AmeriScan: April 1, 2004

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Alaska to Sell Oil Leases Offshore Arctic Wildlife Refuge

JUNEAU, Alaska, April 1, 2004 (ENS) - Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski announced Wednesday that he will begin the process of planning oil and gas lease sales on two million acres in state waters off-shore of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. His intention is to have the lease sales included in a state offering by October of this year.

Making an end run around Congress, which has failed to authorize oil and gas exploration in ANWR, and the environmental lobby which has criticized the opening of the refuge as desecrating the last unspoiled wilderness in the nation, Murkowski said he is moving ahead with the leases.

The governor, a former senator from Alaska, said the state "will not submit to the dictates of America’s extreme environmental community." He cited high energy prices and the nation's increasing hunger for natural gas as good reasons why Alaska needs to move on increased oil and gas development.

“Today I am initiating a leasing program on state lands, off-shore in the Arctic, along the coast of ANWR and NPR-A,” Murkowski said. “There are about 425 miles of coastline between Barrow and the Canadian border."

While the U.S. House and Senate remain grid-locked over opening ANWR for oil development, "I am not burdened with that process," Murkowski said. The national energy bill, which could authorize drilling in ANWR, is making what the former senator called "uncertain progress" in Congress.

He mentioned the dangers of "OPEC’s continued stranglehold on production, and with anti-development forces in play in the presidential race," and said Alaska can no longer allow others to hold hostage the time at which the state will move its resources to market.

“America should not be held hostage by Middle-East oil imports. Motorists should not have to pay more than $2 for a gallon of gasoline. Alaska oil, Alaska natural gas, can help balance the equation.”

The governor said his plan allows the state to exercise its sovereign authority for off-shore development, just as Texas and Louisiana are doing today.

“The new areas to be offered for lease, exploration, and development are 670,000 acres of land off the coast of the NPR-A and more than 350,000 acres off the coast of ANWR.

The governor noted estimates that the 1002 area could produce up to 1.6 million barrels of oil per day. While there is no guarantee that amount is recoverable, directional drilling from state leases off-shore could help delineate onshore deposits, could identify deposits that collectively might justify investment in onshore pipelines, and could even discover more oil than is ever found onshore, Murkowski said.

Alaska Commissioner of Natural Resources Tom Irwin will open an immediate dialog with the residents of the North Slope. “Residents of Alaska and the North Slope are unified in their support for the opening of ANWR. Initial contacts with officials of the North Slope have been made. It would be my intention to include the state offshore ANWR tracts in our October 2004 Beaufort Sea Area Wide lease sale," Murkowski said.

Some North Slope residents do support oil and gas exploration. Former North Slope Borough Mayor Benjamin Nageak, an Inupiat Eskimo, says he understands fears of the oil industry, but after 20 years of working with the industry, he says exploration and extration can be done carefully, and the industry "can also provide jobs, schools and a thriving economy for my people."

But the Gwich'in Nation of Northeast Alaska and Northwest Canada whose villages dot the ANWR coastal plain are opposed to any expansion of the oil industry. "We speak with one voice in opposition to oil development of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," the Gwich'in say on their website. "The Elders directed us to take this political position, and 'do it in a good way' as we educate the public about why this sacred area must be protected."

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Utilities to Offset CO2 Emissions Under New Washington Law

OLYMPIA, Washington, April 1, 2004 (ENS) - Washington Governor Gary Locke yesterday signed into law a measure which requires power plants to offset 20 percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) they create. Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent heat-trapping greenhouse gas, emitted by the combustion of oil, coal and natural gas.

The new standards are the strongest in the nation for new power plants, said Locke. They reflect proposed rules developed by the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, and will lead to a "cleaner, greener future" for the state, the governor said.

Plants can either directly or indirectly invest in CO2 mitigation projects such as forest preservation or the conversion of buses from diesel power to natural gas.

Locke called the measure a "winner both for the environment and businesses."

“Having clear standards in place will decrease CO2 emissions that lead to global warming, create more certainty for businesses, decrease rulemaking costs, and speed up permitting processes by as much as a year,” he said.

