AmeriScan: April 28, 2004

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Nuclear Power Operators Warned About Grid Failure

WASHINGTON, DC, April 28, 2004 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Tuesday warned the operators of nuclear power plants to schedule maintainence when there is little chance of losing power due to summer demand overloading the power grid. While nuclear reactors generate power, they also rely on offsite power supplies when in maintenance mode.

On August 14, 2003, the largest power outage in the history of the United States occurred in the Northeastern United States and parts of Canada. Nine U.S. nuclear power plants "tripped," meaning they shut down, the NRC reminded its licensees. Eight of these, along with one nuclear power plant that was already shut down, lost offsite power.

"Although the onsite emergency diesel generators functioned to maintain safe shutdown conditions, this event was significant in terms of the number of plants affected and the duration of the power outage," the agency said.

The loss of all alternating current power at a nuclear power plant, referred to as a "station blackout," involves the loss of offsite power combined with the loss of the onsite emergency power supplies, typically an emergency diesel generator.

The agency expressed concern that, "Risk analyses performed for nuclear power plants indicate that the loss of all AC power can be a large contributor to the core damage frequency, contributing up to 74 percent of the overall risk at some plants."

Although nuclear power plants are designed to cope with a loss of offsite power (LOOP) event through the use of onsite power supplies, LOOP events are considered to be precursors to station blackouts. "An increase in the frequency or duration of LOOP events increases the risk of core damage," the agency warned.

In a regulatory summary, the NRC suggests licensees evaluate grid reliability when contemplating upcoming maintenance. Utilities should consider rescheduling maintenance during periods when offsite power may be unavailable, the agency said.

The summary recommends "reliable communications between plants and their transmission system operators, in order to increase awareness of overall grid conditions."

The agency said it plans to conduct "focused inspections" this spring of all licensed plants to assess their compliance with these requirements.

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New England ISO Awards First Energy Efficiency Contract

WESTBOROUGH, Massachusetts, April 28, 2004 (ENS) - For the first time, ISO New England has purchased a stated amount of megawatt savings derived from energy efficiency measures. The not-for-profit corporation, which is responsible for the reliable operation of New England’s bulk power generation and transmission system, is thinking ahead to the energy demands of summer and trying to avoid a repeat of last summer's massive blackout.

ISO New England has contracted with the Conservation Services Group (CSG) to deliver four megawatts of on-peak energy efficiency to help southwest Connecticut over the next four years.

CSG will achieve the four megawatts of efficiency by retrofitting buildings in southwest Connecticut with power saving lamps and fixtures. Most will be mid-sized to large buildings such as multi-family housing projects, schools, warehouses and commercial facilities.

To achieve its target, CSG will offer incentives to building owners to install the efficient lamps and fixutres through local energy services companies that are members of the Northeast Energy Efficiency Council.

CSG will coordinate its efforts with local utilities that are also offering incentives for efficiency measures.

The timeframe for the project is 18 months, beginning now.

CSG chief Stephen Cowell said, “Working with ISO New England to enhance reliability through long-term reductions in the need for on-peak power, is a precedent setting, unique partnership and a great victory for energy efficiency policy."

"We realize that energy efficiency can’t do it alone," Cowell said, "but it is certainly one of the cleanest and most economic ways to help reduce stress on the system and ensure reliability.”

CSG aims to provide only two percent of the overall power resources needed, but the contract represents the introduction of a new strategy that may expand over time.

In proposing an energy efficiency project to ISO New England, CSG recognized the work of Environment Northeast, an entity that advocates for energy conservation throughout the region. Cowell says Environment Northeast was instrumental in opening up the competition to energy efficiency.

ISO New England keeps the lights on from Eastport, Maine, to Westport, Connecticut, but Environment Northeast Executive Director Daniel Sosland called the contract a "nationally significant recognition of the power of energy efficiency.”

“There is an enormous market for energy efficiency that we have only begun to tap," Sosland said. "Energy efficiency can provide enormous benefits by relieving bottlenecks in our electric system and ensuring the reliable supply of power to our homes and businesses. It can do this while holding down the price of electricity and cleaning the air."

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National Animal Identification System Started

WASHINGTON, DC, April 28, 2004 (ENS) - Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman Tuesday announced the framework for a National Animal Identification System. The system is designed to identify any agricultural premise exposed to a foreign animal disease so that it can be more quickly contained and eradicated.

The system has been in the works for at least 18 months, but development was hurried in the wake of the discovery of a Washington dairy cow infected with mad cow disease last December. Some 57 countries have banned imports of U.S. beef, devastating the industry.

Veneman announced that $18.8 million would be transferred from the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) to provide initial funding for the program during the current fiscal year.

Veneman said that the CCC funding is earmarked for the initial infrastructure development and implementation of the national system, but both private and public support will be required to make it fully operational. The administration’s proposed FY 2005 budget includes another $33 million for the identification system.

“While many livestock species in the United States can be identified through a variety of systems, a verifiable system of national animal identification will enhance our efforts to respond to intentionally or unintentionally introduced animal disease outbreaks more quickly and effectively,” Veneman said.

System implementation will be conducted in three main phases. Under Phase I, the USDA would evaluate current federally funded animal identification systems and determine which system or systems should be used, further the dialogue with producers and other stakeholders on operations, identify staffing needs, and develop any regulatory and legislative proposals needed for implementing the system.

The first step in the process is to select an interim data repository to handle incoming national premises data. The USDA has commissioned an independent analysis of repositories that are currently part of various USDA funded animal identification projects around the country.

Once the best system is identified, the USDA will enter into cooperative agreements with states, Indian tribes and other government entities to assist them in adapting their existing systems to the new system.

Phase II would involve the implementation of the selected animal identification system at regional levels for one or more selected species, continuation of the communication and education effort, addressing regulatory needs and working with Congress on any needed legislation.

In Phase III, the selected animal identification system or systems would be scaled up to the national level, Veneman said.

USDA is committed to develop a program that is technology neutral, so as to enable producers, to the extent possible, the flexibility to use current and effective systems and technologies, as well as adopt new technologies as they are developed.

Veneman said, “This framework is the result of concerted efforts to expedite the implementation of a system that meets our goals and enables farmers and ranchers to adapt existing identification programs and to use all existing forms of effective technologies.”

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EPA Sued to Obtain Mercury Emissions Controls

WASHINGTON, DC, April 28, 2004 (ENS) - National and state conservation groups today filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require maximum achievable reductions in mercury and other toxic air pollutants emitted by coal and oil fired power plants, as required by the Clean Air Act.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC by the Izaak Walton League of America, the National Wildlife Federation, the Clean Air Task Force, and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

The Clean Air Act required the federal government to protect children’s health by issuing final standards for power plant emissions of mercury and other hazardous pollutants by December 2002. Those rules would have been effective at new facilities immediately, and by December 2005 at existing facilities.

The plaintiff groups are seeking a court ordered judgment that a Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standard is required under the Clean Air Act, and seek to establish "an expeditious and enforceable schedule for the issuance of a final MACT standard," they said today in a statement.

“Mercury controls are more than a year late and there is no reason to further delay protections for families in Maine and across the nation,” said Jon Hinck, toxics project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Our lawsuit simply asks the court to require the Bush administration to obey the law.”

Coal fired power plants emit more than 40 percent of the nation’s mercury emissions and these emissions are largely unregulated, the groups say. Two years ago, scientists at the EPA concluded that 90 percent mercury reductions are possible using existing technologies.

Today's suit is being filed as the EPA is accepting public comments on its proposal to reduce emissions of mercury and nickel from power plants using a cap and trade plan. That Bush administration proposal, favored by industry, would establish a nationwide cap by phasing in lower ceilings on each plant’s emissions. Plants that reduce their pollution below as yet undetermined ceiling for each one could then sell emissions credits to plants that do not.

"EPA’s proposal would allow mercury emissions to continue for a much longer period of time and would allow greater amounts of mercury than what EPA experts have said is achievable and cost-effective. EPA’s proposal is also less stringent than what was recommended by the majority of EPA’s own panel of experts who spent more than two years working on this problem," the plaintiff groups said today.

“For our health and the health of our environment, we need to control toxic emissions, especially from very significant sources like coal fired power plants,” said Sarah Welch of the Izaak Walton League’s Midwest Office.

