AmeriScan: April 13, 2006

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EPA Report Shows Decrease in Emissions of Toxic Chemicals

WASHINGTON, DC, April 13, 2006 (ENS) - The amount of toxic chemicals released into the air, water and land of the United States decreased four percent from 2003 to 2004 according to the U.S.Environmental Protections Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) released Wednesday.

The report "demonstrates that economic growth and effective environmental protection can go hand-in-hand," said Linda Travers, acting assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Environmental Information. "We are encouraged to see a continued reduction in the overall amount of toxic chemicals being released into the environment."

Large decreases were seen in some of the most toxic chemicals from 2003 to 2004. Dioxin and dioxin compounds decreased by 58 percent, the TRI shows.

Releases of mercury and mercury compounds went down by 16 percent and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were cut 92 percent, according to the TRI.

More than 23,000 facilities reported for calendar year 2004. The EPA says 90 percent of these facilities used electronic reporting, which streamlined the process.

Facility-specific data was released last November and the full national data released today.

EPA's 2004 TRI reporting includes toxics managed in landfills and underground injection wells in addition to those released into water and air and releases or other disposals of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals.

PBT chemicals include dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, PCBs, mercury and mercury compounds, lead and lead compounds, and several pesticides.

The amount of toxic chemicals released into the environment has declined 45 percent since 1998, Travers said, adding that it is important to review the full data in context, since in many cases changes from one year to the next are less important than longer term trends.

TRI tracks the chemicals and industrial sectors specified by the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986 and its amendments.

In addition, the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 requires that TRI reports must include data on toxic chemicals treated on-site, recycled, and burned for energy recovery.

Together, these laws require facilities in certain industries to report annually on releases, disposal and other waste management activities related to these chemicals.

TRI data and background information: http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/tri04/index.htm

TRI explorer mapping tool: http://www.epa.gov/triexplorer

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FEMA's New Head Says U.S. Better Prepared for 2006 Hurricanes

ORLANDO, Florida, April 13, 2006 (ENS) - With the latest predictions indicating another active hurricane season in 2006, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is preparing with a renewed sense of commitment, improvement and urgency, the agency's director said at a national hurricane preparedness conference this week in Orlando.

The 28th National Hurricane Conference brings together 1,500 federal, state and local officials, emergency managers, voluntary agency representatives, engineers, planners, media, meteorologists and other response, recovery and hazard mitigation professionals.

FEMA is participating in training sessions designed to help communities respond to and recover from disasters.

In his address at the opening general session, FEMA Acting Director R. David Paulison described the upcoming hurricane season as a defining moment in emergency management.

"Americans want to know if we are ready for future disasters and they are anxious and looking to us for reassurance - and that is reassurance we can give them," Paulison said. "This hurricane season presents us with a tremendous opportunity; an opportunity to reaffirm the core principals of the emergency management community."

President George W. Bush announced on April 6 his intent to nominate Paulison as Under Secretary for Federal Emergency Management at the Department of Homeland Security and director of FEMA. Paulison has been acting director of FEMA since September 2005 and has overseen 25 disaster declarations since he assumed his position.

Paulison began his career as a rescue firefighter and rose through the ranks to become the Fire Chief for Florida's Miami-Dade County. After joining FEMA Paulison served as administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, and then as director of the Preparedness Division of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate in the newly created Department of Homeland Security from 2003-2004.

Addressing the emergency managers in Orlando, Paulison outlined preparations FEMA is making to expedite response and hasten recovery by strengthening federal, state and local partnerships.

"We can all agree that disaster response starts at the local level. When the local government is overwhelmed, they ask the state for support and when the state is overwhelmed, you request support from FEMA and the federal government," said Paulison. "Effective emergency management requires a team approach. This partnership needs to include all levels of government and all disciplines of emergency management and response."

FEMA is building on lessons learned from last year's hurricane season, years of emergency management experience, and coordination with federal, state and local partners to be ready, Paulison said.

To retool for the upcoming hurricane season FEMA is improving logistics tracking and commodity replenishment capacity; as well as improved coordination with other federal agencies including the Department of Defense.

New technologies will improve field visibility and communication interoperability, and several mobile registration intake centers and improved debris removal practices will be in place for the coming hurricane season.

"The first response belongs in the hands of those closest to the incident, those state and local officials who are putting together the evacuation plans and shelter locations and educating their residents on when to evacuate, where to go and what to do," Paulison said.