K.C. Golden, policy director for Climate Solutions, said the new law is part of a national bipartisan trend. “Governor Locke’s leadership on this issue is part of a growing national groundswell. Governors on both coasts – Democrats and Republicans – are moving forward now to reduce the threat of climate disruption, reduce fossil fuel dependence, and attract clean energy jobs."

"Common sense limits on global warming pollution will help us clear the air and position Washington for success in the clean energy economy of the future," said Golden.

The governor signed several other bills that will help protect the environment from pollutants such as stormwater runoff, and oil spills.

One measure makes changes to the state stormwater permitting system and provides the Department of Ecology with clear authority to monitor and enforce the permits. It is aimed at preventing pollution from entering Washington waters through stormwater runoff from industrial and construction sites.

“This bill represents a huge step forward in solving the number one water quality problem in this state,” Locke said. “It successfully balances many competing interests to improve our stormwater regulatory system.”

State Representative Kelli Linville, a Bellingham Democrat who led negotiations on the bill between the business and environmental communities, said it focuses on "performance based progress that both prevents and cleans up water quality problems."

Gary Chandler, vice president of government relations for the Association of Washington Business, said, “We are pleased to have clear policy direction from the Legislature that stormwater discharges must be regulated in a way that allows business a reasonable opportunity to comply with the permit and the Clean Water Act."

"The compromises reached in this landmark legislation will result in a significant benefit to the environment and promote common sense environmental regulation,” Chandler said.

Bruce Wishart, policy director of the People for Puget Sound, said, "Bottom line, we expect important improvements in water quality and in the health of Puget Sound.”

The governor signed into law improved oil spill prevention measures as well. This bill would help prevent incidents like the 4,800 gallon oil spill that occurred at Point Wells last December. The measure requires that the Department of Ecology formulate a rule to require preventive measures like pre-booming to minimize the effects of oil spills that occur during refueling.

“This bill takes important steps to protect the environment from disastrous oil spills,” Locke said.

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New Mexico-Nevada Nuclear Shipments to Last 18 Months

WASHINGTON, DC, April 1, 2004 (ENS) - The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced Wednesday that it will be moving all weapons grade nuclear materials out of a facility in New Mexico over concerns that the plutonium and uranium could be vulnerable to theft by terrorists.

NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks said it will take 18 months to move the special nuclear materials about 730 miles north and west from the Los Alamos National Laboratory Technical Area 18 (TA-18) to the Device Assembly Facility at the Nevada Test Site where they can be better protected.

Technical Area 18, also known as the Critical Experiments Facility, houses several nuclear burst reactors, several tons of weapons grade highly enriched uranium and plutonium, and other sensitive nuclear devices.

It is the only site in the Department of Energy complex where general purpose research and hands-on training can be conducted into nuclear safeguards, the safety of self-sustaining nuclear reactions, and emergency response.

Technical Area 18’s technology development to counter nuclear terrorism has gained increased significance since September 11, 2001 and the facility currently conducts millions of dollars worth of research and development work annually.

NNSA will immediately start preparing the Device Assembly Facility to support storage of these nuclear materials while scheduling packaging and transportation resources.

In September 2004, NNSA will start shipping the first half of the TA-18 special nuclear materials to Nevada, Brooks said. The shipments will last approximately 18 months.

Brooks said, "Getting this material out of TA-18 and to Nevada will assist NNSA in more quickly establishing critical national security missions in Nevada while consolidating special nuclear materials in a newer, more secure facility."

According to a fact sheet on counter terrorism research at Los Alamos produced by the DOE, "only a small amount of active material is needed to construct a potent nuclear, chemical or biological weapon."

"Eight kilograms of plutonium no larger than a grapefruit could be packaged to create an explosion the size of the blasts that ended World War II," the fact sheet states.

Located on the floor of a steep canyon, TA-18 has described by security experts as indefensible from an armed attack and as the most vulnerable nuclear weapons facility in the DOE weapons complex. The Nevada Test Site, located in an open desert valley some 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is considered more secure and more readily defended against attack.

