AmeriScan: December 14, 2006

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2006 Third Warmest Year on Record Across USA

ASHEVILLE, North Carolina, December 14, 2006 (ENS) - This year's average annual temperature for the lower 48 states is likely to be the third warmest on record, according to scientists at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center in Asheville. The only warmer years occurred in 1998 and 1934.

Based on preliminary data, NOAA scientists report that the 2006 annual average temperature for the contiguous United States is likely to be two degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century mean.

The annual global temperature for 2006 is expected to be sixth warmest since recordkeeping began in 1880, NOAA scientists said. Last year was the warmest on record for the globe.

The year is noted for widespread drought and record wildfires, as well as heavy precipitation and flooding in some parts of the country.

Three months - January, April and July - were either warmest or second warmest on record, while only September and October were cooler than average.

A July heat wave set all-time records in a number of locations across the central and western parts of the country, breaking records that had stood for decades in many places.

Drought coverage fell from the July peak to 25 percent by early December. Widespread severe drought remains over much of the southern Plains, the northern High Plains and northern Rockies, as well as parts of Arizona and Minnesota.

The warmer than average conditions affected residential energy demand across the United States in opposing ways as measured by the nation's Residential Energy Demand Temperature Index.

NOAA scientists determined that the nation's residential energy demand was nine percent less during the winter and 13 percent higher during the summer than that which would have occurred under average climate conditions.

For the lower 48 states as a whole, five of the first seven months of the year were drier than average. Combined with unusually warm temperatures, drought conditions persisted in much of the country.

By late July, half of the country was in moderate to exceptional drought, as reported by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Above average precipitation from August through November helped end drought in many areas, although in places such as western Washington, record rainfall in November led to extensive flooding.

Drought and soaring temperatures contributed to a record wildfire season for the nation, with more than 9.5 million acres burned through early December, most of it in the lower 48 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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EPA Sued for Allowing Pesticide Spraying Over Water

SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 14, 2006 (ENS) - Six environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a decision that the spraying of pesticides into the nation's waters should no longer be regulated by the Clean Water Act.

The groups filed suit December 12 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to overturn the new rule, which re-defines the word "pollutant" to exclude pesticides.

Of particular concern to the environmental groups are aerial spraying and other direct applications of pesticides to creeks, rivers and wetlands. Pesticide contamination of waterways from such sources would be allowed without agency oversight under the new rule.

"Congress was quite clear in directing EPA to regulate pesticide pollution," said Deb Self, executive director of Baykeeper, one of the petitioning groups. "Rather than enforcing laws as Congress wrote them, once again the Bush administration has simply interpreted the law to suit its purposes."

In late November, the EPA issued a final rule that a Clean Water Act NPDES permit is not required before pesticides are applied when pesticides are applied directly to water to control pests, including mosquito larvae, aquatic weeds and other pests in the water.

The agency also decided that no permit is required when "pesticides are applied to control pests that are present over or near water where a portion of the pesticide will unavoidably be deposited to the water in order to target the pests effectively, for example, when insecticides are aerially applied to a forest canopy where waters of the United States may be present below the canopy or when pesticides are applied over, including near, water for control of adult mosquitos or other pests."

The petitioning groups say that EPA's rule "completely contradicts prior agency positions and represents a departure from their duties under the Clean Water Act."

Pesticides are known to cause cancer, birth defects, reproductive damage, liver and kidney damage and central nervous system disorders.

"For EPA to say that pesticides are not pollutants is like saying poison is good for you," said Charlie Tebbutt of the Western Environmental Law center, a public interest environmental law firm.

"EPA is ignoring the requirements of the Clean Water Act and cannot go unchallenged, said Tebbutt, who is lead counsel for the petitioners.

"This clean water rule strengthens and streamlines efforts of public health officials and communities to control pests and invasive species while maintaining important environmental safeguards," said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles said when he announced the rule in November.

In an interpretive memo accompanying the rule, Grumbles says the EPA "continues to adhere to a long-standing interpretation of its regulations that silvicultural activities such as pest and fire control are nonpoint source activities that do not require NPDES permits."

Point sources discharging pollutants ordinarily must obtain NPDES permits, while non-point sources do not have to obtain them.

Joining Baykeeper in its challenge are Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, Oregon Wild, and Saint John's Organic Farm.

The groups, which represent a farm in Idaho and a cross section of environmental groups from California and Oregon, are asking the court to find that EPA's rule violates the Clean Water Act.

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Wastewater Discharges Cost Sinclair Tulsa Refining $5 Million

WASHINGTON, DC, December 14, 2006 (ENS) - Sinclair Tulsa Refining Company, a subsidiary of oil and gasoline producer Sinclair Oil, pleaded guilty Wednesday to two felony counts of deliberately manipulating wastewater discharges at its Tulsa refinery in violation of the Clean Water Act.

In addition, two company managers, Harmon Connell and John Kapura, each pleaded guilty to one felony count of manipulating discharges into waters of the United States.

Sinclair, and managers Kapura and Connell admitted to manipulating the refinery processes, wastewater flows, and wastewater discharges to result in unrepresentative wastewater samplings during mandatory testing required under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, NPDES, permit program.

The manipulated samplings were intended to influence analytical testing results reported to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Between January 2000 and March 2004, the Sinclair refinery discharged an average of 1.1 million gallons of treated wastewater per day into the Arkansas River.

