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AmeriScan: April 23, 2004

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Judge Puts Brakes on Navy Jet Landing Field

RALEIGH, North Carolina, April 23, 2004 (ENS) – A federal judge has issued an injunction that temporarily blocks the U.S. Navy’s plan to build a military jet landing field a few miles from a North Carolina national wildlife refuge.

The Navy intends to build a new F/A 18 and E/F Super Hornet jet training field within five miles of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina. Pilots would use the field to practice landing on aircraft carriers.

Officials say the decision is justified by national security concerns, but critics contend the government’s environmental impact studies for the landing field downplayed the substantial risk of collisions between jets and the large flocks of tundra swans, snow geese and other birds that winter in the area, and minimized adverse impacts to the wildlife refuge.

Experts - including the Air Force's leading authority on bird/aircraft collisions - have described the plan as an ill considered one with a high likelihood of bird and aircraft collisions producing catastrophic results.

The refuge is within the heart of the Atlantic migratory bird flyway and winter home to 100,000 large waterfowl, including tundra swans and snow geese from Arctic Canada and Alaska.

This week’s decision by U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle is a victory for a coalition of conservationists and local officials who filed suit in January to block the Navy’s plan.

In comments accompanying his decision, Judge Boyle said the Navy's decision to locate the training field at the proposed site “may have been a clear error of judgment."

The court also noted out that the Navy's planned land acquisitions will immediately "result in irreparable harm," including "harm to the numerous tundra swans and snow geese that spend the winter months at the lakes and refuges close to the proposed [site]."

"An injunction is a first, very important step in carrying forward our case," said Michelle Nowlin, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation in the suit.

"We know the Navy's work fails to meet federal requirements and believe the court will ultimately send them back to the drawing board,” Nowlin said. “At least now the citizens of the area have some breathing room while we finish proving our claims."

The $186.5 million facility would be located on 30,000 acres the Navy plans to acquire in Washington and Beaufort counties – it has already purchased some of the land. The counties have filed their own lawsuit against the Navy.

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Two Spent Nuclear Fuel Pieces Missing from Vermont Yankee

VERNON, Vermont, April 23, 2004 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has opened a special inspection at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to look for two spent fuel segments that are missing from the facility. Vermont Yankee formally notified the regulator Wednesday that the two highly radioactive pieces of spent fuel were not in their documented location in the spent fuel pool.

One of the segments is about seven inches long and the other is 17 inches long, and both are the diameter of a pencil. Unshielded exposure to either piece could be fatal.

This situation "does not pose a threat to public health and safety as it is highly unlikely that the material is in the public domain," the NRC said Thursday.

Plant operator Entergy Nuclear says Entergy engineers are reviewing storage records and performing a thorough inspection of the spent fuel pool to determine the location of the rod segments.

The Vermont Yankee spent fuel pool is 40 feet in depth and contains 2,789 spent uranium fuel assemblies that were used in energy production since 1972.

Entergy says that "according to station documentation, in 1979, the highly radioactive rods were placed in a special stainless steel container in the spent fuel pool after a fuel inspection to address fuel cladding deficiencies."

The NRC said the segments were placed in a special container at the bottom of the spent fuel pool "in 1980."

There is what the NRC describes as an "extensive array of radiation detectors at the site," so it is "very probable" that the potentially missing fuel fragments are in a location designed to deal with radioactive waste, the regulation agency speculated on Thursday.

They could only have been removed from the site in heavily shielded, sealed containers directed to other controlled, safe locations, the agency and Entergy said.

The missing fuel segments were discovered by NRC resident inspectors, while they were performing a spent fuel pool accountability inspection, when they questioned plant officials about their procedures for the verification of older fuel assemblies.

Vermont Yankee is presently shut down for its 24th refueling and maintenance outage.

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Energy Department Honors Labs That Prevent Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, April 23, 2004 (ENS) - The Department of Energy’s Office of Science marked Earth Day by announcing the winners in its first annual awards for Pollution Prevention and Environmental Stewardship among federal energy laboratories. In the course of their work, these facilities handle some of the most hazardous chemicals and radioactive substances in existence.

“These awards promote and recognize outstanding environmental management performance at our 10 national laboratories and highlight innovative programs and individuals,” said Dr. Raymond Orbach, director of the Office of Science.

The winners are:

  • Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, New York, for reducing the generation of mixed waste that is both radioactive and hazardous. The lab is saving over $57,000 each year as a result of implementing innovative processes.

  • Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Batavia, Illinois for its alternative fuel and scintillator plastic recvycling programs. Plastic scintillator detectors light up when they come into contact with fast moving, charged particles. The scintillator plastic recycling program recycles 1.5 to two tons per month, reducing disposal costs and the need for landfill space.

    In addition, use of 63 ethanol and compressed natural gas vehicles has reduced fuel cost and emissions at the facility at Fermi, the Office of Science said.

  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for integration of environmental sustainability principles in operations and design, and wastewater reduction activities.

    Environmental sustainability principles include new facility design using the U.S. Green Building Council rating system, energy management, and the use of bio-based fueled vehicles.

    Through its pollution prevention efforts, the lab has reduced its generation of transuranic/mixed transuranic waste by 93 percent; its low-level and mixed waste by 87 percent; and its sanitary waste by 40 percent since 1993.

  • Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for the reduction of the use of dangerous perchloric acid in the analysis of alpha emitting isotopes.

    Perchloric acid is a strong acid used for complete digestion of organic material. Like nitric acid, it is a strong oxidant. Perchloric acid mist and vapor can condense in ventilation systems to form metallic perchlorates, which can be explosive.

    An ORISE employee developed the new analytical procedure that has eliminated a waste stream of 30 kilograms of hazardous organic wastes while reducing analysis time by 40 percent and saving about $42,000 annually.

  • Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), Stanford, California, for identifying opportunities to better manage chemicals.

    A SLAC employee developed the foundation for establishing a sitewide chemical management system that promotes better life-cycle management of chemical use through centralized procurement practices and improved inventory management and tracking. A pilot program has demonstrated cost savings and reduced use of toxic chemicals.

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Earth Day Lawsuit Challenges Both Bush Administrations

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, April 23, 2004 (ENS – Three conservation groups filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging approval by the federal administration of President George W. Bush of a decision by the Florida administration headed by his brother Governor Jeb Bush to remove 161 Florida waters from its required pollution clean-up list. The waters removed from the list include 97 that are contaminated with mercury, the plaintiff group alleges.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee by the Sierra Club, Save our Suwannee, Inc, and Florida Public Interest Research Group Citizen Lobby, Inc., challenges the “don’t list” policy of the Jeb Bush administration when it comes to waters contaminated with mercury.

By failing to list these contaminated waters, the state and federal Bush administrations are running away from their responsibility to clean up the mercury pollution in 97 waterways, the groups allege.

The lawsuit challenges the federal approval of Florida’s decision to remove 20 mercury polluted river and stream segments from the cleanup list and the state's decision not to add 77 mercury polluted lakes, rivers and stream segments to the list.

Today, President Bush is speaking about conservation at an event at Rookery Bay where a fish consumption advisory was recently issued for mercury contamination, but it would have been difficult to find a cleaner waterway in Florida. All of Florida’s coastal waters and more than 100 of its rivers, streams, and lakes are under fish consumption advisories for mercury.

“Earth Day is a time for Americans to reflect on the state of our environment,” said John Swingle, conservation chair for the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club. “As we take stock this Earth Day, Floridians will see that the Bush administration’s policies leave little to celebrate.

"By allowing for increased mercury pollution and failing to clean up contaminated waters, the administration is threatening public health, our waters and wildlife," Swingle said.

By writing a new rule that substitutes for the existing requirements of the Clean Air Act, the federal Bush administration has let coal fired power plants delay installing equipment to reduce mercury emissions, even though they are the chief causes of mercury in Florida waters and the waters of many other states.

“There is a better way. With strong enforcement of the current Clean Air Act, we could reduce mercury pollution and protect communities,” said Swingle.

Exposure to mercury can cause nervous system damage, birth defects, and impairment of motor functions. It is especially dangerous for women in their childbearing years and young children. The EPA recently estimates that one in six U.S. women of childbearing age have mercury levels in their blood high enough to put their babies at risk.

Last month, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Florida resident Linda Young asked the federal Bush administration to take over the water pollution cleanup duties of the Jeb Bush administration.

The environmental groups have notified the federal Bush administration of their intent to file suit to compel it to enforce the Clean Water Act and ensure Florida’s waters are fishable, swimmable and drinkable.

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New England Groups Detail Climate Friendly Policies

BOSTON, Massachusetts, April 23, 2004 (ENS) - New England conservationists this week released a "Blueprint for Action" detailing how to cut global warming emissions in the region.

Average temperatures in Massachusetts are projected to increase by between one and 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century, accompanied by increased precipitation. The results of these changes could include higher sea levels, degraded air quality, increased heat related deaths, and the loss of Massachusetts’ hardwood forest species, the report predicts.

