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AmeriScan: February 13, 2006

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Record Blizzard Buries East Coast

NEW YORK, New York, February 13, 2006 (ENS) - The East Coast went from spring-like weather to winter white overnight on Saturday and Sunday. A powerful nor'easter moved up the coast from the Gulf of Mexico dumping heavy snow from Virginia to Massachusetts. New York City bore the brunt of the storm, with totals in Central Park at the city's center reaching 26.9 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm gave New York City more snow than any other storm since records began in 1869. The heavy snow closed all three of New York City's airports as well as National Airport outside of Washington, DC.

"New York City has just experienced the biggest blizzard in its history," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomfield. "The 26.9 inches that the National Weather Service measured in Central Park just beat the record of 26.4 inches, set almost 60 years ago in December of 1947."

The snow removal cost in New York City alone is estimated at $27 million.

The large northeast cities from Baltimore to Boston each received at least a foot of snow.

Storm surges as high as three feet were recorded in parts of New England, the National Weather Service said, and offshore waves rose up to 25 feet.

Dominion Power says over 64,000 people in Northern Virginia lost power in the storm, primarily in the suburban areas adjacent to Washington, DC. Approximately 3,000 people lost electricity in the District of Columbia. There were also power outages in the Philadelphia area that affected about 10,000, and 16,000 people were without power across New Jersey.

Today the weather has warmed and the snow is melting, forming deep slushy pools. All airports now are open and functioning.

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Cape Wind Accepts $15,000 Settlement in Defamation Lawsuit

YARMOUTH PORT, Massachusetts, February 13, 2006 Cape Wind said today it has accepted a settlement offer from John Donelan of $15,000 to resolve a defamation lawsuit filed against him for a fraudulent act he committed while Technical and Research Director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

The settlement agreement followed Judge Allan van Gestel's order in November 2005.

"This lawsuit sends an important message. Although we welcome honest and fair debate, there is no place for fraudulent or unethical acts that mislead the public," said Cape Wind Communications Director Mark Rodgers.

Cape Wind's proposal to build America's first offshore wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound offshore of Cape Cod would provide three-quarters of the electricity used on Cape Cod and the Islands, reducing the region's need to import oil, coal and gas.

Cape Wind plans 130 wind turbines about four miles offshore that critics say would be an eyesore, lowering the scenic values of the area.

Cape Wind says its wind power development will create new jobs, lower electric costs, contribute to a healthier environment, increase energy independence and establish Massachusetts as a leader in offshore wind power.

The lawsuit began in January 2004 when a press release arrived at the State House Newswire Service that sought to smear Cape Wind. The release appeared to be from a local company "announcing" it would not do business with Cape Wind.

In an article that appeared on January 31, 2004 in the "Cape Cod Times," Ernie Corrigan, spokesman for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound denied anyone at the Alliance was involved, saying, "Our opposition to this project is passionate and deeply felt, but we would never stoop to any tactics such as this."

Cape Wind retained Kroll Security to conduct an investigation and, with the assistance of two court orders, the investigation traced the fraudulent press release to a computer at Donelan's home.

On March 2, 2004 a reporter with the "Cape Cod Times" asked Donelan if he sent the press release. At first, Donelan denied any involvement, but hours later admitted that he had written and sent the phony press release.

Also on March 2, 2004, Cape Wind filed a lawsuit against Donelan alleging a fraudulent act that sought to defame and discredit Cape Wind with other businesses, with regulatory agencies and with the public.

On November 18, 2005, Judge van Gestel issued ruling that "Donelan published a defamatory statement about Cape Wind." On January 31, 2006, a settlement agreement was reached between Cape Wind and Donelan.

Cape Wind President Jim Gordon says he will donate the $15,000 settlement to Project Prevention. Administered by the Housing Assistance Corporation of Cape Cod, the organization provides assistance to low-income families having difficulty paying rent and energy bills.

"This gift from Cape Wind comes at a critical time for many of our clients in need," said Rick Presbrey, executive director of Housing Assistance Corporation of Cape Cod. "HAC will use these funds to help people pay their heating and electricity bills so that they can keep their family warm and stable despite their financial challenges."

Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound is a nonprofit environmental organization formed in 2002 in opposition to the Cape Wind project. The group has substantial support, raising $4.9 million in donations in 2004.

Charles Vinick, Alliance president and CEO, says the Alliance has as its primary goal the long term preservation of the Sound's ecosystem through designation as a protected area,

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Chemical Munitions Air Monitoring Whistleblower Could Be Fired

WASHINGTON, DC, February 13, 2006 (ENS) - An air monitoring technician who revealed operational failures and other problems at the Bluegrass Army Depot may lose his clearance to work near chemical weapons, according to a memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national association of employees in natural resources agencies.

The action for "Permanent Disqualification" of Donald Van Winkle cites "signs of behavior of a disgruntled employee and lack of a positive attitude."

