AmeriScan: December 24, 2005

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DaimlerChrysler Hit With $94 Million Emission Control Recall

WASHINGTON, DC, December 24, 2005 (ENS) - The United States has reached a $94 million settlement with DaimlerChrysler to repair defective emission controls on nearly 1.5 million Jeep and Dodge vehicles from model years 1996 through 2001, the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Wednesday.

The agreement also settles allegations that the company violated the Clean Air Act by failing to properly disclose defective catalytic converters installed on the affected vehicles.

In the settlement, Chrysler has agreed to extend the warranty on the catalytic converters installed on approximately 700,000 of the vehicles involved. For another 300,000 vehicle owners, the company will send notification of the catalytic converter problem which will be covered under the original emissions system warranty under the Clean Air Act.

The company will recall about 500,000 of the vehicles to fix a separate defect in the on-board diagnostic (OBD) system installed on the vehicles and to check the catalytic converters on the recalled vehicles.

In addition DaimlerChrysler will Implement enhanced emission-related defect reporting procedures.

The total estimated cost to Chrysler to implement the settlement is $90 million. In addition, Chrysler will pay penalties of $1 million and will spend at least $3 million to implement a supplemental environmental project to reduce emissions from diesel engines currently in use, making this the largest settlement yet for an emission-related defect reporting case.

Chrysler will pay another $1 million to California as part of a parallel administrative settlement agreement with the California Air Resources Board, and will provide similar remedies for California certified vehicles with the catalyst or OBD defects.

“Auto makers’ prompt and full disclosure of emission-system defects to EPA is critical to ensuring that vehicles on the road comply with the Clean Air Act, and to protecting the enormous progress we have made toward reducing vehicle emissions,” said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Investigation by the California Air Resources Board and the EPA of Chrysler’s 1996 through 2001 Cherokees, Grand Cherokees, Wranglers, Dakota trucks, and Ram vans, wagons, and pickup trucks disclosed that a significant percentage of the vehicles experience excessive deterioration or failure of the catalytic converter.

The catalytic converter is a device installed in the exhaust system of an internal combustion engine to control emissions and reduce pollutants, including hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and oxides of nitrogen.

The deterioration of the catalytic converters in the specified models results from a design defect in the original converter installed on each of the vehicles. As a result of this design defect the internal components of the converter move around excessively, causing the device’s ceramic core to break up. The result is that the catalytic converter loses its ability to treat harmful pollutants.

Most owners experience a rattling noise from the underside of their vehicle as the catalytic converter deteriorates. The investigation found that the OBD system installed on certain of the 1996, 1997, and 1998 model year vehicles, which should have detected the catalytic converter problem and illuminated the dashboard check engine light, may not function properly, leaving some owners unaware of the problem.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. A copy of the consent decrees is available at: http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html.

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Illinois Ethanol Producer Must Install Air Pollution Controls

CHICAGO, Illinois, December 24, 2005 (ENS) - An Illinois ethanol producing company has reached a settlement to resolve claims that it violated the Clean Air Act. The settlement is expected to result in a reduction of over 1,700 tons of air pollutants a year at its ethanol production plant in Pekin, Illinois, according to the Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the State of Illinois.

In lawsuits filed with the proposed settlement, the United States and the State of Illinois allege that MGP Ingredients of Illinois, Inc. violated the Clean Air Act and federal and state rules by failing to obtain the appropriate permit before a major modification project at its Pekin facility and failed to install pollution controls that would have been required under the permit.

The settlement requires MGP to install air pollution control equipment that will reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 95 percent and carbon monoxide by 90 percent, and will also reduce emissions of several other pollutants.

The estimated cost of the controls will be between $1 million and $2 million. In addition, MGP will pay a civil penalty $171,800 - half to the United States and the other half to the State of Illinois.

“This settlement is part of our ongoing initiative to ensure that the nation’s ethanol production plants comply with air pollution regulations, while continuing to provide fuel that, blended with gasoline, will result in reduced carbon dioxide emissions in the winter months,” said Thomas Skinner, administrator of EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago.

Ethanol production facilities are a source of criteria air pollutants, including VOC’s, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, as well as a number of compounds that the EPA has designated hazardous air pollutants.

