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AmeriScan: April 5, 2005

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Evergreen Shipping Fined Record $25 Million for Oil Discharges

LOS ANGELES, California, April 5, 2005 (ENS) - Container shipping company Evergreen International, S.A. pleaded guilty Monday to 24 felony charges for concealing the deliberate, illegal discharge of waste oil in the waters of five port cities on both coasts and for a negligent discharge in the Columbia River.

Following the guilty pleas, U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter, Jr. ordered the company to pay $25 million, the largest penalty ever levied for deliberate vessel pollution. The fine will be divided equally among the five judicial districts involved.

Of this amount, $10 million will be directed to environmental community service projects in each district.

The 24 felony counts cover violations committed in Los Angeles, California; Newark, New Jersey; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Charleston, South Carolina.

The charges include making false statements, obstruction of Coast Guard inspections, and failing to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book.

The investigation of Evergreen ships and companies began on March 4, 2001 after the discovery of 500 gallons of oil in the Columbia River near Kalama, Washington. Through vessel traffic reports and oil samples, the U.S. Coast Guard traced the spill to the Ever Group, a container vessel managed by Evergreen Marine (Taiwan) Ltd., which had negligently discharged the oil.

On May 14, 2001, the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) discovered a bypass pipe used by crew members on another Evergreen vessel, the Ever Given, to illegally discharge waste oil into the ocean.

The violations on these two vessels led officers from the U.S. Coast Guard, the FBI, the EPA's Criminal Investigations Division, and Ecology to conduct inspections of other vessels owned, operated, or affiliated with Evergreen in various U.S. ports.

Investigators found that at least seven Evergreen ships - Ever Group, Ever Given, Ever Dainty, Ever Refine, Ever Gleeful, Ever Laurel, and Ever Reward - regularly and routinely used bypass equipment to discharge oily waste and sludge oil while circumventing required pollution prevention equipment and concealing the discharges in fictitious logs which it knew were inspected regularly by the Coast Guard.

In a factual statement filed by the court, Evergreen admitted that it knew the fictitious logs were regularly inspected by the Coast Guard.

According to a detailed factual statement filed in court and which Evergreen has admitted is accurate:

  • During a three and a half year period, Evergreen discharged waste oil and sludge through bypass equipment and without the use of required pollution prevention equipment from certain ships, with the knowledge that this pollution violated international law;
  • Evergreen concealed illegal discharges in order to prevent discovery by the U.S. Coast Guard through methods that included creating fictitious Oil Record Books and destroying a bypass pipe in anticipation of a Coast Guard inspection;
  • Evergreen made false statements to the Coast Guard about the operation of the oily water separator and certain engine room officers instructed crew members that if questioned by the Coast Guard they should deny any knowledge of such unlawful activities.
"Evergreen illegally discharged waste oil and then attempted to conceal its actions, thereby compounding its crimes," said Thomas Skinner, EPA's acting assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This guilty plea sends a clear and strong message to shipping companies: they will pay a heavy price if they intentionally violate our nation's environmental laws."

Four related Evergreen companies Evergreen Marine (Taiwan), Evergreen America, Greencompass Marine, S.A., and Evergreen International, S.A. will be bound by a detailed Environmental Compliance Plan to prevent future violations as a condition of probation.

Under the terms of the proposed plan, Evergreen will need to secure every overboard valve and flange with numbered tags and make other hardware changes to make bypassing more difficult. The compliance plan also requires that Evergreen ships visiting the United States be audited by an outside firm which will be reviewed by a special court appointed monitor.

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Shipping Company Owner Jailed for Dumping Oily Grain

MIAMI, Florida, April 5, 2005 (ENS) - Convicted of dumping hundreds of tons of oil contaminated grain into the ocean by a jury last November, the chairman and owner of an Iowa shipping company was sentenced Friday in Miami to 33 months in prison.

Rick Dean Stickle, chairman and owner of Sabine Transportation Company, was convicted of ordering the illegal dumping of 440 metric tons of wheat that was intended as humanitarian food aid for India when it became contaminated with diesel fuel and was rejected by Bengali authorities. The grain was dumped into the South China Sea from the SS Juneau, a Sabine tanker.

Stickle was also convicted of obstruction of an investigation conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Agriculture. The prison sentence was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Alan Gold, who also imposed a $60,000 criminal fine.

Sabine Transportation, headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, previously pleaded guilty to violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and paid a $2 million criminal fine. Stickle was owner of all of the company's ships and more than 10 other related companies.

The government's investigation began when the SS Juneau arrived in Portland, Oregon at the end of a voyage and crew members alerted Coast Guard personnel that a diesel oil leak in one of the Juneau's main cargo tanks was discovered while the humanitarian shipment of grain was being off-loaded in Bangladesh in December of 1998.

