AmeriScan: February 2, 2006

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Hong Kong Shipper Hit With Big Fine for "Magic" Bypass Pipe

BOSTON, Massachusetts, February 2, 2006 (ENS) - MSC Ship Management Limited, a Hong Kong-based container ship company, has pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a $10 million criminal fine after admitting to engaging in conspiracy, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, false statements and violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The fine was imposed at a joint plea and sentencing hearing held Wednesday in Boston.

This is the largest fine involving a single vessel charged with deliberate pollution and the largest criminal fine paid by a defendant in an environmental case in Massachusetts history.

MSC Ship Management admitted to charges that a specially-fitted steel pipe, referred to as the "magic pipe," was used on the MSC Elena, a 30,971 ton container ship, to circumvent required ship pollution prevention equipment and discharge oil sludge and oil contaminated waste directly overboard.

Upon the discovery of this bypass equipment during a U.S. Coast Guard inspection in Boston Harbor on May 16, 2005, senior company officials in Hong Kong directed crew members to lie to the Coast Guard. Senior ship engineers ordered that documents be destroyed and concealed.

The ship discharged bout 40 tons of sludge during a five-month period in 2004 through a three-piece bypass pipe manufactured on the ship. An even larger volume of oil-contaminated bilge waste was also discharged with a rubber hose and portable pump.

The MSC Elena made regular voyages from ports in Europe across the Atlantic to ports in the United States, including Boston.

In a related prosecution, Mani Singh, chief engineer of the MSC Elena, was indicted in November on charges of making false statements to the Coast Guard; denying knowledge about the existence and use of the bypass equipment; obstructing justice by directing subordinates to lie to the Coast Guard; concealing evidence; and concealing the discharges in a falsified Oil Record Book, a required log in which all overboard discharges must be recorded.

Singh pleaded guilty in December 2005 and is scheduled for sentencing in March. Aman Mahana, the ship's Second Engineer, also pleaded guilty December 2005 and is scheduled for sentencing today.

The shipping company was ordered to pay an additional $500,000 for a community service project administered by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, which will provide environmental education to mariners visiting or sailing from Massachusetts ports and inform them how to report environmental crimes to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Michael Sullivan, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts said, "Our hope is that this substantial fine will send a strong message to those in the maritime community who might try to circumvent our nation's anti-pollution laws. It is necessary to ensure that the consequences are significant, and that companies realize that violating our environmental laws will be taken seriously and will ultimately cost them more than legally disposing of the waste."

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PCB Damage to South Carolina Waters Costs Texas Company $20 Million

COLUMBIA, South Carolina, February 2, 2006 (ENS) - Schlumberger Technology Corporation, headquartered in Texas, has agreed to pay $11.8 million to federal and state agencies for damge to natural resources caused by the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's) in the Twelvemile Creek, Lake Hartwell and surrounding areas, the Justice Department has announced.

Schlumberger will spend an additional $8 to 10 million to purchase and remove two hydroelectric dams on Twelvemile Creek, and to conduct stream restoration activities.

The states of South Carolina and Georgia are joining the settlement with the United States, which was lodged Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

The $11.8 million will be used to provide opportunities for the public to catch uncontaminated fish in the vicinity of Lake Hartwell, to enhance the fishery of Lake Hartwell and Twelvemile Creek, and to improve the habitat and natural resources within the Twelvemile Creek corridor.

Additionally, Schlumberger is required to pay $530,000 to reimburse the natural resources agencies for their costs in assessing natural resource damages.

Schlumberger is the current owner of the Sangamo–Weston plant site, a capacitor manufacturing plant in Pickens, South Carolina. The plant was owned and operated by Sangamo–Weston from 1955 to 1987. Schlumberger assumed the liabilities of Sangamo associated with the PCB contamination in a series of corporate transactions that took place between 1990 and 2003.

PCB's are a mixture of synthetic organic chemicals which, because of their good insulating properties, were widely used in electrical equipment. In the U.S. PCB's were banned from use in most products by 1977 because it was discovered that they accumulate in the environment and can have immunological, developmental and reproductive effects in organisms such as fish, mammals and birds.

