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AmeriScan: April 25, 2005

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Ukraine to Accept U.S. Nuclear Smuggling Detection Equipment

WASHINGTON, DC, April 25, 2005 (ENS) - The United States and the Ukrainian governments Friday announced a joint program to detect smuggling of nuclear and other radioactive material.

National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Administrator Linton Brooks and Colonel-General Lytvyn, chairman of the Administration of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, signed an agreement to install radiation detection equipment at key land borders, airports and seaports in Ukraine.

"The United States and Ukraine recognize the need to work cooperatively to stem the threat posed by the trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive materials," said Brooks. "This agreement will enable our countries to further international nonproliferation efforts and better protect the citizens of Ukraine, the United States and other countries against nuclear terrorism."

This equipment is designed to detect, deter and interdict illicit movements of nuclear and other radioactive materials. Ukraine will be one of several countries to employ the detection systems provided under the NNSA Second Line of Defense Program (SLD).

The agreement follows the April 4 joint statement of U.S. President George W. Bush and Ukranian President Viktor Yushchenko following their meeting at the White House that pledged to "begin a new chapter in the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery."

Building on cooperation "through the G-8 Global Partnership, the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and the Proliferation Security Initiative," the two presidents said, "We will deepen our cooperation on nonproliferation, export controls, border security and law enforcement to deter, detect, interdict, investigate and prosecute illicit trafficking of these weapons and related materials; enhance the security of nuclear and radiological sources; and dispose of spent nuclear fuel."

The NNSA works with foreign partners to equip border crossings, airports, and seaports with radiation detection equipment and to provide training to law enforcement officials. The specialized radiation detection technology deployed under this program was originally developed by NNSA laboratories as part of overall U.S. government efforts to guard against proliferation of weapons materials.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for maintaining and enhancing the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; working to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; providing the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responding to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.

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EPA Must Rewrite Plastic Factories' Emission Standards

WASHINGTON, DC, April 25, 2005 (ENS) - Citizens seeking protection from toxic chemicals emitted by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturing plants have won a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit that sends the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency back to the drawing board to write a new rule covering these emissions.

The citizens groups Mossville Environmental Action Network (MEAN) and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, had challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) emission standards for PVC plants.

They said the existing standards provided "absolutely no toxic emission reductions from PVC plants," despite the agency's 1998 statement that these emissions might "result in an increase in mortality or an increase in serious, irreversible, or incapacitating reversible illness.”

The EPA rule "had merely readopted 1970s-era standards for vinyl chloride, and included no standards for other hazardous air pollutants," Earthjustice said.

“This decision gives people in the communities near PVC plants a breath of fresh air,” said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. “EPA will now have to write a new rule from scratch and, this time, it will have to do a better job.”

PVC is used in plastic products such as pipes, siding, insulation for electric wiring, raincoats and seat covers. There are 27 PVC manufacturing plants located in California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas.

PVC plants emit vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen, as well as dioxins, toxic metals such as chromium and lead, and hydrogen chloride, a corrosive acid.

“The federal court did the right thing,” said Edgar Mouton, president of Mossville Environmental Action Now. “In Mossville, Louisiana, we have suffered as a result of EPA’s failure to establish a protective standard decades ago.” Mossville is home to 300 residents and 14 industrial facilities, including a PVC facility located near Lake Charles.

Louisiana state air officials responsible for overseeing PVC plant operations had informed the EPA during the rulemaking process that the agency’s rule was inadequate, but agency officials dismissed their concerns.

"The courts found that EPA's just do nothing response to deadly emissions from PVC plastics plants was just dead wrong,” said Marti Sinclair, Air Quality Committee chair for the Sierra Club. “EPA has the opportunity to redeem itself by acting quickly to extend the protection of the Clean Air Act to affected communities.”

