and encourages viewers to express their concerns about his support for legislation to weaken the Clean Air Act. In addition, the Sierra Club is very proud to partner with the NAACP National Voter Fund to inform people about the environmental positions of their public officials."

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - Multimillionaire Kenneth Behring, criticized by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) for his trophy hunting of endangered species, is donating an additional $80 million to the Smithsonian Institution. The HSUS first called attention to Behring's hunting last year, when the Smithsonian and the National Museum of Natural History sought federal import permits on behalf of Behring to bring into the U.S. the trophy remains of two endangered wild sheep that he shot in Central Asia. The Natural History Museum also accepted a $20 million donation from Behring for use in recent renovations of its Hall of Mammals and its Rotunda.

Behring's current gift is to the National Museum of American History. Both the Museum of American History and the Natural History Museum are part of the Smithsonian Institution. "We would like to believe that Mr. Behring's gift is just that - a generous gesture toward a deserving institution, but his disturbing trophy hunting practices raise troubling questions," said HSUS senior vice president Wayne Pacelle. "The Smithsonian should be in the business of educating the public and advancing legitimate scientific research. By accepting this donation, the Smithsonian, by extension, lends respectability and credibility to Behring." Behring is a prominent member of the Safari Club International, the world's largest and most influential trophy hunting organization. "The Safari Club International has worked to weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammals Protection Act in order to ease import restrictions on protected animals," said Pacelle, who also noted that a number of prominent SCI members have been cited for violating the ESA. "We ask the Smithsonian to examine its policies, especially now, to ensure that its integrity and scientific objectivity are not corrupted by its need for operating and renovation funds."

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MEDDYBEMPS, Maine, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - A Native American archaeological site has been uncovered at the Eastern Surplus Superfund Site in Meddybemps. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held a tour today to allow visitors to learn about the cultural history and environmental cleanup of the Superfund site. "Meddybemps, even the word conjures up pride for the Passamaquoddy people," said Governor Richard Stevens of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township. "This is the heartland of the Tribe, and is very important to our past and our future. Eight thousand years of soil has covered this ancient village and 50 years of toxic material has also covered this site. Now we clean this site to bring back the work of our ancestors and to clean the environment. Our ancestors are happy."

Workers discovered the archaeological site in July 1999 during cleanup of the former Eastern Surplus Company salvage/junk yard. The site contains Native American artifacts including stone tools, flakes, drills, pottery shards, points and scrapers used by early eastern woodland tribes. A team of archaeologists dated use of the site by Native Americans to about 7000 to 5500 years ago. Artifacts from the site are now being collected and catalogued by archaeologists from the University of Maine, Farmington, Archaeology Research Center. "This ancient village is a link to our past and a key to our future," said Governor Richard Doyle of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point. "It was extremely important to the Tribe that this site be handled in a manner that respected our ancestors, protected the environment, and preserved our rich history buried under the thousands of years of soil."