It means that individuals have the first responsibility in making their own preparations to protect their families, pets and property and should heed their local officials when evacuation orders are given. For information on disaster-planning, visit www.fema.gov.

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$17 Million Contract Awarded to Create Lousiana Storm Buffer

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, April 13, 2006 (ENS) - The NOAA Restoration Center and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources have awarded a $17.7 million wetlands restoration contract that will protect and create 1,400 acres of wetlands in Lafourche Parish to buffer the coastline against future storms.

Wetlands and coastal marshes provide an indispensable buffer for populated areas against the impacts of coastal storms and hurricanes. The 2005 hurricane season underscored this fact, NOAA said, announcing the contract.

The project, awarded to Pine Bluff Sand and Gravel Company of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, is located in an area that protects approximately 3,000 acres of fragile interior marshes between Louisiana's Little Lake shoreline and Bayou L'Ours Ridge.

The Little Lake Shoreline Protection and Dedicated Dredging Project is an area of considerable wetland loss which was caused by shoreline erosion, subsidence and channel construction.

"This project marks one of the largest marsh creation projects in the nation," said NOAA administrator Dr. Conrad Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere.

"This project, and others like it, are a key component in protecting natural resources in Louisiana as well as providing defense against hurricanes," Lautenbacher said. "It is exciting to see coastal restoration of this magnitude happening so soon after the impact from last year's hurricanes."

Known informally as the Little Lake/Round Lake Project, the restoration is designed to prevent erosion along roughly five miles of Little Lake shoreline; create 490 acres of inter-tidal wetlands along the Little Lake shoreline; and nourish 530 acres of intermediate marsh.

The project is key to the restoration and protection of coastal Louisiana, its communities and its natural resources and is scheduled for completion as early as winter 2006.

NOAA Fisheries Service habitat specialists, working through the NOAA Restoration Center, coordinate the planning, construction and monitoring of wetlands projects such as the Little Lake/Round Lake Project as part of the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), commonly known as the Breaux Act.

"This partnership with NOAA allows the state to restore some vital marshland in Lafourche parish," said Scott Angelle, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. "The project will put nutrient-rich dredged material into an area that has been deprived and degraded over the years."

The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act funds habitat restoration programs on an 85 percent - 15 percent cost sharing with the state of Louisiana. Five federal agencies and the state comprise the CWPPRA team working to reverse the loss of approximately 25 square miles of wetlands per year in Louisiana.

Cooperative wetlands rebuilding projects under CWPPRA are implemented through agreements between the federal agency sponsors and the Louisiana DNR. Projects are selected and managed by the Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force, as established by CWPPRA.

The Task Force is a partnership among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA Fisheries Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Louisiana Governor's Office.

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Exelon Cited for Radioactive Tritium Leaks at Third Illinois Plant

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, April 13, 2006 (ENS) - The state of Illinois has started legal proceedings against Exelon Generation for leaks of radioactive tritium at a third nuclear power plant in the state.

A Violation Notice, the first step in formal enforcement proceedings, has been sent to Exelon 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 Byron Station facility.

Studies have shown that exposure to tritium, through drinking or bathing, over the long term can lead to cancer and birth defects.

Chicago-based Exelon has been under the gun for a series of tritium leaks at three of its northern Illinois plants, including the Byron facility, the Braidwood generating station in rural Will County and the Dresden generating station in Grundy County, and for failure to notify state and federal officials of the leaks.

IEPA has already sent two violation notices to the Exelon Generation Company for violations at the Braidwood Station facility and one for the Dresden Station facility. The Braidwood violations have been referred to the Illinois Attorney General for enforcement action.

The Violation Notice for Byron specifically identifies violations of state environmental regulations relating to the impairment of resource groundwater.

Exelon reported that five vacuum breaker valve vaults had standing water from leaks from valve failures. In addition, sample results from two groundwater monitoring wells on-site show concentrations of tritium at levels that contaminate the groundwater and could threaten private wells.

Exelon is also being cited for discharging wastewater containing contaminants from areas of the discharge system 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.

The alleged violators 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 IEPA 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.

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Companies Pay $8 Million for Phoenix Airport Superfund Cleanup

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 13, 2006 (ENS) - Parties potentially responsible for soil and groundwater contamination at the Phoenix-Goodyear Airport North Superfund Site will have to pay over $8 million and clean up the site, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Under the settlement, Unidynamics/Phoenix, Inc. and its parent company, Crane Co., are required to continue current cleanup at the site, conduct supplemental site investigation and future cleanup, pay $6.7 million in past costs and all future oversight costs, and pay $500,000 in penalties.