Over the course of the following month, while the ship was in Singapore, company officials and vessel officers discussed various ways of off-loading the cargo legally, but this option was ultimately rejected by Stickle as too expensive, according to the evidence introduced at trial.

Instead, Stickle and other company officials intentionally misled Coast Guard officers in Singapore and Portland by failing to disclose the true nature of the contaminated residue and seeking authorization to discharge the residue at sea by mischaracterizing the true nature of the waste.

Stickle and other Sabine executives had decided to hire a team of 15 Bulgarian nationals to board the SS Juneau in Singapore and directly discharge the contaminated wheat into the ocean during the return voyage to the United States, which was done during the first week of February 1999.

Four others have been convicted in related prosecutions, including Michael Reeve, a former president of Sabine; Michael Krider, a former shore-side supervisory marine superintendent; Captain George McKay; and Chief Officer Philip Hitchens.

"The Coast Guard is very proud of the United States Government's success in bringing this case to justice for environmental crimes related to the SS Juneau," said Rear Admiral Thomas Gilmour, U.S. Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for Marine Safety, Security and Environmental Protection. "Shoreside executives who give orders to pollute the marine environment or impede investigations will continue to be held accountable even if their desks are many thousands of miles away from the scene of the crime."

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Ozone Depleting Inhalers Banned From 2009

WASHINGTON, DC, April 5, 2005 (ENS) - Distribution of the medication albuterol in metered-dose inhalers pressurized with ozone depleting substances will be banned after December 31, 2008, under a final rule adopted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday.

These inhalers are used to prevent and relieve the symptoms and progression of asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis and bronchiectosis.

The asthma medication, also known as salbutamol, is now available in at least two inhalers that do not rely on an ozone depleting substance as a propellant, the FDA said.

Loss of stratospheric ozone allows more ultraviolet radiation to reach the Earth’s surface and results in increased occurrences of skin cancer and cataracts as well as damage to marine organisms.

The final rule fulfills the FDA's obligations under both the federal Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the agency said today

The propellant used in metered dose inhalers is classified as a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC). It is the lack of hydrogen and the presence of chlorine in these molecules that implicate them in the destruction of the ozone layer.

In 1978 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a ban on nonessential uses of CFCs. This included all aerosol products except metered dose inhalers and several topical pharmaceuticals. The FDA joined in this ban and in 1990 these regulations became a part of the Clean Air Act.

The Montreal Protocol, an international treaty signed in 1987 to halt the loss of the the Earth's protective ozone shield, required an end to CFC production by January 1, 1996. An exemption was granted for the production of CFCs for exempted medical use. This exemption has been tentatively set to expire this year, but it undergoes re-examination each year.

The FDA said benefits of the new rule include reduced emissions of ozone depleting substances, financial returns to industry on investments in environmentally friendly technology, and international cooperation.

The FDA declined to issue any specific estimate on the volume of ozone depleting substance releases that would be eliminated by the new rule, saying, “Congress did not assign us the task of determining what amount of environmental benefit would result from the removal of CFC-containing medical devices. Congress did instruct us to determine whether such products are essential.”

The agency said it has determined that supplies and production capacity for the alternative inhalers will exist at levels sufficient to meet patient need by the end of 2008. The FDA said that sufficient test data on the alternatives is available, and that patients who relied on the ozone depleting substance product will be adequately served by the alternatives.

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New Mexico Adopts Efficient Use of Energy Act

SANTA FE, New Mexico, April 5, 2005 (ENS) - New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson today signed into law a measure that requires public utilities to evaluate and implement cost-effective programs that reduce energy demand.

The Efficient Use of Energy Act was developed by an energy efficiency task force convened by Governor Richardson. Energy efficiency advocates, gas and electric utilities, and consumer representatives resolved their differences in task force negotiations, paving the way for approval of the act without controversy, and the measure was passed nearly unanimously by the New Mexico State Legislature.

The new law requires a utility to obtain prior approval for its energy efficiency program and expenditures.

It provides for a tariff rider - not to exceed the lesser of 1.5 percent of a customer's bill or $75,000/year - for a utility to recover its energy efficiency expenditures. Utilities may defer program costs as a "regulatory asset" provided it does not exceed the 1.5 percent limit.

The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), which participated in the energy efficiency task force, today applauding the law's enactment.

“This legislation will result in expanded utility energy conservation programs,” said SWEEP Executive Director Howard Geller. “These programs in turn will help consumers and businesses reduce their energy consumption and energy bills.

SWEEP estimates that the Act will save households and businesses in New Mexico $765 million net over the lifetime of efficiency measures installed during 2006-2020.

