AmeriScan: December 5, 2005

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EPA Decision Not to Curb Greenhouse Gases Upheld By Appeals Court

WASHINGTON, DC, December 5, 2005 (ENS) - A federal appeals court has rejected the appeal of a ruling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that allows automobile manufacturers and utilities to elude limits on the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Giving no reasons, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit voted 4 to 3 to deny a petition for a review by the full court, after three judges ruled in July that the EPA was correct in rejecting a plea by 11 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas Islands and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club to require reductions in gases linked to global warming.

The states appealed an EPA decision issued on August 28, 2003, that denied a petition for rulemaking that had sought the regulation of emissions of greenhouse gases - including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons - from new motor vehicles and engines.

Carbon dioxide, emitted when fossil fuels are burned, is the primary greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas.

The case involves the threat of global warming and its attendant consequences for human health and the environment, and therefore presents an issue of “exceptional importance,” two of the dissenting judges said in a separate statement.

Judges David Tatel and Judith Rogers wrote that none of the justifications offered by the EPA to avoid making an endangerment finding for greenhouse gases has any bearing on the only question legitimately before the agency under the Clean Air Act, which is whether greenhouse gases emitted from new cars “in [the Administrator’s] judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”

"As to that question," the dissenting judges wrote, "EPA acknowledges not only that automobile emissions produce greenhouse gases, but also that greenhouse gases in turn contribute to climate change."

The various states along with several environmental groups may now appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, said a spokesman for Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, the lead petitioner. "We will now review whether to ask the Supreme Court to take the case," Reilly said in a statement.

The issues is still divisive. Competitive Enterprise Institute Counsel Hans Bader said the appellate court was correct in "keeping the judicial branch out of what is essentially a legislative question."

“Besides the fact that the plain language of the Clean Air Act grants no powers to the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide, any court ordered solution to the controversy over greenhouse gas emissions would constitute a violation of the separation of powers," said Bader. "Clearly, Congress is the proper forum for such policy debates.”

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Connecticut Requires Automakers to Limit Greenhouse Emissions

HARTFORD, Connecticut, December 5, 2005 (ENS) - The state of Connecticut is joining a group of nine other states in limiting greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles without waiting for federal action. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said last week that proposed rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars, SUVs and light trucks are one step closer to completion.

At a news conference in Hartford, Blumenthal and DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy said revised clean car regulations to keep Connecticut in compliance with the California Low Emission Vehicle (LEV II) program are being sent for final approval to the General Assembly’s Regulations Review Committee.

At a meeting scheduled for December 20, the committee is expected to act on the regulations - which were developed by DEP and signed by the attorney general.

The proposed DEP regulations will revise Connecticut’s current clean car regulations that implement the California LEV II program. Existing regulations to comply with the California LEV II program already require steps to reduce emissions starting with model year 2008 car, SUVs and light trucks.

The proposed new regulations will reduce greenhouse gas emissions starting with model year 2009 by requiring the use of "off-the-shelf" technology, such as more efficient turbocharged engines and air conditioner systems.

The new DEP regulations were drafted in response to passage last year of a state law which directed the DEP to implement the California LEV II program and to revise the state’s emissions standards whenever necessary to keep them identical with California’s requirements.

Attorney General Blumenthal said, "These standards mean a new era of cleaner cars - putting Connecticut at the forefront of the national battle against greenhouse gas emissions and global warming."

"The new technology is readily available and cost-effective to drastically reduce emissions from cars, which account for about 40 percent of our state's home-grown air pollution," Blumenthal said. "Global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions such as CO2 [carbon dioxide] does real and drastic damage by eroding our shorelines, spreading infectious disease, worsening storms and floods."

"Cars are a major culprit and states with one-third of all the nations' cars will join these regulations by year's end," Blumenthal said. "Necessity should be the mother of environmental invention. We are ready and able to fight any court challenge such as the one already brought in California against specious industries' objection. If there were a superbowl for arrogance, the automobile industry could retire the trophy for challenging these regulations."

