AmeriScan: December 7, 2006

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Senator Boxer Blocks Bush Nominee for EPA Inspector General

WASHINGTON, DC, December 7, 2006 (ENS) - U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, has placed a hold on the nomination of Alex Beehler to be Inspector General of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Boxer placed a hold on the nomination after the committee voted to approve it on Wednesday. Beehler was nominated for the position by President George W. Bush earlier this year.

In blocking the nomination, Boxer prevented it from coming to the Senate floor during this short lame duck session of Congress.

Since she will chair the committee when the 110th Congress convenes in January with a Democratic majority, it is not likely that Beehler will get the job.

Beehler is currently serving with the Department of Defense, DOD, as assistant deputy under secretary of defense for environment, safety and occupational health. He was also a trial attorney with the Department of Justice for 10 years.

Boxer said he is "not the appropriate candidate to lead EPA's Office of Inspector General, which conducts critical oversight of EPA's risk assessment process."

"DOD, where Mr. Beehler now has a lead environmental policy position, has sought to increase its role in the federal process for setting environmental standards, often advocating for less protective standards than many scientists think will adequately protect our communities," said Boxer.

"DOD has repeatedly sought to waive environmental laws without sound justification," she said.

She faulted Beehler for being "unclear at best and evasive at worst" when she questioned him at his September 13 nomination hearing on his role in Defense Department initiatives to affect standards for pollutants like perchlorate.

Exposure to perchlorate, a component of explosives, affects functioning of the thyroid gland, which regulates human metabolism. The chemical has been widely found in groundwater across the country, particularly in California.

Boxer said, "He downplayed his role and led us to believe that industry was not a real part of the discussions with DOD and Mr. Beehler's key staff. The documents we received in answer to detailed questions on these matters lead us to a different conclusion."

Other "red flags" on the nomination, Boxer said, include Beehler's failure to prevent destruction of DOD documents about perchlorate as well as calendars detailing meetings with industrial stakeholders.

Boxer said the DOD appears to have marked documents privileged that they provided to the committee on Beehler's behalf without ensuring the documents are in fact subject to privilege.

"Some of these documents do not put DOD in a good light, in some cases DOD appears to be trying to downplay risks of perchlorate to populations as sensitive as newborns," Boxer said.

"I can see why DOD did not want those politically sensitive documents released, but the public has every right to know about these documents," she said. The DOD has now agreed to release the documents after committee members insisted upon seeing them.

The outgoing committee chairman, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, supports Beehler's nomination. "Let me just say that Mr. Beehler is very qualified for this position, and I look forward to having an Inspector General that will a carry out his duties without political bias," Inhofe said at Beehler's nomination hearing in September.

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Ohio's Largest Power Plant Will Cut Sulfuric Acid Emissions

WASHINGTON, DC, December 7, 2006 (ENS) - Ohio residents will breathe more easily due to a settlement reached today that limits pollution from the state's largest power plant.

The Ohio Power Company, a unit of American Electric Power, AEP, agreed to reduce the amount of sulfuric acid emitted from the coal-fired Gavin Power Plant in Cheshire, Ohio.

AEP's agreement was the result of a lawsuit filed by public interest law firm Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, TLPJ, on behalf of 94 Ohio residents suffering health problems from the sulfuric acid plumes.

The suit did not seek damages for personal injuries. Its goal was to reduce the pollution and allow the residents to stay in their homes.

"This is a significant victory for Ohio residents in the battle for clean air," said Jim Hecker, TLPJ's environmental enforcement director. "Power plant owners should know that, if they poison local communities and flout the law, citizens will fight back."

The new health risks at the coal-fired power plant began in May 2001, when AEP installed a pollution control device known as selective catalytic reduction. The device reduced nitrogen oxide emissions but sulfuric acid emissions increased.

The Gavin Plant began emitting blue clouds of sulfuric acid that fell on surrounding neighborhoods, causing sore throats, mouth sores, eye irritation, difficulty breathing, and headaches.

The problem was so severe that AEP bought out the Village of Cheshire in 2002 for $20 million and demolished most of the homes. But many families still live near the plant and still suffer from exposure to the plant's toxic fumes.

In 2002, 94 residents formed a group called Citizens Against Pollution, CAP, to fight for clean air and were joined by TLPJ's legal team in 2003.

"The Gavin Plant's toxic pollution was harming our families and the regulatory agencies did nothing to stop it," said CAP President Buck Mulford, a Cheshire resident. "We filed a lawsuit to protect our families' health and force the power company to tell us how much sulfuric acid we were breathing."

Federal law states that facilities which release more than 1,000 pounds per day of sulfuric acid must promptly notify federal and local agencies. The plaintiffs charged that AEP failed to accurately report its releases and claimed to be exempt from daily federal reporting requirements.

The lawsuit went to trial in September, but after CAP began presenting its case, the trial was suspended to allow the parties to discuss settlement. CAP and AEP reached an agreement, filed today as a consent decree with the federal district court.

"We're pleased to have reached a settlement that brings this lawsuit to an end and recognizes the current operating parameters of the plant," said Nick Akins, executive vice president - generation for AEP.

In addition to reducing its sulfuric acid emissions, the power company agreed to conduct smokestack tests at the Gavin Plant in summer 2007 to measure emissions and to conduct additional smokestack tests through April 2009.

Hecker said, "This settlement marks the first time that citizens have successfully used federal reporting and endangerment requirements to limit the emissions of sulfuric acid by coal-fired power plants."

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New Jersey Threatens to Sue Over Pennsylvania Power Plant

TRENTON, New Jersey, December 7, 2006 (ENS) - New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner announced today the issuance of a formal Notice of Intent to Sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, for violating the Clean Air Act.

Rabner claims the EPA broke the law by not responding to a petition from the state Department of Environmental Protection that objected to a proposed operating permit for a coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania.

According to Rabner, New Jersey petitioned the EPA on July 21, 2006 to review a proposed Pennsylvania operating permit for a coal-fired plant in Upper Mount Bethel Township within one mile of New Jersey owned by Reliant Energy Mid-Atlantic Power Holdings.

Although required by the Clean Air Act to do so within 60 days of receiving the petition, EPA has yet to respond to the petition.

Known as the Portland Generating Station, the plant is located across the Delaware River from Warren County, New Jersey, and prevailing winds carry its emissions into the state.

"We are committed to working with the Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, to pursue litigation, where appropriate, that will help protect the quality of air we breathe here in New Jersey," said Rabner.

"The state's position is that the EPA has a clear, non-discretionary duty under the Clean Air Act to address DEP's petition," he said. "The Department's petition raises significant concerns about the terms and provisions of the proposed operating permit for the Reliant plant."

"It's unconscionable that the EPA to date has shown so little regard for the environmental and public-health concerns we have detailed in our petition," said DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson. "In this case, the EPA is ignoring the law, and we are putting the agency on notice that it cannot continue to thumb its nose at the people of New Jersey."

DEP's July 21, 2006 petition to the federal agency objected to Pennsylvania's proposed approval of a permit for the Portland Generating Station for two reasons: