AmeriScan: August 15, 2007

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Court Halts Shell Oil Exploration in Beaufort Sea

SAN FRANCISCO, California, August 15, 2007 (ENS) - Shell Offshore Inc., which was poised to start oil exploration in the Beaufort Sea, cannot proceed until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether the potential for environmental damage was properly considered by the federal agency that issued an exploration permit to the oil company.

A coalition of Native Alaskans and conservation groups sued to halt the drilling. They fear that such large-scale industrial activity would harm endangered bowhead and beluga whales, polar bears and other marine animals and birds in coastal waters just off the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

"The cost of drilling will lay with the local communities when the effects are seen on a daily life basis affecting our lives and our health," said Rosemary Ahtuangaruk, an Inupiat resident of Nuiqsut, a community near the proposed Shell lease area, and member of Redoil.

The groups challenged the permit issued by the federal Minerals Management Service, MMS, on grounds that the agency failed to conduct proper assessment of environmental impacts.

The court, which temporarily halted exploration last month at the groups' request, said today it would keep the injunction against exploration in place until the court resolves challenges to the agency's environmental review. The court put resolution of the case on a fast track.

The plaintiff groups are the Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pacific Environment, Center for Biological Diversity, and Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, Redoil.

The court order concludes that the petitioners "have shown a probability of success on the merits" and "the balance of hardships tips sharply in their favor."

Noise from exploration activities will disturb bowhead whale migration and feeding in the Beaufort, the groups claim.

"Shell would have started its exploratory drilling right at the peak of bowhead whale migration through the Beaufort Sea," said David Gordon, executive director of Pacific Environment.

"The agency's own scientists have warned that this type of activity could threaten serious impacts to bowhead whale mothers with calves," said Deirdre McDonnell, attorney with the nonprofit, public interest law firm Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs.

Shell had been granted permission by the MMS to drill as many as four wells this year, some just offshore from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This area has remained off-limits to major mineral exploration despite continued efforts of the Bush administration to open it up to oil and gas development.

"If polar bears are to survive as the Arctic melts in the face of global warming, we need to protect their critical habitat, not turn it into a polluted industrial zone," said Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity.

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New BLM Chief Excludes Public from Environmental Decisions

WASHINGTON, DC, August 15, 2007 (ENS) – A decision by the new director of the Bureau of Land Management, BLM, means that potentially harmful projects involving oil and gas exploration, logging and grazing on public lands are no longer subject to a key federal law that protects natural resources, says the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC.

NRDC experts say the decision sidesteps the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA, a law that gives the public a voice in decisions about federal projects in the communities where they live and work.

The decision declares that whole categories of projects do not result in any significant environmental impacts, thereby exempting them from environmental review.

"This is the Bush administration – though its new BLM director – silencing public input and turning the stewardship of the government into a rubber stamp for industry," said NRDC’s Bobby McEnaney.

"This decision will cause irreparable damage to the great wildlands of the American West," McEnaney said, "and it leaves the American people totally out of the conversation about what to do with land held in the public trust."

Last week, Bush appointee James Caswell was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the new director of the Bureau of Land Management.

"I passionately believe in multiple-use management and conservation of our public resources with a commitment to balance, cooperation, collaboration and sharing," Caswell testified before the Senate.

"In my view, achievement of this commitment requires scientific information, and listening to, learning about, and collaborating with the owners of our public lands – the American people," he said.

But Caswell's first act as director negates more than 30 years of public involvement in preventing serious damage to publicly owned resources, says the NRDC.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires that federal projects be reviewed for potential environmental impacts, and the public must be allowed to comment.

The law allows federal agencies to "categorically exclude" small specific projects from environmental review by declaring in advance that they do not result in any harm.

Categorical exclusions have been applied in the past to activities like Christmas tree cutting and mushroom picking.

Caswell has decided that, "Certain routine actions in the BLM’s forestry, grazing, oil and gas, and recreation programs are now among those that do not require an EA [environmental assessment] or EIS [environmental impact statement].

"Procedural requirements under all federal laws relating to environmental protection – including the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Clean Water Act and others – still apply to these activities," his decision states.

The NRDC says Caswell's decision clears the way for 60,000 pound "thumper trucks" in search of oil and gas to crash through sensitive areas, creating tire tracks deeper than many streams and destroying crucial wildlife habitat, without environmental review or opportunity for public comment.

