AmeriScan: April 6, 2006

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Republican Environmentalists Rate Congressional Republicans

WASHINGTON, DC, April 6, 2006 (ENS) - Republican environmentalists rating Republican members of Congress on their environmental votes for the first time chose Representative Sherwood Boehlert of New York and Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island as providing the most responsible leadership.

The first Congressional Scorecard issued by the environmental group Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) rates GOP members of Congress for their votes and leadership on critical energy, public lands, air, and water legislation during 2005.

"We are proud of our Republican lawmakers who scored well," said REP President Martha Marks. "They are leading the way on the critical environmental and natural resource conservation issues facing America. These Republicans are truly following in the footsteps of great conservation-minded Republicans such as President Theodore Roosevelt, Congressman John Saylor, and Senator John Chafee.

Besides Senator John Chafee's son Senator Lincoln Chafee, top-scoring senators include Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and Mike DeWine of Ohio.

In the House, other members who earned outstanding scores include Jim Saxton, Frank LoBiondo, and Christopher Smith of New Jersey; Nancy Johnson and Christopher Shays of Connecticut; Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Michael Castle of Delaware, Jim Leach of Iowa, Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland, Jim Ramstad of Minnesota, and Timothy Johnson of Illinois.

"This scorecard is an important tool for carrying out our mission to restore the GOP's great conservation tradition," Marks added. "We believe that it presents a fair and accurate evaluation of environmental performance, and hope that Members will take a reflective look at it."

The lowest scores were earned by Representatives Richard Pombo of California and Joe Barton of Texas in the House, and by Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska in the Senate.

"It is unfortunate that some in our party have lost sight of the importance of conservation and environmental protection for keeping America strong, healthy, prosperous, and secure," said David Jenkins, REP government affairs director. "It's time for all of our Republican leaders to recognize that conservation is conservative."

Lawmakers were scored on a scale of 0 to 100, and scores can fall below zero or exceed 100. Unique to REP's Scorecard is a system for assigning credits or demerits for significant non-voting actions demonstrating either positive or negative leadership on environmental issues.

To ensure that floor votes always represent the bulk of scoring, non-voting actions carry half the weight of a vote and their number cannot exceed the number of rated floor votes. Absences are counted as a negative vote, and each lawmaker's score was rounded up or down to the nearest whole number.

The REP Congressional Scorecard is online at: http://www.rep.org/2005_scorecard.pdf.

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Bush Administration Ramps Up Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump

WASHINGTON, DC, April 6, 2006 (ENS) – On Wednesday, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman sent a legislative proposal to Congress that attempts to infuse new life into the troubled Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository, stalled in the pre-permitting phase.

The proposed bill would eliminate the current statutory 70,000 metric ton cap on disposal capacity at Yucca Mountain, in order to allow maximum use of what Bodman called "the mountain’s true technical capacity."

Currently, more than 50,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel are stored at more than 100 above-ground sites in 39 states, and every year, American reactors produce an additional 2,000 metric tons of spent fuel.

Yucca Mountain was approved by Congress and President George W. Bush, but opposition from the state of Nevada, where the site is located, technical issues and a scandal over falsified scientific data have stalled the project.

Originally supposed to be in operation by the year 2010, optimistic estimates now put the opening date at 2015. By then the entire 70,000 metric ton disposal capacity mandated by law would be filled, before the first ton was deposited.

The proposed legislation would withdraw permanently from public use the land at and surrounding the Yucca Mountain repository site, which is located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas at the border of the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. Permanent withdrawal is needed to meet a Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing requirement for the Yucca Mountain repository and will help assure protection of public health and the environment, Bodman said.

The measure would facilitate Congress’ ability to provide adequate funding for the Yucca Mountain Project, he said.

Also included are provisions for a more streamlined NRC licensing process, and for initiation of infrastructure activities, including safety and other upgrades and rail line construction, to enable earlier start-up of operations.

Other provisions are designed "to consolidate duplicative environmental review," Bodman said.

The Energy Department recently announced the new Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), which would recycle spent nuclear fuel generated in the United States and other nations and sell it to nations who agree to employ nuclear energy for power generation purposes only.

Even with the potential waste minimization function of the GNEP program, the Yucca Mountain repository would still be needed to provide for the safe, permanent geologic disposal of spent nuclear fuel, Bodman said.

The bill will run into opposition from the Nevada Congressional delegation, particularly from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a long-time foe of Yucca Mountain on safety grounds.

