AmeriScan: February 22, 2005

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Court Strikes Down Western States Effort to Clear Park Haze

WASHINGTON, DC, February 22, 2005 (ENS) - A group of polluting utilities have won an appeals court decision that they need not abide by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that requires them to limit their emissions to avoid creating haze in national parks, particularly the Grand Canyon.

In a decision Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit handed a victory to the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED), an industry association of coal, rail and utility interests based in Alexandria, Virginia that sued the EPA.

"Haze obscuring the Grand Canyon and various other national parks and wilderness areas in the west is a multi-state problem," acknowleged Judge Stephen Williams on behalf of the three judge panel.

To solve the haze problem, in 1999 the EPA adopted a Regional Haze Rule which required western states to impose best available retrofit technology (BART) on so-called "BART-eligible sources," a specified class of large stationary pollution sources that had been in operation since August 7, 1977.

But Judge Williams pointed out that the appeals court had struck down the Regional Haze Rule because in an earlier case involving the American Corn Growers because the judges found the EPA’s methods for determining best available retrofit technology inconsistent with the Clean Air Act.

The court sent the Regional Haze Rule back to the EPA for changes, but those changes have not yet been made.

Judge Williams wrote, "we find that the similarity [to the problem in American Corn Growers] fatally taints EPA’s rule."

The western states, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, must now find other ways to limit the emission of sulfur dioxide from larger coal-fired power plants, which contributes to haze, or ground level ozone, over the national parks.

The court did agree with the EPA that the Clean Air Act allows states to develop emissions trading programs that rely on the market to eliminate haze regionally, rather than requiring retrofitted pollution controls on a plant-by-plant basis.

The latest Air Resources Division report from the National Parks Service, issued February 4 finds that eight western sites - Canyonlands, Craters of the Moon, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, North Cascades, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone - showed increasing ozone air pollution trends.

"The trend toward increasing ozone at Intermountain West monitoring sites has been observed for several years," the report says.

Haze levels at Channel Islands, Saguaro, and Sequoia National Parks showed improving trends.

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Pennsylvania Awards Municipalities $20 Million for Recycling

MIDDLETOWN, Pennsylvania, February 22, 2005 (ENS) - Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty has announced 162 grants totaling $20 million to help finance municipal recycling programs. Some 10 million Pennsylvania residents will have access to recycling services through the funded projects, announced Friday.

"Recycling is a growth industry with many kinds of business opportunities, from waste management to manufacturing to inventing new technologies," McGinty said at the site of a planned multi-municipal yard trimmings composting facility in Lower Swatara Township, Dauphin County.

McGinty made the announcement while awarding $435,000 to Middletown Borough to develop a composting facility on three acres on the grounds of the former Olmsted Air Force Base that are part of a former federal Superfund and state Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act site.

The grant will finance site improvements, including fill, paving, seeding and erosion and sedimentation control. The funding also will be used to purchase a dump truck and a front-end loader with a grappler and other attachments, as well as a wood chipper.

Yard trimmings remain one of the biggest volume contributors to landfills, with more than 483,000 tons of potentially recyclable grass clippings and woody waste being thrown away each year in Pennsylvania.

The planned facility, which will serve 28,000 people in Middletown, Steelton, Highspire and Royalton boroughs and Lower Swatara Township, will have the potential to remove 6,500 tons of yard waste from landfills each year, putting the material to productive use. The composted material will be sold to help offset Middletown Borough’s cost of running the operation, and the mulch will provide ground cover for various residential and municipal landscaping needs.

The state grants reimburse local governments for the cost of municipal recycling and composting programs. Pennsylvania’s recycling program mandates recycling in the state’s larger municipalities and requires counties to develop municipal waste management plans.

Grants are financed by the Recycling Fund, which is supported by a $2 per ton fee on all materials disposed of in landfills in Pennsylvania. "This money will provide much-needed funding for communities that have mandated recycling programs," McGinty said. "And the grants will ensure that recycling continues to be a strong contributor to Pennsylvania’s economy."

Pennsylvania’s recycling and reuse industry leads the nation in employment, payroll and sales numbers. More than 3,247 recycling and reuse businesses and organizations made more than $18.4 billion in gross annual sales, paid $305 million in taxes and provided jobs for more than 81,322 employees at an annual payroll of approximately $2.9 billion.

Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, and his administration ares concerned that the legislature may not pass the governor’s proposed $800 million bond initiative to expand and enhance the Growing Greener program.

Part of the governor’s plan would provide an additional $25 million per year to the Recycling Fund to assist municipalities. The money also will help 42 municipalities newly mandated to recycle as a result of the 2000 federal census.

The legislature has not passed the Governor’s Growing Greener II initiative. Instead, the House of Representatives recently passed a competing plan, GreenPA, introduced by Republican Caucus members.

Although both the Governor’s plan and GreenPA would fund investments in the environment using bond financing, with debt service on the bond paid for with waste-related fees, the two proposals are different. Actual funding levels provided by Green PA would be below those provided by Growing Greener II.

GreenPA provides no funding for recycling programs in Pennsylvania. For more information on recycling grants, visit DEP’s Web site at www.dep.state.pa.us, Keyword: "Recycling."

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100 Turbine Windfarm Planned for North Dakota

BISMARCK, North Dakota, February 22, 2005 (ENS) - On Friday, North Dakota Governor John Hoeven and Commerce Department officials will meet with representatives of PPM Energy to discuss the scope and technical dimensions of a new 150 megawatt wind energy facility proposed for Rugby.

A facility of this size could produce enough clean energy to power 44,000 average homes a year.

PPM Energy is ScottishPower’s U.S. energy business based in Portland, Oregon. In late January, the company submitted a letter of intent to the North Dakota Public Service Commission to build a wind farm of approximately 100 towers and is targeting December 31, 2005 for completion.

PPM Director of Business Development for the Midwest Raimund Grube and company Business Developer Tim Seck will meet with Governor Hoeven.

"This will be one of the largest wind projects in the region, and it will be located in the heart of North Dakota," Hoeven said. "It takes advantage not only of our great resources for wind energy, but also our great business climate. PPM Energy has been working with our Commerce Department to ensure that the project goes smoothly from start to finish."

PPM is building a facility in Kansas of the same size as the one it proposes for North Dakota. In December, the company announced that it will build and own the 150 megawatt Elk River Wind Power Project located in Butler County, Kansas, near Beaumont.

"The Elk River Project is the third we have announced so far that is expected to go into commercial operation in 2005 and we look forward to additional growth and geographic expansion in 2005," Terry Hudgens, Chief Executive Officer of PPM said in December.

PPM specializes in energy solutions to meet the needs of wholesale and large commercial and industrial customers. Among the company’s customers are large organizations such as the municipally owned Seattle City Light and the federal Bonneville Power Administration.

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Hazmat Drivers Face Tougher Background Checks

HARTFORD, Connecticut, February 22, 2005 (ENS) - Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell has directed the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to coordinate closely with federal homeland security officials as they begin a program of in-depth background checks and fingerprinting for new applicants seeking a special license to transport hazardous materials.

Connecticut has always required that anyone hauling hazardous materials possess both a commercial driver’s license and a special endorsement indicating the driver is trained in transporting such materials.

The additional federal requirements – imposed under the USA Patriot Act – took effect January 31 for new applicants for hazardous materials endorsements.

On May 31, all hazardous materials drivers renewing their endorsements must have completed a background records check and must be approved before DMV can renew the endorsement.

Individuals who wish to renew or transfer an existing hazardous materials endorsement may begin submitting biographical information and fingerprints with their application as early as March 31.

"These measures are another way we can make sure our state and its highways are as safe as they can be – safe for everyday drivers and safe from the threat of terrorism," Rell said. "As the crossroads of New England we have a responsibility that extends beyond our borders, and we will meet that responsibility."

In Connecticut a private contractor for the federal Transportation Security Administration will take fingerprints from the applicants and submit them to the FBI, which will check them against a criminal database.

If a background check shows someone convicted of terrorism, espionage, murder or certain other felonies, the driver will be banned from hauling hazardous materials. Fugitives or those adjudicated as mentally ill are also ineligible for the license endorsements.

"From my experience in the State Police, I know that this is a program that can definitely help in giving us a leg-up on any potential problems," said DMV Commissioner Ralph Carpenter. "Homeland security is foremost in our minds, especially with these kinds of licenses."

In addition to the fingerprinting and background checks, applicants for a hazmat endorsement must pass a knowledge test administered at a DMV office.

To find out more and get a list of prohibited felonies, visit the Transportation Security Administration.

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California Developer Must Restore Calaveras Watershed

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 22, 2005 (ENS) - Developer CRV Enterprises and Ryan Voorhees of Galt, California have been ordered to stop dumping dredged and fill material into Cosgrove Creek, its tributaries, and wetlands in the Calaveras River watershed in Valley Springs, in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued the order earlier this month. In addition, the EPA ordered the company and Voorhees to develop a restoration plan for the site, and a five year monitoring plan to ensure the restoration project succeeds.

"We will ensure the environmental damage to the Calaveras River watershed is addressed with our full oversight," said Alexis Strauss, the EPA director for water programs in the Pacific Southwest Region.

"Destroying wetlands, creeks and other vital waterways leads to increased flooding, poor water quality, and elimination of habitat for wildlife," Strauss said. "This is unacceptable and illegal, and we will continue to do all we can to protect California's natural resources."

In June 2004, the EPA inspected Gold Creek Estates, the residential development site, at the request of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The agency found that CRV Enterprises had used heavy equipment for grading, compaction and filling activities to fill areas in the creek and adjacent wetlands. In total about three acres were filled without permits from the Corps.

In addition to requiring the company to immediately stop the unauthorized activity, the EPA's order requires the CRV Enterprises to develop a removal and restoration report to determine if the impacted wetlands can be restored.

If restoration is feasible, the companies must restore and revegetate the creek and wetland area.

If it is determined that a restoration plan is not feasible, the company must identify and restore similar aquatic habitat within the Calaveras River watershed. Failure to comply with the EPA order could result in penalties against CRV Enterprises for as much as $32,500 per day per violation.

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Massachusetts Jail Busted Dumping Sewage in Concord River

BOSTON, Massachusetts, February 22, 2005 (ENS) - The wastewater treatment system for the Billerica Jail and House of Correction in Billerica, Massachusetts has been discharging pollutants into to the Concord River for five years, but those days are over, the Middlesex County Sheriff's Office has pledged.

The Sheriff’s Office and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have reached a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stemming from the jail's violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

On approximately 220 occasions between January 1999 and April 2004, the plant discharged effluent to the Concord River exceeding effluent limits for total residual chlorine, fecal coliform bacteria, biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids. The jail's permissable pollution limits are stated in the facility’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permit, also referred to as a NPDES permit.

The owner and operator of the plant will pay a penalty of $157,500. Massachusetts owns the facility and it is operated by the Middlesex County Sheriff's Office.

Since September 2004, when the EPA formally filed an administrative complaint about the jail's violations, the plant has retained a contractor to correct facility infrastructure issues that led to the discharged pollution to the river.

The owner and operator are also working with the Town of Billerica to construct a sewer line that will connect the jail to the town's publicly owned treatment works. The connection to the town’s sewer system is scheduled to be completed in April.

"It is very important that wastewater treatment plants meet their responsibilities, ensuring that we all can enjoy clean and healthy water," said Robert Varney, regional administrator for EPA's New England Office. "Clean water is essential to a healthy environment. I am hopeful that Middlesex County is now on the path to meeting state and federal standards."

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Crab Fisherman Pinched

SEATTLE, Washington, February 22, 2005 (ENS) - The master of a fishing vessel out of Ketchikan, Alaska apprehended off the Washington coast has lost a 9,000 pound catch of crab, his crab pots, and he faces fines of up to $5,000 per day for putting out nearly twice as many crab pots as his license allows.

The Coast Guard and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife cooperated in the seizure of the 54 foot fishing vessel Thursday, after an investigation revealed there were 250 crab pots too many on board.

Acting on a tip, a WDFW enforcement vessel from Grays Harbor, Washington and a Coast Guard helicopter from Astoria, Oregon were launched to find and investigate the vessel.

The Star Shadow was located about three miles southwest of Destruction Island, Washington. Department of Fish and Wildlife agents boarded the vessel to count the crab pots, while a Coast Guard boarding team conducted a safety inspection.

WDFW officers seized and escorted the vessel to the Westport Marina, Washington, where the crabs on board were confiscated. The catch was an estimated 4.5 tons of Dungeness crab.

The master of the vessel admitted fishing with about 550 crab pots during an interview with WDFW officers.

Captain Mike Cenci, a WDFW enforcement officer, said the department plans to file charges in Grays Harbor District Court in Montesano.

Exceeding a commercial crab pot limit is considered a gross misdemeanor, punishable by fines of up to $5,000 per day.

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Hawaii Dive, Snorkel Operators Raise Funds for Reefs

HONOLULU, Hawaii, February 22, 2005 (ENS) - Hawaiian dive and snorkel operators and local conservation organizations are partnering to raise money for marine conservation on the Big Island and Maui.

Through the newly established Reef Fund, the dive and snorkel operators solicit donations from their clients to fund high priority marine protection programs on their islands, such as the repair and installation of mooring buoys, the protection of nesting and resting beaches for rare and endangered sea turtles and monk seals, and the establishment of marine education programs.

"The industry is leading this effort because as commercial operators, we feel that we hold the ultimate responsibility in conserving the reef resources we utilize, and the Maui Reef Fund is a positive step in this direction," said Ed Robinson, a founding member of the Maui Reef Fund and president of Ed Robinson Diving Adventures.

Kim Hum, acting marine director for The Nature Conservancy’s Hawaii Program, said, "The Nature Conservancy helped establish the Reef Fund here in Hawaii because similar programs in other parts of the world have demonstrated that most ocean users, particularly divers and snorkelers, are willing to help fund programs that protect the marine environment.

A survey done by the Conservancy and the State Division of Aquatic Resources in 2003 indicated that 80 percent of those surveyed were willing to pay $5 per snorkel day or dive day into a private fund for marine resource protection programs.

"With more than one million annual visitors to Molokini alone, the potential for this program is huge," says Hum. Considered one of the world's top 10 dive sites, the small crescent shaped island of Molokini is an extinct volcano turned state Marine Life and Bird Conservation District.

While the majority of the other fee-based marine protection funds around the world are mandated by the local or national governments, Hawaii’s is voluntary.

Lisa Choquette of Dive Makai says, "This is a program run by private businesses, conservation groups, and concerned individuals - not by the state. We are doing this because we believe that our irreplaceable marine environment must be protected, and that what is good for the environment, is good for business, plain and simple."

According to Hannah Bernard of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, "Hawaii’s coastal waters are blessed with miles of exquisite coral reefs, and more than a quarter of the islands’ marine life is found nowhere else on Earth. Government budgets are not sufficient, particularly in Hawaii where government funding for marine management is among the lowest in the nation."

Rick Gaffney, Co-Chair of the West Hawaii Fisheries Council, adds, "While we support the state’s work, we all recognize that they lack the resources necessary to adequately manage Hawaii’s unparalleled marine resources. This is private industry’s effort to help bridge that gap."

On Maui, the Reef Fund is coordinated by the local nonprofit Hawaii Wildlife Fund. On the Big Island, the fund is managed by the Waimea based nonprofit Malama Kai Foundation. Donations collected by marine recreation operators are pooled into a collective fund on each island, and managed by the nonprofit which is advised by a committee of operators, conservationists, scientists, and other stakeholders. The advisory committees decide how the funds will be spent on their islands.