AmeriScan: February 1, 2005

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Attorneys General Urge Stronger Nuclear Reactor Defenses

WASHINGTON, DC, February 1, 2005 (ENS) - Eight state attorneys general and more than 850 individual petitioners have requested that the federal government raise defenses around the country's nuclear power stations.

The Petition for Rulemaking, authored by the Committee to Bridge the Gap (CBG) and organized by Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), asks the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to increase site capabilities at U.S commercial nuclear power to repel a minimum of 19 attackers, the same number that operated on 9/11.

The seven attorneys general who signed the January 24 letter are: Eliot Spitzer of New York, Lisa Madigan of Illinois, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Terry Goddard of Arizona, Bill Lockyer of California, Peg Lautenschlager of Wisconsin, and Mike Beebe of Arkansas. Delaware Attorney General M. Jane Brady filed separate supportive comments.

"The interest of terrorists in attacking nuclear power plants is a matter of record," the attorneys general said in the letter.

"At minimum, the upgraded design basis threat should require defenses against attacks by air, water, or land and by groups at least as large as that involved in the 9/11 attacks. The NRC should upgrade the threat to reflect the realities of 2005."

Specifically, the petitioners want nuclear power stations to erect obstructions to prevent catastrophic damage from an aircraft attack similar to those on 9/11.

"It is deeply disturbing that, more than three years after 9/11, nuclear reactors, the nation's most dangerous sites, still have no protection against air attack and must only protect against attackers in far smaller numbers than seen on 9/11," said Daniel Hirsch, president of CBG. The nuclear watchdog group is the author of the pending Petition for Rulemaking to the NRC supported by the attorneys general.

"It seems a no-brainer that reactors should be protected by 'Beamhenge' shields of I-beams and steel cabling, so that incoming planes crash into the shield not the reactor or spent fuel pool. Similarly, it isn't rocket science that one should protect reactors against at least as many attackers as we saw on 9/11. That is what our Rulemaking Petition urges," Hirsch said.

"Even acknowledging NRC efforts on security upgrades to date, they don't measure up to the clear and present danger," said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Watchdog Project for NIRS in Washington, DC. "It is indefensible for NRC to set its regulatory bar below the level of ferocity already demonstrated on September 11th."

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Taxpayers Handed $1.5 Billion Bill for Bush Forest Giveaways

WASHINGTON, DC, February 1, 2005 (ENS) - The first national forest plans written under the Bush administration’s “Healthy Forest” rules are big money losers for the taxpayer, according to agency documents compiled by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national association of natural resources professionals employed by various levels of government.

Plans from three Rocky Mountain forests would cost in excess of $1.5 billion from unprofitable timber sales and associated expenses.

In each of these three cases, the Forest Service rejected the “environmentally preferred alternative” identified in the required review under the National Environmental Policy Act even though the environmentally preferred alternative was less costly.

Instead, the Forest Service selected the more intensive and expensive alternatives favored by the timber industry.

“In the new zero sum budget reality, every dollar lost on the national forests is a dollar that cannot be spent on medical research, education and housing,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Realistically, these ‘Healthy Forest’ plans are nothing more than healthy corporate subsidies at taxpayer expense.”

The forest plans cost so much because they involve vast “vegetation management” operations to clear out wide swathes of land in the name of “fire and insect hazard management,” Ruch says. These sales lose money because taxpayers pay for building roads and other operations that make the extensive logging possible.

“The environmentally preferred alternatives are greener in both an ecological and an economic sense,” Ruch said. Logging roads are expensive to build and maintain as well as the primary source of sediment in forest streams from erosion.

“We already more roads through our national forests than exist in the entire nation of Russia – 386,000 miles in our forests versus 368,000 in Russia.”

There is an estimated systemwide $8.4 billion backlog of in deferred road maintenance, PEER says.

View the Black Hills National Forest economic analysis, here; go to page 3-326 for financial summary.

