AmeriScan: December 20, 2006

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U.S., Europe Renew Energy Star Agreement

WASHINGTON, DC, December 20, 2006 (ENS) - The United States and the countries of the European Union today renewed their agreement on the energy efficiency of office equipment products using the U.S. government's Energy Star label. The United States and the European Community first signed the agreement in 2000.

The agreement calls for the use of Energy Star labeling on office equipment in European markets and that the United States imports, including computers, monitors, printers, copiers, fax machines and scanners, with other products possibly added in the future.

"Energy Star is one of the most recognizable brands in America. The renewal of this agreement even more firmly establishes Energy Star as the international symbol for energy efficiency," said EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock.

The agreement includes recently revised and more challenging technical specifications for imaging equipment and computers that will result in improved efficiency across all modes of operation. They also require the use of highly efficient power supplies.

The agreement was signed at a ceremony by Peacock, the Ambassador John Bruton of the Delegation of the European Commission in Washington, and Finnish Ambassador Pekka Lintu, representing the European Presidency.

Combined, these new specifications will save American households more than $4 billion over the next five years and avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions of more than six million cars, with additional energy and environmental benefits possible in the European Union.

The renewal of this agreement lends even greater authority to other nations' efforts to stimulate the market for energy efficient products.

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Oily Waste Dumping Draws Record $37 Million Fine

BOSTON, Massachusetts, December 20, 2006 (ENS) - The Overseas Shipholding Group Inc., OSG, Tuesday agreed to plead guilty to 33 felony counts related to deliberate vessel pollution from nine ships and false pollution log entries in three additional ships, in six U.S. ports. The ships dumped oily waste into U.S. waters and company employees falsified records to cover up the dumping.

OSG is a U.S. corporation headquartered in New York and is one of the largest publicly traded tanker companies in the world.

OSG will pay a record $37 million - the largest criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution. The company pled guilty to charges related to illegal dumping of waste oil, criminal violations of the Clean Water Act/Oil Pollution Act and the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, conspiracy, false statements and obstruction of justice.

The multi-district investigation was conducted in Boston, Massachusetts; Portland, Maine; Los Angeles and San Franciscom California; Wilmington, North Carolina; and Beaumont, Texas.

The $37 million penalty includes a $27.8 million criminal fine which will be divided among the districts and a $9.2 million organizational community service payment that will fund various marine environmental projects coast to coast.

Acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer said that OSG’s management failed to uncover or stop this illegal activity after allegations were brought to the attention of management on several occasions and again after the initiation of the government’s investigation.

As an example of the violations which the company admitted, OSG made illegal releases of oily waste from August 2001 to October 2003 from the M/T Uranus into waters off the coast of New England, in close proximity to Maine and Massachusetts, including the island of Nantucket.

Discharges were made from the M/T Uranus through a long flexible hose trailed overboard at night, then through a hard bypass pipe that the ship’s Fitter was forced to make, and at a later point in time, by flushing an oil detecting sensor with fresh water.

"The Coast Guard takes its obligation as a steward of the marine environment very seriously," said Rear Adm. Tim Sullivan. "The case demonstrates that scofflaws within maritime industry can no longer treat intentional discharging of oil and the penalties associated with those acts as a ‘cost of doing business.’ Instead, the industry must embrace a culture of compliance."

The government’s investigation was initiated after the Coast Guard in Boston received a referral from the Marine Safety Branch of Transport Canada, indicating that records for the M/T Uranus showed that bilge waste was being disposed while the official Oil Record Book failed to account for the disposal of waste.

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Crystal Mountain Diesel Spill Emergency Cleanup Complete

SEATTLE, Washington, December 20, 2006 (ENS) - The emergency phase of cleanup operations is ended for a 18,000 gallon diesel spill at the Puget Sound Energy back-up electric generator near the Crystal Mountain Ski Area, officials said Tuesday. Activities at the spill site will now focus on the long-term cleanup.

Since the spill was discovered in early November, 8,707 gallons of diesel have been recovered by pumping pooled areas, absorbing it into pads and excavating contaminated soil. At least 1,143 truckloads of contaminated soil have been hauled off-site.

Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, Washington Department of Ecology and Puget Sound Energy said that extensive monitoring of area water supply wells found no spill-related contaminants.

Based on the sampling of Silver Creek and the water wells, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, in consultation with the Washington Department of Health and Ecology, concluded that homeowners located in the lower Silver Creek area may resume drinking water from their taps.

Puget Sound Energy has provided bottled drinking water to local residents for the past six weeks as a precautionary measure while the wells were being tested. They will soon notify homeowners about the drinking water results by posting fliers on each residence and cabin.

A ground water interceptor trench has been installed along Silver Creek in the vicinity of the spill. Ground water captured in the trench is being processed through a water treatment system so that no detectable levels of the spilled diesel are discharged into Silver Creek.

The long-term cleanup, which will be monitored by Ecology, the EPA and U.S. Forest Service, will involve additional site analysis, removal of contaminated soil, continued collection and treatment of contaminated ground water and monitoring of Silver Creek. A cleanup plan will be developed to address the area under and immediately surrounding the generator station that was impacted by the spill.

