AmeriScan: December 1, 2005

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Barge Dumps Thousands of Gallons of Asphalt in James River

PORTSMOUTH, Virginia, December 1, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Coast Guard continues to monitor a barge that ran aground early Monday and spilled what the was initially estimated to be 42,000 to 63,000 gallons of liquid asphalt, five miles south of Richmond, Virginia.

The Piney Point was being pushed up river, toward Richmond, by the tug Barbary Coast when it ran aground in the vicinity of Meade Landing State Park. The barge was transporting 930,000 gallons of asphalt when it ran aground. The other seven tanks on board were reportedly not damaged, and workers from the scene report the barge is not leaking.

The asphalt was heated to 270 degrees. Officials said most of the asphalt solidified and dropped to the bottom when it hit the cold water.

Divers have assessed damage to the hull, and a plan is being developed for patching the hole. Additional equipment arrived Wednesday to stabilize the barge and prepare for the removal of the remaining cargo.

The James River is open to single-barge and recreational traffic only from mile marker 156 to 158. Single-barge traffic must contact the Coast Guard command center at Sector Hampton Roads before transiting the area. Barge operators who want to transit the safety zone area can contact the Coast Guard command center at 757-668-5555.

The Coast Guard Cutter Chock, homeported in Portsmouth, is patrolling a two-mile safety zone around the barge. Recreational traffic must get permission from the crew of the Chock before transiting the area.

The response to this incident is a unified effort, with resources on scene from federal, state and local agencies, as well as representatives from both the barge and tug owners. The barge Piney Point is owned by Vane Line Bunkering, of Baltimore; the tug Barbary Coast is owned by Dann Towing, of Chesapeake City, Maryland.

The cause of the incident is under investigation.

The grounding is the second time in nearly seven months that a barge ran aground and sprung a leak in the James River. On May 8, another Vane Line barge leaked nearly 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel near Osborne Boat Landing in eastern Henrico County, just downriver from this asphalt spill.

Except for these spills, state Department of Environmental Quality officials said the James River has had no major petroleum spills for the past five years.

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Fuel Oil Spill Result of Barge Hit on Hurricane Sunk Platform

PORT ARTHUR, Texas, December 1, 2005 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Wednesday completed a survey showing that the double-hulled tank barge DBL 152 struck a submerged platform on November 10, while en route from Houston to Tampa, Florida. The platform gouged a 35 foot long by six foot wide hole in the barge's starboard bow, puncturing both hulls and damaging the number one cargo tank.

The platform West Cameron 229A, owned by Targa Midstream Services Limited Partnership, was a non-producing platform used to support pipeline inspection and operation. It is normally above the surface of the water but was damaged and sank during Hurricane Rita.

Following the storm the company located their platform and marked it with unlit buoys.

The 441 foot barge is now about 29 miles due south of Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana, and about 100 miles due east of Galveston, Texas.

Response crews began lightering the fuel from the double-hulled tank barge DBL 152 owned by K-Sea Transportation of New York. By this afternoon, more than 400,000 gallons of oil had been lightered from the barge.

Lightering is the process of off-loading oil cargo using hoses and pumps. The majority of the oil from the DBL 152 will be lightered prior to the salvaging of the barge.

Three cargo tanks of the double-hulled tank barge DBL 152 were damaged and leaked oil. The number one starboard cargo tank, containing approximately 300,000 gallons of oil, was damaged in the collision. The number one port cargo tank and the number three starboard cargo tanks were breached sometime after the barge DBL 152 capsized on November 14.

The entire contents of all three damaged cargo tanks were 1.3 million gallons of oil. The barge's oil cargo is a thick, heavy petroleum product known as number-six fuel oil. The oil is heavier than water, and it sinks to the bottom of the sea.

Initial surveys indicate that a large portion of the oil in the damaged cargo tanks leaked out and settled on the ocean floor. Responders are staging equipment to conduct sonar and video surveys of the submerged oil and are monitoring the movement, if any, of the oil on the ocean floor.

The Texas General Land Office (TGLO) continues to monitor Texas beaches for any indication of oiling. The TGLO, the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator's Office, the barge owner, the Coast Guard, and other agencies have developed a shoreline cleanup plan, which will be implemented if oil is found along the Texas or Louisiana coastlines.