The settlement also requires the companies to spend $1 million on an environmental project that includes the inventorying and assessment of up to 25 possible Brownfields sites in the city of Goodyear, complete four more extensive site assessments, and conduct cleanups at three of those sites. Goodyear is the community most impacted by the site contamination.

“We are ensuring prompt cleanup of the site’s soil and groundwater contamination that continues to threaten valuable drinking water resources,” said Wayne Nastri, the EPA's regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest region.

“We are conserving the Superfund by ensuring that those who contributed to the contamination pay for the cleanup," said Nastri. "We are also pleased that part of the settlement will go toward assessing and potentially redeveloping abandoned properties in Goodyear.”

From 1963 through 1994, the Unidynamics/Phoenix, Inc. facility, located near the Phoenix-Goodyear Airport, manufactured defense and aerospace component systems, including pyrotechnics and explosives, causing hazardous substance releases.

PGA-North is part of the larger Phoenix-Goodyear Airport Area Superfund site. The site was listed on the federal Superfund list in 1983 after the Arizona Department of Health Services discovered hazardous substances - including trichloroethylene, also known as TCE, and other VOCs - in local water supply wells.

Following investigation in the late 1980s, the EPA in 1989 selected the remedy to clean up soil and ground water contamination. Cleanup has been underway at the site for over a decade, and the EPA is now working to confirm the full extent of contamination and adapt the cleanup to address it.

The site is comprised of a northern and southern area - Unidynamics/Phoenix, Inc. and Crane Co. are the potentially responsible parties for the northern portion only.

In the late 1990s, perchlorate, a common component of rocket fuel, was found in area wells, and was added as a contaminant of concern for the PGA-North Site.

The penalties are a result of the companies’ failure to comply with two EPA orders, issued in 1990 and 2003, requiring site cleanup. The companies continued some cleanup activities required in the orders, but violated the orders when they failed to conduct certain portions of the cleanup - forcing the EPA to expend funds and conduct the work in their place.

In July 2004, the U.S. filed a complaint on behalf of the EPA against Crane Co. and Unidynamics/Phoenix Inc. seeking penalties for violating EPA orders, past costs, and an injunction to compel the companies to fully conduct the site cleanup into the future.

The settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, will be made available for a 30 day public comment period.

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Critical Habitat for California Red-Legged Frog Cut 90 Percent

SACRAMENTO, California, April 13, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it has cut by 90 percent critical habitat protection for the California red-legged frog, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The Service cited a controversial economic analysis as justification for cutting the original designation from 4.1 million acres down to 450,288 acres. Critics say the Service made its determination by measuring only the benefits that developers and ranchers will reap if the habitat is not protected.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service once again is playing favorites, enabling developers and other special interests to convert frog habitat to parking lots, while overlooking the costs habitat destruction will impose on the rest of us," said Ernie Niemi, managing director of ECONorthwest, an economics consulting firm that reviewed the Service's economic analysis.

"The Service is obligated to protect critical habitat unless it determines the economic impacts of doing so are too great, said Niemi. "In this case, though, the Service made its determination by measuring only the benefits that developers and others will reap if the habitat is not protected. This decision paves the way for further habitat destruction by special interests, leaving taxpayers to pay the bill for cleaning up the mess," Niemi added.

In 2001, under a court order, the Service designated 4.1 million acres of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog. But in 2002 the Service, responding to a lawsuit brought by the Homebuilders Association of Northern California, reversed its decision and removed protection from all but 199,000 acres of the frog's habitat.

The Service released a series of proposals, beginning in 2004 and ending with today's announcement, first reinstating the original 4.1 million acre designation then doing an about face and shrinking it down to 450,228 acres, in violation of the letter and intent of the Endangered Species Act.

"It's taken 10 years and several court orders for the Fish & Wildlife Service to fulfill its legal obligation to designate critical habitat for the California red-legged frog, and still the agency didn't get it right," said Mike Sherwood, an attorney with Earthjustice who represented the coalition that sued the federal government for habitat protection.

The groups represented by Earthjustice are Pacific Rivers Council, Jumping Frog Research Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation.

"The service has once again ignored the best available science, not to mention its own recovery plan. Essential habitat that the frog needs to recover to a healthy population was not protected, in violation of the law."

The Service said that part of critical habitat designation is a rule encouraging ranchers to help conserve the amphibian on one million acres or more of rangeland. The rule is designed to help cattle ranchers remain viable when they help the frog survive, the Service said.