“The Efficient Use of Energy Act should move New Mexico from a lagging to a leading state with respect to utility energy conservation programs,” said Gail Ryba, SWEEP’s New Mexico representative. “These programs could reduce peak electricity demand in the state by over 700 megawatts by 2020, equivalent to the output of two medium-size power plants.”

“The legislation will save water as well natural gas and electricity,” Ryba said, a boon to arid New Mexico. The water savings are expected to result from more efficient dishwashers and clothes washers, as well as from less operation of coal and gas fired power plants. SWEEP estimates the law will save at least six billion gallons of water during 2006-2020.

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New Jersey Recycling Plan Seeks to Boost Lagging Rates

MANSFIELD, New Jersey, April 5, 2005 (ENS) - Recycling of solid waste in New Jersey is declining, say worried state officials who see landfills overflowing with recylables.

The municipal solid waste stream recycling rate in 2003 stood at 32 percent, down from a high of 45 percent in 1995.

In an attempt to fix the problem, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has written a new solid waste management plan that focuses on boosting recycling rates across New Jersey.

The municipal solid waste stream recycling rate stood at 32 percent, down from a high of 45 percent in 1995.

Commissioner Bradley Campbell released the first update to the state's solid waste management plan since 1993 at the Association for New Jersey Recyclers annual meeting held last week in Mansfield, Burlington County. The plan prioritizes waste reduction and recycling.

"Recycling is not optional in New Jersey - it's the law," said Campbell. "The new plan documents a troubling decline in New Jersey's recycling rates, planning and enforcement issues and inadequate funding that all require serious attention."

Campbell proposed specific measures to manage the 20 million tons of waste generated in New Jersey each year. In order to meet the state's goal of recycling 50 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, an additional 1.7 million tons of material must be recycled based on current statewide rates.

The new plan quantifies this estimate not only on a statewide basis, but also by what is required from each county. The plan also includes an estimate of the statewide increase needed in terms of tonnage by material, such as newspaper, corrugated cardboard and food waste.

All 21 counties will be required to update their solid waste management plans to reflect the new initiatives in the state plan. Each county will have to adopt a new plan within 270 days of formal adoption of the statewide solid waste management plan.

The county plans will have to identify local strategies to achieve the recycling tonnage target identified for each county and include methods for public promotion of new opportunities and methods for enforcing local recycling mandates.

The county plan updates will identify the county and municipal programs responsible for enforcement of the recycling mandates, specify the minimum number of recycling inspections that will be undertaken annually and detail penalties to be imposed for noncompliance.

While the Clean Communities and Recycling Grant Act currently provides up to $4 million a year for municipal and county recycling programs, local entities require additional long-term, stable funding, Campbell notes.

DEP will host a meeting in each county to brief county solid waste and recycling officials on the details of the plan and to answer questions and gather direct input.

The new plan aims to expand recycling opportunities for various materials at schools, multi-family housing complexes, and small and medium sized businesses. The DEP will conduct a recycling initiative in late May or early June to educate the public and school age children on the importance of recycling in the state.

DEP will hold two public hearings on the proposed update of the solid waste management plan to accept formal comments - meeting dates and times to be announced.

In 2003, New Jersey generated 19.9 million tons of solid waste, which includes construction debris and scrap iron. Of that total, 10.4 million tons or 52 percent was recycled with 9.5 million tons sent for disposal.

New Jersey's recycling industry employs more than 27,000 people in the state, and generates more than $5.9 billion annually.

A copy of the proposed plan is available at the DEP's website at: www.state.nj.us/dep.

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Montana Court Blocks Mine Near Cabinet Mountains Wilderness

MISSOULA, Montana, April 5, 2005 (ENS) - Ruling in favor of a coalition of nine environmental groups, a federal district court in Montana has overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approval of a mining operation on the edge of Montana's Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

Judge Donald Molloy ruled March 28 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service overlooked serious concerns that the proposed Rock Creek Mine would drive grizzly bears and bull trout in the region extinct.

The lawsuit was filed by the non-profit, public interest law firm Earthjustice on behalf of the Rock Creek Alliance, Cabinet Resource Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Idaho Council of Trout Unlimited, Pacific Rivers Council, EARTHWORKS/Mineral Policy Center, and Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

The proposed mining operation would have removed 10,000 tons of copper and silver ore per day from under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, seven days a week, for 35 years.

The resulting loss of more than 7,000 acres of habitat would be devastating to the 15 or fewer grizzly bears that survive in the Cabinet Mountains.

In the ruling, the court noted evidence that the area’s tiny grizzly bear population appears to be declining and concluded, “given the clear possibility that bears are at least not increasing, contemplating the loss of additional bears related to the mine is not rational.”