"Schlumberger's payment to fund restoration by the federal and state trustees will be used for projects designed to compensate the public for the injury to the fishery and to the habitat from PCB contamination," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The company's agreement to purchase and remove the dams will directly improve the Twelvemile Creek ecosystem and provide significant environmental benefits for the affected communities."

Under an earlier administrative action, Schlumberger is conducting cleanup activities in and around Lake Hartwell under the supervision of the EPA in Atlanta, and these activities will not be affected by today's settlement.

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New York City Fined $1.3 Million for Leaking Underground Tanks

NEW YORK, New York, February 2, 2006 (ENS) - New York City has settled violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in connection with the city's leaking underground storage tank systems by agreeing to pay $1.3 million in civil penalties and to bring substandard tank systems into compliance with federal law.

The settlement, filed in Manhattan federal court January 25, also requires the city to undertake an additional environmental project to improve the city's ability to identify releases from its underground storage tanks.

The United States charged in the lawsuit that, from at least 1997, the city has been violating RCRA in connection with its underground storage tank systems.

New York City owns at least 1,600 underground storage tanks in at least 400 locations throughout the metropolitan area. The tanks store petroleum and other substances that can harm the environment and human health if they leak out.

The lawsuit charged that New York City has failed to upgrade or close non-compliant underground storage tank systems, provide proper methods to detect releases of hazardous substances, and report, investigate, and confirm suspected releases of regulated substances.

As part of the settlement, the city will undertake a multi-year project to monitor releases and suspected releases from a central location for the underground storage tanks owned and operated by the Police Department, the Fire Department and the Department of Transportation. In addition, city is required to comply with RCRA by upgrading or closing non-compliant underground storage tanks.

"This innovative settlement demonstrates the federal government's resolve to protect the health and safety of this City's citizens through enforcement of our nation's environmental laws. The settlement will ensure compliance with federal laws and regulations," said Michael Garcia, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

"Proper management of underground storage tanks makes sense from both an environmental and economic standpoint. A leak of just one gallon from an underground tank can be costly and time-consuming to remediate. This settlement will improve the health and safety of our city's resident," Garcia said.

Alan Steinberg, U.S. EPA regional administration said, "Leaking underground tanks can pose a serious safety risk in densely populated areas, because they contain toxic components that can seep into the soil and into underground structures, such as basements and subways. This settlement will go a long way toward ensuring that the people of New York are protected from these risks."

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Harbor Island Smelter Pays $8.5 Million in Superfund Costs

SEATTLE, Washington, February 2, 2006 (ENS) - RSR Corporation and its subsidiaries, Quemetco, Inc. and QRI, Inc., (RSR) have agreed to pay $8.5 million to resolve RSR's liability for cleanup costs relating to the contamination of Harbor Island in Puget Sound, the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Tuesday.

The settlement concludes a lawsuit which alleged that RSR was liable for costs incurred by EPA for investigative and cleanup actions in response to hazardous substance contamination of soils and groundwater by a lead smelter owned and operated by RSR from 1972 to 1983.

Harbor Island is a man-made island in the mouth of the Duwamish River near downtown Seattle where industrial enterprises, including the Port of Seattle container terminal, are located.

The lead smelter owned and operated by RSR from the 1970s to the early 1980s released lead into Harbor Island soils, through airborne emissions of lead from the smelter and fugitive lead dust emissions from smelter buildings. At one point, a Washington Department of Ecology investigation revealed that 18 percent of the surface soil at the RSR smelter building was composed of lead.

Under the terms of the consent decree, lodged in district court in Seattle, RSR will pay $8.5 million into the Superfund, the fund used by the EPA to clean up hazardous wastes sites.

Under this and an earlier settlement, parties responsible for the pollution at Harbor Island have contributed a total of approximately $40.5 million in cleanup work and cash reimbursement.

"This settlement is good news for the site and for the Puget Sound," said Michael Bogert, EPA Region 10 administrator. "By recovering cleanup expenses under the Superfund law, EPA ensures that polluters pay their fair share and taxpayers aren't forced to foot the bill. This cleanup will prevent further pollution of a local resource we all treasure."

