AmeriScan: December 11, 2006

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Plan Issued for Monument Encircling Hanford Nuclear Site

WASHINGTON, DC, December 11, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FWS, Friday released for public comment a draft land management plan and environmental impact statement for the Hanford Reach National Monument. The final plan will establish management direction for the monument for the next 15 years.

The monument was created from buffer lands no longer necessary for the mission of the Department of Energy, DOE, Hanford Site in southeastern Washington. These buffer lands form a horseshoe around lands still needed by the DOE for the site that contains some 60 percent of the nation's highly radioactive waste.

The 586 square mile Hanford Site is located along the Columbia River. A plutonium production complex with nine nuclear reactors and many processing facilities, Hanford played a pivotal role in the nation's defense for more than 40 years, beginning in the 1940s.

Today, under the direction of the DOE, Hanford is the site of the world's largest environmental cleanup project.

Physical challenges at the Hanford Site include more than 50 million gallons of high-level radioactive liquid waste in 177 underground storage tanks, 2,300 tons of spent nuclear fuel, 12 tons of plutonium in various forms, about 25 million cubic feet of buried or stored solid waste, and about 270 billion gallons of groundwater contaminated above drinking water standards, spread out over about 80 square miles, more than 1,700 waste sites, and about 500 contaminated facilities.

As a buffer for the Hanford Site, the lands within the monument have remained undeveloped - a remnant of the vast shrub-steppe that once covered the interior Columbia Basin. President Bill Clinton's proclamation June 9, 2000, established the 195,000 acre national monument superimposed over the outskirts of the Hanford Site, managed by the FWS and DOE.

Migrating salmon, birds and hundreds of other native plant and animal species, some found nowhere else in the world, are on monument lands. The monument includes 46.5 miles of the last free flowing, non-tidal stretch of the Columbia River, the 51 mile Hanford Reach.

The draft plan describes and analyzes six alternatives for the monument. The Service has selected Alternative E as its preferred alternative, combining an emphasis on public use with protection of open space.

The draft document can be found online at: http://hanfordreach.fws.gov/planning.html The FWS is holding four public open houses where FWS staff will be available to answer specific questions about the plan.

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Visitor Window Opens to Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Monument

HONOLULU, Hawaii, December 11, 2006 (ENS) - A draft plan that would allow a regularly scheduled visitor program to resume on Midway Atoll was released Friday for public review. Midway is a former military base that is now a national wildlife refuge.

It is surrounded by the new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Monument proclaimed in June by President George W. Bush, which is now off-limits to the public.

The draft plan was developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and state of Hawaii, co-managers for the monument.

It proposes a small-scale visitor program on this remote atoll next year for wildlife viewing, photography, environmental education, and interpretation of the atoll's unique historic and wildlife resources.

"We are very excited about the possibility of welcoming more visitors to Midway Atoll in the near future," said Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge manager Barry Christenson. "As the only atoll currently open to the public, Midway serves as a window to the new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument."

When completed, the visitor services plan would allow up to 30 overnight guests on Midway at any one time during 2007, and possibly higher numbers in the future.

The number of guests would be limited by the availability of lodging and transportation to the atoll. A small number of private sailboats and cruise ships would also be allowed to stop at Midway for short periods of time.

Visitors would be offered guided interpretive history, wildlife, snorkeling, and kayaking tours; opportunities to help restore habitat and historic resources; and time to explore Midway's trails and photograph the wildlife and scenery.

Workshops in environmental education would be offered for teachers, and opportunities to support college-level courses or educational camps will be explored. New interpretive exhibits and a museum also are envisioned.

The plan outlines visitor fees, permit requirements, staffing, and projects to be completed and contains a draft environmental assessment of the visitor program.

Midway Atoll is located about 1,250 miles northwest of Honolulu. Within the monument, it is designated as the Midway Atoll Special Management Area, which also overlays Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and the Battle of Midway National Memorial.

Midway Atoll hosts the world's largest populations of Laysan and black-footed albatrosses, with more than 1.5 million albatrosses visiting the islands during the breeding season. Midway's breeding populations of white terns, black noddies, and red-tailed tropicbirds constitute the largest colonies in the Hawaiian archipelago.

Rare Laysan ducks, endangered Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles, reef fishes, and spinner dolphins are found in Midway's waters and coral reefs.

Numerous remnants of the historic Battle of Midway are on Sand and Eastern Islands, two of Midway's three islands, and three memorials mark the battle that turned the tide of World War II in the Pacific.

The draft plan is available for downloading from the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/midway. Comments on the draft plan and its associated documents are welcomed through February 6, 2007, and should be sent by email to midway@fws.gov.