The mine would have dumped up to three million gallons of waste water each day into the Clark Fork River, and threatened to destroy the bull trout population in Rock Creek, a tributary of the Clark Fork.

The court ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service had written off the Rock Creek trout population without properly considering the full range of threats facing the bull trout species.

The proposed Rock Creek Mine faced opposition from a coalition of local, regional and national conservation groups, along with local business representatives, public officials and ordinary citizens.

The mine gained nationwide attention last year when Tiffany & Co., one of the world's foremost jewelry retailers, published a full-page letter in the "Washington Post" opposing it, stating, “opponents fears are justified.”

Still, federal and state officials approved the mine, and mine operator Revett Silver Company, a subsidiary of the Canadian Revett Minerals Inc., planned to break ground at the site in July.

Local opponents of the mine were relieved at the ruling. “People want to live in this corner of Montana because of our spectacular wilderness,” said Kathi Slora of Noxon, Montana. “Putting a huge mine on the edge of our wilderness would destroy it.”

“I think this ruling is an important step in recognizing the uniqueness of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness,” said Peter Lupsha of Trout Creek, Montana. “We know there are bull trout in Rock Creek and grizzly bears in Rock Creek Meadows, but the Fish and Wildlife Service has ignored this and glossed over our concerns.”

Revett Minerals Inc. was incorporated in August 2004. In association with its initial public offering in February 2005, in which gross proceeds of C$34.5 million was raised, the company acquired a 65 percent holding in Revett Silver Company, a private U.S. company. Revett Silver owns 100 percent of two silver-copper assets located in northwestern Montana - the Troy Mine, and the Rock Creek development project.

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New Alloy Contains Spent Nuclear Fuel More Safely

BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania, April 5, 2005 (ENS) - A new alloy developed and patented by researchers at Lehigh University, Sandia National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory could help the U.S. dispose more safely of its stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel. Currently, 50,000 tons of spent fuel are stored at 125 sites in 39 states.

A nickel-based alloy with added gadolinium showed far greater ability than any other alloy to absorb the deadly radioactive neutrons emitted by nuclear waste, according to John DuPont, professor of materials science and engineering at Lehigh and principal investigator on the project.

Unveiled in the December 2004 issue of the American Welding Society's "Welding Journal," the discovery is the result of a four year study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Spent Nuclear Fuel Program.

The article, titled "Physical and Welding Metallurgy of Gadolinium-enriched Austenitic Alloys for Spent Nuclear Fuel Applications - Part II," won the society's Warren F. Savage Award for advancing the understanding of welding metallurgy.

The research group, which includes DuPont at Lehigh and scientists from Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico and the Idaho National Laboratory, conducted laboratory tests to determine the optimum amount of gadolinium to add to the nickel-based alloy.

Gadolinium is a silvery-white metal that occurs naturally in several different minerals. The researchers demonstrated that gadolinium can be added to specific nickel alloys and retain its malleability and ductility, as well as its ability to be heat-treated, shaped and fabricated readily into a desired shape.

Most important, says DuPont, is the fact that gadolinium absorbs neutrons, at a rate more than 60 times greater than the next best material, boron.

Borated stainless steel is the material commonly used in conventional nuclear-waste containers. However, borated stainless steel is not capable of housing some of the nation's highly radioactive spent fuel.

The higher neutron absorption capacity of gadolinium, says DuPont, means that highly radioactive fuel can now be safely transported to and stored at a permanent facility.

The tests involved mixing the constituent elements of the alloy, heating and melting the mixture, and allowing it to cool and solidify. The alloy was then heated and rolled into half-inch-thick sheets, and subjected to strength and ductility tests.

"We designed and developed various alloys to determine the quantity of gadolinium that could be added while still maintaining the desired properties," says DuPont. "We needed to be able to heat-treat the final material, weld it and fabricate it."

A specification has been approved for the alloy by the American Society of Testing Materials, which sets technical standards for materials, products, systems and services.

The alloy is being reviewed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, which also sets standards for the use of new products. Neutron absorption tests on the alloy were performed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The research team was awarded a U.S. patent for the gadolinium-nickel alloy last year.

The researchers spent a year investigating gadolinium enriched stainless steel alloys for spent nuclear fuel storage applications before hitting major obstacles to the production of those alloys using conventional hot working techniques.

The article comes amidst a controversy over plans by the Bush administration and Congress to transport the nation's spent nuclear fuel to Nevada and deposit it inside Yucca Mountain about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

In 2002, over the objections of Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn, Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed into law a resolution approving Yucca Mountain as the geologic repository for the nation's spent nuclear fuel.

DOE's application for a license to build the project is pending before the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The state of Nevada, contending that the Yucca Mountain project is environmentally and geologically unsafe, has filed lawsuits against DOE, NRC, President Bush and former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.

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