In addition to contributing to smog, VOCs can cause serious health problems such as cancer and other effects; carbon monoxide is harmful because it reduces oxygen delivery to the body’s organs and tissues.

These substances are emitted from the feed dryers, fermentation units, distillation units, ethanol load-out operations, and fugitive dust from plant operations, including roads.

“Ethanol holds great potential as a significant resource for central Illinois, but it is critical that producers act responsibly to protect the environment and the air we breathe,” said Rodger Heaton, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois.

“It is important that we enhance and increase our production of homegrown energy sources,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “However, our progress in Illinois cannot come at the expense of strict compliance by industry with the environmental laws that protect the air we breathe.”

To achieve a 95 percent reduction in VOC emissions, MGP will replace its current feed dryers with a new type of dryer, called a Swiss-Combi dryer that incorporates a thermal oxidizer. The thermal oxidizer is a demonstrated control technology for VOCs and will also reduce particulate matter and carbon monoxide emissions from the feed dryers. In addition, the plant will be held to stringent limits applicable to these pollutants.

MGP must demonstrate compliance after installation of the controls and meet the required emission limits over the next three years.

In addition, MGP is required to propose a monitoring program that includes parametric, periodic and continuous monitoring as determined appropriate by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, subject to the approval by the EPA of all monitoring provisions.

The consent decree was lodged in federal district court in Illinois and is subject to a 30-day comment period and final approval by the court.

With this settlement, approximately 83 percent of the ethanol production capacity nationwide will be under consent decrees requiring new pollution controls.

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Shipping Firm Pays Massachusetts' Largest Environmental Criminal Fine

WASHINGTON, DC, December 24, 2005 (ENS) - A Hong Kong based container ship company has agreed to plead guilty to charges that it engaged in conspiracy, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, false statements and violated the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, the Department of Justice has announced.

Under the terms of a plea agreement that must be approved by the court, MSC Ship Management will pay $10.5 million in penalties. This is the largest fine in which a single vessel has been charged with deliberate pollution and the largest criminal fine paid by a defendant in an environmental case in Massachusetts history.

MSC Ship Management pleaded guilty to charges that a specially fitted steel pipe, referred to as the “magic pipe,” was used on the MSC Elena, a 30,971 ton container ship, to circumvent required ship pollution prevention equipment and discharge oil sludge and oil contaminated waste directly overboard.

Upon the discovery of this bypass equipment during a U.S. Coast Guard inspection in Boston Harbor on May 16, 2005, senior company officials in Hong Kong directed crew members to lie to the Coast Guard. Additionally, senior ship engineers ordered that documents be destroyed and concealed.

“Residents of Massachusetts and particularly those along the Buzzards Bay coastline have experienced first-hand the devastation to the environment that can result from accidental oil spills. However, there was nothing accidental about this case,” said Michael Sullivan, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.

“The defendant knowingly violated anti-pollution laws, intentionally dumping oil-contaminated waste directly into the ocean - and even went so far as to manufacture a so-called ‘magic pipe’ to accomplish the crime," said Sullivan. "Our hope is that this substantial $10 million fine will send a strong message to those in the maritime community who would try to circumvent our nation's anti-pollution laws.”

MSC Ship Management discharged approximately 40 tons or approximately 10,640 gallons of sludge during a five-month period in 2004 through a three piece bypass pipe manufactured on the ship. An even larger volume of oil-contaminated bilge waste was also discharged with a rubber hose and portable pump. The MSC Elena made regular voyages from ports in Europe across the Atlantic to ports in the United States, including Boston.

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170 Parties to Pay $10 million Omega Chemical Superfund Cleanup

LOS ANGELES, California, December 24, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached a $10 million settlement with 170 parties that are potentially responsible for pollution at the Omega Chemical Superfund site in Whittier, California.

The EPA settlement is with a group of what the agency calls "de minimis parties," which are parties that individually sent less than 10 tons of waste to the Omega site, a former recycling company that caused extensive soil and groundwater contamination in the area.