Commissioner McCarthy said, "Our efforts did not begin, nor did they end, with the passage of last year’s landmark Clean Cars legislation and the initial adoption of our LEV II rules. Motor vehicles are responsible for about 40 percent of our home-grown air pollution, including greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Adopting the latest California standard will put a real dent in the level of these emissions."

"Climate change is real, as is the threats it poses to the safety and well being of the people of Connecticut," McCarthy said. "The question we must now ask ourselves is, ‘What can we do to minimize our personal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change?’ The answer lies in how we conduct our daily lives: how we drive, what we drive, and how we heat and power our homes and offices. These proposed regulations are another solid step to move us in the right direction."

While the new LEV II requirements are expected to increase the price of a new car by about $1,000 when fully phased in, experts say reduced operating expenses will offset this cost within two to three years depending on the cost of fuel.

In addition to Connecticut, nine other states have adopted or are moving to adopt the more stringent California LEV II program - New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Maine, Washington and Oregon. Experts say these states represent about one-third of the nation’s auto sales.

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New Jersey First to Require Anti-Terrorist Security at Chemical Plants

TRENTON, New Jersey, December 5, 2005 (ENS) - New Jersey is the first state in the nation to require enforceable plant security practices for its chemical facilities to provide the public and workers greater protection from potential terrorist acts.

The new requirements continue facility-by-facility security assessments to evaluate potential security threats and vulnerabilities and likely consequences of a chemical release.

"Certain New Jersey industries are more vulnerable to domestic threats," said Acting Governor Richard Codey, a Democrat. "We must explore any measure - including the possibility of using inherently safer technology - to better protect us from uncertainty. We will work with New Jersey businesses to ensure that this initiative improves security and emergency response plans at each chemical facility."

Of the 140 facilities that must comply with the standards, 43 are subject to the state's Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act (TCPA) program.

As part of the new requirements, these 43 chemical facilities must analyze and report the feasibility of - reducing the amount of material that potentially may be released; substituting less hazardous materials; using materials in the least hazardous process conditions or form; and, designing equipment and processes to minimize the potential for equipment failure and human error.

"New Jersey's newly mandated chemical security standards are the first in the nation for facilities that handle extraordinary hazardous substances," said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell. "We fully recognize that we must strengthen the protection of our communities from the risk of catastrophic accidents at chemical plants caused by either a natural occurrence or a terrorist attack."

"Since its inception in 2001, the Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force has been working to ensure that security is enhanced in the chemical sector," said Attorney General Peter Harvey, who also serves as Task Force chair. "The Task Force's endorsement of DEP's upgraded chemical security standards is just the latest step in an ongoing process to increase protection for this vital industry and our citizens."

State Senators Steve Sweeney and Barbara Buono, both Democrats, sponsored Bill S588 that amended the Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act.

"New Jersey is home to 140 major chemical facilities - facilities that, in terroristic situations, could possibly be used as weapons. It is imperative that we toughen the plant access requirements, as well as the penalties for criminal trespassing to help protect New Jerseyans from terrorist attacks," said Senator Sweeney.

"In the post-September 11th world, the role of government in protecting its people has never been more important," said Senator Buono. "In New Jersey, the chemical industry is a boon to the economy, but, we would be foolish not to recognize the increased danger posed to the residents of the Garden State by the substantial presence of chemical plants."

In 2003, the New Jersey Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force approved best security practices built on the security code of the American Chemistry Council's responsible care program and the American Petroleum Institute's security guidelines.

The best practices were developed by the Task Force and its Infrastructure Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of the state's chemical and petroleum industry. Many New Jersey facilities have voluntarily begun to implement these practices. The best practices for chemical facilities are now mandatory.

Best practices included provisions for the facilities to prepare an emergency incident prevention, preparedness and response plan and outline the status of implementing other security practices.

The state standards also now require worker participation in the development of the security assessments and prevention and response plans at each facility.

Under the new requirements, chemical facilities have 120 days to develop an assessment of facility vulnerabilities and hazards that might be exploited by potential terrorists. The assessments must include a critical review of security systems and access to the facility grounds including the regular testing and maintenance of security systems.

