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AmeriScan: December 12, 2006 AmeriScan: December 12, 2006

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EPA Refigures New Car Mile Per Gallon Estimates

WASHINGTON, DC, December 12, 2006 (ENS) - To provide American consumers with improved information when shopping for cars and trucks, EPA will apply new methods to determine the miles per gallon estimates that appear on new vehicle window stickers.

EPA's new methods bring mile per gallon estimates closer to consumers' actual fuel use, by including factors such as high speeds, aggressive accelerations, air conditioning use and driving in cold temperatures.

This means the mileage figures on window stickers will drop an average of 12 percent for city driving and about eight percent for highway driving.

The new standards will take effect for model year 2008 vehicles, the agency said Monday.

"EPA's new fuel economy sticker ensures American motorists won't be stuck with higher than anticipated charges at the pump," said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

"Consumers can get more bang for their buck by considering fuel use while shopping for cars and trucks – saving money on refueling costs while helping protect our environment," he said.

Currently, the EPA relies on data from two laboratory tests to determine the city and highway fuel economy estimates. The test methods for calculating these estimates were last revised in 1984.

In addition to better fuel economy estimates, for the first time, the EPA will be requiring fuel economy labeling of medium-duty vehicles, which are between 8,500 and 10,000 pounds, including large sport-utility vehicles and vans.

Manufacturers will be required to post fuel economy labels on these vehicles beginning with the 2011 model year.

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Tug Grounded in Lake Superior Leaking Oil

GRAND MARAIS, Michigan, December 12, 2006 (ENS) - Today, the U.S. Coast Guard and environmental response contractors, were able to safely remove an additional 15 percent of the environmental hazards from the Tug Seneca grounded in Lake Superior about 20 miles east of Grand Marais.

Pollution response efforts have resulted in the removal of 1,800 gallons of diesel fuel oil, 25 gallons of paint, and 30 gallons of lube oil. Less than 70 gallons of lube oil remain onboard the Tug Seneca.

Multiple Coast Guard and state assests responded to the grounding of the Tug Seneca located approximately 18 nautical miles east of Grand Marais.

The tug was being towed from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to Grand Marais by the Tug Susan Hoey when the lines between them parted on December 4, sending the unmanned Seneca adrift on the lake.

On Friday, the Coast Guard determined that the tug was leaking oil. The Coast Guard immediately engaged the vessel's owner to ensure pollution response and salvage equipment would be available to deploy at the first weather permitting opportunity.

Upon learning the owner could not guarantee a timely response, the U.S. Coast Guard, USCG, federal on scene coordinator assumed the expense of removing the threat of pollution and engaged contractors to mount the appropriate response.

The tug remains grounded in an upright position. Late Friday, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and USCG approved the salvage plan to remove the tug from the Lake Superior shore.

But early afternoon weather conditions Monday forced the Coast Guard and pollution responders to suspend operations. Current and forecasted weather conditions exceed the safe operating capabilities of the barge, which is being used to transfer oil from the tug to the proper storage containers.

Any continued efforts to retrieve more oil would be considered hazardous to work crews and the barge.

The Coast Guard will continue to monitor the tug's status and with contractors will continue to assess the best course of action with regards to the vessel and the petroleum products still aboard.

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Last Contaminant Test for Buildings Near World Trade Center

NEW YORK, New York, December 12, 2006 (ENS) - As a final response to the events of September 11, 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has announced a $7 million program to test indoor spaces in Lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center towers hit by terrorist air strikes.

Registration for the program will begin mid-January and run for two months. Testing of interior spaces is expected to begin in the spring. Priority for testing will be based on a property’s proximity to the World Trade Center site.

If analysis of dust and air samples finds elevated levels of any of four contaminants of concern, the contaminants will be cleaned up.

The program covers the areas south of Canal Street and west of Allen and Pike streets.

“It is time to begin this final phase in EPA’s response to the terrorist attacks of September 11,” said Alan Steinberg, EPA regional administrator. “We hope that the program will provide peace of mind to people who live and work in Lower Manhattan.”

The EPA began the first phase of its Test and Clean Program in June 2002. Contaminants originally sampled for included asbestos, lead, dioxins, silica, calcite and gypsum, fibrous glass and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, which are common by-products of combustion.

“The vast majority of occupied residential and commercial spaces in Lower Manhattan have been repeatedly cleaned, and we believe the potential for exposure related to dust that may remain from the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings is low,” said Dr. George Gray, assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Research and Development.

The program, now allows residents and building owners to have the air and dust in their units tested for four contaminants associated with dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center - asbestos, man-made vitreous fibers such as fiberglass, lead, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Local residents and owners of commercial or residential buildings closest to Ground Zero will receive priority for testing and cleaning if registration for the program is high.

The program is limited to $7 million provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The number of residential and commercials spaces that will be addressed under the program will depend upon a number of factors, including the square footage of the units participating.

For a complete description of the EPA Test and Clean Program, visit: http://www.epa.gov/wtc/testandclean.

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Lead Paint Killing Birds in New Marine National Monument

MIDWAY ATOLL, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, December 12, 2006 (ENS) - Lead poisoning is killing thousands of Laysan albatrosses each year on Midway Atoll, part of the new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument created by President George W. Bush in June.

