AmeriScan: April 30, 2007

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Supreme Court Lets Air Pollution Equipment Ruling Stand

WASHINGTON, DC, April 30, 2007 (ENS) - Today, the Supreme Court decided not to hear pleas by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the power industry to resurrect a Clean Air Act loophole that the federal appeals court in Washington struck down unanimously in March 2006.

The loophole would have allowed more than 20,000 power plants, refineries and other industrial facilities to replace existing equipment with "functionally equivalent" equipment without first undergoing the required clean air reviews.

The exemption would have applied even if a facility's air pollution increased by tens of thousands of tons as a result of the new equipment.

The 2006 appellate court decision had denounced the EPA for violating the plain terms of the Clean Air Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the administration's loophole contradicted the purposes of the Clean Air Act.

The Clean Air Act's New Source Review program was designed to curb air pollution from these and other industrial facilities by requiring them to install up-to-date pollution controls whenever they made physical or operational changes that increased air pollution.

Many of the nation's older power plants have operated beyond their expected lifespans, polluting at high levels, because utilities have rebuilt these grandfathered plants over time. Some have modified these facilities in ways that increased air pollution without complying with Clean Air Act requirements to install modern emissions controls.

The EPA launched enforcement lawsuits against utility and refinery violators during the last few years of the Clinton administration for pollution increases.

The Bush administration wanted to derail these enforcement suits and eliminate future actions by changing the rules to allow companies to rebuild their facilities and boost pollution levels without having to meet New Source Review program requirements by allowing "functionally equivalent" equipment.

The plaintiffs winning the case at the appellate level included Alabama Environmental Council, American Lung Association, Clean Air Council, Communities for a Better Environment, Delaware Nature Society, Environmental Defense, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Michigan Environmental Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, Ohio Environmental Council, Scenic Hudson, Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The groups were represented by Earthjustice, the Clean Air Task Force and NRDC. A group of 15 state attorneys general, led by the state of New York, was also part of the successful lawsuit.

"Todayís Supreme Court announcement marks the close of one chapter of the Bush administrationís lawless campaign to weaken basic clean air protections," said John Walke, director of NRDCís Clean Air Program. The Bush EPA should stop pretending our laws can be set aside in favor of fictions they write for industry, and instead focus on protecting the American people against harmful pollution."

"We are grateful, but not surprised, that the Supreme Court has once again reminded EPA that the Clean Air Act says what it means and means what it says. "Significant renovations at old dirty power plants cannot avoid requirements to apply pollution controls," said Ann Weeks, legal director with the Clean Air Task Force.

Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell said, "The Bush administration is on notice that it cannot expect our nationís courts to look the other way while it flouts the Clean Air Act."

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Six Critical Air Pollutants Down in 2006

WASHINGTON, DC, April 30, 2007 (ENS) - Preliminary air quality and emissions data for 2006 shows continued improvement in the nation's air quality over the long term, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, released today.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA sets national air quality standards for six key pollutants - nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and lead.

Emissions of these six pollutants have dropped by more than half since 1970 and the national average concentration for each criteria pollutant is below the level of its air quality standard.

While national average concentrations of the six key pollutants are below national standards, results vary by site, and annual levels at some individual sites do remain above one or more of the national air quality standards, the EPA said.

Annual pollution levels at some monitoring sites do remain above one or more of the national air quality standards, with ozone and particulate matter remaining as the most persistent problems.

Carbon monoxide levels show the greatest improvement, down 62 percent from 1990 levels; lead is down 54 percent and sulfur dioxide is down 53 percent from 1990 levels.

The EPA points out that while emissions of the six key pollutants and the compounds that form them continue to decline, the United States has continued to grow and prosper.

To view more detailed figures, click here.

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Texas Refinery Spends $40 Million to Settle Air Violations

PORT ARTHUR, Texas, April 30, 2007 (ENS) - Total Petrochemical USA will pay a $2.9 million penalty and upgrade pollution controls at its Port Arthur, Texas, refinery to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

Total will make changes to its facility, estimated to cost $37 million, that will reduce the facility's emissions of air pollutants.

When completed, the measures Total will implement will reduce annual emissions of nitrogen oxides by more than 180 tons, sulfur dioxide by more than 800 tons, and carbon monoxide by more than 120 tons.

The company has agreed to upgrade leak detection and repair practices and to implement programs to minimize the flaring of hazardous gases, the process by which byproduct-gas from the refining process is burned-off in a flaring device.

This is the first refinery settlement to include fixed penalties for the flaring of hydrocarbon gases.

Under the settlement, penalties will apply to the future flaring of both acid gas and hydrocarbon gases that contain hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide.

Flaring can cause serious respiratory problems and worsen asthma.

The settlement includes a Supplemental Environmental Project that requires the company to test new infrared camera technology to detect equipment leaks. These equipment leaks may contain emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone and smog. Infrared leak-detection cameras are state-of- the-art technology that allow faster detection of equipment leaks.

"This settlement is another success in EPA's overall effort to reduce refinery pollution," said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. "With today's settlement, 86 refineries in 25 states across the nation have agreed to address environmental problems and invest over $4.5 billion in new pollution control technologies."

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Chevron Fined $1 Million for Oil Spill in Arthur Kill

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 30, 2007 (ENS) Ė Chevron has agreed to pay $1 million for spilling more than 10,000 gallons of crude oil into the Arthur Kill waterway last year, New Jersey law enforcement officials announced today.