"Pregnant women who eat tainted fish could be passing mercury along to their unborn children, putting them at risk of brain damage," said National Wildlife senior attorney Neil Kagan. "While people have a choice to limit their fish intake, loons, otters and other wildlife living in or around contaminated waters have no choice. People and wildlife deserve better."

This lawsuit is in response to the EPA’s failure to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act. The plaintiffs warn that it is separated and distinct from a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), filed over 10 years ago, to compel the EPA to finalize its studies of toxic air pollution emitted by power plants.

In addition to reaching agreement about the deadline for the studies, the parties to that suit agreed that the EPA would propose a MACT standard by December 15, 2003 and issue final rules by December 15, 2004. The NRDC yesterday withdrew that deadline.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that interferes with the development and functioning of the central nervous system. Exposure, usually through eating contaminated fish, can cause permanent harm to the brain in humans and reproductive harm in wildlife. Young children whose brains are still developing, and women of childbearing age are most at risk.

In January, EPA scientists released new research indicating that 630,000 U.S. newborns had unsafe levels of mercury in their blood in 1999-2000, doubling previous estimates. This new estimate equates to at least one in eight American women of childbearing age with mercury levels in her blood above what is considered safe for a developing fetus.

Forty-four U.S. states and one territory have issued fish consumption advisories, warning women of childbearing age and young children against eating most freshwater and some saltwater fish due to the risks of neurological damage that may result from even low levels of such exposure.

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JPMorgan Chase Bank Formulates Environmental Policies

NEW YORK, New York, April 28, 2004 (ENS) - JPMorgan Chase has agreed to take steps to increase its emphasis on environmental risk management. As a result of this positive response from JPMorgan Chase, environmental and interfaith shareholders are withdrawing their proposal that the firm consider and report on incorporating criteria related to any deal's likely impact on the environment, human rights and JPMorgan Chase's reputation.

JPMorgan Chase is a global investment banking and financial services firm with assets of $771 billion and operations in more than 50 countries.

The firm's Office of the Chairman approved a proposal to establish an Office of Environmental Affairs and to have environmental matters come under the oversight of the Board of Directors' Public Policy Committee, which agreed to assume such oversight role.

”We recognize the importance of the issues reflected in the shareholder proposal and have steps underway to address them,” said Amy Hayes Davidsen, director of JPMorgan Chase's new Office of Environmental Affairs.

Davidsen is now responsible for focusing on environmental matters as they relate to JPMorgan Chase, and will lead a firm-wide committee to establish global policies and procedures regarding environmental issues. She will work with government agencies and nongovernmental organizations to help the company meet its responsibilities as an environmentally sensitive corporate citizen.

Submitted by Christian Brothers Investment Services, Inc., Trillium Asset Management and Domini Social Investments, the shareholder resolution urged the JPMorgan Chase board of directors to review the role of the company as an underwriter, lender and financial adviser for transactions in environmentally and socially sensitive sectors.

Prior to withdrawal of the shareholder resolution, JPMorgan Chase met several times in the last year with the resolution's proponents - a group of environmental and religious organizations - and further meetings are planned.

The members of the group working with JPMorgan Chase are Friends of the Earth and members and associates of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility: Christian Brothers Investment Services, Trillium Asset Management, Domini Social Investments, ISIS Asset Management, Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey, United Methodist Church Global Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, Ethical Funds, Missionary Oblates and Real Assets.

John Wilson, Christian Brothers Investment Services director for socially responsible investing, said, “It is an important step for a leading financial institution like JPMorgan Chase to join its peers and competitors and begin to establish systems to identify, assess and manage environmental risks in its financing decisions."

After a four year campaign by Rainforest Action Network, Citigroup announced in January that it would prohibit investment in any extractive industry such as oil and gas, mining, logging in primary tropical forests and place severe restrictions on destructive investment in all endangered ecosystems worldwide.

Wilson said that JPMorgan Chase could learn from the decision of its competitors such as Citigroup. "Creating and implementing guidelines and policies for managing these risks can reduce the environmental impacts of the underlying projects it finances, diminish the bank’s exposure to severe criticism, improve the bottom-line and, ultimately, shareholder value,” he said.

