AmeriScan: December 22, 2006

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EPA's 2004 Ozone Regulation Ruled Illegal

WASHINGTON, DC, December 22, 2006 (ENS) - Today, a federal appeals court struck down the Bush administrationís rules for ensuring public health is protected from ground level ozone, or smog.

The three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that some of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 2004 ozone requirements are too weak to conform with the Clean Air Act, and that the agency has been illegally exercising its discretion contrary to the intent of Congress.

The ruling came in response to a suit filed by numerous state governments, environmental groups, and California's South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Connecticut, Delaware, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia petitioned the court for a ruling against the EPA and industry intervenors, the National Environmental Development Association, an organization of major corporations.

The appeals panel ruled that the EPA has failed to heed the restrictions on its discretion set forth in the Act.

Under the Clean Air Act of 1970 the EPA was to prescribe a primary national ambient air quality standard, NAAQ, for airborne pollutants to protect the public health.

The NAAQ was to be attained by a state implementation plans, developed by each state and approved by the EPA. The states were to reach attainment with the NAAQ by certain dates, which were extended several times.

In 1990, amendments to the Clean Air Act abandoned the discretionary approach in the original act. Instead, Congress mandated regulation of six pollutants particularly injurious to public health - ozone, carbon monoxide, small particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and lead. Limits were set on exposure to these air pollutants over the course of one hour.

In 1997, citing new scientific understanding that prolonged ozone exposure was more harmful to public health than short-term exposure, EPA set a new NAAQ for ambient ozone. The agency replaced the one hour, 0.12 part per million standard with an eight hour, 0.08 ppm standard.

It is in the gap between the old one hour standard and the new eight hour standard that the dispute before the court arose.

In 2004, the EPA announced an even more flexible discretionary approach to meeting the eight hour standard. The agency permitted many areas with smog problems to meet weaker cleanup requirements than other areas.

But the appeals court ruled that in writing the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments Congress did not intend to rely upon the EPAís discretion but to impose mandatory restrictions on air pollution levels.

"We therefore hold that the 2004 Rule violates the Act," the court ruled.

"We further hold that EPAís interpretation of the Act in a manner to maximize its own discretion is unreasonable because the clear intent of Congress in enacting the 1990 Amendments was to the contrary."

The judges vacated the EPA's 2004 rule, and sent the matter back to the agency for further action.

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Mercedes-Benz Dinged $60 Million for Air Pollution Control Defects

WASHINGTON, DC, December 22, 2006 (ENS) - Mercedes-Benz will pay $1.2 million in civil penalties to resolve its failure to promptly notify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, about air pollution control defects on numerous 1998 - 2006 model vehicles, the agency said Thursday.

Mercedes must also improve its emissions defect investigation and reporting system to ensure future compliance, at an estimated cost of approximately $1 million per year.

The consent decree covers more than 130,000 vehicles subject to the voluntary recalls and extended warranties may have defective catalytic converters or defective air pumps.

Mercedes will incur an estimated cost of $59 million to implement the recalls and the extended warranty.

After EPA initiated its investigation of this matter, Mercedes began voluntary recalls for two of the defects and notified owners that it would extend the warranty coverage to address a third defect.

The Clean Air Act requires auto manufacturers to file a defect information report with EPA not more than 15 working days after an emission-related defect is found to affect 25 or more vehicles, so that EPA may consider whether the defect will cause emission standards to be exceeded and whether a recall is necessary.

"These defect reporting requirements are a critical part of EPA's program to reduce air pollution by ensuring that vehicles on the road comply with the Clean Air Act's emissions standards," said Catherine McCabe, principal deputy assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

The voluntary recalls and extended warranty will reduce the emissions of harmful pollutants caused by the defects by over 500 tons cumulatively.

These pollutants include nonmethane hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides - key ingredients in the production of ground level ozone, or smog. Carbon monoxide will also be reduced, which impairs breathing and is especially harmful to children, people with asthma, and the elderly.

Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said, "Mercedes' failure to alert EPA to a number of defects in emission-related components over a multi-year period is a serious violation because it deprived EPA of the opportunity to promptly determine whether emission standards would be exceeded and whether to order a recall of any of these vehicles."

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30 day public comment period and final approval by the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC.

To see a list of the defective vehicles, click here.

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Syngenta Fined $1.5 Million for Unregistered Transgenic Pesticide

WASHINGTON, DC, December 22, 2006 (ENS) - Syngenta Seeds, Inc. of Golden Valley, Minnesota has agreed to pay a $1.5 million penalty to EPA for selling and distributing seed corn that contained an unregistered genetically engineered pesticide called Bt10.

While the federal government has concluded that there are no human health or environmental concerns with Bt10 corn, it is still illegal to distribute any pesticide not registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

Late in 2004, Syngenta disclosed to EPA that it may have distributed the seed corn to the United States, Europe, and South America.

Immediately following the disclosure, U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the EPA began an investigation and evaluation that confirmed the distribution of unregistered seed corn on over 1,000 occasions.

The USDA issued a $375,000 fine and a requirement that Syngenta sponsor a compliance training conference. The the company destroyed all the affected seed under USDA supervision.

Bt10 corn is genetically modified corn that the company says was mistakenly supplied in very small amounts as Bt11 corn between 2001 and 2004.

"The proteins expressed by Bt10 and Bt11 are identical, with the Bt gene in a different location in the cornís genome; this has no impact on the safety of the corn," Syngenta said in a statement.

Bt11 field corn is approved for food and feed use and for cultivation in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Japan, South Africa, and Uruguay. Additionally, it is approved for import for food and feed use in the European Union, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, the Philippines, China, Russia, and Korea.

Bt11 was approved for cultivation and human consumption in the United States in 1996, for food and feed use in Japan in 1996 and for human consumption in the EU in 1998.

On Thursday, the EPA filed the settlement with its Environmental Appeals Board, the final EPA decision maker on permit, enforcement, and other administrative appeals.

If approved by the Board, Syngenta will pay a penalty of $1.5 million.

For more information about the Syngenta consent agreement, click here.

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EPA Urged to Limit Pollution From Diesel Trains

WASHINGTON, DC, December 22,2006 (ENS) - Air pollution from diesel locomotives is linked to about 3,400 premature deaths and other serious health effects every year, according to a new report released Thursday by the nonprofit advocacy group Environmental Defense.

The organization is using the report to pressure the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to issue proposed national locomotive emission standards promised in 2005 but not delivered.

In 2004, the EPA announced plans to issue proposed national locomotive emission standards in 2005 and to promulgate such standards by mid-2006.

"While trains capture the vivid imagination of children during the holiday season and are workhorses in American commerce, the pollution from locomotive smokestacks imposes a heavy burden on human health," said Bill Chameides, Ph.D., chief scientist at Environmental Defense and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Diesel exhaust contains particulate matter, a form of air pollution linked to lung cancer and other respiratory problems.

Diesel exhaust also contains smog-forming oxides of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide, which are deposited on land and water as acid rain, as well as greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

The use of trains for freight transport has doubled in the last 35 years, and today the trains on America's rails release levels of nitrogen oxides comparable to 120 coal-fired power plants, according to Environmental Defense.

By 2030, the EPA estimates that diesel trains will be responsible for about one-third of all particulate pollution in the air from the transportation sector, unless more protective emission standards are put in place.

"Fortunately, solutions to clean up locomotive pollution are at hand," said Environmental Defense staff attorney Janea Scott. "The cleaner fuel that enables advanced cleaner diesel technology is already on the books, and emissions reducing technologies are already being tested."

Hybrid switcher engines for trains, called Green Goats, can cut fuel use by as much as 70 percent and emissions by up to 90 percent.

New technologies can keep train engines warm while they are turned off so the trains do not have to idle.