During the 20th century, extensive industrial activity on Harbor Island caused its soil, underlying groundwater, and nearby marine sediments to become contaminated with hazardous substances, including lead and other toxic metals, pesticides, and petroleum hydrocarbons.

The EPA placed Harbor Island on the Superfund list in 1983. In the 1980s, the EPA confirmed the presence of lead from RSR's operations and also discovered volatile organic compounds from numerous other companies.

In 1993, the EPA selected and proposed a cleanup plan for soil and groundwater contamination on Harbor Island. In 1996, the Justice Department and the EPA entered into a consent decree with 38 Harbor Island businesses, including the Port of Seattle, under which those companies agreed to pay for the implementation of EPA's selected environmental cleanup plan for Harbor Island soils and groundwater at a cost of $32 million.

As RSR was not a party to the 1996 agreement, the U.S. filed the lawsuit against RSR seeking reimbursement of costs not covered in that agreement.

While the surface cleanup work on Harbor Island is complete, the EPA requires further investigations and cleanup work in subsurface areas and groundwater. In a related matter, the Port of Seattle is working under agreements with EPA to investigate and cleanup contamination in the adjacent East Waterway.

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Mountaintop Removal Mining Permits Challenged in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, West Virginia, February 2, 2006 (ENS) - To stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from permitting streams, valleys, historic places, and communities across West Virginia to be destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining and valley fills, West Virginia citizen groups went back to court Wednesday.

The groups asked the U.S. district court to require the Corps to rescind permits for three strip mines in Logan, Kanawha and Boone Counties that they claim will permanently destroy seven and a half miles of central Appalachian headwater streams.

The plaintiff groups are seeking a court ruling that would stop agency from allowing any further activities at these sites that violate the law and cause irreparable damage to vital water resources, and to the health and welfare of West Virginians living downstream.

"Trying to get the Corps of Engineers to follow the law is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall: it is awfully hard to make it stick," said Vivian Stockman, project coordinator for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "The Corps gives coal companies permits that are little more than a wink and a nod, and the coal companies waste little time before ripping out trees, choking off streams, and filling in valleys with mining waste."

According to the Bush administration's own estimates, mountaintop removal mining in the region has already destroyed over 1,200 miles of Appalachian streams.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that at least 2,400 miles of streams will be permanently wiped out by 2013 if additional environmental restrictions are not enforced.

"The blame for this environmental destruction really rests upon the Corps of Engineers for its failure to follow the law," said Cindy Rank with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, a plaintiff group. "The Corps is dodging its responsibility to scrutinize these permits that blatantly violate the Clean Water Act."

Today's move by the citizen groups is a significant step in the most recent of the legal battles over mountaintop removal and the Clean Water Act, the plaintiff groups said.

The case began last fall when the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Coal River Mountain Watch, represented by the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment and Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit challenging permits for two huge mines - the Camp Branch surface mine in Logan County, and the Black Castle contour mine in Boone County.

The groups also are challenging a third mine, Republic No. 2, in Kanawha County.

The Corps acknowledged that the valley fills from these mines will permanently annihilate streams yet the agency still approved both permits, claiming that the resulting environmental impact will be insignificant.

This latest legal action seeks to protect streams and valleys from further destruction until the court can determine whether the permits comply with the law.

"Time and again the Army Corps of Engineers has danced around the law when they approved these permits," said Janice Nease with Coal River Mountain Watch. "If we don't stop this soon, the Corps will continue to abuse the process and there will be nothing left of West Virginia to enjoy."

Dr. Margaret Palmer, director of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at the University of Maryland and an expert on stream restoration and aquatic ecosystems, wrote in a declaration for the court that, "The mining activities and valley fills will fundamentally and permanently alter the hydrological and sediment regimes which are master variables controlling ecological functioning in impacted streams."

She wrote, "Since watersheds act as a unit and a considerable amount of land in the watershed is to be cleared, the impacts are expected to extend far beyond the buried headwater streams."

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California Desert Stream Protection Resisted by Federal Agency

SACRAMENTO, California, February 2, 2006 (ENS) - The California Off-Highway Vehicle Commission approved a policy in December that will not allow ORV recreation to be expanded, encouraged, or maintained in fragile desert riparian landscapes. The new policy meets with the approval of conservation groups, but has met with resistance from the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

"Because desert riparian areas are very important for wildlife, water quality, and non-motorized recreation, and California has already lost over 90 percent of our desert riparian areas, desert riparian lands should be conserved and restored, and protected in their natural state," the Commission said.