Steve Lippman, senior social research analyst at Trillium Asset Management, said, “Our group believes that with a clear understanding of the key environmental issues raised by such projects, JPMorgan Chase can help to protect its good reputation and reduce risk to the company. Like many large financial institutions, JPMorgan Chase has been involved in financing companies and projects in environmentally and/or socially sensitive sectors such as dam building, oil drilling, and logging.”

"We look forward to seeing JPMorgan Chase develop rigorous social and environmental policies and procedures and publicly report on the implementation of these commitments in the years to come," said Adam Kanzer, general counsel and director of shareholder advocacy at Domini Social Investments.

Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS) racked up a similar success this year with Tyco International, which is working towards a company wide environmental reporting system to reduce emissions of such major toxins as lead and dioxin, based on support for a shareholder resolution favoring the measure.

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Permit Denied But Jeep Jamboree Sells Arch Canyon Run

MONTICELLO, Utah, April 28, 2004 (ENS) - From April 30 through May 2, Jeep Jamboree and San Juan County intend to drive up Utah's Arch Canyon as they have done every year since 1989. The only thing different this year is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to deny a permit for the event, and an order from the Interior Board of Land Appeals setting aside San Juan County's claimed right-of-way in the canyon.

On the Jeep Jamboree website, the Arch Canyon trip is offered with these words, "Set in the heart of Utah’s remote canyon country, this Jamboree takes you through the area of cliffs that the Anasazi (prehistoric American Indians) called home. Visitors can view ancient inscriptions and traverse the challenging canyon trails."

But the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance wants the jeeps to obey the federal decision and stay away. Saying the jeeps are damaging to the "spectacular" area, the environmental advocacy group is appealing to Rebecca Watson, assistant secretary of land and minerals management at the U.S. Interior Department, to keep the jeeps out of Arch Canyon this year.

The alliance is urging Watson to work with the sponsors of the Jeep Jamboree and the public to come up with an alternative route for the event.

Located within the Cedar Mesa Area of Critical Environmental Concern, Arch Canyon's redrock walls, spires and arches frame the course of Arch Canyon Creek, which the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance describes as "an important perennial stream that supports vegetation, wildlife, the endangered Mexican spotted owl, and sensitive fish species, two of which are likely to be listed under the Endangered Species Act."

"Should this event occur," the alliance warns, "a long precession of Jeeps and other vehicles will churn through Arch Canyon Creek over 100 times, eroding the streambank, crushing riparian vegetation and leaking who knows what into the creek."

Arch Canyon is proposed for Wilderness designation in America's Redrock Wilderness Act and is the site of ancient multi-level rock dwellings, granaries, and petroglyphs.

In 1989, the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) held that it was improper for the Monticello BLM to have permitted the Jeep Jamboree that year. At that time, BLM responded by determining that San Juan County had a valid R.S.2477 road claim in the canyon, and the Jeep Jamboree has been allowed for the last 15 years.

But last month, the IBLA set aside BLM's erroneous R.S.2477 decision, and recognizing that it lacked adequate environmental documentation, the BLM denied Jeep Jamboree's permit application for the event.

Despite that decision, San Juan County has invited the Jamboree organizers to travel in the canyon, claiming that it is a County Highway under R.S.2477.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance wants the BLM to issue trespass citations to San Juan County and Jeep Jamboree officials for violating the law and allowing the jeeps to trespass on public lands.

The alliance is asking that the BLM issue an emergency closure of Arch Canyon to protect it permanently from off-road vehicles.

The official host is Jeep® Jamboree USA, a division of Mark A. Smith Off-Roading, Inc. of Georgetown, California. The company charges registration fees for the Arch Canyon trip of $250 for each adult, $125 for each kid 7-14, and $75 for each kid 3-6.

The company says these fees cover experienced guides, meals, and "all necessary permits."

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California Bill to Control AOL Disk Waste Dies

SACRAMENTO, California, April 28, 2004 (ENS) - A California effort to reduce the flood of unsolicited computer disks from AOL and other junk mail marketers was dealt a setback Tuesday when a legislative committee let die a measure requiring marketers to provider consumers with free mail-back of unwanted disks.

“Even AOL acknowledges that only five percent or less of the people that receive these disks that promise a free internet hookup for a month or two actually use them,” said Assembly Member Loni Hancock, a Democrat who represents Berkeley and authored Assembly Bill 2166. “That means that California taxpayers are paying half a million dollars a year to dispose of 4,200 tons of waste that isn’t serving any purpose at all. My bill says that AOL should clean up its own mess.”