The Laysan albatross is globally listed as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN-World Conservation Union, and is a special trust species on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the new monument.

“Laysan chicks raised in nests close to buildings left behind by the Navy are ingesting lead-based paint chips. This is causing shockingly high lead concentrations in their blood, leading to severe neurological disorders, and eventual death,” said George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy.

Studies have shown that albatross chicks are eating the lead paint chips that are peeling off of 95 aging buildings on the island.

The 95 government buildings must be stripped of all lead-based paint, and sand surrounding these old buildings must be ifted to remove lead paint chips.

The American Bird Conservancy estimates that 10,000 chicks, or five percent of hatched chicks, may be killed annually by exposure to the leaded paint.

Laysan chicks that nest within 15 feet of the old buildings exhibit a condition called "droopwing." The chicks cannot raise their wings, which drag on the ground, resulting in broken bones and open sores.

Chicks with droopwing will never be able to fly, and will die of starvation or dehydration.

“This level of mortality in Laysan chicks hinders efforts to conserve this species and could have population-level impacts,” said Jennifer Arnold, director of American Bird Conservancy’s Seabird Program. “Midway Atoll hosts the largest nesting colony for this species in the world, making this cleanup effort a top priority.”

Other chicks that ingest paint chips have blood lead concentrations that cause immunological, neurological, and renal impairments, decreasing their chances of survival.

The American Bird Conservancy is calling for federal funding to clean up the lead to protect the albatrosses and future visitors to the monument.

A draft plan that would allow a regularly scheduled visitor program on Midway Atoll was released Friday for public comment. Up to 30 overnight guests would be permitted on Midway at any one time during 2007, and possibly higher numbers in the future.

The Department of the Interior estimates that $5.6 million is needed to clean up the lead paint on Midway.

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Community in Erin Brockovich Film at Risk of Sewage Sludge

SAN BERNARDINO, California, December 12, 2006 (ENS) - Four environmental groups have filed an appeal with the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors seeking to overturn the Planning Commission’s approval of an open air sewage sludge treatment facility near the community of Hinkley.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Helphinkley.org, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment say the proposed project would allow more than 500 daily vehicle trips to truck up to 2,000 tons of sewage sludge per day from up to 200 miles away in the Inland Empire to this small desert community.

It would also spread the waste - 400,000 tons processed per year - across 160 acres of desert.

Sewage sludge contains pathogens, metals, pesticides and fungi that can cause disease in humans and animals.

The citizens of Hinkley have been dealing with the toxic legacy of hexavalent chromium 6 contamination for decades. Their situation was dramatized by Julia Roberts in the Hollywood film “Erin Brockovich.”

“For our local citizens, especially the young and old, who already have compromised health issues, this project adds insult to injury,” said Norman Diaz of Helphinkley.org, a local citizen’s group fighting to keep the sludge out.

"It is completely irresponsible of the county to approve this project less than eight miles directly upwind from our local elementary school that my own kids and 350 other children attend and less than three miles upwind from some local residences," Diaz said. "They are rushing this project through without proper environmental review and public input."

The project would increase traffic, air pollution, greenhouse gases, volatile organic compounds, and noxious odors as well as potentially introducing non-native invasive weeds, impacting water quality, increasing wildfire danger and destroying habitat occupied by the threatened desert tortoise and other species.

The county refused to consider requiring an enclosed facility and failed to adequately address the many environmental impacts of the project, the four groups complain.

The county refused to provide any information about the project in Spanish in an area where about 40 percent of the residents are Spanish speakers and many requested information in Spanish.

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Lightning Fires May Help Preserve Oak Forests

CLEVELAND, Ohio, December 12, 2006 (ENS) - Oak forests may be approaching extinction but lightning fires canplay a role in their regeneration, according to Case Western Reserve University biologists.

Paul Drewa, assistant professor in Case's biology department, and graduate student Sheryl Petersen, suspect that these kinds of fires may provide a natural mechanism to deter encroachment of shade tolerant hardwoods, especially red maples that are crowding out oaks and other plants on the ground floors of numerous forests in the eastern United States.

In an article for the April-June issue of the "Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society," the researchers examined regional weather patterns to see if environmental conditions exist for the occurrence of lightning fires in Appalachian forests of Adams and Pike Counties in southern Ohio.

The likelihood of lightning fires increases through the summer when the frequency of lightning strikes reaches its greatest peak in late August, coinciding with dry environmental conditions," said Drewa.

Drewa and Petersen found that from 1993 to 2005, 29 lightning fires were reported in Ohio's fire protection areas, with 70 percent of those occurring during the summer.

"Human alterations to the natural fire regime, especially decades of fire suppression, have changed oak-dominated ecosystems in southern Ohio and throughout the eastern U.S.," reported Petersen. "As a result, there is a preponderance of shade tolerant hardwoods that are preventing oaks and other native species from regenerating."

The oak canopies of remaining forest fragments are deceptive, according to the researchers, who found that oaks are not thriving well beyond the seedling stage, with few developing into older life history stages, including juveniles, saplings, and poles.

To save the oak forests, Drewa and Petersen are advocating studies that include summer fires as experimental treatments.

They caution against fires in other seasons that might foster proliferation of plants other than oaks and other less shade tolerant species.

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