Last June, the court threw out EPA’s rule after finding that the agency had failed to set emission standards for all the hazardous air pollutants that PVC plants emit. The court ruled against the agency’s claim that re-imposing the decades-old emissions standard for vinyl chloride alone would prove adequate to control vinyl chloride, lead, dioxin, chromium, and all other toxic pollutants was just not credible.

In October, the EPA petitioned for rehearing requesting that the Court send the PVC rule back for further analysis and explanation, instead of throwing it out altogether. But the Court rejected the EPA’s request, and affirmed its decision to vacate the rule in its entirety.

This decision will offer states and community groups a chance to participate in the drafting of a new rule regarding PVC plant emissions.

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Cash Hungry Agencies Try Fundraising Quotas for Scientists

WASHINGTON, DC, April 25, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has announced that it is ending a system that based performance evaluations for its scientists in part on how much money the scientists raise to support their research.

Under the system, put in place only this past March, scientists were tasked with finding private, state and other federal sponsors to buy their time. Fundraising quotas increased with the scientist’s pay grade.

So, a scientist at the GS-11 pay level or higher had to solicit a minimum of $110,000 to avoid an “unsatisfactory” rating and a minimum of more than $500,000 to earn an “exceptional” performance rating.

The sudden turnaround came in response to media inquiries following the revelation last week of explicit agency fundraising quotas as part of scientist ratings used for promotions and raises. The quota system was revealed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national organization representing government employees in natural resource professions.

“This fee-for-science scheme obviously could not withstand the slightest bit of public scrutiny,” said PEER Program Director Rebecca Roose. “It remains to be seen whether scientist fundraising quotas are renounced in name only or whether these federal scientists will be allowed to concentrate on doing their jobs.”

But another Department of Interior agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, is moving ahead with plans to have its scientists raise 20 percent of their salaries, PEER says.

Starved for funding, these Interior agencies hope to get interested parties to underwrite or share the cost of research projects. While, in many cases, potential research partners are other federal bureaus, state agencies or universities, in some instances, scientists are being asked to solicit oil companies, irrigators and other development interests.

“Turning scientists into fundraisers has conflict of interest written all over it,” Roose warned.

By contrast, the National Institutes of Health, after adverse publicity about financial arrangements that its scientists had with drug companies, has banned all financial and much non-financial interaction between its staff and outside interests. The research fundraising system at Interior would be prohibited if subject to the new rules at the National Institutes of Health.

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Diesel Truck Polluters Have Earth Day Court Hearing

SACRAMENTO, California, April 25, 2005 (ENS) - On Earth Day, April 22, attorneys for the California Air Resources Board (ARB) were in court confronting Caterpillar, Cummins, Volvo, and Mack for producing some one million diesel truck engines that have defeat devices, which ARB contends increase emissions and endanger public health.

"The actions of these manufacturers have put many lives at risk and cost California millions of dollars," said ARB Executive Officer Catherine Witherspoon. "Now these manufacturers are suing the ARB to avoid their responsibilities. They want truck owners, their customers, to pay the cost of correcting the software programmed to emit excess pollution."

ARB engineers working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered that manufacturers were using dual calibrations on engines produced between 1993 and 1998. These heavy-duty diesel engines were equipped with emission control systems with defeat devices that allowed excess emissions of smog forming oxides of nitrogen (NOx).

Since the early 1990s the manufacturers used electronic timing devices that cause the engines to perform one way when being tested for compliance and another under actual highway conditions, investigators found. The system was designed to recognize normal highway operation and then increase fuel economy, which produced greater NOx emissions.

The federal and state agencies brought enforcement actions in 1998, and the parties reached a settlement. Part of the settlement stipulated that the manufacturers would develop software to correct their onboard programs and eliminate emission increases. This software, the manufacturers agreed, would be "reflashed," that is, loaded onto the systems' computers, onto every engine as they came in for rebuild or at the consumer's request.

Through the negotiations with manufacturers, ARB says it expected the rebuilds would occur between 300,000 to 500,000 miles.