In recent months, Van Winkle has notified authorities that monitoring devices to detect leaks of deadly VX agent from Kentucky's Bluegrass Depot had been had been configured so as to be ineffective.

The depot stores over 500 tons of chemical warfare agents in 45 storage units called igloos. To dispose of this aging stockpile of blister agent in projectiles and nerve agent in projectiles and rockets, plans are underway to build a chemical weapons disposal facility at Bluegrass.

Based on technical and environmental studies and input from the community, the Army has decided to neutralize the chemical weapons and then subject them to supercritical water oxidation rather than incinerate them as other Army chemical weapons disposal facilities have done.

The Blue Grass program is a multiphase project spanning a decade of work, with an estimated lifecycle cost of about $2 billion.

Van Winkle operates air monitoring units designed to detect leaks of chemical warfare agents. A release of the chemical agents in the igloos could sicken or kill facility staff and, under worst case scenarios, to the surrounding civilian populations.

Pending investigations reportedly have already confirmed some of Van Winkle's reports. Moreover, says PEER, the official seeking to remove Van Winkle is implicated in these multi-agency probes.

"Donald Van Winkle is a patriot, not a security risk," said PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, whose organization is representing Van Winkle. He noted that recently issued Army Ethical Standards define ethical behavior as "the will to do what is right and proper regardless of personal cost."

"Our security is compromised, not by people like Donald Van Winkle, but by Army officials who cover up vulnerabilities in the chemical weapons stockpile," Condit said.

Unlike other personnel actions, the loss of the type of security clearance held by Van Winkle is not reviewable by outside authorities. The final decision is made by the same command, the Army Chemical Materials Agency, which brought the "disgruntled" behavior charges.

If Van Winkle loses his clearance and is not given a non-chemical weapons assignment, he will likely be terminated from federal service.

On Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations will hold a hearing entitled "National Security Whistleblowers in the post-9/11 Era: Lost in a Labyrinth and Facing Subtle Retaliation."

In the hearing announcement, Congressman Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican who chairs the subcommittee, says, "Suspension or revocation of a security clearance can have the same chilling effect as demotion or firing, but clearance actions are virtually unreviewable. Those with whom we trust the nation's secrets should not be second class citizens when it comes to asserting their rights to speak truth to power."

The Army Chemical Materials Agency will issue its decision on whether to permanently disqualify Van Winkle by the end of the month.

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Maryland Upgrading 66 Wastewater Plants to Protect Chesapeake Bay

CHESTERTOWN, Maryland, February 13, 2006 (ENS) - Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., and Maryland's Secretary of the Environment Kendl Philbrick broke ground Thursday on an upgrade for the Chestertown Wastewater Treatment Plant. State officials plan to upgrade all 66 major wastewater treatment plants across the state.

"Across Maryland, we are gearing up to eliminate millions of pounds of pollution annually from the Bay," said Governor Ehrlich. "Projects like this one in Chestertown will have a lasting impact on this state and the legacy we leave to future generations."

A $1.5 million Bay Restoration Fund grant made the groundbreaking possible. The funding will cover removal of nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater treatment plant effluent to state-of-the-art levels.

In addition, a loan in excess of $3.6 million to the town from the state revolving fund and a $3 million grant for biological nutrient removal, both administered by the Maryland Department of the Environment, with other state and federal grants, will finance the project.

"By 2007, construction will be underway at nearly half the major plants in the state, and one after the other, they will facilitate drastically lower nutrient levels," said Philbrick. "Additional nutrient removal in Chestertown is essential for Maryland to meet its commitments under the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement."

The $9.18 million plant will include enhanced nutrient removal and biological nutrient removal technology that reduces the level of nitrogen and phosphorus discharged directly to the Chester River that flows to the Chesapeake Bay.

The upgrade project involves the planning, design, construction and installation of full-scale Enhanced Nutrient Removal equipment to achieve total nitrogen removal to a yearly average of 3 to 4 milligrams per liter, an 83 percent reduction, and phosphorus to 0.3 milligrams per liter, a 90 percent reduction over current levels.

Excess nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, lead to degraded water quality, which negatively impact the ecology of the Bay and its tributaries. The plant that processes 900,000 gallons of effluent per day serves more than 4,200 people.

"The Chester River is an extraordinary river with a rich colonial maritime history," said Chestertown Mayor Margo Bailey. "It is incumbent upon us to insure that the Chester River is as clean as it can be for our own use and the use of future generations. Upgrading the Chestertown wastewater treatment plant will definitely improve the river's quality."

Work on the new facility will begin in March and the upgraded components are expected to be fully operational by the summer of 2007. Once all upgrades are complete, the impact will be a 7.5 million pound annual reduction in nitrogen and a 260,000 pound annual reduction in phosphorus.