The report, "Smokestacks on Rails: Getting Clean Air Solutions for Locomotives on Track," examines diesel train pollution nationally and in Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Detroit, Houston-Galveston and Los Angeles.

To read the report, click here.

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Database Details Pesticide Effects on Reptiles, Amphibians

EUREKA, California, December 22, 2006 (ENS) - The citizens group Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, CATs, has created a user-friendly database of the most recent international research about the effects of pesticide use on amphibians and reptiles.

"By bringing together current research on beleaguered amphibians and reptiles, we have made this global information readily accessible to academics, neighborhood activists and students," said Patty Clary, CATs programs director.

The Reptile, Amphibian and Pesticides database, or RAP, builds on an earlier one covering literature up to 1998 that was put together by the Canadian Wildlife Service.

"The value of this database is that biologists and other users can easily access information about the effects of pesticides on amphibians and reptiles drawn from a variety of sources," said Marlon Gil, a biologist who compiled the database for CATs.

Gil, whose frog research has taken him as far afield as West Africa, said, "Hopefully this will enhance efforts to prevent losses of these species worldwide."

The updated research is searchable by species and genus, location of research, pesticide studied and toxicological effect. It includes a list of 327 scientific papers published since 1999 on the effects of pesticides on amphibians, as well as 128 research papers on pesticides' impacts on reptiles.

Clary said CATs will update the database as new information becomes available.

The database specializes in field studies from California that are meshed with findings from the unique pesticide-use database of the state's Department of Pesticide Regulation.

California is one of the "hot spots" in the global decline of amphibian populations, and native aquatic frog and toad species have been disappearing for two decades.

For example, research by the U.S. Geological Survey since 1997 has revealed dangerous levels of pesticides in both the bodies of frogs and in their aquatic habitat in pristine areas of the Sierra Nevada. Entire populations of native frogs have vanished, and research has pinpointed pesticide sprays that have drifted hundreds of miles from the Central Valley to settle in wilderness areas.

Founded in 1982, CATs was a major player in a suit that won increased protection from pesticides for the red-legged frog, made famous by Mark Twain in his story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

s The new database is available at the Californians for Alternatives to Toxics website at: http://www.alternatives2toxics.org

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Consumer Reports Offers Ways to Reduce Electronic Waste

YONKERS, New York, December 22, 2006 (ENS) - Just in time to maintain your newest electronic gadgets and to safely dispose of the old, Consumer Reportsí environmental website, GreenerChoices.org, has launched an online Electronics Reuse and Recycling Center.

The Center features thoroughly researched, expert advice to help de-clutter homes and solve the huge and growing problem of electronics waste.

It also features the results of a March 2006 nationwide, online survey about why people replace their electronics and what they did with their old equipment.

"Tossing millions of computers, cell phones, and TVs into landfills can pose serious environmental and health risks" said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, senior scientist for Consumer Reports.

"But the good news is that most electronic components can now be reused, recycled, and diverted from the waste stream, if consumers have the right information," Rangan said. "Thatís where our new online E-waste center can really help."

According to CRís survey results, about three in 10 consumers replaced their computers last year. Of these, about half did so because the equipment was too slow.

Nearly two in 10 consumers who disposed of desktop computers or monitors in the past year threw them in the trash.

About four in ten consumers replaced their cell phones last year, and two in 10 consumers threw their old cell phones in the trash.

Two in 10 consumers replaced their TV in the past year and three in 10 consumers that got rid of a TV threw it in the trash.

Other key findings from the survey: most online consumers want manufacturers to be responsible for paying to recycle what they produce and most also want manufacturers to design products so that they are easier to recycle and refurbish.

The Center provides step-by-step advice for keeping new electronics running longer, and solutions for disposing of electronic equipment in ways that will not harm the environment.

For example, many people do not realize they can upgrade their computerís storage space using tools right on the computer to free up space on the hard drive. If a cell phone battery is not holding a charge, simply getting a new battery may fix the problem.

A searchable map of recyclers that have taken the new "Electronics Recyclerís Pledge is on the website at: GreenerChoices.org.

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