PSE is also working with state and federal officials to make changes at the generator station to prevent any future spills.

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Extreme Arsenic Levels Found in Arizona Water

PHOENIX, Arizona, December 20, 2006 (ENS) - An Arizona water utility has been ordered to provide an alternative source of drinking water to customers within three days because it is currently serving water with arsenic concentrations more than 30 times the federal standard.

Long term exposure to arsenic may lead to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidneys, nasal passages, liver and prostate, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Other effects may include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis and blindness.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has issued a Compliance Order to Wilhoit Water Company-Yavapai Estates in Chino Valley, ADEQ Director Steve Owens announced today.

The small high desert community of Chino Valley, population 11,000, is located along State Highway 89 in the mountains of north central Arizona.

On December 5, ADEQ issued a Notice of Violation to Wilhoit. On December 13, ADEQ posted a public notice that advised customers to avoid drinking or cooking with water from the Wilhoit-Yavapai Estates system, and to find an alternative source of drinking water.

ADEQ issued the Compliance Order today because Wilhoit Water Company has failed to provide its customers with safe drinking water, including bottled water, and failed to inform customers about the arsenic levels.

The company has three days to begin supplying bottled water directly to customers, five days to issue a public notice through the U.S. Mail to its customers, 30 days to submit a proposal to bring the system into compliance with the federal arsenic standard, and until June 1, 2007 to achieve compliance with the standard.

"This company has an obligation to its customers to provide them with safe drinking water," Owens said. "They must do so immediately."

The most recent analytical result for a sample collected was 316 parts per billion (ppb). The EPA's arsenic standard for drinking water is 10 ppb.

Customers with questions or concerns should contact the Wilhoit Water Company at (928) 639-1308 or may contact ADEQ at (602) 771-4644.

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Lawsuit Seeks Critical Habitat for Alaskan Sea Otters

WASHINGTON, DC, December 20, 2006 (ENS) - The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, challenging the Bush administration’s refusal to designate critical habitat for imperiled sea otters in Alaska.

Sea otters in the Aleutian Islands and southwest Alaska were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in August 2005 following declines of up to 90 percent in many areas. With that listing, federal law requires that their critical habitat be protected as well, the advocacy group argues.

In August 2000, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect sea otters in Alaska under the under the Endangered Species Act.

Two lawsuits and five years later, sea otters received the protections of the Endangered Species Act. But the group says these protections are incomplete without critical habitat designation.

"Once again we are forced to ask the courts to require Bush administration officials to comply with the law," said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Department of the Interior should be protecting sea otter habitat; instead, they are proposing oil drilling near it."

The Department of the Interior this year has proposed opening up areas in the Bering Sea to offshore oil development. In addition, President George W. Bush is considering lifting the presidential moratorium that currently prohibits such drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay.

The Center argues that oil development in these areas could be devastating for the sea otters, because they rely on their fur as insulation against the cold.

As many as 1,000 sea otters died from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, while more recently, the Selendang Ayu oil spill in the Aleutian Islands in December 2004 killed numerous otters from this vulnerable population.

Despite the importance of habitat protection, the Bush administration has opposed critical habitat designation for most species, designating such habitat only as a result of litigation.

Once critical habitat is designated, the Endangered Species Act requires all federal agencies to ensure that their activities do not destroy nor adversely modify that habitat.

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Michigan OKs Nestle Water Withdrawal From Trout Streams

LANSING, Michigan, December 20, 2006 (ENS) - The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, DEQ, has issued a proposed determination that a water withdrawal being considered by Nestle Waters of North America is not likely to cause an adverse resource impact under Michigan's new water withdrawal law.

The agency's proposed determination is the first to apply Michigan's new water withdrawal law. It responds to a request from Nestle for the DEQ to determine whether the proposed withdrawal would have an adverse resource impact.

Under the law, an adverse resource impact occurs when water is withdrawn from a stream at a rate that could harm fish populations.

Nestle is proposing to withdraw water for bottling via a well in Osceola County with a maximum proposed pumping rate of 216,000 gallons per day.

The proposed withdrawal would intercept groundwater discharging to Twin Creek and Chippewa Creek, two designated trout streams in Osceola Township.

Based upon the calculated base flow of the two creeks, along with Department of Natural Resources studies of natural flow variation in streams statewide, the DEQ proposes to determine that the allowable withdrawal from the two watersheds is a combined 691,200 gallons per day, well above the amount to be withdrawn by Nestle.

While not required under the new law, the DEQ is making its proposed finding of no adverse resource impact open to public comment.

Copies of the public notice, the report submitted by Nestle's consultant in support of the petition, and a decision document providing the basis for the DEQ's proposed determination are available online at: http://www.michigan.gov/deqwater.

Comments on this proposed determination received by January 15, 2007, will be considered in the issuance of a final determination. Comments can be submitted to Brant Fisher, DEQ Water Bureau, PO Box 30273, Lansing, MI 48909-7773, or by email at fisherb@michigan.gov.

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