AmeriScan: December 14, 2005

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Forest Service Lifts Environmental Assessments for Oil Roads, Pipelines

WASHINGTON, DC, December 14, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service is proposing to change the environmental review process for oil and gas exploration and development projects under federal lease in national forests and grasslands.

The proposal would allow local forest and grassland units to use a categorical exclusion when approving surface uses, such as road access, drill pad construction and pipeline installation, for oil and gas exploration and development under federal lease.

The Service says the proposal would "reduce unnecessary red tape and delay while keeping environmental protection for national forests and grasslands."

"Our forest managers have reviewed similar oil and gas projects over the last five years and have learned that projects of this scale do not carry significant environmental effects to human health or the environment," said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. "This proposal is a result of that review as well as the agency's commitment to energy conservation in our national forest and grasslands."

Projects under this proposed regulation could not include more than up to a mile each of new and reconstructed road, three miles of pipeline and four drill sites. Currently, these types of projects require an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS), which can take six months or longer to complete.

This proposal would allow the environmental review process to be completed in about two months.

The proposal would apply only to activities where there are no extraordinary circumstances related to the project, such as significant adverse effects on threatened and endangered species or their designated critical habitat, wilderness areas, inventoried roadless areas, wetlands, and archeological or historic sites.

This categorical exclusion may be subject to the Eastern District of California court ruling, Earth Island Institute v. Ruthenbeck. Therefore, oil and gas projects using this categorical exclusion may be required to notice the project to the public, and provide public comment and appeal opportunities.

"Public involvement opportunities would not be limited in any way under this action," the Service said. Individuals would continue to have an opportunity to be involved in project planning on oil and gas leasing projects prior to their approval.

Categorical exclusions are defined as categories of actions that do not have a significant effect on the environment and therefore, do not require an EA or EIS. The Forest Service justifies using them by saying, "They are an existing tool provided for under the National Environmental Policy Act that has been used for decades on a broad range of land management activities."

Public comments are being invited on the proposal for 60 days. Visit www.fs.fed.us to view the Federal Register notice, which includes instructions on how to send public comments.

The Forest Service manages approximately 193 million surface acres located in 42 states and Puerto Rico.

While the U.S. Department of the Interior is the chief federal agency that oversees energy activity on public lands, the Forest Service administers more than 4,600 leases on approximately 4.6 million sub-surface acres in national forests and grasslands.

National forests and grasslands in 25 states hold energy resources, including coal, oil and gas, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind and biomass.

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Public Land Sales to Miners Dropped From Budget Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, December 14, 2005 (ENS) - U.S. Representative Jim Gibbons, a Nevada Republican, announced late Tuesday that his proposal to revamp the 1872 Mining Law would not be in the final House-Senate conference report on the Budget Reconciliation bill.

This provision would have put more than 350 million acres of public land at risk of being sold off to mining, energy and development interests at bargain basement prices, conservationists warned.

Gibbons said, “The provisions I authored to modernize the 1872 Mining Law were a first step in addressing the drastic decrease in mining investment in this country that has resulted in jobs being sent overseas and increased our reliance on foreign sources of strategic and critical minerals. As I have said many times, we are treading down a dangerous path as we increase our dependence on foreign sources of not only energy, but minerals."

Gibbons explained that, “After extensive negotiations with the Senate Budget Committee, unfortunately it has become clear that the integrity of the mining law modernization policy I authored in the House could not be maintained while also complying with Senate procedural rules of the reconciliation process."

He remains committed to "modernizing the mining law to meet our 21st Century needs."

Environmental groups that had worked to defeat the measure were pleased. “Removing the so-called mining provision from the budget reconciliation should put an end to attempts by Congress to put large parcels of public land into private hands bent on turning a profit," said Natural Resources Defense Council Legislative Director Karen Wayland. "We’re glad this costly attack on our public lands has been averted.

"The only thing that would make us happier now is if drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was also thrown out of the budget negotiations," said Wayland. "Congress now has the opportunity to clean up the rest of this troubling bill.”

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House Peak Oil Caucus Reaches Out to Sweden

WASHINGTON, DC, December 14, 2005 (ENS) - The chairmen of the U.S. House of Representatives Peak Oil Caucus, Congressmen Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican, and Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, have sent a letter to Prime Minister Göran Persson of Sweden praising him and the government of Sweden for a hearing about peak oil held Tuesday by the newly established National Commission on Oil Independence.

The Commission has a goal of ensuring Sweden's independence from oil by the year 2020.