The bill had previously passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, but the the Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism & Internet Media Committee killed it on a three to four vote with six abstentions.

Hancock pledged, “I’ll be back.”

Mark Murray, executive director for Californians Against Waste, an environmental group that sponsored the bill, called AOL’s CD marketing plan, “possibly the single most flagrant producer of waste of any marketing program in the United States."

"AOL sends out 400 million of these free CDs a year and by their own estimate, 380 million are thrown away," said Murray. "That’s 380 million disks, the packaging they come in and the enormous amount of resources and energy that it takes to create them, and they don’t even have one minute of value for anyone."

AOL argued against the bill, stating in a letter to the committee that the measure would “aggravate the digital divide…through a major increase in the cost of distributing free trial software,” reducing the number of people in low income communities with access to the Internet."

In testimony before the committee, the AOL lobbyist, Cliff Berg, said, “This legislation doesn’t help the environment, it’s just legislating against an annoyance.”

Hancock said she found it “disingenuous for AOL to mask their desire for increased profits with their hand wringing concern for the poor. AOL gets them to sign up for free, gets their credit card on record and, the moment the trial period is up, immediately begins charging them the highest price in the nation for dial-up Internet service."

“The free CD mailing program didn’t emanate from AOL’s community relations department. It came directly from its marketing department. It’s about increasing their number of users so they can get top dollar from advertisers,” Hancock charged.

“While I certainly agree with AOL’s characterization of their constant CD mailings as ‘an annoyance,’ this bill is about protecting our environment by requiring AOL to internalize the costs of dealing with the immense amount of waste it is generating," said Murray.

"It is our hope that once AOL has to pay for it, they may begin to think having a recycling and reuse program would be to their benefit,” Murray said. “In any case, it should be AOL and not California taxpayers having to pay for the annoyance they cause.”

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New Jersey Preserves Highlands Water Resources

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 28, 2004 (ENS) - New Jersey Tuesday announced purchase of development rights on one property in the Highlands region and purchased another property outright for the protection of open space and water resources in the Highlands region. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Green Acres Program purchased a conservation easement on Buttonwood Game Preserve in Harmony Township and acquired the Danville Ridge property in Liberty Township from private owners at a combined cost of $1.57 million.

Threatened by overdevelopment, this northwestern section of the state supplies drinking water for 292 municipalities and 16 counties in New Jersey. The region produces one-third of the state's potable water and supplies drinking water to about 64 percent of New Jersey residents.

"Preservation of the Highlands region is important for all of New Jersey," said Governor James McGreevey. "The fight to protect the Highlands is a fight for clean drinking water and pristine open spaces. By preserving these two properties, we help ensure that generations to come benefit from and continue to enjoy this region's tremendous natural resources."

The 137 acre Buttonwood Game Preserve is adjacent to two farms that have previously been preserved through the state Farmland Preservation Program. The purchase of a conservation easement on Buttonwood Game Preserve retired development rights to the land and created a 425 acre area of total contiguous preserved land in Harmony Township.

The Buttonwood Game Preserve is a private pheasant hunting farm at which the public may continue to pay to hunt or to shoot sporting clays. The property offers prime habitat for grassland bird species.

The Danville Ridge property consists of a wooded upland watershed area upstream of the Pequest State Hatchery. The land, which will be managed by the DEP Division of Parks and Forestry as part of Jenny Jump State Park, was purchased for $1.1 million and includes the ridge of Danville Mountain.

The preservation of this 231 acre property will help to protect the Pequest River watershed and the DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife's Pequest Trout Hatchery which raises more than 600,000 brook, brown and rainbow trout each year for stocking of New Jersey's public waters.

The New Jersey Highlands is a 1,250 square mile area in the northwest part of the state known for its hills, forests and lakes. It stretches from Phillipsburg in the southwest to Ringwood in the northeast, and lies within portions of seven counties - Hunterdon, Somerset, Sussex, Warren, Morris, Passaic and Bergen - and 87 municipalities.

The larger Highlands region runs from Connecticut through New York and New Jersey into Pennsylvania.