No oil from the double-hulled tank barge DBL 152 has yet reached either the Texas or Louisiana coast.

The barge is not obstructing marine traffic, and all area waterways remain open. A four-mile safety zone is in effect around the barge a second safety zone is around the damaged platform. Both are marked with lighted buoys. The incident is under investigation by the Coast Guard.

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Second Great Lakes Legacy Act Cleanup Now Complete

SUPERIOR, Wisconsin, December 1, 2005 (ENS) - The a 10 year long state-federal cleanup of contaminated sediment from Newton Creek and Hog Island Inlet near Superior is now complete. The creek and the inlet are part of the St. Louis River watershed, the largest tributary to drain into Lake Superior.

The $6.3 million cleanup project was the second to be finished under the Great Lakes Legacy Act of 2002, an initiative to clean up 31 pollution hotspots on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes.

"This restoration has delivered a water body with enhanced recreational, residential and economic values,” said Stephen Johnson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Every drop of water that flows from Newton Creek and Hog Island Inlet – and out to Lake Superior – will be cleaner because of our efforts.”

EPA Great Lakes National Program Director Gary Gulezian and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle say they are pleased the cleanup is complete.

The contamination damaged the habitat for fish and other aquatic life and local officials had posted “No Swimming” signs around the area.

Area citizens and officials from federal, state, county, and city government looked on Monday as Governor Doyle symbolically removed a “No Swimming” sign that once warned people not to enter the contaminated area.

“The Great Lakes are critical economic resources for Wisconsin – powering industry, supporting a thriving shipping trade, and anchoring a vibrant tourism economy,” Governor Doyle said. “The Great Lakes contribute billions of dollars to our economy and sustain hundreds of thousands of jobs. But beyond their economic value, they provide recreational opportunities for us all, and it is vital that we continually work to protect them.”

Over the past four months, EPA and the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (WDNR) have removed 60,000 tons of sediment polluted by petroleum products and lead from the mouth of the creek and the man-made inlet. The cost of the Newton Creek and Hog Island Inlet cleanup was shared between EPA (65 percent) and WDNR (35 percent).

The Legacy Act project was the final step in the cleanup of three mile long Newton Creek and Hog Island Inlet.

Murphy Oil Co., which owns a refinery in Superior, cleaned up the upper reaches of Newton Creek in the mid-1990s and WDNR cleaned up the middle stretches in 2003.

Contaminated sediment is one of the major reasons why many Great Lakes fish are not safe to eat in unlimited quantities. It also harms aquatic habitat and pollutes sources of drinking water. This has been a long-term and persistent problem throughout the entire Great Lakes basin. There are still millions of cubic yards of contaminated sediment to be removed from the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Legacy Act authorizes $270 million in funding over five years for cleanups of contaminated sediment hotspots. In 2004, the first year funds were available, Congress appropriated $9.9 million.

In 2005, Congress appropriated $22.3 million and $30 million will be available in 2006.

The cleanup of the Black Lagoon, an inlet of the Detroit River in Trenton, Michigan was completed earlier this month. Another Legacy Act project is currently underway at Ruddiman Creek in Muskegon, Michigan, and more projects are expected to begin soon.

But regardless of these cleanup projects, the Surfrider Foundation and other critics say the Bush administration has not put its money where its mouth is when it comes to cleaning up the Great Lakes.

"Last year, President [George W.] Bush made a conspicuous public announcement about how the Great Lakes are a "national treasure" and are in dire need of great restoration efforts," Surfrider said.

"Included in Bush's announcement was a call for a task force, made up of stakeholders from all around the Great Lakes region, to convene and come up with concrete plans to clean up and protect the Great Lakes. The task force, about one year later, did indeed come up with a good plan for the Great Lakes, but the Bush administration is now saying that they will not support any new funding - and thus any new programs - for Great Lakes restoration," said the clean water advocacy group.

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Union Representing Poultry Workers Requests Bird Flu Protections

WASHINGTON, DC, December 1, 2005 (ENS) - If a bird flu pandemic were to break out in the United States, the union representing workers in America's poultry industry say they would be the first to notice sick birds, the first to risk exposure to the deadly virus, and the first to sound the alarm.

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) has sent a letter to President George W. Bush urging him to initiate coordinated protection for poultry workers by initiating a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss worker issues and the potential pandemic.