Existing or needed security measures outside the perimeter of the facility must be reviewed as well as storage and processing of potentially hazardous materials, employee and contractor background checks and other personnel security measures; and finally, information and cyber security.

In addition, in a separate action, DEP will hold two hearings to take comment and establish a public record on best security practices adopted in 2003 for chemical and petroleum facilities. The public is invited to comment on areas where the best practices can be strengthened.

The first public hearing focused on the chemical sector was held December 1 in DEP's public Hearing Room in Trenton. Written comments on the security best practices for the chemical sector will be accepted through January 5, 2006.

A second public hearing on New Jersey's security best practices for the petroleum sector will be held at 10 am Thursday, January 12, 2006. Written comments on the security best practices for the petroleum sector will be accepted through February 13, 2006.

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Nonpoint Source Pollution Grants for Southeast Top $50 Million

ATLANTA, Georgia, December 5, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. EPA Region 4 has awarded more than $24 million in nonpoint source pollution grants to five southeastern states during the past three weeks. The grants have prompted an equivalent amount in state and local matching funds for an approximate total of $50 million to clean up and prevent nonpoint source pollution in the region.

These Clean Water Act grants provide funding to help make water safe for drinking, swimming, boating, and eating fish and shellfish. Projects selected for funding are determined by a competitive selection process

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has been awarded $3,194,600 in nonpoint source (NPS) pollution grant funds by the EPA to assist state agencies, colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, city and county governments, and local authorities protect and restore Tennessee watersheds.

This NPS pollution grant will be used to develop watershed-based restoration plans and install Best Management Practices on Tennessee streams impaired by nonpoint source pollution. Funds will also be used to support development of pollution budgets, known as Total Maximum Daily Loads, in Tennessee watersheds.

In addition to federal funding, the project will benefit from $5,635,655 in state and local matching funds. Specifically, the program seeks to reduce NPS pollution in order to achieve and maintain beneficial uses of water. Activities may include technical and financial assistance, education, and programs to monitor and assess the success of projects related to controlling NPS pollution.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources has been awarded $4,665,700 in nonpoint source pollution grant funds by EPA for protection and restoration of North Carolina watersheds.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has been awarded $3,849,300 in nonpoint source pollution grants by the EPA to help programs in Mississippi protect and restore watersheds.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has been awarded $4,687,800 in nonpoint source pollution grants by the EPA. In addition to the federal funding, the program also will benefit from $3,130,838 in state and local matching funds.

Projects include coastal water quality monitoring, development of constructed wetlands, implementation of farming best management practices, development of watershed protection plans, Adopt-A-Stream, Georgia Project WET, and stream bank restoration.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has been awarded the largest amount - $7,857,300 in EPA nonpoint source pollution grant funds. The program will benefit from $6,227,867 in state and local matching funds.

Projects include construction of storm water treatment facilities, water quality effectiveness monitoring, development of constructed wetlands, implementation of farming best management practices, streambank restoration, public education, improved management of onsite sewage systems, and monitoring and assessments in order to provide water quality data.

Nonpoint source pollution, also known as polluted runoff, is the largest cause of water pollution in the United States and originates from many sources. As rainfall flows across the landscape, it accumulates contaminants on the ground and gathers additional soil and deposits it into rivers, lakes, ground water and wetlands.

The EPA attempts to empower states, tribes, organizations, and stakeholders to work together to achieve better water quality on a watershed basis.

Since the establishment of the Nonpoint Source Management Program under the Clean Water Act in 1987, the EPA has provided more than $1.6 billion in federal funding to state, territory, and tribal partners.

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Progress Towards Reducing Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Assessed

WASHINGTON, DC, December 5, 2005 (ENS) - The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, composed of top-level representatives of eight federal agencies and 10 states, convened in Memphis Thursday to assess the progress being made to reduce the zone of low oxygen, or hypoxia, in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

On the Gulf of Mexico's Texas-Louisiana Shelf, the area of hypoxia forms during the summer months covering 6,000 to 7,000 square miles, an area that has doubled in size since 1993.

