AmeriScan: December 18, 2006

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14 Dead in Pacific Northwest Windstorm

OLYMPIA, Washington, December 18, 2006 (ENS) - At least 100 people in Washington state suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning since the winds knocked out power to more than 1.5 million Pacific Northwest homes and businesses late last week.

Fourteen people have died in storm-related incidents, 12 in Washington and two in Oregon. Many of the dead perished from inhaling the colorless, odorless toxic gas.

It is estimated that over 1,000 people in Washington have been seen at hospital emergency rooms with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning over the past four days.

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire today urged residents to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and to get the word out to anyone they know without power.

"I urge all Washingtonians to stay safe and take care of themselves and their families as we dig out from the most recent storm," said Governor Gregoire. "You can help by checking in with friends and neighbors to share this information and make sure they are okay."

Many of these recent cases have resulted from the indoor use of charcoal briquettes for cooking or heating. When burned, charcoal releases carbon monoxide, which is odorless and colorless. Generators are also dangerous if not used properly. They should never be used inside the home, in an attached garage, or near an open window or air intake.

The Washington Department of Health and local health departments are working together to get this information out, but they are having trouble reaching everyone.

"Many people are still without power or phones so it is very difficult to reach them with this important message. This is why we need everyone’s help," said Secretary of Health Mary Selecky.

Carbon monoxide is found in combustion fumes produced by burning charcoal and wood, small gasoline engines, stoves, generators, lanterns, and gas ranges. It can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces and can quickly poison people and animals.

Exposure to carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness and death. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever having symptoms. Selecky says if carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, move the person to a place with fresh air immediately and get medical attention right away.

About 300,000 customers remain without power in Washington state. Flood warnings are in effect for the Chehalis River in western Washington.

Governor Gregoire Friday declared a statewide disaster and the state National Guard was mobilized to help get fuel and supplies to storm-stricken areas.

For this week, forecasters predict showers in western Washington and some snow showers in the higher elevations, but no hazardous weather.

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EPA Sued for Setting Weak Particulate Matter Standards

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, December 18, 2006 (ENS) - Thirteen states, the District of Columbia and a California state agency filed a joint lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today for ignoring scientific evidence and the advice of its own experts in setting weak standards for air pollution known as fine particulate matter.

The lawsuit challenges a new rule adopted by the EPA in September that set both daily and annual standards for airborne particulate matter.

The rule toughened the daily National Ambient Air Quality standard for particulate matter, but left the annual standard for the same pollutants unchanged, contrary to the recommendations of the EPA’s own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit by California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a California agency.

"Our position is that the EPA has, in essence, abdicated its legal responsibility under the Clean Air Act by disregarding the recommendations of its own advisory committee and embracing an annual standard for particulate matter that fails to ensure public safety," said New Jersey Attorney General Rabner.

Particulate matter, or PM, is responsible for premature death, chronic respiratory disease and asthma attacks, as well as increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits. Sources of the harmful airborne soot -- particles much smaller than a grain of sand - include motor vehicle exhaust, power plant and factory emissions, and wood fires.

"This case is just one more example of the federal government ignoring sound science in establishing environmental policy and watering down safeguards designed to protect the public," said Kathleen McGinty, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The federal Clean Air Act requires that EPA, in consultation with its science experts, review the existing standards for air pollutants such as PM every five years. If new evidence shows that an existing standard is too weak to protect public health, EPA must revise it.

After a recent comprehensive review of the scientific evidence, EPA’s panel of expert scientists recommended that concentrations of fine PM be lowered from the current acceptable level of 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 13 or 14 micrograms.

Although a reduction of one microgram might seem inconsequential, EPA’s own impact analysis states that if the standard were lowered from 15 microgram to 14 micrograms, an additional 1,000 to 11,000 lives would be saved.

Other research shows that lowering the acceptable level to 13 micrograms could prevent 24,000 premature deaths per year.

The World Health Organization and a coalition of six American physicians’ organizations, have recommended that EPA lower allowable levels of PM to a range of 10 micrograms to 12 micrograms per cubic meter.