The proposal features stronger energy conservation programs; more use of clean, renewable solar and wind power; and standards for cleaner cars.

The plan was written by researchers with the MASSPIRG Education Fund, the Clean Water Fund and the New England Climate Coalition in an effort to hold New England governors and Canadian premiers accountable to their 2001 Climate Action Plan global warming pollution reduction goals.

The governors and premiers pledged to bring emissions in the region down to 1990 levels by 2010; 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020; and at least 75 percent below current levels in the long term.

That regional plan was viewed as a major step forward for efforts to control rapidly rising levels of global warming pollution. Since then states and provinces have been crafting plans to achieve the pledged reductions.

Many of the 14 policy strategies in the "Blueprint for Action" deal with reducing vehicle emissions, which the authors say are a major threat to Massachusetts.

Based on Energy Department figures, the report warns that Massachusetts’ emissions of carbon dioxide from sources other than power generation could increase by as much as 28 percent over the next two decades, with much of the increase taking place in the transportation sector.

The biggest challenge for the regional effort will be cutting transportation emissions, which are rising rapidly as vehicle fuel efficiency declines and people drive more miles, the groups say.

Emissions from electric power generation in New England can be expected to increase by about 35 percent between 2000 and 2020 if the region’s aging nuclear reactors close at the expiration of their operating licenses, the report says.

The report finds that tools are available today to cut emissions from the electricity sector enough to hit the goals, including a cap on power plant carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Putting increasing numbers of hybrid-electric cars - and eventually zero-emitting cars such as hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles - on Massachusetts’ roads over the next two decades by finalizing and implementing the state’s clean cars requirement.

  • Adopting California’s forthcoming limits on vehicle carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Requiring the sale of low-rolling resistance replacement tires that improve vehicle efficiency without negatively affecting safety.

  • Establishing a “feebate” program to reward the purchase of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

  • Requiring automobile insurers to offer pay-as-you-drive automobile insurance, in which insurance rates are calculated by the mile, rewarding those who drive less, while potentially reducing accidents.

  • Adopting policies that would reduce growth in vehicle miles traveled by cars and light trucks on Massachusetts’ highways, such as measures to reduce sprawling development and encourage the use of transit and other transportation alternatives.

Other recommendations include funding for energy efficiency programs, and requiring that 20 percent of the region's energy be generated from new, renewable sources by 2020.

"A Blueprint for Action," is available online at: http://www.newenglandclimate.org.

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Connecticut Legislature Passes Clean Cars Bill

HARTFORD, Connecticut, April 23, 2004 (ENS) - On Thursday, which was Earth Day, the Connecticut Assembly passed clean cars legislation, and the state Senate passed the bill last week. There was broad bi-partisan support in both houses for the bill, in part because Connecticut’s air is some of the most polluted in the country, and tailpipe emissions are the single largest source of air pollution in the state.

State Senator Donald E. Williams, Jr., a Democrat who serves as co-chair of the legislature's Environment Committee, got behind the wheel of a hybrid electric car at the Capitol on April 15 to show support for the clean cars bill that passed the Senate later that day.

This was a chance to see first hand that the technology exists to achieve the cleaner air we all want, and that clean cars are available and on the road today," said Williams.

The Clean Cars Bill requires automakers to meet the toughest tailpipe emissions standards in the nation and offer increasing numbers of advanced, "Clean Cars" in the state beginning with the 2008 model year.

"Ready to Roll" a 2003 report by the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (ConnPIRG), estimated that the law will get more than 300,000 new clean cars on the road in Connecticut by 2012. Similar legislation has been adopted in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey and New York.

"The cars we drive pollute the air we breathe. Getting clean cars on the road is an effective common-sense way to clean our air and protect the public health," said Christopher Phelps, legislative advocate for ConnPIRG. "This legislation will clean our air and make every community in the state a healthier place to live and raise a family."

ConnPIRG partnered with an unusual alliance of public health, environmental and business advocates - including an auto dealer - to form the CT Clean Cars Alliance to push for swift passage of the bill.

Phelps says the groups will be vigilant to attempts by the auto industry to weaken the bill through other legislative means. There is active discussion of adoption of the same program in Rhode Island, Maryland and Maine.

"This is crucially important as a major environmental issue for the 2004 session," said State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat. "We need to be particularly sensitive to the public health effects of pollution."

Ten percent of children in Connecticut, over 75,000 children, have asthma, almost double the national average of six percent. Asthma attacks are one of the main reasons for missed school days in Connecticut. Smog pollution from cars and trucks causes thousands of asthma attacks each summer and is suspected as a cause of the disease.