The Commission said that unless there is "extraordinary and demonstrable need," it will not to fund or support any grants or cooperative agreements which will directly or indirectly encourage, increase, or maintain off-road vehicle use in or through the bed, bank, or channel of any existing desert riparian botanical area.

The Commission will maintain a list of priority desert riparian lands and evaluate the list at least every five years to maintain the integrity of these protected areas.

But the BLM responded with a letter to the state from BLM California Director Mike Pool opposing and resisting the desert riparian areas policy.

The BLM is currently trying to open fragile desert streams to off-road excess in places like the White Mountains and Death Valley National Park.

"California acted in the public-interest to protect the few remaining desert streams, but BLM and off-road lobbyists are unethically fighting it," said Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who formerly worked with BLM in the California Desert Conservation Area.

"Nature and society need healthy desert streams. Mud bogging and winching ORVs up waterfalls in rare desert streams isn't access, it is excess for a few destructive extremists and California is wise to not support it," said Patterson.

California Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer recently told BLM and the National Park Service they support keeping off-road vehicles out of a scenic desert stream at Surprise Canyon in Inyo County.

"Desert springs and streams provide extraordinary and irreplaceable wildlife habitat. The OHV Commission should be applauded for taking this action to protect desert riparian areas, and BLM should be ashamed for attempting to obstruct this protection," said Karen Schambach, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility's California Director.

"BLM first criticizes the state for not defining policy terms and then for listing desert streams in need of protection. There is no better definition than a list," said Elden Hughes, Co-Chair of the Sierra Club's California Desert Committee. "Citizens welcome the Commission's initiative to conserve and restore desert riparian areas."

"Protecting our desert streams is vital to the survival of wildlife, quality-of-life, and responsible recreation. Our state funds should not be used to in any way subsidize further destruction or degradation of our desert streams. We applaud the California Off-Highway Vehicle Commission for acting to protect these national treasures for future generations," said Cynthia Wilkerson, California Representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

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Cruise Ships Kept Puget Sound Cleaner in 2005

BELLEVUE, Washington, February 2, 2006 (ENS) - More cruise ships took steps to protect Puget Sound from wastewater pollution in 2005, the second year of an environmental agreement signed in 2004 with the Washington Department of Ecology and the Port of Seattle.

Ecology issued a report today on progress under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in April of 2004 as the cruise season began. The agreement was signed by the Northwest Cruise Ship Association (NWCA) on behalf of the cruise industry.

The voluntary agreement set tough standards for wastewater treatment and discharge in Washington waters that exceed federal requirements that ordinarily apply to the ships.

No discharges in violation of the agreement occurred in 2005.

"These are excellent results, especially since this agreement sets very high treatment standards for cruise ships," said Ecology Director Jay Manning. "We appreciate the cruise lines' continued investment in equipment and training to meet the agreement's requirements and protect the beautiful waters their passengers come to enjoy."

Nine of the 17 large cruise ships visiting Seattle received authorization from Ecology to discharge under the MOU's wastewater treatment standards, tripling the number of ships approved under the agreement. They accounted for 69 percent of cruise ship sailings from April through October.

Ecology conducted on-board inspections of the ships to review treatment system operations and collect samples. Lab results showed that shipboard treatment systems were treating wastewater and discharging treated water that was as clean as, or cleaner than, the effluents from on-shore municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Five other large liners covered by the MOU agreed not to discharge waste water at all within Washington waters. Three other liners - which made a total of five visits to Seattle - were not NWCA members and were subject to normal federal wastewater requirements.

Ecology's report recommends ongoing efforts to control cruise ship wastewater discharges, including inspections that emphasize maintenance of wastewater systems, as well as performance.

Ecology and the state Department of Health should jointly gather information on wastewater discharges from smaller passenger vessels that do not belong to the NWCA, the agency said.

Ecology would like to finalize a funding mechanism with the port and the NWCA under the memo of understanding to provide ongoing oversight of the agreement.

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