NNSA has already strengthened security at TA-18 and has also removed more than one metric ton of special nuclear material no longer required.

The Device Assembly Facility at the Nevada Test Site was originally constructed in the late 1980s and early 1990s in support of underground nuclear weapons testing. However, the halt of that mission has left the facility underutilized.

Today the Device Assembly Facility is used to support the build up of subcritical experiments and also targets for the two stage-gas gun that operates at the test site.

NNSA is designing modifications to the Nevada facility to enable it to assume TA-18 program responsibilities. Once modifications are complete, the remaining special nuclear material to support the associated missions will be moved.

Brooks said NNSA is employing "a balanced approach" to relocating the TA-18 missions and capabilities to the DAF "to address security, mission need, and taxpayer cost."

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EPA Criminal Law Enforcement Stalled

WASHINGTON, DC, April 1, 2004 (ENS) - Top environmental law enforcement jobs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are not being filled, and the enforcement leadership vaccuum means that the majority of environmental crimes detected are not being prosecuted under the Bush administration.

The position of assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at the EPA has been vacant since January. The positions of director and deputy director of the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division are empty, and the job of deputy director of the EPA's Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training is also open.

In a statement Wednesday, a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals laid the blame for this lack of leadership at the door of EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt, a former governor of Utah who assumed the EPA's top job in December 2003.

In his first months in office, Leavitt has "de-emphasized the role of criminal enforcement, left a raft of key vacancies unfilled and failed to implement promised reforms of the agency’s criminal program," charged Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

But in 2003, before Leavitt came into the picture, the EPA’s prosecution rate was the lowest for any major federal agency, according to data obtained from the Justice Department's Executive Office for US Attorneys through Freedom of Information Act requests made by Syracuse University and compiled in its database at:

The rate of federal prosecution of EPA’s criminal referrals has fallen to 33 percent, while 67 percent of its cases are declined for prosecution, the Justice Department data shows.

The average prison sentence resulting from EPA cases is down to only five months, one-ninth the overall federal average of 45 months of post-conviction incarceration.

PEER Executive Director attorney Jeff Ruch said that the recommendations of a management review of the EPA's criminal program prompted by PEER and conducted last fall have not been put in place.

Tightening EPA’s referral process of cases for prosecution, adopting performance measures, engaging an independent law enforcement audit, consolidating field offices and revamping a much criticized hiring and promotion system are among the reforms called for when the management review was issued in December but ignored since.

“These low prosecution rates and jail terms strongly suggest that corporations who flout anti-pollution laws will continue to enjoy competitive advantages over those companies who commit resources to environmental compliance,” Ruch said.

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Judge Holds Developers to the Clean Water Act

WASHINGTON, DC, April 1, 2004 (ENS) - A federal judge has rejected a challenge by developers to a Clean Water Act rule that protects wetlands and streams from destruction by landclearing, ditching, and mining without a permit.

The developers have evaded Clean Water Act requirements in the past by arguing that these activities do not "discharge" dredged or fill material.

But that objection does not entitle developers to a blanket, nationwide exemption, ruled Judge James Robertson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who struck down the case brought by the National Association of Home Builders against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The judge decided that a rule written by the Corps and the EPA in January 2001 defining "a discharge of dredged material, "to include the use of mechanized earthmoving equipment to conduct landclearing, ditching, channelization, in-stream mining or other earthmoving activity waters of the United States" was legal.

The discharge of dredged material into any U.S. inland waterway is prohibited by law without a permit under the Clean Water Act.

In 1999, the EPA said a new rule was needed, indicating that unpermitted discharges of dredged material had cost the nation 30,000 acres of wetlands during a single nine month period.

Dissatisfied with the January 2001 rule, representatives of real estate developers, gravel miners, roadbuilders, and others sued in federal district court, asking that the regulation be struck down. On Wednesday, the court rejected their arguments, and dismissed the case.