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National Guard Wants Biathon Course in Lynx Country

HELENA, Montana, April 23, 2004 (ENS) - The Montana Army National Guard has requested that the Helena National Forest permit a biathlon course at Macdonald Pass, next to the Continental Divide, 12 miles west of Helena. Conservationists say the proposed course would infringe on the wild corridor that runs from Glacier Park to the Bob Marshall Wilderness to Yellowstone Park. Wildlife biologists are trying to maintain a migration path for animals, particularly the rare lynx.

The biathlon is a competitive sport involving both cross-country skiing and .22 caliber target shooting. The National Guard currently maintains two other biathlon facilities - in Vermont and in Minnesota, but says it needs another one to "further develop a pool of biathletes to compete in international and Olympic level competitions."

The development would include constructing three or four buildings, building several miles of ski trails to link to existing trails and widening other trails, building a road, a parking lot, and a rifle range. Approximately 16 acres would be cleared.

The general public would be able to use the trails except during events, which are anticipated at least one weekend per month from December through March each year. Once every three years the facility might host a national event drawing about 150 athletes.

The Helena National Forest is beginning its environmental evaluation of the proposal, and public comments are welcome through April 30.

Environmental issues identified to date include "potential impacts on lynx habitat" as well as lead pollution from the shot.

One conservationist warns that, "What is not acknowledged is the fact that the proposed site is a critical bottleneck in a wildlife migration corridor - one that would be affected not only by the development itself, but also by the noise of a rifle range."

Rex Palmer, a Rhode Island resident who is a lifelong visitor to the Helena National Forest, says the problematic site proposed for the biathlon course is at a narrow portion of the wildlife corridor.

"The narrow strip of public land that lays across McDonald Pass is less than two miles wide, with the existing microwave towers, campgrounds, and ski trails already providing some impediment to migration for shy species," Palmer writes. "The proposed facility will occupy a currently undeveloped hillside that provides some of the most secure habitat in the area."

The lynx is federally listed as a threatened species. The ecosystem up at the proposed course site is "classic lynx habitat," says Palmer, with a mix of Engleman spruce, sub-alpine fir, and snowshoe hares."

"No lynx have been spotted, they are famously elusive," writes Palmer, "but the habitat is so prime that biologists have been searching the area. Given the corridor, maybe they could move in. This is not good habitat to reduce."

Comments may be directed to: Larry Cole, Helena Ranger District, 2001 Poplar, Helena, MT 59601, 406-449-5490, lcole@fs.fed.us.

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Two Bays Bring Bangladesh, U.S. Students Together

WASHINGTON, DC, April 23, 2004 (ENS) - When a new school term starts in the fall, middle school students from the Washington area and their peers at the William Carey Academy in the Chittagong region of Bangladesh will take two months to compare and contrast the Chesapeake Bay and the Bay of Bengal from environmental, social and economic perspectives.

Announcing the "Two Bays, One World" project at the State Department on Earth Day, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) John Turner said the students, ages 11 through 14, will learn how both ecosystems affect their surroundings, and gain a greater understanding of each others' culture though lectures, field trips and interactive dialogues.

District of Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Robert Rice said the current generation is "only borrowing the environment in our lives and we have a great responsibility, and in many cases we have not taken care of that responsibility."

Accompanied by students from the Bertie Backus Middle School in Washington, Rice said Chesapeake Bay has an impact "on our culture, on our life, on the ecosystem of this part of the world."

Bangladesh's ambassador to the United States, Syed Hasan Ahmad, described his country as the "world's biggest delta," created through the flow of the Ganges River into the Bay of Bengal. He said that Bangladesh consists mostly of an alluvial plain only a few feet above sea level.

He said the project can contribute to mutual understanding and have "a great symbolic value in our relations."

Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky told the students that their dialogue and interaction with Bangladeshi students would be just as important as what they will learn about the two ecosystems.

Dobriansky said the United States recently signed a science and technology agreement with Bangladesh, one of the first it has signed with a developing country. "We have also been engaged with scientists and public health authorities in Bangladesh to tackle and to deal with the problem of arsenic in Bangladeshi drinking water," she said.

The "Two Bays, One World" project is sponsored by the State Department's OES Bureau in partnership with the Embassy of Bangladesh and nongovernmental organizations such as the Smithsonian Institution, the Chesapeake Bay Fund, and the Conservation Fund.

The project is being supported by the Maryland, Virginia and District of Columbia Public Schools, and the Chittagong School of Bangladesh, and will be featured on the State Department's website for students at: http://future.state.gov/.

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