The nation's 200,000 poultry workers produce 500 million pounds of chicken every week, generating more than $35 billion per year in revenue.

"We must have a plan to protect these workers - the chicken catchers and those that slaughter, process, and package the millions of chickens and turkeys that Americans eat each year," the union said in a statement Tuesday.

The Bush administration has taken the first steps in containing a potential outbreak of bird flu by discussing and planning the control of the virus at its source in animals, the union acknowledged.

But there is no component of the plan that is aimed at protecting poultry workers, who are asking the Bush administration to consider a poultry worker immunization program, whistleblower protections, and health and safety information translated into Spanish.

Direct contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces and objects is considered the main route of human infection. This kind of direct contact is the norm for workers in the poultry industry, the union says. A poultry worker immunization program will prevent the spread of the disease and assure the public that a meaningful step has been taken to contain the disease at its source.

Poultry workers are in the best position to visually identify sick birds and report suspected cases of bird flu, said the union. These front line workers are the nation's best defense against a pandemic, but they will need whistleblower protections in order to avoid discrimination and to assure that desire for company profits does not override health and safety.

Many immigrant, undocumented, or Spanish speaking poultry workers are unaware of workplace safety regulations, the union said. This population is unlikely to ask for safety and health protections such as respirators or flu shots.

Worker organizations, like unions, should be consulted and integrated into the effort, the UFCW said, offering to work with all interested stakeholders, including worker representatives, government agencies, and poultry companies.

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Lawsuit Alleges Off-Road Vehicle Damage to National Parks

WASHINGTON, DC, December 1, 2005 (ENS) - Three conservation groups have filed a lawsuit against the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, alleging that the agencies have failed in numerous ways to protect the National Park System against the damage caused by all-terrain vehicles and other off-road vehicles in America's national parks.

The plaintiffs Bluewater Network, a division of Friends of the Earth; the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA); and Wildlands CPR met with the Park Service in July 2004 and raised concerns about off-road vehicle damage in the national parks.

In response, the agency conducted an internal survey of all national park sites. The 256 responses available to the plaintiffs demonstrate that off-road vehicles are causing widespread damage in America's national parks.

Park managers reported that off-road vehicle use is harming archaeological sites at the Grand Canyon; tearing up hiking/horseback trails at Olympic National Park; crushing animal burrows in Arches and Canyonlands national parks; and facilitating fossil poaching at Badlands National Park, as well as affecting the experiences of other visitors.

Park managers at the Appalachian Trail reported that damage from off-road vehicles is the trail's "most pernicious" problem.

"Despite evidence of damage, the leadership of the National Park Service is simply proposing more studies of the problems caused by off-road vehicles in some parts of the National Park System and has refused to take any action elsewhere," said Carl Schneebeck, public lands campaign director for Bluewater Network and a former Park Service ranger.

"Because of the damage off-road vehicles can cause to the natural wonders of the parks, the law expressly requires the agency to regulate the use of off-road vehicles," said Robert Rosenbaum of the Washington law firm Arnold & Porter LLP, counsel for the plaintiffs, who filed the lawsuit on Tuesday.

In the Park Service's survey, many park managers reported having insufficient staff to monitor the impact of off-road vehicles on the parks and enforce park regulations.

"Due to lack of funding, many parks are struggling to enforce the rules on the books to protect the treasures in our parks and the safety and experiences of visitors," said NPCA President Tom Kiernan. "In the meantime, the parks protecting our national heritage are being spoiled."

"National parks were created 100 years ago as preserves for our national heritage-not as playgrounds for off-road vehicles," said Wildlands CPR Executive Director Bethanie Walder. "The existing policies to protect our parks must be upheld and enforced."

But the existing parks policies are about to change. The Department of the Interior has proposed a draft revision of the parks' management policies. The plaintiff groups say the draft weakens protections for parks and could lead to increased use of off-road vehicles.

But National Park Service Director Fran Mainella said earlier this month, "these draft policies in no way increase the likelihood of more snowmobiles, cell towers, personal watercraft, commercial activities or reduced air quality" in the national parks.

Mainella says the revised management policies provide clear definitions, for the first time ever, of “unacceptable impacts” to resources and “appropriate uses” of parks, enabling park managers "to more clearly anticipate and articulate how impairment of resources can best be prevented," and recognize new challenges facing the park service, such as Homeland Security.