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EPA Fails to Limit Mercury Pollution from Cement Kilns

WASHINGTON, DC, December 11, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, signed a rule late Friday night that fails to control mercury pollution from any currently operating cement kilns, some of the nation's worst mercury emitters.

The public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice says the agency's action marks a "clear and deliberate refusal by the administration to obey orders from a federal court."

In response to lawsuits filed by Earthjustice and Sierra Club based on the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has twice ordered the EPA to set mercury standards.

In December 2000, the court ordered EPA to set emission standards for cement kilns' mercury emissions. After the administration ignored that order for almost four years, the court issued another order that set a deadline requiring action this year.

But the EPA instead set emissions limits for mercury and total hydrocarbons for cement kilns built after December 2, 2005.

The rule still does not require any of the nation's existing cement plants to reduce their mercury emissions.

Although EPA did establish certain housekeeping management practices related to cement kiln dust, the agency does not expect these to reduce current mercury emissions.

"We have two big problems here," said James Pew, an Earthjustice attorney. "One problem is the massive amounts of mercury that cement kilns are being allowed to emit. The other is an administration that thinks it is above the law."

For more than six years, public health and environmental groups have been working to bring cement kilns' mercury emissions under control. More than 20,000 citizens have written to EPA to request protection against cement kilns' toxic emissions.

"We're literally surrounded by cement kilns here in Midlothian," said Alex Allred, boardmember of the Texas-based group Downwinders At Risk. "Air quality here is sometimes so bad it makes it hard to breathe. My son is seven years old and has a severe case of asthma that started when we moved to this region. EPA's refusal to control these kilns' mercury emissions exacerbates a pollution problem that is already out of control."

Days before issuing its "do-nothing mercury rule," Pew said, the EPA met with the Portland Cement Association and the White House Office of Management and Budget, OMB, to hear industry's request that mercury emissions not be regulated. The November 30, 2006 meeting is recorded on OMB's website.

"While EPA is off meeting with industry representatives at the eleventh hour before this rule is due, people who live next to these kilns are eating mercury-contaminated fish," said Jane Williams, chair of Sierra Club's Air Toxics Task Force. "There was never any meeting between EPA and the people being poisoned by these emissions, unfortunately."

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EPA Seeks Nominees for First Water Quality Trading Awards

WASHINGTON, DC, December 11, 2006 (ENS) - To promote water quality trading and create a network of water quality trading leaders across the country, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that it is accepting nominations for its new Blue Ribbon Water Quality Trading Awards Program.

The awards will recognize outstanding leadership in designing or implementing water quality trading programs and policies that have achieved or will achieve environmental and economic benefits.

"This recognition program will enable EPA to identify successful water quality trading programs and policies that most closely align with U.S. EPA's Water Quality Trading Policy and cooperate with those programs in order to prevent, reduce, and eliminate water pollution," said Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles in announcing the awards program.

This relatively new type of trading goes by a number of different names. The terms water credit quality trading, water quality trading, thermal water quality trading, pollution trading and effluent trading are all used interchangeably.

But they all mean that point sources of pollution that need to expand can pay nonpoint sources, or other point sources, to offset the extra pollutant load that expansion will create.

Setting up a water quality trading forum takes work. To ensure credibility in the reduction credits generated by agriculture and other nonpoint sources, standard estimation methods must be used. Best management practices, BMPs, must be approved, and public oversight must be in place to ensure the BMPs are in use, but water quality trading programs in 10 states are proving that it can work.

There is also a fledgling online water quality trading program, NutrientNet, offered by the World Resources Institute, WRI, at: http://www.nutrientnet.org/

NutrientNet has been developed for two watersheds - the Kalamazoo watershed in Michigan and the Potomac watershed in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and District of Columbia.

The Kalamazoo market has been developed for the trade of phosphorus credits while the Potomac market has been developed for the trade of nitrogen credits.

WRI says that to date NutrientNet has been used as an tool to demonstrate the concepts of trading to stakeholders, evaluate the potential for trades within each watershed, and provide information on water quality problems and trading as a means of addressing water quality problems. To date no actual trades have taken place on the site.

Trading is based on the fact that sources of pollution in a watershed can face different costs to control the same pollutant.

Facilities facing higher pollutant control costs to meet their regulatory obligations can buy environmentally equivalent or superior pollutant reductions from another source at lower cost.

The deadline for applications for the EPA's Blue Ribbon Water Quality Trading Awards Program is 5 pm EST on Tuesday, January 16, 2007. Nominations received after this deadline will not be considered.

Grumbles says award nominees may be either self-nominated or nominated by a third party. Corporations, industry, individuals, non-governmental organizations, institutions, as well as local, state, and tribal governments are all encouraged to apply.