Howard Fox of Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm representing National Wildlife Federation, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club in the suit, said the ruling is good for communities, fishermen and hunters. "That's great news for communities concerned about water quality and flooding, and for recreationists interested in fish and wildlife," he said.

“If this important rule had been struck down, thousands of acres of wetlands and hundreds of miles of streams would have been put at risk of nearly unlimited drainage, extraction, and excavation,” said Julie Sibbing, wetlands policy specialist at the National Wildlife Federation.

“Thanks to today’s ruling,” said Robin Mann, speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club, “mining and other industry groups will have to minimize their damage to our environment, as the Clean Water Act requires.”

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Deepening of Columbia River Runs Into Legal Challenge

SEATTLE, Washington, April 1, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intends to deepen a 100 mile navigation channel in the Columbia River to allow larger container ships to reach the Port of Portland. But if the project proceeds it will be over the opposition of Northwest Environmental Advocates, an environmental group that works to save salmon.

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Northwest Environmental Advocates challenging the plan. The suit charges that the federal government acted illegally in approving this large-scale dredging project that will further degrade and destroy habitat for threatened and endangered salmon.

In 1999, NOAA Fisheries’ scientists called the channel deepening proposal “an incremental insult to an already degraded ecosystem.” But the agency gave its approval for the plan even though the agency cites previous dredging as a major contributor to the degradation of key salmon habitat in the Columbia River estuary.

“NOAA Fisheries disregarded its own scientific findings when it approved this project,” said Todd True of Earthjustice, the nonprofit law firm for the environment. “All the science shows that dredging and dams on the Columbia have taken an enormous toll on salmon and it’s outright illegal to approve more.”

“This project is wrong for salmon and other species, it’s wrong for Washington and Oregon, and it’s wrong for the American taxpayers,” said Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates, which successfully challenged the agency’s previous endorsement of the project in 2000.

“It’s shocking that the federal agency in charge of saving salmon can approve further degrading the estuary that is so critical to salmon survival,” Bell said.

The combined effects of dams, past dredging projects, diking and filling, sewage and industrial discharges, and other actions in the estuary have destroyed salmon habitat and have resulted in erosion of coastal beaches and deterioration of the narrow inlets that provide important habitat for salmon.

The lawsuit also challenges the agency’s approval of routine dredging that threatens twelve stocks of Columbia River salmon. The estuary provides feeding and hatching grounds for salmon, as well as a brackish area for salmon to adjust from the freshwater river to the ocean.

Five years ago NOAA Fisheries found that routine dredging on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers didn’t harm salmon habitat because the agency claims the activity maintains but doesn’t worsen the degraded state of an already struggling ecosystem. As with its approval of the channel-deepening project, the agency failed to study the causes of the estuary’s decline and the potential for restoration if dredging were limited or modified.

“NOAA Fisheries’ approval of maintenance dredging doesn’t even pretend to address the effects of the existing channel on salmon,” said Bell. “This is flimsy science and doesn’t begin to meet legal requirements.”

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Double Federal Budget for Energy Efficiency, Groups Plead

WASHINGTON, DC, April 1, 2004 (ENS) - Twenty-one organizations, including member groups in the Sustainable Energy Coalition, are asking Congress to double federal support for energy efficiency programs over the next five years. Reducing energy demand through energy efficiency programs is critical to avoiding more electricity blackouts and natural gas and gasoline price spikes, the groups wrote in letters delivered Wednesday to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Among the signatories are: the National Association of State Energy Officials, the American Public Power Association, and the City and County of San Francisco.

Noting that "the proposed FY 2005 energy efficiency budget would slightly decrease funding for the third year in a row," the groups argued that this trend should be reversed.

The groups called for increased federal support for the Bureau of Land Management's geothermal program and the U.S. Geological Survey's geothermal resource assessment program.

Federal "energy efficiency programs are remarkably effective," they said in letters delivered to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior in both the House and the Senate.

"During a time of natural gas shortages, energy and homeland security challenges, air quality and climate change problems, and increased demands on the power grid, energy efficiency can provide both immediate action and long-term solutions that will help balance energy supply and demand, stimulate the economy, keep consumer energy bills affordable, and improve air quality," the letters maintain.