The document is available for review and comment online through February 18, 2006 at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/waso.

A fact sheet about the National Park Service's survey of off-road vehicle use in the National Park System and a copy of the complaint is available online at: http://www.bluewaternetwork.org/npsorv

Preliminary analysis of the Department of Interior's proposed rewrite of the national park management policies is available online here.

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Senate Approves Youth Conservation Corps Expansion

WASHINGTON, DC, December 1, 2005 (ENS) - The Senate has passed legislation to expand the role of the Youth Conservation Corps, allowing Corps members to work on wildfire fuels reduction and disaster prevention and relief projects.

“I began the first urban youth corps when I was the Mayor of San Francisco, said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who co-sponsored the bill. This program gave thousands of young people a sense of personal pride, helped to connect them with their community and allowed them to see for themselves that hard work pays off."

Senator Feinstein said. "This bill would build upon that success and give disadvantaged young people across the country the same opportunities that San Franciscans have had for two decades.”

Created in 1971, the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) is administered by the National Park Service. Presently, Congress mandates that the National Park Service, in partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the USDA Forest Service, must have a program no less than $2 million annually. Regional youth coordinators and park staff work closely with local school and youth organizations to advertise YCC positions and recruit young adults to participate. Participants must be between 15 and 18 years of age to enroll in YCC programs.

The $12 million bill, approved November 21 would authorize the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to enter into contracts and cooperative agreements with qualified corps to perform conservation projects and assist governments and Indian tribes in performing research and public education associated with natural and cultural resources.

The bill would introduce young people to public service and expand their educational opportunities, and stimulate interest among the nation’s youth in careers in conservation and land management, say proponents.

When carrying out a priority project in a specific area, the secretaries are directed to establish a preference for contracting with any corps within that specific area that has a substantial portion of members who are economically, physically, or educationally disadvantaged.

The bill would identify a series of priority projects for corps to carry out including the restoration and protection of public lands threatened by severe fire, insect or disease infestation or other damaging agents; the protection, restoration, or enhancement of forest ecosystem components to promote the recovery of threatened and endangered species; the improvement of biological diversity; and, the enhancement of productivity and carbon sequestration.

Companion legislation, which was introduced in the House by Congressmen Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, and Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, was approved by the House Resources Committee earlier this year and now goes to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

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Weekend Protest of Climate Inaction Set to Surround White House

WASHINGTON, DC, December 1, 2005 (ENS) - At 7am on Friday a fiddler will begin to play right outside the White House in Lafayette Park. All day, at least 10 fiddle players wearing George Bush masks will play at 10 of the most public places in the nation's capital and others will play in Baltimore, signifying that the President is "fiddling while the world burns," said event organizers with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

On Saturday, 50 decorated hybrid cars will form a parade encircling the White House. Hybrid gas-electric cars are more fuel efficient and emit fewer greenhouse gases than cars powered by gasoline alone.

These event are part of synchronized demonstrations in more than 30 countries planned for Saturday, the International Day for Climate Action.

The demonstrations are timed to coincide with climate change talks underway in Montreal involving leaders from 190 countries. On November 28 the signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change began their 12 day meeting in Montreal. It is also the site for the first meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol since it took effect in February.

Demonstrators will demand that the United States and Australia ratify the Kyoto Protocol immediately, and that the world community move quickly to an emissions reductions treaty stronger than the protocol that will be "equitable and effective in stabilizing greenhouse gases and preventing climate change," organizers said.

Mike Tidwell, founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said, "As the rest of the world moves forward on solutions, the U.S. government, dominated by oil industry lobbyists, still refuses to adopt the Kyoto Protocol or take any meaningful action toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Citizens across the country are holding demonstrations this weekend to demand stronger U.S. action, ranging from a "Save New Orleans: Stop Global Warming" party in the French Quarter to Native American drumming in Arizona to the dumping of one ton of coal on the campus of Penn State University.

"My first motivation," Tidwell told an interviewer last year, "is that I am the father of a seven year old boy. I live every day with the enormous concern that my son, who is completely innocent, as are all children, will live in a world with a fraction of the opportunities in his life time, that I have had in mine. This is because we are currently unleashing ecological, social, and agricultural chaos on the planet, by disrupting our climate."

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