The rule makes it easier for ranchers to maintain man-made stock ponds, an increasingly important breeding place for the frogs as natural streams and ponds are being lost.

“Overall, we believe that minimizing the regulatory restrictions on routine ranching activities will increase the likelihood that more landowners will voluntarily allow California red-legged frogs to persist or increase on their private lands,” the Service said in its rule, “and that the impacts to California red-legged frogs from such activities are far outweighed by the benefits of maintaining a rangeland landscape in which California red-legged frogs can co-exist with a ranching operation.”

"The best estimates indicate that California red-legged frogs have been eliminated from over 75 percent of their historic range and many of the remaining populations represent remnants whose survival is precarious. Yet, at best, the Fish and Wildlife Service's habitat designation is a token effort that can secure few existing populations without any real hope of recovering the species," said scientist Marc Hayes, an expert on California red-legged frogs.

Hayes said climate change and emerging diseases, including the chytrid fungus that is eliminating frog species on a global scale and has been found in California red-legged frog, are pushing these frogs towards extinction.

For the Federal Register notice click here.

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Weyerhaeuser Products Cut Without OK of Indigenous Landholders

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 13, 2006 (ENS) - A Rainforest Action Network report published today on FreeGrassy.org confirms that Weyerhaeuser building products and new homes marketed in the United States as “environmentally friendly” use wood clearcut without consent from treaty protected indigenous territory within Canada’s threatened boreal forest.

A February 28, 2006 letter from the Grassy Narrows First Nation community demands that the chief executives of Weyerhaeuser and Abitibi-Consolidated “immediately cease and desist from all logging and industrial resource extraction on our territory” without consent and asserts that decades of unsustainable logging has “poisoned our waters with mercury and other toxins, nearly eliminated our ability to practice our way of life, and robbed us of economic opportunities.”

The report documents the movement of wood from massive clear-cut operations on the traditional territory of the Grassy Narrows First Nation community into new American homes marketed as “Built Green” by Quadrant Homes, a subsidiary of Weyerhaeuser, the largest lumber company in the world.

Despite decades of negotiations, environmental appeals, protests, and what has become the longest running road blockade in Canadian history, industrial loggers like Weyerhaeuser continue to use wood systematically extracted from ecologically sensitive old growth areas and destroy the traditional way of life of the Grassy Narrows indigenous community who have lived on the land since pre-Columbian times, according to the report.

The report cites an independent, three year review of logging plans and practices on Grassy Narrows’ territory which found that current harvesting levels within the Whiskey Jack Forest cannot be sustained for even 20 years.

The company’s estimate of available wood is based on unrealistic assumptions about how much the forest can produce each year; and harvest levels are too high to protect existing wildlife habitat, or to allow the restoration of degraded habitat conditions in the forest, the report found.

Forest Management plans filed with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and excerpted in the report, attest that Weyerhaeuser uses half of the total volume logged from Grassy Narrows every year to make Timberstrand laminated strand lumber, an “environmentally sustainable” engineered wood product distributed throughout Canada and the Western United States.

Builders including at least two Weyerhaeuser subsidiaries use LSL for flooring, structural, window, and door applications in new home construction nationwide. Photographs from the report show LSL products from Weyerhaeuser’s Kenora mill used in new homes advertised under Quadrant’s “Built Green” program near Seattle, WA.

On March 27, Amnesty International submitted a briefing to the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which affirms the Canadian government’s “obligation to uphold the rights of indigenous people.”

Amnesty criticizes Canadian officials for allowing logging to proceed in Grassy Narrows over the clear opposition of the community and in violation of Indigenous rights protected by Treaties and other international law

“The government and the logging industry have conspired to destroy much of what we hold sacred,” says Joseph Fobister, Grassy Narrows business owner and community leader. “Our traditional values and culture are suffering and are headed towards extinction. This land and the forests that are an integral part of it have sustained our people for time immemorial. We watch as they disappear on the backs of logging trucks to paper mills all over the continent. We are left to deal with the environmental and sociological nightmare left behind following tree harvesting.”

“The clear-cutting of the land, and the destruction of the forest is an attack on our people,” says Roberta Keesick, Grassy Narrows’ blockader, grandmother, and trapper. “The land is the basis of who we are. Our culture is a land based culture and the destruction of the land is the destruction of our culture. And we know that is in the plans. Weyerhaeuser doesn't want us on the land, they want us out of the way so they can take the resources. We can't allow them to carry on with this cultural genocide."

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