AmeriScan: February 17, 2005

* * *

Three Wilderness Bills Clear Senate Committee

WASHINGTON, DC, February 17, 2005 (ENS) - Three key conservation bills sailed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Wednesday, and now move to the Senate floor for a vote. One measure will protect the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the lower 48 states, another will preserve the mountains and valleys of Washington’s Wild Sky, and the third will create the nation’s first tropical rainforest wilderness.

"Clearly there is bipartisan support for moving these bills quickly in the Senate," said Jon Owen, Washington representative for the Campaign for America’s Wilderness. "High praise goes to the bills’ sponsors, who have again shown their commitment to enacting measures to ensure some of America’s most special wild places will stay wild and beautiful for those who will come after us."

The Senate committee cleared the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act, introduced by California Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein to protect more than 300,000 acres and 21 miles of rivers in the northwest part of the state.

The Wild Sky Wilderness Act, introduced by Washington Democratic Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to conserve 106,000 acres of scenic wild lands in the northern Cascade Mountain Range.

And the Caribbean National Forest Act of 2005, introduced by New York Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer to create the El Toro Wilderness, 10,000 acres of tropical rainforest wilderness in Puerto Rico’s Caribbean National Forest.

Companion bills in the House have been introduced by Representatives Mike Thompson of California and Rick Larsen of Washington, both Democrats, and Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuno of Puerto Rico, a Republican.

The same committee last week also approved the Ojito Wilderness Act of 2005, introduced by New Mexico Senators Pete Domenici, a Republican who chairs the committee, and Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat, protect some 11,000 acres of wild lands north of Albuquerque.

New Mexico Representatives Tom Udall, a Democrat, and Heather Wilson, a Republican, are the House sponsors.

Each of the three measures passed in the Senate in the last Congress, but time ran out before they could clear both houses. Slightly different versions of the Ojito bill were passed by the Senate and House.

"We hope that early action on these broadly supported wilderness bills signals quick action in the full Senate," said Owen. "Our children and theirs deserve the same opportunities to hike, hunt, fish, camp, canoe and climb in these wild lands that we have had. It’s now up to Congress to stand up for them and quickly pass these bills."

* * *

Oil Companies Pay Santa Monica MTBE Cleanup Costs

WASHINGTON, DC, February 17, 2005 (ENS) - Eleven oil and gas companies have agreed to pay a total of $1.5 million to reimburse the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for costs of directing the investigation and cleanup of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) from a groundwater basin once used for drinking water by the city of Santa Monica, California. The settlement was filed in federal court on Wednesday.

Banned in California since 2004, MTBE is a gasoline additive and potential carcinogen that is highly soluble in water. MTBE was first introduced in 1979 to make gasoline burn more cleanly; it became a problem due to leaks into groundwater.

Santa Monica’s Charnock Sub-Basin public drinking water supply wells have been shut down since 1996, when MTBE contamination was first discovered.

The MTBE contamination in the vicinity of Santa Monica’s drinking water wells came from at least 25 possible sources, most of which were gas stations in the Charnock Sub-Basin.

The wells formerly provided more than six million gallons of water a day, about half of Santa Monica’s daily water demand. In addition to directing the cleanup, the EPA and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board have required the oil companies to supply replacement water to Santa Monica at a cost of more than $3 million a year.

The agreement between the EPA and the oil companies follows eight years of investigation and cleanup under the federal and state laws.

Susan Cloke, who chairs the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, said, "This oversight and regulation will continue until the drinking water aquifer is restored to its full beneficial use as a drinking water supply for the City of Santa Monica."

Under orders from the EPA and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, the oil companies have extracted more than 346 million gallons of contaminated groundwater and removed over 4,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil. About 6,000 pounds of MTBE have been recovered.

Including past costs, the oil companies are expected to spend in excess of $200 million to address the contamination.

The companies named in this settlement are: Best California Gas, Ltd.; ChevronTexaco Corp.; Chevron USA Inc.; Exxon Mobil Corp.; Mobil Oil Corp.; ExxonMobil Oil Corp.; Shell Oil Co.; Shell Oil Products Co. LLC; Equilon Enterprises LLC; Shell Pipeline Company LP, for itself and as successor in interest to Equilon Pipeline Company; TRM Company, formerly known as Texaco Refining and Marketing Company; and Thrifty Oil Co.