"The U.S. federal government is the world's largest energy user," the letters remind the lawmakers. The Federal Energy Management Program was established to "lead by example" in the area of energy efficiency. This program saves the federal government much more than it costs, by reducing some of the $1 billion in energy costs wasted annually in federal buildings. Yet the proposed budget would cut FEMP by nine percent, the groups warn.

The groups express concern that the Energy Department has decreased emphasis on programs such as Energy Star, Rebuild America, and Clean Cities which target education and outreach activities aimed at key energy market sectors.

The Energy Star Program, for example, produces $75 in energy savings for every dollar spent. These programs, active in all 50 states, create the private sector investment and the state and local engagement that are essential to get key technologies across the "commercialization gulf" that stymies many great ideas, the groups say in their letters.

The letters quote DOE estimates that its efficiency and renewables programs will result in major savings, including $134 billion in energy bills, 153 GW of new conventional power plants, 1.9 quads of natural gas, and 213 MMT of greenhouse gas emissions in 2025.

"We cannot reap these savings without federal support, as the private sector would not make the needed investment - energy R&D spending is the lowest of any major industry and has declined dramatically since the 1980s," the letter said.

The groups call for substantial support for hydrogen fuel cells to power stationary, portable and mobile fuel cell technologies and for support to develop fueling systems for such fuel cells that use primarily renewable energy sources.

They support an expanded weatherization fund for low income households to conserve energy, and increased funding for biodiesel development.

Finally, they warn that industrial energy use accounts for 35 percent of the energy used in the United States, and a proposed Bush administration budget cut of 53 percent for DOE programs such as Industries of the Future that are increasing the efficiency of some of America's most energy intensive industries would be devastating.

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FedEx Express Rolls Out Hybrid Electric Trucks

WASHINGTON, DC, April 1, 2004 (ENS) - FedEx Express, together with Environmental Defense and Eaton Corporation, has introduced a low emission, hybrid electric powered delivery vehicle for the FedEx Express fleet that the company says could become a new industry standard for medium-duty delivery trucks.

The FedEx OptiFleet E700 hybrid electric vehicle will decrease particulate emissions by 90 percent, reduce smog causing emissions by 75 percent and increase fuel efficiency by 50 percent.

FedEx Express says just purchasing the hybrid electric vehicles on the company's normal purchasing schedule for the U.S. and Canada has the potential to replace the company's 30,000 medium duty trucks over the next 10 years.

"FedEx Express is proud to be the first company to make a long-term market commitment to develop and utilize hybrid electric delivery trucks," said David Bronczek, president, FedEx Express. "This hybrid electric truck demonstrates that technology is available now to begin to achieve environmental goals and meet our operational requirements.

"With this project, FedEx enhances its role as an environmental leader in the business community," said Fred Krupp, president, Environmental Defense. "Working together with Environmental Defense, FedEx has developed a truck that will deliver cleaner and healthier air, reduce oil dependency, and reduce climate change impacts. Environmental Defense now challenges other companies to step up to the plate and meet the green standard set by FedEx."

Eaton Corporation was the company selected to produce the hybrid electric powertrain for FedEx Express. FedEx Express has agreed to purchase 20 hybrid electric diesel delivery trucks using Eaton's innovative hybrid electric technology.

Later this year and into early 2004, these 20 vehicles will begin operation in four cities that are yet to be named. These hybrid electric vehicles will endure real-world FedEx operating conditions to verify and prove their viability in commercial applications.

As the trucks succeed in meeting project goals, FedEx OptiFleet E700 hybrid electric trucks will be placed in the company's pick up and delivery fleet as early as fall 2004.

The unveiling of the hybrid electric truck comes in the third year of a four year project between FedEx Express and Environmental Defense to create a delivery truck that will decrease emissions and fuel use.

Eaton's hybrid-electric powertrain combines a diesel engine and electric motor to drive the vehicle. A computer determines the most efficient combination, depending on current operating conditions and driver demand.