But many trucks were not brought in for rebuild until much later - from 750,000 to one million miles - and the time the engines emitted pollution at higher levels was lengthened. By March 2004, only 13 percent of the engines with defeat devices had been corrected.

ARB calculates that the amount of excess pollution emitted in California by the vehicles is about 1.5 million tons of NOx.

To address this problem, at its March 2004 hearing ARB agreed to work with manufacturers on a voluntary program to "reflash" these engines by 2008. As markers of progress the ARB agreed to targets of 35 percent by October 2004; 60 percent by May 31, 2005; 80 percent by January 31, 2006; and ultimately 100 percent by 2008.

As a backstop to the volunteer program, the ARB adopted a regulation that would legally require upgrades to be installed by the manufacturers if the targets were not met.

An update to the ARB Board in October 2004 made clear that the targets were in jeopardy. At the December 9, 2004, hearing, the Board confirmed that all but one manufacturer failed to meet its voluntary program target.

At that point the Board directed staff to file the regulation with the Office of Administrative Law, activating the regulation and requiring manufacturers to promptly reflash all the engines.

Instead, several of the manufacturers sued ARB.

"Besides the breathing public, the biggest victims from all this are the truck owners and operators," Witherspoon said. "They are the ones who are exposed most directly to the increased emissions and may ultimately have to pay for the software upgrades."

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New Jersey Refinery Agrees to $4.2 Million Clean Air Settlement

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 25, 2005 (ENS) - In a settlement reached with the state of New Jersey, the Valero Refining Company last week agreed to pay $793,000 in fines to settle air emission violations at its Paulsboro refinery that occurred between 2001 and 2004.

Valero will install controls that will reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2).

Under the consent order, Valero will install a $3.5 million, state-of-the-art air pollution control at the Paulsboro refinery waste water treatment system to reduce VOC emissions - including benzene and other hazardous air pollutants - by 95 percent.

Annual VOC emissions at the waste water treatment plant will decline by approximately 150 tons.

Valero also agreed to meet the enhanced requirements for benzene waste reduction at its Paulsboro refinery. By changing its management practices, the Paulsboro refinery will eliminate almost six tons of stray benzene emissions annually.

The Paulsboro facility will also implement the VOC enhanced leak detection and repair (LDAR) program. This will further reduce stray VOC emissions from the facility.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell called the agreement "a tremendous victory for New Jersey."

"The controls being installed at Valero's Paulsboro refinery will reduce the public's exposure to hazardous air pollutants, such as carcinogenic benzene, and to sulfur dioxide that contributes to asthma and acid rain," said Campbell.

Valero has already installed a state-of-the-art emissions control scrubber system at the Paulsboro refinery that is the first of its kind in North America and the second of its kind in the world.

This system began operation in October 2004 and is reducing SO2 emissions by over 1,000 tons annually. SO2 is a component of acid rain.

In addition, Valero has agreed to install technologies on its boilers and heaters at the Paulsboro facility that are expected to reduce annual SO2 emissions by at least another 500 tons beyond the reductions already achieved by the scrubber system, Campbell said.

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Tennessee Buys Renewable Energy for State Parks

NASHVILLE, Tennessee, April 25, 2005 (ENS) - Tennessee State Parks will purchase green power for every park where green power is available, making Tennessee one of the first state parks systems in the nation to utilize green power, Governor Phil Bredesen announced on Friday.

"There’s no better day than Earth Day to focus on the benefits of increased use of renewable energy sources," Bredesen said. "Reducing traditional power production through increased use of green power lessens impacts on the environment, which is especially important to help improve air quality in Tennessee."

Forty-four of Tennessee’s 54 state parks will have access to green power through the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Green Power Switch program. Green power is generated from renewable resources such as wind, solar and methane gas.

Green power is purchased in 150 kilowatt hour blocks at a cost of $4 per block. The state parks will purchase a combined total of 1,149 blocks per month. The additional investment of the state parks system in green power will cost $55,150 per year.