In 2003, Shell Oil Co., ChevronTexaco Corp. and ExxonMobil Corp. signed an agreement with Santa Monica, which required the oil companies to build treatment systems for Charnock water supply wells to remove the MTBE that had spread beyond source sites. This will eventually allow Santa Monica to restore use of the Charnock drinking water supply. No water from the Charnock Sub-Basin is currently being used for drinking water.

The money from this settlement will go into the U.S. Leaking Underground Storage Tank Fund, which finances investigations, cleanups and enforcement actions at leaking underground storage tank sites.

More on the Charnock site is found at:

* * *

Green Light Given 12 Advanced Vehicle Research Projects

WASHINGTON, DC, February 17, 2005 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman has announced the funding of 12 projects aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of passenger and commercial vehicles and keeping emissions low.

Bodman said that vehicles utilizing these technologies would use 10 to 15 percent less fuel than current vehicles, reducing America's dependence on foreign sources of oil and improving the environment through reduced emissions.

The total cost of $175 million for the 12 projects will be split half and half between the Energy Department and the private sector.

Seven of the projects will conduct research in advanced combustion technology. These projects have shown potential to achieve efficiency goals for cars and trucks while maintaining cost and high durability with near-zero emissions.

An example is the project proposed by Mack Trucks, Inc. in Hagerstown, Maryland. This team will develop and demonstrate an air-power-assist (APA) engine for improving fuel efficiency by 15 percent with emissions meeting the 2010 regulations.

During braking, the engine would utilize braking energy to work as a compressor, pumping compressed air into an on-board tank. During acceleration the engine is powered by the compressed air with or without burning diesel fuel until the compressed air is depleted.

The key technology development required for the APA engine is a fully-flexible engine valve actuation system. The technology will be tested on a commercial diesel engine. Team members include University of California-Los Angeles, Sturman Industries and Advanced Energy Systems. Energy Department cost: $1,807,674. Industry cost share: $1,807,674.

The remaining five projects will develop technologies to convert waste heat from engines to electrical or mechanical energy; improving overall thermal efficiency and emissions reductions.

An example is the Detroit Diesel Corporation proposal to evaluate engine-based technologies to partially recover and convert exhaust energy into useful mechanical and electrical work. The focus will be on the integration of technologies to achieve synergistic effects. Testing would be performed in a commercial diesel engine. Team members include Freightliner, Schneider and Holset Turbochargers. Energy Department cost: $7,625,000. Industry cost share: $7,625,000.

"These two sets of projects complement each other," said David Garman, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy (EERE). "By moving both development strategies forward, we can look toward a future with better, more efficient engines that produce less waste heat and fewer emissions."

The projects were selected from a solicitation by EERE's Office of FreedomCAR and Vehicle Technologies to develop enabling technologies, components, methods and fuels for high-efficiency clean combustion, as well as utilization of engine waste heat for useful work.

A complete list of funded projects is found here.

* * *

Nature Conservancy to Buy Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

NEAR STRONG CITY, Kansas, February 17, 2005 (ENS) - The National Park Trust this week will officially transfer ownership of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve to the Kansas Park Trust, concluding its 11 year ownership of the nation’s first and only privately owned National Park unit. The Kansas Park Trust was formed in 2004 by a group that includes Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Kansas Park Trust will transfer the 10,894 acre preserve to the Nature Conservancy. In 2004, the Nature Conservancy received a $4.8 million gift from the estate of the late Frank and Francis Horton of Wellington, Kansas for the purpose of preserving the tallgrass prairie.

"The National Park Trust is dedicated to preserving endangered habitats such as the tallgrass prairie ecosystem of the Flint Hills," said the trust's chairman Paul Duffendack.

The National Park Trust, a not-for-profit organization based in Washington, DC, acquired the 11,000 acre Z-Bar Ranch from Boatmen’s Bank for $4.7 million in 1994, paving the way for the creation of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve under legislation signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

To finance the purchase of the land, the National Park Trust signed an agreement with Texas cattleman Edward Bass, who pre-paid a 35-year grazing lease and donated $1 million to the National Park Trust.


Wildflowers in bloom on the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (Photo courtesy NPS)
For decades, preservationists and politicians had sought to create a national park in the Flint Hills of Kansas, which encompasses the last remaining stand of tallgrass prairie habitat in North America.

Opposition to federal land ownership stalled legislation until U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker brokered a compromise stipulating that the federal government could not own more than 180 acres and requested that the National Park Trust own the remainder of the preserve as a private party.