The settlement is expected to provide funding for future cleanup at the site. “With this settlement, the EPA will be able to complete the ongoing groundwater investigation and support future site cleanup work at the Omega site,” said Keith Takata, director of the Superfund Division in the EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region.

The former Omega Chemical Corporation on East Whittier Blvd. was a refrigerant and solvent recycling facility that operated between 1976 and 1991.

Soil and groundwater at the Omega site are contaminated with high concentrations of tetrachloroethene (PCE), trichloroethene (TCE), chlorinated hydrocarbons and Freon.

PCE and TCE are solvents that have been widely used by industry as cleaning and degreasing agents. Freon is used as a refrigerant and pressurizer in spray can products.

In May 1995, the EPA removed more than 3,000 drums of hazardous waste, 60 cubic yards of hardened resin material and hundreds of empty contaminated drums from the Omega site.

Because of the release of hazardous substances into the groundwater, the EPA placed the Omega site on the Superfund List – a list of severely contaminated areas within the United States – in January 1999.

Since 2001, under the terms of a consent decree, a large group of major potentially responsible parties have been conducting investigations to determine how to clean up soil and groundwater at the site.

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Harvard School of Public Health Investigates Particulates

BOSTON, Massachusetts, December 24, 2005 (ENS) - The Harvard School of Public Health has won funding to study how particulate matter - a major component of air pollution in many areas of the country - affects human health and to better understand the sources most responsible for these effects.

The EPA research funding is being provided through the agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program.

"With sound scientific data, we can make well-informed decisions that promote healthy people and communities," said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "EPA's commitment to research through top-notch institutions like the Harvard School of Public Health underscores our commitment to promoting health and a clean environment."

In 1999, the Harvard School of Public Health was one of five particulate matter centers established at different universities through the STAR grants program.

EPA is now continuing to fund three of those centers (including the one at Harvard School of Public Health) and will establish two new research centers to address priority research needs related to airborne particulate matter, including susceptibility, mechanisms of health effects, exposure-response relationships, and source linkages.

The original Harvard School of Public Health particulate matter center worked on differentiating the health effects of particles from outdoor and indoor sources; developing methods to identify populations sensitive to the effects of air pollution; and identifying biological mechanisms that may lead to fatal outcomes.

The center will now focus on novel exposure scenarios to define the health effects of particle sources.

“The new funding will now allow us to focus on linking health effects to specific components of particles and subsequently to specific pollution sources,” said Professor Petros Koutrakis, who directs the center. “This next step is important because if we know which sources affect human health, we can then develop thoughtful and effective pollution control strategies.”

Each research center funded under this part of the STAR grant program will receive $8 million over five years. In addition to the center at Harvard, fine particles research is taking place at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Rochester, the University of California at Davis, and the University of California at Los Angeles.

Particulate matter is a mixture that includes acids, metals, petroleum byproducts, diesel soot, and other potentially harmful substances.

The tiny size of these particles - whose diameters can be hundreds of times less than the thickness of a human hair - allows them to easily deposit deep in the lungs.

Particulates come from a variety of sources, including coal-burning power plants, factories, construction sites, cars, trucks, buses, tilled fields, unpaved roads, stone crushing, and wood burning. Other particles may be formed in the air when gases emitted from burning fuels react with sunlight and water vapor.

Many studies have suggested a link between particulate matter and premature death from cardiopulmonary causes. Exposure to particulate matter has also been associated with hospitalization for respiratory or cardiovascular diseases and exacerbation of respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

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Washington Governor Would Invest $42 Million in Puget Sound Cleanup

OLYMPIA, Washington, December 24, 2005 (ENS) - Washington Governor Chris Gregoire is proposing a $42 million spending package and lead a panel of accomplished Washingtonians in a major initiative to accelerate protection and restoration of Puget Sound and Hood Canal.

Acknowledging the hard work already underway, the governor said at a press conference in Seattle earlier this week that more needs to be done now to protect and restore the Sound.

"Cleaning and protecting Puget Sound must be at the top of our state agenda. But I know from experience that state government can't do it alone," the governor said.

The Puget Sound Action Team, a partnership of state, local, federal and tribal governments, and educational institutions, will help support the governor's initiative.