See the costs for the Bighorn National Forest on page 3-520 at this web address.

Examine the costs for the East Fork Fire Salvage at the Wasatch-Cache NF on page 27 by clicking here.

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New Jersey Spends $35 Million on Water Reuse Projects

TRENTON, New Jersey, February 1, 2005 (ENS) - Twenty-three water demonstration projects throughout New Jersey will receive a total of $35 million to reuse treated wastewater. State officials said the projects would help to protect the quantity and quality of New Jersey's supplies of drinking water.

"The most important legacy that we can leave for future generations is to ensure a plentiful supply of clean water," said Governor Richard Codey, announcing the projects on Monday. "This precious resource is both crucial to the health of New Jersey's citizens and essential for a prosperous economy."

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell said that after the 2002 recordbreaking drought in New Jersey, the DEP recognized the need for proactive and innovative steps to safeguard the state's water supplies.

As a result, the department requested proposals from more than 450 water purveyors, wastewater dischargers and agricultural users for projects that would best supplement New Jersey's water resources through reuse.

"These projects will help to conserve the state's water supply by using cost efficient, highly innovative ways to reuse treated wastewater," said Commissioner Campbell. "It is another example of the investments, support and leadership that we at DEP need to combat the depletion of the state's vital water resources."

From the 52 proposals submitted, requesting more than $200 million in funding, DEP selected 23 water demonstration projects that will preserve more than 6 million gallons daily. These projects will use treated wastewater for beneficial reuse such as irrigation and cooling operations at industrial facilities. The projects also include using treated, reclaimed water to upgrade public restrooms at Island Beach State Park and Waywayanda State Park.

Other projects promote the recharge of groundwater supplies and help in the prevention of saltwater intrusion. An approved project in Cape May City will use treated effluent to help prevent saltwater intrusion.

Under this project, Cape May City will inject treated wastewater into the Cohansey Aquifer to create a barrier to further protect area drinking water wells from saltwater contamination.

The $35 million available to support these projects comes from the 1981 Water Supply State Bond Fund.

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Kentucky Groups Sue to Block Coal Mine Valley Fills

RICHMOND, Kentucky, February 1, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is illegally allowing the destruction of Kentucky streams under tons of coal mining waste, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by three Kentucky environmental and citizen organizations.

“In the last three years, the Corps has rubber-stamped more than 50 permits for 191 valley fills that will destroy more than 35 miles of Kentucky’s streams,” said Teri Blanton of the plaintif group Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. “This is an absurd and outrageous abuse of their power and neglect of their duty to protect the nation’s waterways.”

Kentucky Riverkeeper and the Kentucky Waterways Alliance are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The groups charge that the Corps’ use of a general permit, known as Nationwide Permit 21 (NWP 21), for valley fills violates the federal Clean Water Act.

“The NWP 21 program was meant for activities that have only minimal adverse environmental effects, both individually and cumulatively,” said Alan Banks, president of Kentucky Riverkeeper in Richmond.

The groups are challenging 54 permits issued in the last three years by the Corps “for mining operations with valley fills.”

Instead, they want the Corps to apply another section of the Clean Water Act that calls for “individual” permits which considers site-specific environmental impacts on the stream and watershed and provides an opportunity for public comment.

”Our organizations are not trying to stop coal mining with this action. We are trying to make certain that if a valley fill is permitted, the permit complies with the Clean Water Act,” said Judith Petersen, executive director of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance during a teleconference announcing the lawsuit.

“While the Corps of Engineers has the authority to issue fill permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, we believe it has abused that authority by issuing these valley fill permits as a nationwide or general permit rather than as individual permits," said Petersen.

The valley fills cited in the suit are located in the Cumberland, Kentucky, Big Sandy and Licking River watersheds.