NRDC advocates are now considering pursuing legal and/or legislative action to restore the environmental protections excluded from NEPA by this decision.

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Hearings Set for First U.S. MOX Nuclear Fuel Factory

WASHINGTON, DC, August 15, 2007 (ENS) – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will hear oral arguments August 22 in Augusta, Georgia, concerning the license application of Shaw Areva MOX Services, Inc., to operate a mixed-oxide, MOX, nuclear fuel fabrication facility near Aiken, South Carolina.

Mixed oxide, or MOX fuel, is a blend of oxides of plutonium and natural uranium, reprocessed uranium, or depleted uranium. It is viewed as a way of disposing of surplus weapons-grade plutonium, which otherwise would be disposed as nuclear waste.

MOX fuel fabrication facilities exist in the UK and in France. The Shaw Areva facility would the first in the United States.

Three organizations - the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Nuclear Watch South, and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service - have petitioned to intervene in the license review.

The August 22 oral arguments will address the standing of these organizations to intervene, and the admissibility of their five proposed contentions.

Those contentions include the failure to limit emissions of hazardous air pollutants, the accidental release of radionuclides, the extended onsite storage of radioactive waste not addressed in the facility's EIS or License Application, and the failure to address impact of terrorist attacks on plutonium fuel facility and transport.

The groups contend that, "The plutonium fuel factory proposed by MOX Services does not comply with national emission standards for radionuclides to the atmosphere."

The groups cite many failures in the application of Shaw Areva MOX Services, including, "failure to submit an Emergency Plan."

To read the formal outline of concerns expressed by the three petitioning organizations, click here.

In advance of the oral argument, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will hold an public hearing August 21 in North Augusta, South Carolina.

This session will allow members of the public who are not participating in the oral argument an opportunity to express their views about the proposed license to the three-judge panel.

The judges typically do not respond to these statements at the session, but the statements will be transcribed and will be considered part of the record of the hearing.

Statements at the August 21 session will be limited to three minutes. Members of the public who make a written request by noon on Friday, August 17, will have priority over those who sign up at the session. Requests should be faxed to the Office of the Secretary at 301-415-1101 and to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board at 301-415-5599; or e-mailed to hearingdocket@nrc.gov and pah@nrc.gov.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel is the independent trial-level adjudicatory body of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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Houston Pipelines to Pay $5.4 Million in Fines, Upgrades

BEAUMONT, Texas, August 15, 2007 (ENS) - Two Houston oil and gas distributors - TE Products Pipeline Co. LLC and TEPPCO Crude Pipeline, LLC, collectively known as TEPPCO - discharged 6,470 barrels of jet fuel, gasoline and crude oil into multiple waterways in Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma between November 2001 and May 2005, federal officials said today.

Under the terms of a consent decree filed in federal court in Beaumont today, TEPPCO will pay a total of $2,865,000 in civil penalties and in addition will spend $2.6 million on pipeline upgrades and continued monitoring.

"TEPPCO will pay a civil penalty and has agreed to make important upgrades to its pipeline systems which will improve overall safety," said John Cruden, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environmental and Natural Resources Division.

"TEPPCO agreed to make pipeline improvements that will increase the safety of its operations and help protect our nation's waters," said Granta Nakayama, the U.S. EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

"Water is essential to life, and industries must take every precaution to ensure their operations do not harm this vital natural resource," he said.

According to a complaint simultaneously filed and resolved by today's consent decree, TEPPCO was responsible for the discharging:

TEPPCO agreed to upgrades and monitoring including: The consent decree lodged today is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.

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Federal Wildlife Crime Lab Adds Bio-Containment Area

ASHLAND, Oregon, August 15, 2007 (ENS) - For nearly 20 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Clark R. Bavin National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, has helped solve wildlife crimes around the world and in the process, has become a pioneer in the field of wildlife forensics.

A new $15 million addition, to be dedicated on Thursday, could take the world's only full-service wildlife forensics lab to a whole new level in its battle against wildlife crime.

Lab Director Ken Goddard says, "We simply didn't have the proper where we could keep diseases contained so we had to refuse some cases."

The new 17,000 square foot addition includes a highly secure biological containment area that will allow the lab to accept carcasses and animal parts for other countries for analysis.