The EPA’s decision to maintain the status quo on PM levels is scheduled to take effect today. Prior to filing this lawsuit, a number of states petitioned EPA in April 2006 to lower allowable particulate matter limits.

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Nation's First Off-Shore Wind Farm Wins Court Battle

BOSTON, Massachusetts, December, 18, 2006 (ENS) - A Massachusetts court today ruled in favor of the nation's first off-shore wind farm planned for Nantucket Sound.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling that affirmed the May 2005 decision of the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board approving the construction and operation of undersea transmission lines to serve the Cape Wind Project.

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound appealed the Siting Board's decision to the Court.

The Court issued a unanimous decision in favor of Cape Wind, acknowledging the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, MEFSB, for its "eminently reasonable and practical approach" in determining that the transmission lines were needed to serve the wind farm, even though the wind farm itself will ultimately require the approval of federal agencies.

Cape Wind President Jim Gordon said, "The state’s highest court has now confirmed the validity of the original agency decision, which said emphatically that Cape Wind’s power is needed, that Cape Wind will reduce air pollution and that the project is a needed part of our state’s energy mix."

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound said today, "The decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, SJC, upholds a conditional permit for the Cape Wind project allowing the transmission cable across state waters. The SJC decision does not confer legitimacy for constructing 130 turbines adjacent to a state ocean sanctuary and does not appreciably advance what remains a very controversial use of our public waters."

The Court's opinion states, "The record shows that the wind farm will tend to reduce market clearing prices for electricity... The savings…would accrue to electric customers, and are estimated to be $25 million per year for New England customers, including $10 million annually for Massachusetts customers over the first five years of operation."

"The record clearly documents significant and lasting air quality benefits resulting from the wind farm’s displacement of other, primarily fossil-fueled, generators," the Court found.

"Overall, the Siting Board concludes that the air quality benefits of the wind farm are significant, and important for Massachusetts and New England."

But the controversy is far from over. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound said today that the Cape Wind project is "far from a done deal, and this decision represents but one of over 20 local, state and federal approvals and permits that the developer must get before this project could advance."

"We remain confident that the Cape Wind project will not be permitted because of its unprecedented and inappropriate industrial use of 24 square miles of heavily trafficked and environmentally sensitive waters in Nantucket Sound," the Alliance said.

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Stricter Discharge Limits for DC's Largest Sewage Plant

WASHINGTON, DC, December 18, 2006 (ENS) - In response to pressure from conservation groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has proposed stronger limits on discharges of pollution from the District of Columbia's largest sewage plant, which threaten the Chesapeake Bay.

The proposal strengthens a permit proposed by the agency last August for the Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant in southwest Washington.

Blue Plains is the largest advanced wastewater treatment plant in the world. Covering 150 acres, it has a capacity of 370 million gallons per day, and a peak capacity of 1.076 billion gallons per day.

In comments filed on behalf of Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club, the nonprofit, public interest law firm Earthjustice challenged the legality of the weaker permit.

The new proposal, issued late last week, sets tighter caps on nitrogen, a pollutant that contributes to oxygen depletion that leads to summertime dead zones in Chesapeake Bay.

"This action is a welcome step toward cleaner water and a healthier future for the Chesapeake Bay," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. "The prior proposal violated legal requirements for cleaning up the bay. We called for stronger protections and EPA finally listened."

Blue Plains is the largest single point source of nitrogen in the Potomac basin. The revised permit proposal would limit nitrogen discharges from the plant to 4.689 million pounds per year, a reduction from the nearly 8.5 million pounds allowed under the previous proposal.

Nitrogen pollution leads to huge blooms of algae in the bay. When the algae die and begin decomposing, oxygen levels fall, threatening fish and other aquatic life.

During summer months, low dissolved oxygen levels in the Chesapeake lead to dead zones that stretch for miles.

In July 2003, one of the largest dead zones since monitoring began 20 years ago occurred, affecting 40 percent of the bay's main stem near Baltimore, and extending for more than 100 miles south.