National visibility for the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve has helped spur tourism in historic Chase County, Kansas, which includes the towns of Strong City and Cottonwood Falls. The National Park Trust has built trails, preserved historic buildings and donated them to the National Park Service, and has opened the property to public use. The Kansas Park Trust will include two representatives of the National Park Trust on its board.

"Despite all of the struggles involved in creating and maintaining the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, we have remained true to our mission and are pleased to report that we are leaving this property in better condition than when we purchased it," Duffendack said. "If the National Park Trust hadn’t taken on this challenge, there wouldn’t be a Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve today."

District Judge Lee Fowler, who chairs the 13 member Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Advisory Committee, agrees. "Even when no one else was willing to take on stewardship of this land, the National Park Trust not only accepted the role of steward, but also helped bridge the gap between public and private interests to preserve this land for the public’s benefit," he said.

"As we look forward to a new partnership with the Kansas Park Trust and the Nature Conservancy’s Kansas Chapter, we will always be appreciative to the National Park Trust for the critical role they have played in the preserve’s establishment and initial development" said Steve Miller, National Park Service superintendent of the preserve.

Paul Pritchard, president and founder of the National Park Trust, said that demand for lands within or adjacent to national parks is making the cost of preservation higher than ever before, straining the financial resources of conservation groups, who must vie with real estate developers and industry for ownership of at-risk open spaces.

"Most people are not aware that civilization is quickly encroaching on land that is located either inside the boundaries or right next door to state and national parks. Once these lands are developed or exploited for their natural resources, there is no going back," said Pritchard.

In the past 22 years, the National Park Trust has acquired more than 100 properties, which affected million acres of land - purchased from willing sellers using private funds - and either turned them over to the National Park Service or state park systems for the enjoyment of future generations.

More information can be found at the website of the National Park Trust or the National Park Service

* * *

Lieberman Urges Gardeners to Support Global Warming Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, February 17, 2005 (ENS) – Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, asked the leadership of the Garden Club of America to help him and Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, to move their Climate Stewardship Act to combat global warming through Congress this session.

In his speech Wednesday to some 300 Garden Club leaders gathered in Washington, Lieberman denounced the failure of the United States to sign the Kyoto Protocol that took effect worldwide. He argued that America could regain its international environmental leadership and reap the competitive economic benefits of tackling global warming if Congress passed the McCain-Lieberman bill this year.

"With the Kyoto Protocol coming into force today, the United States will soon find itself left alone and left behind - both environmentally and economically - in the global campaign to curb global warming," said Lieberman.

"That does not mean we have to sign a flawed treaty. But neither should we stand still while the rest of the world advances. We can be good stewards of the environment and the economy. They are challenges in concert, not conflict. But it means we need to take action, and pass the Climate Stewardship Act."

In fact, the United States has signed the Kyoto Protocol. The signature was registered during the Clinton administration, but the treaty has never been presented to the Senate for ratification, because President George W. Bush believes it would be harmful to the American economy.

"We have a moral obligation and an urgent need to address global warming," said Lieberman, who ran for election as vice president on the Al Gore ticket in 2000.

The Climate Stewardship Act, crafted by Lieberman and McCain in consultation with industry leaders and supported by the environmental community, is modeled after the successful sulfur dioxide trading program of the 1990 Clean Air Act. Sulfur dioxide is a component of acid rain.

The legislation would require a reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to 2000 levels by the year 2010. The measure would achieve this result by capping the overall greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity generation, transportation, industrial, and commercial economic sectors, and creating a market for individual companies to trade pollution credits.

"Doing nothing is no longer an option," Lieberman said. "Intractable opposition must yield to the inevitable facts. Global warming is real. It is dangerous. And the evidence keeps pouring in and piling up. We must replenish and guard our environment, or once more lose the garden for ourselves and generations to come."

* * *

National Clean Energy Standard Projected to Create Jobs

WASHINGTON, DC, February 17, 2005 (ENS) - Investing in clean energy solutions would create 154,000 new jobs in the U.S. and save American consumers $16.2 billion on their electricity bills by 2020, according to a new report released today by U.S. PIRG.

"Redirecting America’s Energy: The Economic and Consumer Benefits of Clean Energy Policies" shows how increasing U.S. energy production from renewable sources to 20 percent of the electricity supply by 2020 and shifting billions in proposed subsidies away from coal, oil, gas and nuclear industries toward energy efficiency and renewable energy would generate widespread benefits for consumers, the economy and the environment.