“Since 1992, the Corps has used NWP 21 to allow ‘Big Coal’ to bury more than 1,200 miles of headwater streams throughout Appalachia,” said Banks. “The Corps has also buried the truth by calling this major environmental disaster a cumulatively minimal impact.”

“Coal mining and valley fills bury more streams than any other activity in the country,” added Petersen. “Valley fills bury streams under tens of thousands of tons of waste rock, dirt and sediment, killing all aquatic life below and affecting water quality downstream.”

This means added costs for people miles downstream who depend on the rivers for their drinking water. More than 600,000 people in the 63 communities that draw water from the Kentucky River are being impacted by Nationwide Permit 21.

“We are asking the court to declare that the Corps’ use of NWP 21 in Kentucky is illegal and to block the Corps from using NWP 21 to authorize any new valley fills in Kentucky,” said co-counsel Amanda Moore of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center based in Prestonsburg, Kentucky.

In a similar suit in a different jurisdiction, the Corps of Engineers was enjoined from issuing permits under NWP 21 for valley fills in West Virginia, but the West Virginia decision does not apply to Kentucky valley fills.

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Scientist Could Help Navy Avoid Whales During Sonar Tests

DURHAM, North Carolina, February 1, 2005 (ENS) - Scientists cannot yet say if military sonar played a role in the recent whale strandings on the North Carolina coast, but Duke University biologists are developing scientific models that could help prevent such problems in the future.

At least 37 whales stranded themselves and died along North Carolina's Outer Banks on January 15 and 16, just after Navy vessels on a training exercise used sonar in waters about 240 nautical miles from Oregon Inlet.

"The models we're developing will allow the Navy to predict whether or not whales are likely to be in testing areas on days when sonar tests are planned," said Andrew Read, the principal investigator on a study funded by the Strategic Environmental Research Development Program to model where different species of marine mammals are likely to be found in the Atlantic Ocean.

"There is a coincidence in time and space, but we can't say for sure yet whether or not military sonar played a role," in the whales' deaths, Read stressed.

Most of the stranded animals were pilot whales that beached near Oregon Inlet. A minke whale also beached that day, about 60 miles north of Oregon Inlet, and two dwarf sperm whales were found the following day on a beach about 60 miles to the south of the largest group.

"To have three species beaching at the same time is highly unusual and would make one suspect that an external factor was involved," Read said. Sonar is a possibility, he said, but it's not the only one. Big storms, underwater soundings used during oil exploration or other factors could be to blame.

Read, based at the Duke Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, North Carolina, at the southern tip of the Outer Banks, was among the first scientists to reach the beach at Oregon Inlet after the strandings were reported.

"We got there just before dusk and were racing up and down the beach trying to tag all the dead whales and assist the veterinarians who were attending to the ones that were still alive," he said. "Despite the difficult conditions, it was a very well-coordinated effort."

"Analysis of tissues collected from the dead whales may help determine what the cause of death was," he said. "The Navy is being forthcoming about what they were doing in the area, and that information will help us determine what factors may have caused the strandings."

Read is the Rachel Carson Associate Professor of Marine Conservation Biology at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

Read is a member of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission, the committee of scientific advisors of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, and the Cetacean Specialist Group of IUCN-the World Conservation Union.

His models use historical data - including water temperatures, underwater topography and other physical measurements - to create a set of environmental parameters the Navy can use to predict animals' presence in a future testing area.

Scientists from the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, the University of North Carolina-Wilmington Department of Biology, the North Carolina Maritime Museum, the Virginia Aquarium and the National Aquarium in Baltimore also took part in the whale rescue effort. The National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in Beaufort coordinated the effort.

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Helena Chemical Contaminates New Mexico Ground Water

SANTA FE, New Mexico, February 1, 2005 (ENS) - The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has ordered Helena Chemical to submit an abatement plan to investigate ground water pollution at the company’s fertilizer facility in Mesquite in Dona Ana County. State water quality regulations give Helena Chemical 60 days to submit this Stage 1 Abatement Plan to the state environmental agency.