"The governor has put her finger directly on the most critical needs in Puget Sound with this initiative," said Brad Ack, chair of the Puget Sound Action Team. "The additional funds she is proposing will accelerate some of the highest priority actions on the ground, while the new public-private partnership will build the broader coalition needed to safeguard the future of this great natural area."

The governor is proposing a $42 million supplemental legislative package for 2006 that reflects a 31 percent increase over what is currently in the state's 2005-2007 Puget Sound Conservation and Recovery Plan.

Funding will help to clean up toxic sites under water and within a half-mile of the Sound and Hood Canal, prevent oil spills and continuing toxic contamination, restore nearshore, estuary and salmon habitats, and help homeowners save the Sound and the Canal.

It will also make state parks and other state facilities models of environmentally friendly development, beginning with wastewater and sewer projects at six marine state parks.

The legislative package includes:

Governor Gregoire said she has recruited the "best and the brightest" to join the Puget Sound Partnership to make high-level recommendations on a comprehensive effort for integrating the work of local, state and federal governments with private sector and citizen efforts to protect and restore the Sound.

Included are U.S. Representative Norm Dicks; University of Washington President Mark Emmert, Ph.D; Kathy Fletcher, Executive Director, People for Puget Sound; Billy Frank, Jr., chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission; Colin Moseley, president of the Green Diamond Company and chairman, Simpson Resource Company; and William Ruckelshaus, chair of the Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

The Puget Sound Partnership will learn and use what has worked at other large ecosystem protection efforts around the country, and will engage an extensive cross-section of Washington citizens, business and governments in recommending how to improve protection and recovery of Puget Sound and Hood Canal. Initial recommendations are expected by June 15, 2006.

"I am charging the Puget Sound Partnership with the task of engaging a broad cross-section of agencies, tribes and the public to develop recommendations for me, the Legislature, and Congress for preserving the health, goods and ecosystem services of Puget Sound, and to help educate and enlist the public in achieving recovery of the Sound by 2020," the governor said.

For more information, visit: www.psat.wa.gov/psi

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$70 Million Federal Dollars Available for Species Conservation

WASHINGTON, DC, December 24, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now seeking proposals from states and U.S. territories interested in acquiring land or planning for endangered species conservation.

Through the fiscal year 2006 appropriation from Congress, more than $70 million is available in the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund for conservation planning activities and habitat acquisition for federally protected species. Proposals must be submitted to Service Regional Offices by March 20, 2006.

"Our ability to successfully conserve threatened and endangered species ultimately depends on working cooperatively with our partners," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "These grants will provide the means for states to work with private landowners, communities and tribes to protect vital endangered species habitat."

The Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund is authorized under the Endangered Species Act, and provides grants to states and territories to support their participation in voluntary conservation projects for listed species, as well as for species that are either proposed or candidates for listing.

"Providing grants to our state partners is one of the most important tools we have to conserve imperiled species," said Service Director Dale Hall. "We are proud to support state efforts to build long-term conservation partnerships and foster voluntary stewardship efforts nationwide."

The Service is seeking proposals for the following three Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund categories:

Recovery Land Acquisition Grants - These grants provide funds to states and territories for acquisition of threatened and endangered species habitat in support of approved recovery plans. Acquiring habitat to secure long term protection is often an essential element of a comprehensive recovery effort for a listed species.

Habitat Conservation Planning Assistance Grants - These grants provide funds to states and territories to support the development of Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs), through the support of baseline surveys and inventories, document preparation, outreach, and similar planning activities.

HCP Land Acquisition Grants - These grants provide funds to states and territories to acquire land associated with approved HCPs. Grants do not fund the mitigation required of an HCP permittee; instead, they support acquisitions by the State or local governments that complement actions associated with the HCP.

By law, the state or territory must have a current cooperative agreement with the Service and contribute 25 percent of the estimated program costs of approved projects, or 10 percent when two or more states or territories undertake a joint project. The grants are expected to be awarded in summer 2006.

For more information about these grants and grant application requirements contact: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Consultation, Habitat Conservation Planning, Recovery and State Grants, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 420, Arlington, VA 22203, 703-358-2106. Information is also online at: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/grants/.

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