Reducing nonpoint source pollution is a crucial part of the effort to reduce this dead zone. More than 25 percent of the nitrogen load is attributed to unspecified nonpoint sources, including urban storm water runoff.

Task force representatives have worked since September 2004 to define the process for the reassessment. The process now includes independent scientific reviews of the causes that drive the extent, formation and duration of hypoxia and the transport of nutrients from the greater Mississippi basin.

At the Memphis meeting, the task force worked toward developing a schedule for a five-year reassessment and worked toward a plan on addressing these critical issues.

The low oxygen condition is believed to be caused by a complicated interaction of excessive nutrients transported to the Gulf of Mexico by the Mississippi River; physical changes to the river, such as channelization and loss of natural wetlands and vegetation along the banks; and the interaction of freshwater from the river with the saltwater of the Gulf.

The task force was formed in 1997 to address these issues, and signed an action plan in 2001 to reduce the size of the hypoxic zone by 2015 while improving the communities and economic conditions throughout the basin.

In Memphis, the task force reviewed milestones set in the 2001 action plan.

"Only through cooperative conservation and regional collaboration can we effectively address the problems that affect this vital waterway," said Benjamin Grumbles, the U.S. EPA's assistant administrator for water. "We must work quickly and effectively using the best available science to reduce the size of the hypoxia zone by two-thirds."

A significant portion of the nutrients entering the Gulf from the Mississippi River comes from storm water runoff from city streets, nonpoint source pollution from farms, as well as discharges from sewage treatment plants.

In addition, some nutrients from automobile exhaust and fossil fueled power plants may enter the waterways and the Gulf directly through air deposition. The precise contribution of each source is not known at this time, creating public policy issues concerning the management of large ecosystems that cross political and economic boundaries.

The dead zone issue pits the livelihoods of two regions against each other. The Mississippi drains an agricultural region that generates 52 percent of all U.S. farm receipts. But nutrients discharged by the river into the Gulf threaten the commercial fishing industry, which contributes to two-thirds of the commercial fishery in the lower 48 states.

The hypoxia problem is further complicated in that some nutrient load from the Mississippi River is vital to maintaining the productivity of the Gulf fisheries. But too many nutrients can adversely affect commercial and recreational fishing.

About 40 percent of the U.S. fisheries landings, including a substantial part of the nation's most valuable fishery - shrimp - comes from this productive area. Commercial landings of all species in both 1995 and 1996 for Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas were 1.4 billion pounds, with 82 percent from Louisiana waters for both years.

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Washington State May Ban Two Toxic Flame Retardants

OLYMPIA, Washington, December 5, 2005 (ENS) - The Washington State Departments of Ecology and Health are recommending that the state legislature ban certain flame retardants known as PBDEs. The recommendations announced Thursday are intended to protect people in Washington from possible health effects by reducing exposure to these chemicals.

The announcement begins a 30 day public comment period on the agencies' plan for PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers - chemical additives that are used in everyday household products and are building up in people's bodies, in animals and in the environment.

The agencies have been directed by the legislature to address PBDEs.

Ecology and Health recommend in the plan that the legislature immediately ban in new products two forms of PBDEs known as Penta and Octa, which are scheduled to be phased out of production in the United States.

They further recommend that use of the third PBDE, Deca, be prohibited in electronics enclosures provided that safer alternatives are identified or upon additional evidence of Deca-BDE harm.

Other recommendations include a proposal to evaluate a ban on Deca in other products such as textiles and mattresses. None of the recommendations would impact fire safety.

Penta is used primarily in foam products such as seat cushions and upholstered furniture as well as in rigid insulation. Octa is used in high-impact plastic products such as housings for fax machines and computers, automobile trim, telephone handsets and kitchen appliance casings.

Deca is used in plastics such as wire and cable insulation, adhesive coatings and textile coatings. Typical products include housings for television sets, computers, stereos and other electronics. Deca is also used as a fabric treatment and coating on carpets and draperies.

The exact way that people are exposed to PBDEs is not fully known, although the most current research points to human exposure through indoor air and house dust, and from certain foods.