The U.S. PIRG analyzed the economic and consumer impacts of three different energy policies:

  1. The final 2004 energy bill conference report (H.R.6) which would have given more than $35 billion in taxpayer subsidies to the coal, nuclear, oil and gas industries and was twice rejected by the U.S. Senate

  2. a 20 percent renewable energy standard with no federal subsidies

  3. a 20 percent renewable energy standard with a shift of the proposed $35 billion in subsidies for coal, nuclear, oil and gas industries toward energy efficiency and renewable energy
U.S. PIRG contracted the consulting firm Economic Research Associates to develop a national energy and economic model that provides detailed projections of energy production and consumption patterns. This model enabled U.S. PIRG to evaluate the economic, consumer and environmental impacts of the three energy policies.

The analysis showed that clean energy solutions with federal subsidies would create 154,000 jobs nationally between 2005 and 2020, and increase wages across the country by $6.8 billion above projected levels.

The clean energy option would save residential, commercial and industrial consumers $16 billion on their electricity bills and $11 billion on natural gas bills in 2020, U.S. PIRG projects.

Carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants would decrease by 27 percent of 2002 levels under the clean energy option.

The analysis also found that a 20 percent renewable energy standard alone - without any federal subsidies - would generate comparable consumer and job benefits to the energy bill without billions of dollars from the taxpayers.

"140 countries have taken steps toward reducing global warming pollution by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, yet the U.S. is watching the parade go by while it takes a wait and see approach," said U.S. PIRG environmental advocate Navin Nayak. "U.S. PIRG’s report demonstrates that solving our energy problems is an unprecedented opportunity to redirect America toward a cheaper, safer, cleaner and more productive energy future."

"If the only thing Congress did on energy this year was to pass a 20 percent national renewable energy standard, it would be better for America’s economy and consumers than last year’s over-priced and wasteful energy bill," Nayak said.

Redirecting America’s Energy can be found here.

* * *

Illinois Mini-Grants Address Storm Water Pollution

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, February 17, 2005 (ENS) - Each mini-grant by itself does not amount to much - $2,000 to $7,000 - but together the 10 small grants awarded to conservation districts across Illinois last week will educate thousands of people about preventing water pollution.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts have chosen 10 districts or coalitions to make use of funding worth some $56,000 for workshops, manuals and demonstration projects aimed at preventing pollution of the state’s water resources.

The grant funds come from the federal Clean Water Act Section 319 program that targets nonpoint pollution such as stormwater runoff from parking lots, residential and commercial construction and from agricultural activities. The funded projects focus on protecting water quality in 10 Illinois urban areas.

"Illinois EPA’s partnership with the Soil and Water Conservation Districts continues to be highly effective in encouraging best management practices and pollution prevention activities to improve the quality of our lakes and streams," said Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Renee Cipriano.

Projects Approved for Funding:

  1. Madison, Monroe & St. Clair County Soil & Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) - These three SWCDs will work together to hold an on-site demonstration of some of the common urban best management practices needed to control urban nonpoint source pollution. The demonstration will be held on an active developing residential subdivision site. A follow-up classroom seminar will be held for a similar audience of developers, city planners, etc in the spring of 2006. Each participant will receive a copy of "Field Manual for Best Management Practices". Grant Funds Approved = $7,680.

  2. Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District - This SWCD will develop and print (10,000 copies) of a storm water pollution prevention brochure to help educate the public on urban nonpoint source pollution and 10 things that the public can do to prevent stormwater pollution. Grant Funds Approved = $4,800.

  3. Macon County Soil & Water Conservation District - This SWCD will hold a workshop demonstrating the proper installation of the most common best management practices in Central Illinois. In addition, those who attend the workshop will be given a copy of the "Field Manual on Sediment and Erosion Control Best management Practices for Contractors and Inspectors." Grant Funds Approved = $4,797.50.

  4. McHenry County Soil & Water Conservation District - This SWCD will develop, operate and maintain a website that includes information regarding and examples of: countywide stormwater ordinances, floodplain and floodway restrictions, wetland protection/mitigation laws, municipal ordinances, drainage district restrictions and local watershed groups promoting best management practices to reduce the adverse impacts of nonpoint source pollution from urban development. Grant Funds Approved = $4,200.