Nominations must be submitted by express mail, courier service, or hand delivery to: Blue Ribbon Water Quality Trading Awards; Attn: Chris Lewicki; U.S. EPA; Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds; Assessment and Watershed Protection Division; Room 7303K; Mail Code 4503-T; 1301 Constitution Avenue, NW.; Washington, DC 20004; telephone 202-566-1293.

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Off-Peak Power Could Fuel Most Plug-In Hybrids

RICHLAND, Washington, December 11, 2006 (ENS) - A new study for the Department of Energy, DOE, finds that off-peak electricity production and transmission capacity could fuel 84 percent of the country's 220 million vehicles if they were plug-in hybrid electrics.

Researchers at DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also evaluated the impact of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, PHEVs, on foreign oil imports, the environment, electric utilities and the consumer.

"This is the first review of what the impacts would be of very high market penetrations of PHEVs, said Eric Lightner, of DOE's Office of Electric Delivery and Energy Reliability.

"It's important to have this baseline knowledge as consumers are looking for more efficient vehicles, automakers are evaluating the market for PHEVs and battery manufacturers are working to improve battery life and performance," he said.

s Current batteries for these cars can easily store the energy for driving the national average commute - about 33 miles round trip a day - so the study presumes that drivers would charge up overnight when demand for electricity is much lower.

Researchers found that in the Midwest and East, there is sufficient off-peak generation, transmission and distribution capacity to provide for all of today's vehicles if they ran on batteries.

But in the West and the Pacific Northwest, there is limited extra electricity because of the large amount of hydroelectric generation that is already heavily utilized. Since rain and snow levels are not guaranteed, it is difficult to increase electricity production from the hydroelectric plants.

"We were very conservative in looking at the idle capacity of power generation assets," said PNNL scientist Michael Kintner-Meyer. "The estimates didn't include hydro, renewables or nuclear plants. It also didn't include plants designed to meet peak demand because they don't operate continuously. We still found that across the country 84 percent of the additional electricity demand created by PHEVs could be met by idle generation capacity."

The added electricity would come from a combination of coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants.

Researchers found that even with today's power plants emitting greenhouse gases, the overall levels would be reduced because the entire process of moving a car one mile is more efficient using electricity than producing gasoline and burning it in a car's engine.

Total sulfur dioxide emissions would increase in the near term due to sulfur content in coal. Yet urban air quality is projected to improve since the pollutants are emitted from power plants that are generally located outside cities.

In the long run, according to the report, the steady demand for electricity is likely to result in investments in cleaner power plants, even if coal remains the dominant fuel for electricity production.

"With cars charging overnight, the utilities would get a new market for their product," said Kintner-Meyer. "PHEVs would increase residential consumption of electricity by about 30 - 40 percent."

Since, PHEVs are expected to cost about $6,000 to $10,000 more than existing vehicles - mostly due to the cost of batteries - researchers evaluated how long it might take owners to break even on fuel costs.

Depending on the price of gas and the cost of electricity, estimates range from five to eight years - about the current lifespan of a battery. Utilities could offer a lower price per kilowatt hour on off-peak power, making PHEVs more attractive to consumers.

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The Nano World Displayed Larger Than Life

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida, December 11, 2006 (ENS) - Nanotechnology has made possible new ways to fight cancer, lighter and stronger materials for consumer and commercial use, more efficient uses of energy.

This tiny, miraculous world is now larger than life at the arcade-like exhibit "Too Small to See," newly opened at Innoventions in Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. It will remain there until May 12, 2007.

A nanometer is one billionth of a meter - about one ten-thousandth the diameter of a human hair. Nanotechnology is the science of creating or modifying materials at the atomic and molecular level to develop new or enhanced materials and products.

At Epcot, visitors will not see nanotechnology, they will be part of it. They can walk through a silicon crystal, build a molecule and climb a carbon nanotube.

"Too Small to See," which took more than two years to create, is a collaboration between Cornell University, the Sciencenter in Ithaca and Painted Universe in Lansing, New York.

The National Science Foundation funded the exhibit located in the Innoventions West building, where Epcot guests learn about science and technology.

"It's important for the public to gain a better understanding of nanotechnology because of its potential impact on our lives," says David Ucko, head of informal science education at the National Science Foundation.

To make this exhibit, researchers spoke with thousands of children and adults to understand how they view nanotechnology.

"The concepts in 'Too Small to See' are all based upon what visitors might already know about things on the nano scale," said Carl Batt, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Food Science at Cornell, who directed the project.

"Important recent discoveries in areas like carbon nanotubes and quantum dots become more approachable. Everything returns to applications, where visitors can learn about why nanotechnology will be important in areas such as medicine, energy and information technology."

This is the second collaboration between Cornell, the Sciencenter and Painted Universe to land at Epcot. In 2004, "It's a Nano World" was an exhibit at the Innoventions East building, and it is now on its third year of a national tour.

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