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Democrats Ask Bush for Bipartisan Summit on Energy Independence

WASHINGTON, DC, April 6, 2006 (ENS) - Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, along with 50 Democratic senators and representatives, today sent a letter to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, urging them to immediately convene an emergency bipartisan national energy summit to solve the problem of America’s dependence on foreign and unstable sources of oil.

In their letter, the Democrats called for a "real commitment" from President Bush, asking him to convene a summit that brings together lawmakers from both parties and stakeholders from across the country to find a workable, smart solution to ensure America’s energy independence and protect its security.

“Securing our nation’s energy future is among the biggest economic and national security challenges facing our generation,” wrote the Democrats.

“The status quo - in which the security of the United States and the vitality of our domestic economy is left to the whims of foreign regimes and companies that may not have the best interests of our nation at heart - is simply not an option," they wrote.

“The summit would have representation from all facets of American life, including oil companies, automakers, alternative fuel producers, consumers, scientists, environmentalists, transportation experts, state and local leaders, and be open and transparent to the public in a free-flowing format,” the letter proposes.

Democrats believe energy independence is necessary for America’s security, and have unveiled the "Real Security" plan that they say will achieve that goal by 2020 with "policies that are tough AND smart."

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Gallup Environment Poll Finds Majority Give Bush Poor Rating

PRINCETON, New Jersey, April 6, 2006 (ENS) - Gallup's annual poll on the environment finds most Americans saying the government is doing too little to protect the nation's natural resources.

A majority also says that President George W. Bush is doing a poor rather than a good job protecting the environment, with a substantial minority accusing the Bush administration of weakening the country's environmental policies.

Democrats and independents are mostly critical of Bush and the country's environmental policies, while Republicans are mostly positive.

According to the poll, conducted March 13 through 16, 62 percent of Americans say the government is doing too little to protect the environment, while 33 percent say it is doing about the right amount. Four percent say the government is doing too much.

This year's reading continues a negative trend since the 2003 poll, writes Gallup's David W. Moore. People were almost as negative in 2000 and actually more likely in 1992, than they are now, to say the government was doing too little to protect the environment.

A substantial minority of Americans, 43 percent, accuse the Bush administration of weakening the country's environmental policies. In April 2001, 34 percent already expected that to happen, and the percentage has gradually increased over the past five years, Moore writes.

At the same time, the percentage who expected the Bush administration to strengthen environmental policies was at 13 percent in April 2001, but the latest poll shows that just five percent believe the administration has done that, about the same as 2004.

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Illinois Slaps Exelon With Another Tritium Enforcement Action

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, April 6, 2006 (ENS) - Exelon is in trouble with the state of Illinois again for leaks of water contaminated with radioactive tritium from one of its nuclear power plants.

A Violation Notice, the first step in formal enforcement proceedings, has been sent to Exelon Generation by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), as the result of leaks of water containing tritium, identified during an ongoing investigation at the company’s Dresden Station facility.

IEPA has already sent two violation notices to the Exelon Generation Company for violations at the Braidwood Station facility. Both were subsequently referred to the Attorney General for enforcement action, and the state filed charges against Exelon in March for leaking millions of gallons of radioactive water laced with tritium.

Leaks began at Braidwood in 1996, but Exelon first notified authorities in December 2005, after a member of the public had already done so.

The Dresden Violation Notice specifically identifies violations of state environmental regulations relating to the impairment of resource groundwater. Exelon has reported tritium in several monitoring wells on and off plant property, as well as four private drinking water wells off-site.

The private wells located directly south of the facility have detectable levels of tritium, but the levels were well below health based drinking water standards.

Exelon is also being cited for discharging wastewater containing contaminants from areas of the discharge canals other than the outfall points allowed by its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) water discharge permit, as well as violating other operational and reporting requirements of its NPDES discharge permit.

Exelon will have 45 days from receipt of the Violation Notice to respond and provide an enforceable plan for addressing each of the specified violations to prevent a re-occurrence.

During that time, they may document that the charges are not applicable, or demonstrate to the Illinois EPA how they will resolve the violation through a proposed Compliance Commitment Agreement. The Illinois EPA would have to concur with the plan.

The letter also advises Exelon that, because of the nature and seriousness of the violations, further enforcement action may be required that could include imposition of statutory penalties and fines.

The Illinois EPA will continue oversight of Exelon's eight nuclear power plants in the state in order to ensure compliance with the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and Illinois Groundwater Regulations.

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Sikorsky Helicopter Manufacturer Fined for Ozone Violations

BOSTON, Massachusetts, April 6, 2006 (ENS) - A fine of $325,000 may be levied under an EPA complaint against the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation for violations of the federal stratospheric ozone protection regulations and two federal hazardous air pollutant standards at its plant in Stratford, Connecticut.

The complaint follows administrative orders issued to Sikorsky in both 2004 and 2005, and is EPA’s third case in three months against New England companies for violations of the ozone protection program.

The EPA complains that two refrigeration units at the Stratford plant that use ozone-depleting substances as refrigerants violated the leak repair and follow-up repair verification requirements of the ozone protection regulations.

As a result, these units leaked excess ozone-depleting substances into the atmosphere.

Sikorsky also failed to document the type of service performed on the units.

The maximum fine proposed under EPA's complaint is $325,348.

“The ozone layer provides important protection to all of us from the sun’s harmful rays,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “It’s important that companies and individuals who work with ozone depleting substances follow appropriate steps to ensure the materials are not released into the atmosphere. This helps keep the ozone layer intact.”

Some refrigerants destroy the thin layer of ozone in the stratosphere. The stratospheric ozone layer protects humans from being exposed to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Most of these refrigerants are being phased out and replaced with safer alternatives.

International and federal stratospheric ozone protection regulations were established to limit the emissions of substances that destroy the ozone layer. The federal regulations provide strict rules governing the service, maintenance, repair and disposal of ozone depleting substances.

EPA’s case against Sikorsky includes violations of a federal chromium standard for failing to properly operate emission filtration equipment, and violations of an aerospace manufacturing standard for failing to shut down paint booths when emission-controlling waterwalls lacked proper water pressure.

Sikorsky, which is part of United Technologies Corporation, designs and manufactures advanced helicopters for commercial, industrial and military uses. Sikorsky’s helicopters are used by all five branches of the United States armed forces.

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Argentine Ant Invasions Stimulated by Water

SAN DIEGO, California, April 4, 2006 (ENS) - Got ants? Try turning off the outdoor sprinklers. According to a study conducted by two biologists at the University of California, San Diego, Argentine ants in Southern California need wet soil to live and breed. So residents plagued by indoor infestations may find relief by simply shutting off or substantially limiting the use of their outdoor irrigation.

The biologists report in the March 30 issue of the "Journal of Animal Ecology" that they were able to increase the abundance and encourage the spread of Argentine ant ants by irrigating normally dry land. Once irrigation ended and soil moisture declined, they found, the number of ants returned to pre-irrigation levels.

Biologists have long suspected that water is critical to the survival of the tiny ants, which thrive in coastal California and invade new subdivisions.

"This is the first, definitive study that provides unambiguous experimental evidence that soil moisture can control invasions of Argentine ants," says David Holway, an assistant professor of biology who conducted the study with Sean Menke, a graduate student at University of California, San Diego.

"Our study shows that if you irrigate, you may well have ant problems," says Holway. "And if it's dry, you're not going to get Argentine ants. If it's at all possible to limit your irrigation, you can decrease problems associated with Argentine ants."

The tiny dark brown ants, are thought to have entered the United States aboard ships carrying coffee from Brazil during the 1890s, then expanded throughout California and the southern United States.

In the Southeast, their proliferation may be now limited by the introduction of fire ants. But in California, where those competitors are absent, the Argentine ants thrive, killing and displacing native ants. In Southern California, Argentine ants are second only to termites as household pests.

The UCSD biologists conducted their experiments at five ecologically different sites San Diego County. They manipulated soil moisture with drip irrigation for six months during the dry season, from May to October, and observed the effects on the ant populations.

After three months, the Argentine ants had 54 percent more nests in the irrigated sites. When the water was shut off, the ants retreated, reaching the levels of control sites after another three months.

Because irrigation increased plant growth around the study sites, the scientists also conducted experiments in which they suppressed plant growth with an herbicide. They discovered that the ant populations were 38 percent higher in the irrigated plots with plants than in those without plants, probably because of the presence of aphids, which provide an additional source of food for the ants.

But the slight increase in ant populations provided by plants was far less than that provided by water alone. "These results are extremely clear," says Holway. "If you have wet soil outside of your home, if you irrigate your yard frequently, you're providing an environment that is attractive for Argentine ants."

The results have implications for land use managers who must deal with streams of irrigated water and urban runoff from suburban developments year round. Holway says, "The extent to which urban runoff can be reduced or contained, problems associated with Argentine ants should diminish."

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