  5. Stephenson & Rock Island County Soil & Water Conservation Districts - These two SWCDs will hold two (2) one-day workshops that serve as an introduction to urban nonpoint source pollution to city and county officials, developers and contractors of erosion control measures and nonpoint source pollution control measures. Grant Funds Approved = $3,540.

  6. Kankakee County Soil & Water Conservation District - This SWCD will develop a user-friendly technical manual using local volunteers who have been active in creating local stormwater ordinances. The manual will help local communities to implement local ordinances to help prevent nonpoint source pollution. Grant Funds Approved = $5,000.

  7. Adams County Soil & Water Conservation District - This SWCD will develop a GIS project overlaying the stream corridors in the Quincy area from 1936 and 2004. In addition, they will develop a "Citizen’s Guide on Riparian Area Management". The combination of the GIS layer and brochure will help the SWCD to identify and educate those landowners with riparian areas that are having an impact on local water quality through the delivery of nonpoint source pollution. Grant Funds Approved = $4,150.

  8. Woodford, Tazewell and Peoria County Soil & Water Conservation Districts - These three SWCDs will host an event for residents, municipal officials and SWCD staff to visit a best management practice site where participants can engage in hands-on forest management activities for water quality protection. The SWCDs will contact all participants six months following their visit to the site. In addition, an educational brochure outlining appropriate BMPs for urbanized areas in the Illinois River Bluffs will be developed and 1,000 color copies will be printed. Grant Funds Approved = $15,000.

  9. Kendall County Soil & Water Conservation District - This SWCD will provide a Water Quality Management Workshop Series (focusing on field demonstrations of BMPs and wetland management) to a minimum target audience total of 100 attendees. Each participant will receive resource materials that include county ordinances, watershed plans, session summaries and resources specifically developed for the workshop series. Grant Funds Approved = $2,100.

  10. Winnebago County Soil & Water Conservation District - This SWCD will develop a program to teach contractors the proper way to determine what sediment and erosion control measures best fit their construction sites, to properly install them, and how to inspect them. In addition, the participants will be given a copy of the Illinois Urban Manual on CD. Grant Funds Approved = $5,000.

* * *

Tree Rings Show Columbia Basin Droughts Back to 1750

SEATTLE, Washington, February 17, 2005 (ENS) - Six multiyear droughts occurred in the Columbia River Basin between 1750 and 1950 that were much more severe than anything in recent memory because they persisted for up to 12 years, a study using tree ring data has revealed.

The study, published in the "Journal of the American Water Resources Association," is the first to establish Columbia River flow estimates back 250 years, says lead author Ze'ev Gedalof of the University of Guelph, Ontario.

Of the six major multiyear droughts researchers detected, the most severe and persistent started in the 1840s and lasted 12 years. Flows were 20 percent below long-term averages, Gedalof says, and could have been even lower.

The second worst drought corresponds to the 1930s dry period that, together with poor farming practices, caused the Dust Bowl. The Columbia River Basin experienced multiple years of low flows, interspersed with some average years, during that time.

In addition to the extremes of the 1840s and 1930s, other periods of low flows around 1775, 1805, 1890 and 1925 were notable, but shorter, lasting three to five years each.

"This is a wake up call for the importance of drought planning, and seeking ways to restore some flexibility in Western water supply systems that have a limited ability to respond to multiyear droughts," says co-author Nate Mantua of the Climate Impacts Group based at the University of Washington. "The drought like the one indicated in 1840s, for instance, simply hasn't been part of the modern water systems experiences."

Scientists used tree rings, which indicate how much a tree grows each year, to determine when forests in the Columbia River Basin experienced drought. Tree growth is sensitive to winter snow pack, which is also the main driver of stream flow in the Columbia.

The scientists first related tree-ring data to stream-flow records since 1931, then considered the implications for flows of tree-ring data back to 1750, much of the time when record keeping was anecdotal, inconsistent or nonexistent.

"Imagine what a drought lasting that long would do to the resources and economy of the region today," says Dave Peterson of the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station and the University of Washington's College of Forest Resources.

"The big lesson is that prolonged low flow years are a normal part of the Columbia Basin's history," Mantua says. "The problem is that water in most sub-basins is fully allocated. These demands have gone a long way to eliminating flexibility and buffers needed in the face of drought caused water-supply shortages."

The work was funded by the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean based at the University of Washington, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the U.S. Forest Service.