A four cylinder engine replaces the six-cylinder version currently used in the FedEx Express W700 delivery vehicle. The engine size is reduced because of the added power provided by the electric motor. A particulate trap has been added to the truck to further reduce emissions.

Lithium-ion batteries capture and store energy during the "regenerative braking" phase of the vehicle's operation, providing a source of stored electric power for the motor during future acceleration. Therefore, all electrical charging of the battery is provided by the hybrid electric powertrain, and no external electrical infrastructure, such as a power cord or electrical outlet, is needed.

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Federal Policies Undermine Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery

PINOS ALTOS, New Mexico, April 1, 2004 (ENS) - The first endangered Mexican gray wolves were released into the wild to breed back towards recovery on March 29, 1998. Six years later, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal petition for rule-making with Interior Secretary Gale Norton and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams, to save the Mexican wolf population from what the group claims is federal mismanagement.

The petition was filed under the Administrative Procedures Act. If the federal government fails to issue new regulations within one year, the Center will sue to compel compliance.

The petition requests reforms in the reintroduction program in accordance with recommendations of four independent scientists who examined the program at the request of the Fish and Wildlife Service and in June 2001 issued an 86 page report urging immediate policy changes. The Fish and Wildlife Service has not made the changes.

The scientists said that if the changes were not made, wolf numbers stood a 39 percent chance of decline, and that decline is now in evidence.

At the time they issued their report, there were 27 radio collared and monitored wolves in the wild, plus an unknown number of uncollared wolves.

Today there are 18 radio collared and monitored wolves in the wild, and that number includes nine wild-born wolves captured in the interim and outfitted with collars before release.

The Center's petition requests that the Fish and Wildlife Service be allowed to release wolves from the captive breeding program into the Gila National Forest of New Mexico. Currently, wolves can be captured from the wild and released in the Gila, but not released there for the first time. Animals born into the captive breeding program may only be released their first time into the Apache National Forest in Arizona. Wolves are sometimes injured, traumatized or even killed in capture attempts, and survivors are much less likely to live and reproduce upon release, the group says.

The petition asks that the Fish and Wildlife Service be given the authority to allow wolves to establish territories outside the boundaries of the Gila and Apache National Forests. Currently, the Service is required to remove or kill wolves outside of those two forests, even if they are on other public lands.

By contrast, reintroduced wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains can move at will unless they are causing a specific problem.

And finally, the petition asks that owners of livestock be required to take responsibility for removing or rendering unpalatable the carcasses of cattle and horses that die of non-wolf related problems, before wolves scavenge on them and become habituated to livestock, or if they fail to do so that the wolves are not subsequently scapegoated. In the northern Rocky Mountains, regulations protect wolves from being baited by carcasses, but not in the Southwest.

The Center for Biological Diversity sees these wolves as healthy for the entire ecosystem. "Mexican gray wolves are the engine of evolution for southwestern ecosystems," the group says.

Research from other ecosystems indicates that wolves play key roles in honing the alertness and vigor of prey species such as elk, deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep; preventing disease transmission by killing prey animals weakened by severe maladies before other herd members become infected; providing carrion for scavenger animals such as badgers, eagles, ravens and bears; helping foxes survive by killing coyotes, which in turn kill foxes and limit their numbers; and, helping natural vegetation flourish by limiting the time spent by grazing and browsing animals in sensitive streamside areas.

The elimination of these wolves - exterminated from the U.S. by the 1920s by the predecessor agency to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and then beginning in 1950, poisoned out of Mexico by the Fish and Wildlife Service as well - was part of a process of thoughtlessly crippling natural ecosystems, and their successful reintroduction is critical to restoring the balance, the group says.

"This petition starts the clock ticking to when Fish and Wildlife will have to act," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity's Pinos Altos, New Mexico office. "With the numbers of radio collared Mexican wolves in decline, and the entire wild population in trouble, we're letting the feds know that if they don't protect these animals, we'll see them in court."