"Sinclair had the capability to comply with environmental regulations, but chose to violate federal law simply to save money. The defendants viewed repeated violations as nothing more than 'doing business.'" said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance.

Sinclair has agreed to pay a criminal penalty of $5 million and a community service payment of $500,000 to be paid into an environmental fund, to be identified at a later date.

Connell and Kapura each face a maximum penalty of three years in prison, up to a term of one year of supervised release, and a penalty to be determined by the court. Sentencing is scheduled for April 2, 2007.

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Utah Metals Refiner Charged with Breaking Clean Water Act

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, December 14, 2006 (ENS) - A federal grand jury in Salt Lake City has indicted the parent company of gold and silver refiner Johnson Matthey Inc. with conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act.

The UK based corporate parent, Johnson Matthey PLC is a diversified multi-national specialty chemicals producer.

On March 22, Johnson Matthey Inc. and two senior company managers were charged in a 29 count indictment with conspiracy, concealment by trick, scheme and device, and violations of the Clean Water Act.

The defendants are charged with conspiring to conceal the high level of pollutants they discharged by cheating on required tests and submitting false information about the amount of selenium released into wastewater.

The indictment alleges that the parent company played a role in conspiring to conceal the release of the contaminated wastewater into the sewers.

The conspiracy charge carries a maximum fine of $500,000 for the corporate defendants.

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TXU's Power Plant Plans Run Afoul of RAN

SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 14, 2006 (ENS) - The Rainforest Action Network, RAN, is calling on banks around the world to reject Dallas utility company TXUs solicitations for $11 billion in debt and equity to finance 11 new coal-fired power plants in Texas.

RAN has issued formal letters to 54 financial institutions, asking them to withhold financing for TXUs project.

The letters, from RAN Executive Director Michael Brune, called the TXU project a "risky transaction" and warned that in addition to the significant climate concerns, the expansion of the coal industry "is associated with destructive and unsafe methods of extraction, as well as the harmful local impacts of mercury and nitrogen oxide pollution."

If completed, the new plants will result in 78 million tons of new carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year greater than the total greenhouse gas emissions of many countries, and equivalent to the annual GHG emissions of adding 14 million new cars to U.S. roads, according to RAN.

The plants, which TXU says will produce 9 gigawatts of electricity by 2011, represent the first phase of TXUs recently announced expansion strategy that also includes the construction of up to 14 additional gigawatts of similar coal-fired power plants in other parts of the country.

If TXUs full expansion plan were to be completed, TXU would become the largest corporate greenhouse gas polluter in the United States.

"The outdated pulverized coal-fired technology being promoted by TXU is widely recognized by regulators and scientists as the highest greenhouse gas polluting source of electricity," RAN said.

"While governments and corporations around the world are confronting and trying to solve the global climate crisis, TXU is boldly proposing one of the most destructive ventures ever seen," said Brune.

"The worlds financial institutions can prevent this project from ever leaving the ground by simply declining to be a part of it. Were calling on banks to say no to TXUs dirty energy schemes, and to embrace the environmental values held by their customers, employees and shareholders," Brune said.

The projects three lead arrangers are Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch. In addition, Barclays Capital, Calyon and WestLB have been named as second-tier lenders, and numerous other banks have been approached to join the financing syndicate.

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Tribes Lose Management of National Bison Range

WASHINGTON, DC, December 14, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has cancelled its Annual Funding Agreement with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, CSKT, for shared management of the National Bison Range Complex and terminated negotiations with the CSKT for fiscal year 2007.

The National Bison Range is a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System in Montana.

The March 2005 funding agreement had awarded half of the positions and funding for the National Bison Range, and the nearby Ninepipe and Pablo National Wildlife Refuges, to the CSKT.

The FY 2006 agreement lapsed in September but had been extended on a provisional basis pending completion of negotiations for the FY 2007 Annual Funding Agreement.

In a letter to the chairman of the Tribal Council dated December 11, the USFWS regional director said that the agreement was cancelled due to a host of performance issues on the part of the CSKT, as well as reported mistreatment of Service employees by the CSKT.

The letter cited unacceptable and unusable biological data collection and reporting, non-compliance with prescribed bison management and husbandry protocols, and negligence with vehicle and equipment maintenance, facilities, security and management.

It also described the workplace environment at the NBRC as "characterized by harassing, offensive, intimidating and oppressive behavior on the part of employees of CSKT, including obscenity, fighting words, and threats of violence and retaliation directed at employees of the Service."

On September 19, the FWS staff of the National Bison Range filed an unusual joint grievance that working conditions have become intolerable due to a torrent of "safety and ethical violations, harassment, intimidation, and personal slander," according to agency management.

Negotiations for a new funding agreement broke down after the tribes demanded a turnover of the entire budget and all 20 positions to the CSKT. These demands, plus a poor first year performance review and increasing hostilities by tribal leaders toward USFWS staff, led USFWS Director Dale Hall and other senior agency administrators to terminate tribal management of the refuge.

The internal documents were released Wednesday by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a national organization of employees in natural resources agencies.

"Events of the past two years have created deep schisms in the communities of Western Montana," said Grady Hocutt, a former refuge manager who directs PEER's refuge program.

"They were created by political appointees in DC for no good reason except political expediency and animosity toward federal land management. It will take years of hard work and good faith by all sides to put the pieces back together," said Hocutt. "None of these sad events had to happen."

Hocutt said there are other means such as cooperative agreements or contracts that could allow options for CSKT future participation in bison management.

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