The Chesapeake Bay Agreement commits the District of Columbia and states in the bay region to achieve cleanup goals for the Bay by 2010. Nitrogen caps on sewage plants like Blue Plains are part of the cleanup strategy.

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Nature Conservancy Buys Pristine Rhode Island Forest

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, December 18, 2006 (ENS) - The Nature Conservancy, with local, state and federal partners, has acquired the 970 acre Phebe M. Shepard Estate property in the Pawcatuck Borderlands, an area of open, forested land on the Rhode Island and Connecticut border.

The Shepard property is part of an overall 1,647 acre acquisition of forest land in the Pawcatuck Borderlands. It encompasses deep woods, a 78 acre undeveloped spring-fed pond, two miles of stream corridor, open grasslands, and oak barrens.

The purchase is the largest single property acquired in the 20 year history of the Rhode Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

Purchased from several individual landowners, it also is the single largest conservation acquisition in the state since the transfer of federal lands in the 1930s and 1940s for the Arcadia Management Area.

"This is an enormous achievement by the Conservancy and its partners," said The Nature Conservancy Rhode Island State Director Janet Coit.

"The Shepard tract and adjacent properties have been a top priority in Rhode Island for the Conservancy and our partners for more than 30 years. The natural resources here are invaluable, and the fact that the opportunity to preserve them all converged at the same time is tremendously exciting," Coit said.

The Shepard Estate tract was being marketed by the heirs of Mrs. Phebe Shepard, who had received an $11.5 million offer from a major developer from Baltimore, Maryland.

But The Nature Conservancy had a right of first refusal and was able to match the offer and close the transaction.

Conservation of these lands will protect the headwaters of the Wood River.

"Had development taken place on the Shepard Estate and the two adjacent properties," Coit said, "Rhode Island’s largest and most intact forest, and its most pristine watershed, the Wood River, would have been severely degraded."

The Nature Conservancy’s public/private partnership includes the state Department of Environmental Management, the Town of West Greenwich and The Champlin Foundations. The Conservancy has applied for additional funds through the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy program which must be appropriated by Congress.

"Preserving this extremely rare New England habitat will protect many species of plants and animals and ensure that the Wood River will continue to provide clean water flowing downstream," said U.S. Senator Jack Reed a Rhode Island Democrat, who earlier this year worked with Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee to secure a commitment from the Senate Appropriations Committee to provide $3 million in federal funding to preserve these properties.

Congress failed to complete action on the bill before adjourning.

Senator Chafee was defeated in the November election, but the Nature Conservancy intends to work with Senator Reed on getting these federal funds when the new Congress convenes in January.

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Federal Grants Available to Conserve Rare Species

WASHINGTON, DC, December 18, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking proposals for conservation projects to benefit imperiled species on private lands through its Private Stewardship Grants Program.

This program provides federal grants on a competitive basis to individuals and groups engaged in voluntary conservation efforts on private lands that help federally listed endangered or threatened species as well as proposed, candidate and other at-risk species.

The Private Stewardship Grant program is one of a variety of tools available under the Endangered Species Act that help landowners plan and implement projects to conserve species. These grants and cooperative agreements provide incentives to foster citizen participation in the stewardship of our nation's natural resources.

In 2006 the Service awarded 80 grants totaling more than $6.9 million to individuals and groups to undertake conservation projects for endangered, threatened, and other at-risk species on private lands in 35 states.

For example, Audubon of Kansas received a grant of $83,000 last year to work with four ranchers to conserve black-tailed prairie dogs and restore habitat for the endangered black-footed ferret.

Trout Unlimited in Lincoln County, Wyoming was awarded $120,000 to return water flows to a portion of Grade Creek which enabled Bonneville cutthroat trout to return to their historic spawning grounds.

Landowners and their partners must submit their proposals to the appropriate Regional Offices of the Service by February 14, 2007.

For additional information regarding this grant opportunity and how and where to submit proposals, please visit the Service['s Private Stewardship Grants website at: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/grants/private_stewardship/index.html.

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