Environment and Conservation Commissioner Jim Fyke said the financial investment in green power is being offset by energy efficiency measures implemented at state parks including lighting and cooling improvements at Norris Dam, Sycamore Shoals, Fall Creek Falls and Pickwick Landing State Parks and other energy efficiency improvements at Henry Horton and Pinson Mounds.

"Along with potential cost savings of over $190,000 that our parks improvements are predicted to achieve, we estimate that more than 3.4 million pounds of greenhouse gases and other pollutants will be averted from the atmosphere," Fyke said.

"Now we’re coupling that with the environmental benefits that will be achieved by meeting some of the state parks’ energy demands through green power."

"The renewable resources used to generate green power are free, but the technology required to harness them costs a little more," explained Jim Keiffer, senior vice president of marketing for TVA. "As the demand for green power increases, however, that will help drive down the cost of these cleaner technologies."

Keiffer explained that TVA, a federal utility, receives power from the Buffalo Mountain Wind Park, the only commercial-scale wind-generating site in the southeast, which is located in Oliver Springs, Tennessee. The park recently expanded its capacity from three windmills to 18.

Ten of TVA’s 16 solar generating sites are located in Tennessee. TVA also operates a methane co-firing project located in Memphis, powered by the methane waste by-product from the city of Memphis’ wastewater treatment facility.

The state of Tennessee currently purchases green power for the Executive Residence and state buildings in downtown Nashville.

Fyke said the state parks’ purchase equates to the environmental benefits of planting 418 acres of trees. Four dogwood trees, symbolizing the environmental benefits of planting the 418 acres of trees, were provided by the Iris Fund and will be planted in four state parks. The Iris Fund uses funds generated by the state parks specialty license plate for native planting projects in Tennessee State Parks.

For more information about the Green Power Switch program, visit www.tva.gov/greenpowerswitch.

To learn about the Iris Fund, visit www.state.tn.us/environment/specplates.

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Oil and Gas Drilling Threatens Endangered Cactus

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, April 25, 2005 (ENS) - A Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposal for more than 900 new oil wells in Utah's Uinta Basin threatens the endangered Pariette cactus with extinction, according to a legal petition filed Thursday. Center for Native Ecosystems and the Utah Native Plant Society filed a formal emergency listing petition seeking immediate protection for this native wildflower that is found only near Pariette, Utah.

"In the face of intense oil and gas drilling, the Pariette cactus is just hanging on," said Tony Frates of the Utah Native Plant Society. "It is critically important that we protect it under the Endangered Species Act."

cactus

The Pariette cactus, Sclerocactus brevispinus, is found in only two places on Earth. (Photo courtesy Center for Native Ecosystems)
Also called the shortspine fishhook cactus, the Pariette cactus has purple flowers and short spines which make it unique.

The proposed oil and gas drilling would irreversibly damage the only known habitat for Pariette cactus - a single drainage in this part of eastern Utah - as well as the Pariette Wetlands Area of Critical Environmental Concern, Center for Native Ecosystems alleges.

The Pariette Wetlands, an oasis of the Uinta Basin surrounded by miles of arid desert, provide a green, marshy home for wildlife. Made up of a perennial stream and 20 man-made ponds, the marsh area harbors a wide variety of vegetation and wildlife.

With more than 105 birds and mammal species, the area is the BLM's largest waterfowl management area in Utah. Pariette was also one of the BLM's first opportunities to manage this type of area in the continental United States.

This native plant's precarious status is well known, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been considering adding Pariette cactus to the Endangered Species Act list for over a decade.

But in 2004, 1,006 permits to drill were approved by the state in Uintah and Ducshesne Counties - the counties where Pariette cactus occurs. The BLM estimates that at least 6,500 more wells will be drilled in the Uinta Basin in the next 15 years.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service and the BLM know that Pariette cactus is at risk of extinction, but they keep permitting drilling in its habitat," said Erin Robertson, staff biologist for Center for Native Ecosystems. "Extinction is not sound stewardship. The Service must act immediately to protect this rare plant."

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