Pointing out that 33 of 48 major oil producing nations have now peaked, the congressmen acknowledged that the global oil peak is coming, and said that "experts differ only on the timing of global peak oil."

"With world demand for oil increasing exponentially and no ready substitute of comparable energy density, the prospect of future and continuing declines in world oil production will inflict unprecedented pressures upon our people and national and international social, economic, and political institutions," they wrote.

The congressmen informed Prime Minister Persson of the legislation they introduced, H.R. 507, which expresses "the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States, in collaboration with other international allies, should establish an energy project with the magnitude, creativity, and sense of urgency that was incorporated in the Man on the Moon project to address the inevitable challenges of Peak Oil."

"Only through a combination of conservation and innovations in improved efficiency, and alternate and renewable sources of energy will we be able to meet the energy demands of the future," they wrote, expressing satisfaction in a new partnership to manufacture a truck with a hybrid electric powertrain between Volvo Trucks in Sweden and Mack Truck in the United States.

"These types of partnerships," they wrote, "will lead to greater innovation in energy efficiency and alternatives to contribute to achieving the goal of energy independence from oil."

The two congressmen suggest opening future opportunities for collaborative efforts by the National Commission on Oil Independence and the Peak Oil Caucus.

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Dry Cleaners Would Have to Limit Air Toxics Under EPA Proposal

WASHINGTON, DC, December 14, 2005 (ENS) - Based on new analyses of health risks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a rule to reduce emissions of the solvent perchloroethylene (perc) from dry cleaners, particularly the 1,300 small dry cleaners located on the ground floor of residential buildings across the country.

"Risks from most dry cleaners across the country generally are low, and our proposed requirements would make them even lower," said Bill Wehrum, EPA acting assistant administrator for air and radiation.

"But based on what we now know about the risks from perc dry cleaners, a small group of dry cleaners located in apartment buildings requires closer examination. We are asking the public for additional information that could help us develop strategies to reduce these risks more quickly."

Because apartments in these buildings are located very close to these dry cleaners, residents' exposures and their estimated cancer risks can be much higher than for typical area source dry cleaners. The EPA says that the data evaluated for this proposal show maximum cancer risks for people living in some of these buildings might be in excess of 100 in 1 million.

The agency is proposing two options for addressing co-residential dry cleaners.

Under a risk-based option, no new perc machines could be installed at these facilities. Dry cleaners eventually would have to phase out existing perc equipment as it wears out, eliminating risk from these facilities in about 15 years.

Under a technology-based option, EPA would issue requirements based on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's dry cleaning regulations. These requirements would include equipment to recover perc solvent from vapors and to trap perc emissions from dry cleaning equipment.

For both options, EPA is requesting additional information to help reduce risks more quickly.

More than 28,000 dry cleaners of all sizes and types in the United States use perc, a solvent, in the dry cleaning process. Perc is one of 188 pollutants EPA regulates as air toxics, known or suspected to cause cancer and other serious health problems.

Since the implementation of EPA's 1993 air toxics standards, dry cleaners have reduced perc emissions by about 15,000 tons a year through increased use of alternative solvents, replacement of older dry cleaning machines, and state and industry programs to improve efficiency and reduce perc use.

The 15 large industrial and commercial dry cleaners as well as the 27,000 freestanding small dry cleaners in malls or small stand-alone stores will have to meet equipment standards and conduct enhanced leak detection and repair.

In addition, under the new rule all existing small dry cleaners would have to eliminate machines that require clothing to be transferred from one machine to another for drying.

The proposed rule would not affect dry cleaners that do not use perc, or those that send clothes off-site to be cleaned.

EPA will accept public comments on this proposal for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

For more information on the proposed rule and instructions on submitting comments, visit: http://www.epa.gov/air/drycleaningrule

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Chicago to Host New Water Conservation Organization

CHICAGO, Illinois, December 14, 2005 (ENS) - The headquarters of a new water conservation organization will be located in Chicago, federal and city officials announced Monday.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Executive Director of the California Urban Water Conservation Council Mary Ann Dickinson said the organization, the Alliance for Water Efficiency, will be a clearinghouse and advocate for water efficiency research, evaluation and education.

"Wise water use means more than just turning off a dripping faucet. Water efficiency is a smart, cost-effective solution to the quality and supply challenges facing one of our nation's most precious natural resources," said Johnson.