Manufacturers of Penta and Octa, the two PBDEs known to be the most harmful, voluntarily ceased producing the chemicals in January 2005. Deca, the third PBDE, is not known to be harmful in its original state, but studies show that it can break down into more harmful forms.

Production and use of Deca could rise significantly in the coming months as the result of new fire standards for upholstered products in the home. The Consumer Products Safety Commission is considering new standards and may allow manufacturers to use Deca, in addition to other, safer flame retardants, to meet those standards.

PBDE flame retardants have been found in the environment, in foods and in people. PBDEs have been measured in blood, fat and breast milk in people around the world.

Although the health effects of PBDEs have not been studied in people, PBDEs have been studied in laboratory animals. Those studies indicate that PBDEs effect on brain development during the pre-natal period may alter behavior, learning and memory later in life.

"We basically have two big problems with PBDEs: They are everywhere and we are exposed to them on a daily basis," Ecology Director Jay Manning said. "We cannot continue on this course."

"The rising levels of these chemicals pose a growing concern," said State Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes. "PDBEs are similar to other chemical compounds, like PCBs, which we know cause health effects - especially in developing fetuses and growing children. Finding safer alternatives is important for the public's health."

A draft of the final PBDE plan and recommendations, along with more information about PBDEs, is available online at www.flameretardants.org.

Comments on the plan will be accepted through December 30 and may be submitted online or mailed to: Mike Gallagher, Ecology PBT Coordinator, Solid Waste & Financial Assistance Program, Department of Ecology, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600.

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Seven Rare Hawaiian Honeycreepers Released to the Wild

HILO, Hawaii, December 5, 2005 (ENS) - On Thursday, seven rare Hawaiian forest birds were released into their native habitat on the Island of Hawaii. Known as palila, the birds were hatched and reared at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the island. They are part of an effort to establish a new population of this species on the north side of Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the Pacific Basin.

The palila, Loxioides bailleui, is an endangered honeycreeper found only on Mauna Kea. This is the last finch-billed Hawaiian honeycreeper in the main islands, and the only remaining Hawaiian bird that lives exclusively in dry forests.

The gray finch-billed honeycreeper with a bright yellow head feeds on caterpillars and the flowers and green seed pods of the mamane tree. But mamane seedlings are also a favorite food of feral sheep, goats and cattle, and for decades they have destroyed the young mamane trees before they could grow large enough to produce seed pods for the palilas.

"At the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center we work to preserve and build a sustainable population of several Hawaiian bird species," said Alan Lieberman, director of the Center. "We provide an ark where these species can be maintained while conservation and forestry officials work to set up protected habitat where they can be re-released."

Since 2003, 22 palila have been released back into the state's Puu Mali Forest Reserve on Mauna Kea. Tracking of released birds indicates that they are doing well. There has been one documented case of a captive-reared, released male breeding with a wild female that had been previously translocated by U.S. Geological Survey biologists from the west side of Mauna Kea.

Established in 1996, the Hawaiian Endangered Bird Conservation program - which includes the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the Island of Hawaii and the Maui Bird Conservation Center - works with eight species of endangered birds native to the Hawaiian Islands - the 'Alala, Puaiohi, Palila, Maui Parrotbill, Hawaii 'Akepa, 'Akohekohe, Hawaii Creeper, and the Nene, or Hawaiian goose.

Of the more than 140 native breeding species and subspecies present prior to the colonization of the islands by humans, more than half have been lost to extinction.

Among the remaining 71 endemic forms, 30 are federally listed as endangered, and 15 of these are literally on the brink of extinction, numbering fewer than 500 individuals. The causes of these declines are numerous and extensive, including loss and degradation of habitat, and introduced diseases, predators and competitors.

The Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program is a part of the San Diego Zoo's department of Conservation and Research for Endangered Species (CRES).

CRES is working to establish field stations in five key ecological areas internationally and participates in conservation and research work around the globe. The Zoological Society also manages the 100 acre San Diego Zoo and the 1,800 acre San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park, more than half of which has been set aside as protected native species habitat.

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