“I hope that this action, along with NMED’s heightened enforcement activities in recent weeks, send a strong message to Helena that we are serious,” said NMED Secretary Ron Curry. “Requiring this plan will make sure actions are taken quickly on this issue. The residents of Mesquite don’t deserve anything less.”

In December 2004, NMED required Helena to install three monitoring wells. Testing results from these wells have shown nitrate, total dissolved solids (TDS), fluoride, and sulfate concentrations in ground water at this site in excess of state ground water standards.

Nitrate has been tested at nearly four times the state standard, fluoride at three times state health-based level, and TDS have been found at twice the standard.

New Mexico water quality regulations require responsible parties to remediate ground water pollution. The first step in this process is the submission of a Stage 1 Abatement Plan assessing ground water quality. In this case, the abatement plan will define the extent of the contamination emanating from the Helena Chemical site.

The public will have an opportunity to comment on the next stage, Stage 2, of the abatement plan, which will include a proposal for cleaning up all contamination that is discovered during the assessment.

In addition to ground water concerns, NMED is also investigating air and occupational health and safety issues uncovered during recent inspections of the Helena facility.

Environmental concerns at the Helena plant were first brought to NMED’s attention by complaints from the public and by state lawmakers.

A national company based in Tennessee, Helena offers crop protection products, agricultural chemicals, seed, fertilizer and related products. Helena also offers turf and ornamental products, forestry, aquatic and vegetation management.

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Indiana Declares Fine Particle Pollution Alert

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, February 1, 2005 (ENS) - The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has declared an alert for fine particle pollution in Lake, LaPorte and Porter counties for today and tomorrow. This alert is forecasted to last possibly throughout the work week. Sensitive residents are being advised to avoid prolonged outdoor activity while fine particles are at this level.

These three rural and suburban counties lie along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, south and east of the city of Chicago, Illinois.

Today’s alert indicates that "a very stagnant weather pattern has produced high levels of fine particles, technically known as PM2.5," the department said.

PM2.5 is microscopic material found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets that are 2.5 microns in width or less. A human hair is about 75 microns in width.

Breathing fine particles at the current levels can aggravate respiratory problems, especially in sensitive groups such as children and the elderly, and in populations with existing respiratory ailments.

On this type of high pollution day, IDEM says it will help clear the air to:

For hourly updates on PM2.5 and forecasts specific to any particular region, log onto IDEM's website at www.IN.gov/apps/idem/smog/.

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Source of Mystery Puget Sound Oil Sheen Sought

SEATTLE, Washington, February 1, 2005 (ENS) - Crews from the U.S. Coast Guard and Washington State Department of Ecology are still trying to identify the source of an oil spill that left a sheen in south Puget Sound on the weekend.

The cause of the spill is still a mystery. It was originally reported near the southern tip of Vashon Island in Dalco Passage and along the west shore of the Tacoma Narrows in Puget Sound.

Today the oil sheen has dissipated so the state and federal workers and cleanup contractors are removing a protective oil boom that was set yesterday.

Helicopter overflights did not take place early Saturday morning due to foggy weather conditions, but overflights may occur this afternoon if fog clears.

The Coast Guard first received a report about the oil sheen in Dalco Passage from the Washington State Ferry Rhododendron. Workers on the Tacoma Narrows bridge also reported seeing a sheen late Friday morning.

Federal, state responders and oil spill contractors on Friday observed a light, silvery sheen of unrecoverable oil mostly in the Point Defiance area.

Boom was deployed to protect environmentally sensitive areas in Vashon Island's Quartermaster Harbor, including Manzanita Beach and the Dockton area.

The Coast Guard and the Department of Ecology continue to investigate the cause of the spill and are actively seeking tips from the public. People with information should contact either the U.S. Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office Puget Sound, at 206-217-6232, or the Department of Ecology, at 360-407-6300.