"Water conservation is an important issue in Chicago as exemplified by our Water Agenda," said Mayor Daley. "We look forward to welcoming the alliance to Chicago and continuing to work on this important issue."

"We are delighted we could work with stakeholders nationwide to develop the goals and programs for a new national organization focused on water efficiency," said Dickinson. "There is extraordinary interest from a wide variety of groups including water suppliers, government officials, environmentalists, plumbing and appliance manufacturers, irrigation professionals, and building developers to pull together a program of water efficiency options that will benefit the nation as a whole."

"This timely effort complements the leadership of Great Lakes governors as they advance water conservation and efficiency in the Annex 2001 Agreements later this week," said Benjamin Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water.

For more information on EPA's water conservation program: http://www.epa.gov/owm/water-efficiency/

For more information on the effort by the California Urban Water Conservation Council, visit http://www.cuwcc.org/national_cwe.lasso.

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California Seismic Safety Commission: Tsunami Risk is Real

SACRAMENTO, California, December 14, 2005 (ENS) - California is at risk from both local and distant tsunamis, according to a new report by the California Seismic Safety Commission. Eighty-two possible or confirmed tsunamis have been observed or recorded in California. Most of these events were small and only detected by tide gages, but 11 were large enough to cause damage and four events caused deaths.

The Commission found that tsunamis, generated either locally or from events elsewhere in the Pacific Basin, pose a significant threat to life and property in California.

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and many local governments have been proactive in addressing the state’s tsunami risk and, since the Indian Ocean tsunami and the June 14, 2005 tsunami warning in northern California, have renewed interest in improving warning dissemination and other aspects of tsunami planning and preparedness.

Tsunamis present a substantial risk to the economy of the state of California and the nation, primarily through the impact on ports, the Commission said.

But many Californians are unaware of how to respond to natural or official tsunami warnings, because they are not adequately educated about tsunamis and the risk they pose, warned the Commission.

The existing tsunami warning system has not achieved all of its objectives due to problems with communications, agency coordination and protocols, the Commission found.

Present building codes and guidelines do not adequately address the impacts of tsunamis on structures, and currently available tsunami inundation maps are not appropriate for code or guideline applications.

The Commission said that federal programs have provided resources to initiate tsunami hazard mapping and mitigation programs, but suggested that more effort and a better understanding of the risk is required to bring the treatment of tsunamis to a level equal to other state hazards such as earthquakes.

The Commission first recommended that California improve education about tsunami issues in the state, and actively educate coastal populations about tsunami hazard zones, evacuation routes, install signage consistent with that in other west coast states as soon as possible.

The state should include multi-language education about tsunami hazards and how to respond to large coastal earthquakes, sudden water level changes and official tsunami warnings in all California schools, the Commission suggested.

Multi-language tsunami information and educational materials should be developed and made available to visitors to coastal areas, and state and local earthquake preparedness materials should be updated to include tsunami safety, said the Commission.

Tsunamis should be incorporated in safety training for workplaces in inundation zones, advised the Commission, especially ports.

California should also work with other coastal states to obtain an external expert review of the NOAA tsunami warning system criteria for issuing and canceling warnings as well as the format and procedures for distribution, the Commission recommended.

Guidelines for structures to resist both strong ground motion and tsunami wave impact are needed, said the Commission, which also suggested development of probability tsunami hazard maps appropriate for building code and land-use regulations.

Finally, the Commission stressed that providing funding for improvements to communications and emergency response systems is crucial to saving lives and property.

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Whales, Dolphins Die in Cape Cod Storm

BREWSTER, Massachusetts, December 14, 2005 (ENS) - A powerful, fast moving snowstorm that battered Cape Cod last weekend, leaving tens of thousands without power and stranding vehicles, also may have contributed to the stranding of dozens of whales and dolphins on the shores of Cape Cod Bay.

At least nine pilot whales and 24 dolphins died on the beach. Experts euthanized five of the whales and seven of the dolphins, while the rest were found dead, said Kristen Patchett of the Cape Cod Stranding Network.

High winds and strong tides likely caused the dolphins and whales to become trapped in shallow water, said officials, who also blamed illness among the cetaceans for the strandings.

The Cape Cod Stranding Network was told about whales and dolphins in difficulty late Friday, but the heavy snowstorm closed roads, keeping rescuers from reaching the stranded whales and dolphins.

Most the 150,000 customers who lost power in the region were on Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, said NStar, the utility service eastern Massachusetts. Damage from trees falling on homes was reported across the Cape with the hardest hit areas on the Cape's southern shores.

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