It will enable staff at the facility to handle hazardous materials such as poisons, pesticides, blood pathogens and other substances that can carry diseases.

The facility now has an expanded genetics lab and an odor free "bug room" where the lab's domestic beetle collection chews the meat off bones so scientists have clean skeletons to analyze.

"The forensics lab is essential to our work in enforcing wildlife laws," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall. " The lab helps our special agents and wildlife inspectors develop the evidence they need to bring charges and obtain convictions."

The lab, with a staff of 35 and a 2007 budget of $3.5 million, provides forensic services to all 50 state fish and wildlife agencies.

By treaty it is the official crime lab of the 172 signatory countries to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the Wildlife Subgroup of Interpol.

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Bronx Gets New York's First Green Affordable Homes

BRONX, New York, August 15, 2007 (ENS) - New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg Monday welcomed residents into the first affordable housing development in New York State's history to qualify for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes, LEED-H, designation from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Morrisania Homes is a 64 unit affordable housing development in the South Bronx region of New York City's Bronx borough.

Once known for decaying tenements and famous as the birthplace of hip hop music and culture, the South Bronx is now the site of the first affordable green homes in New York State.

"Green buildings represent a new frontier in the development of sustainable, affordable housing and will help lay the groundwork for a cleaner, healthier and more affordable future," said Governor Spitzer as he cut the ribbon opening Morrisania Homes today.

Mayor Bloomberg said, "The Morrisania Homes show that affordable housing can also be sustainable housing. As we work to build housing for the million new people expected to come to New York by 2030, we need to ensure that we are building homes that people can afford and that allow the city to grow in an environmentally responsible way."

Located within two blocks of public transportation, Morrisania Homes consists of 16 three-family houses and eight two-family houses.

The homes meet LEED-H requirements for water efficiency, sustainable site planning, energy, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and design process.

All of the homes' indoor features are Energy Star certified, with energy consumption at least 30 percent less than comparable standard features. They include high-efficiency sealed combustion boilers, lighting fixtures, and recyclable carpeting.

Families of four earning approximately $42,000 are eligible to apply for the homes.

The second phase of the development to be completed in the fall will add 12 additional units in four three family homes. In total, 76 affordable units will be created.

Morrisania Homes was financed collaboratively by state, city and private funding. JP Morgan Chase provided a construction loan of over $6.6 million.

The New York State Affordable Housing Corporation provided a grant of more than $1.5 million to fund the first phase of the development. The city provided $1.9 million in subsidies.

Developer Les Bluestone said, "What makes this an especially important event is that they are built in an area of the South Bronx that was once written off and abandoned by many. We are extremely proud to be able to offer sustainable design in high performance homes to low and moderate income New Yorkers."

Mayor Bloomberg said, "These new homes are part of our 165,000 unit affordable housing plan, the largest municipal affordable housing plan in the nation's history. Nearly 65,000 units have already been financed through the plan."

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Embedded in Concrete, Nanotubes Could Report Cracks

HONOLULU, Hawaii, August 15, 2007 (ENS) - A Hawaii engineering company has applied for a patent for a nanotech concrete that could be used to strengthen bridges, roads and buildings and at the same time allow for detection of weaknesses deep within the structures.

Oceanit Laboratories Inc. based in Honolulu seeks to patent its process for mixing carbon nanotubes, each thousands of times thinner than a human hair, into thick, gloppy cement.

In the Oceanit process, the nanotubes are suspended in a liquid concentrate that is added to the water used to make cement.

The nanotubes are good conductors of electricity, so electric pulses could be sent through them to sense cracks or vulnerabilities in a bridge, for instance, or a roadway.

"The carbon nanotube mixture we're patenting acts like a spider web within the concrete," Oceanit Marketing Manager Ian Kitajima told the "Honolulu Advertiser."

"Stresses in the concrete material are sensed by this internal web. Small pulses of electricity are sent through this nano-web within the concrete," he said. "Changes in the web reflect changes in a bridge's structure, which affects the return signal that could be used to determine the health of a building."

Oceanit's nanoconcrete process was developed during the last year by senior nanotechnology engineer, Vinod Veedu.

Oceanit will decide whether to license the technology to another company or create a spin-off company itself, Kitajima said.

Oceanit has applied for a $500,000 federal research and development grant to develop the technology in coordination with state and county transportation officials.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.