The funds paid by Chevron in the civil settlement with the Attorney Generalís Office will be used by New York/New Jersey Baykeeper for a project to reestablish oyster beds in New York/New Jersey Harbor in the area of the Arthur Kill and Raritan Bay.

The Arthur Kill (from the Middle Dutch word kille, meaning water channel) is a tidal strait separating Staten Island from mainland New Jersey.

"This is an appropriate settlement, particularly given that the funds will be used to create new oyster beds in an effort to reestablish an important part of the harborís ecosystem," said Attorney General Stuart Rabner. "Chevron previously paid for the environmental cleanup of the spill."

A barge was offloading crude oil at the Chevron Perth Amboy facility on February 13, 2006, when the oil was discharged from a leak in a pipeline near the Arthur Kill. The oil leached into the Arthur Kill, where it created a slick that led the U.S. Coast Guard, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Division of Criminal Justice Ė Environmental Crimes Bureau to respond.

"The circumstances surrounding this spill were thoroughly investigated by our Environmental Crimes Bureau," said state Criminal Justice Director Gregory Paw. "Fortunately, the environmental damage from the spill was limited due to the quick response. This civil settlement represents a beneficial resolution of this matter."

The settlement and investigation were handled for the Environmental Crimes Bureau by Supervising Deputy Attorney General Edward Bonanno and State Investigator Stephen Coraggio.

Chevron previously paid the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection $45,000 in a natural resource damage settlement related to the spill.

At one time, New York/New Jersey Harbor was filled with oyster beds that supported an entire fishing industry. The oyster population was decimated through pollution and over-fishing. NY/NJ Baykeeper has been working to create new oyster beds in the harbor. The funds from this settlement will be used for the Great Beds Western Raritan Bay Habitat Restoration Project.

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New Jersey Warns of Terrorist Strike on Nuclear Plant

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 30, 2007 (ENS) - The state of New Jersey has filed a petition with the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals challenging a finding by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it need not consider the impact of a terrorist attack as part of its relicensing review of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant.

New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner announced the petition today.

AmerGen Energy LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Exelon Corporation, operates the facility and has applied for a 20 year license extension to 2029.

At issue is a February 26, 2007 decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, rejecting New Jersey's contention that, within the Oyster Creek relicensing process, an analysis of the potential impact of a terrorist strike at the plant should be a required component.

The decision affirmed an earlier one by the NRC's Atomic Safety & Licensing Board, which held that no such analysis was required.

Attorneys for the state have argued before the NRC that there should be an in-depth analysis of the likely environmental consequences of a terrorist attack at Oyster Creek, located in Lacey Township, Ocean County, near the New Jersey Shore.

They have contended that, in accordance with federal law, any relicensing study of Oyster Creek should include consideration of the environmental consequences of an aircraft attack on the plant's reactor, the vulnerability to attack of the plant's spent fuel pool, and the viability of current measures designed to protect against these dangers, among other issues.

The NRC maintains that New Jersey has raised purely "speculative" and "theoretical" concerns. Rabner said the state disagrees, and that it intends to underscore inconsistencies between NRC rhetoric in this case and its actual oversight of nuclear power plants.

"It is difficult to reconcile the NRC's actions with its stated position on the Oyster Creek matter," said Rabner. "On the one hand, the NRC has imposed extensive security requirements on nuclear power plants since 9/11 to guard against attacks. On the other hand, it continues to insist that, from a legal perspective, the likelihood of such an attack is merely theoretical, and not worthy of analysis as part of the relicensing process."

Rabner noted that the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a California case decided last June involving an advocacy group's lawsuit against the NRC, observed a similar inconsistency between NRC's legal arguments and its antiterrorist directives.

In that case, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace argued that an analysis of the potential impact of a terrorist attack should be required as part of the licensing review for a proposed independent fuel storage installation at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant run by Pacific Gas & Electric Company in San Luis Obispo.

The Ninth Circuit decided in favor of Mothers for Peace. It found that, as a matter of law, the NRC erred in determining that the National Environmental Policy Act does not require NRC to consider the potential impact of terrorist attacks at nuclear facilities.

Subsequently, Pacific Gas & Electric petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, but the Court refused.

New Jersey Department of Enivornmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson said, "Our primary concern is the potential for harm to human health and the environment. In fact, the DEP currently maintains an environmental monitoring system that detects even the smallest increases in radioactivity from the nuclear power plants in New Jersey. If the NRC intends to block states from considering the environmental consequences of a terrorist attack, then they are obligated to assess that danger themselves."

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Diesel Fuel Spills at Pearl Harbor Naval Station

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii, April 30, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Navy is working with the Hawaii Department of Health to clean up the underground release of 359,000 gallons of diesel fuel used to power naval vessels, according to a statement from the Navy.

The spilled fuel does not pose any danger to the public or drinking water resources in the area, the Navy said, and none of the fuel has leaked into the waters of Pearl Harbor.

On Wednesday, gauges on a fuel storage tank located at Pearl Harbor indicated that the fuel level in the tank was dropping.

Unable to detect any visible leak, workers discovered the fuel was draining directly into the ground.

Using a variety of methods, including vacuum trucks, the Navy is cleaning up the spill. The reason for the leak was not released.