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Kraft, US Surgical Caught Leaking Ozone Depleting Chemicals

BOSTON, Massachusetts, February 13, 2006 (ENS) - A fine of more than $100,000 may be levied against the international company Kraft Foods for Clean Air Act violations at the company's Woburn, Massachusetts processing plant.

The complaint, issued by the New England regional office of the The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asserts that Kraft Foods Global failed to adequately repair a leak of ozone-depleting substances from an industrial process refrigeration unit and failed to conduct leak repair tests or keep required service records for repairs of some units, all in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

The Woburn complaint stemmed from an EPA inspection in October 2004 following a leak in 2003 which released 125 pounds of refrigerant.

The EPA is seeking a penalty of $112,200 for violations that include a leak of ozone depleting substances into the atmosphere.

The stratospheric ozone layer protects humans from being exposed to the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. Federal stratospheric ozone protection regulations were established to limit the emissions of substances that destroy the ozone layer. These regulations provide strict rules governing the service, maintenance, repair and disposal of ozone-depleting substances.

Most of these refrigerants are being phased out and replaced with safer alternatives.

"The ozone layer provides important protection to all of us from the sun's harmful rays," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "It's important that companies and individuals who work with ozone-depleting substances follow appropriate steps to ensure the materials are not released into the atmosphere. This helps keep the ozone layer intact."

Kraft, a multinational corporation, has food processing facilities located in nearly every state. In 2004, Kraft took part in an EPA initiative to eliminate the use of ozone-depleting refrigerants at nine U.S. bakeries and converted more than 60 refrigeration systems containing ozone depleting substances to operate with safer alternatives.

A fine of $165,000 may be levied under a similar EPA complaint against the US Surgical of North Haven, Connecticut. The EPA outlines violations that include leaking more than 500 pounds of ozone depleting refrigerant into the atmosphere.

US Surgical manufactures wound closure products and advanced surgical devices. The North Haven facility contains 46 industrial process refrigeration units.

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Michigan Files Wastewater Lawsuit Against Cherry Processor

LANSING, Michigan, February 13, 2006 (ENS) - The Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Attorney General today announced that a civil lawsuit has been filed against Williamsburg Receiving and Storage (WRS) over wastewater discharge from its cherry processing plant located in Whitewater Township, Grand Traverse County.

The lawsuit alleges that the company violated Michigan's water protection laws and an Administrative Consent Order entered between WRS and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on August 16, 2002.

The order addressed violations at the plant related to the discharge of the high strength wastewater to the groundwater and associated nuisance odors. The orderprohibited WRS from discharging process wastewater to the groundwater and required WRS to stop placing wastewater into its wastewater storage lagoon until a permit was obtained that authorized the discharge of all process wastewater generated at the plant.

Until a new permit is issued, WRS is required to place all wastewater in sealed tanks to prevent odors and lawfully transport and dispose of the wastewater at appropriate disposal sites.

"The DEQ will continue to work with the food processing industry to develop treatment options that are protective of the environment, and economically achievable," said DEQ Director Steven Chester. "However, when a facility chooses to ignore the law, we must take action to keep Michigan safe."

In early 2005, the DEQ began receiving increasing numbers of nuisance odor complaints from residents near WRS' plant.

DEQ investigators found that WRS had discharged its untreated process wastewater to several locations on its property in violation of Michigan law and the Administrative Consent Order.

The investigations showed that WRS had resumed storing untreated wastewater in its storage lagoon as well as several brine pits at the plant in violation of the order. During November 2005, the storage lagoon was breached causing the discharge of several hundred thousand gallons of wastewater into WRS's storm water collection system, a road side ditch, and the Petobego Marsh.

"Contaminating our state waters and fouling our air is unacceptable," said Attorney General Mike Cox. "It is unfortunate that we must resort to the courts to obtain the relief necessary to assure a speedy recovery from the damage brought upon our environment."

The lawsuit requests several actions of the court, including prohibitions of further processing operations until stockpiled wastewater has been lawfully disposed of and from discharging wastewater unless WRS is in full compliance with state and federal law.

The lawsuit also requests that the court order WRS to abate nuisance odors, investigate and remediate any contamination caused by the discharges, and pay civil fines, stipulated penalties, and costs incurred by the state agency.

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Pennsylvania Will Spend Three Months on Trash Removal

HARRISBURG, Psnnsylvania, February 13, 2006 (ENS) - Plans for the 3rd Annual Great Pennsylvania Cleanup span three months from March 1 through May 31, this year, says Governor Edward Rendell. The statewide effort aims to remove litter and trash from Pennsylvania roads, parks, riverbanks and open spaces.

"Each year, tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians join together to help cleanup our environment and beautify our state," the governor said. Last year, 140,000 volunteers cleaned up more than 11,000 miles of roadways, 12,000 acres of parkland and 3,500 miles of streams.

The featured event will take place April 22, in conjunction with Earth Day. Groups registering to participate in the cleanup can enter to win a weekend getaway in Pennsylvania, as well as a Honda Accord hybrid-powered vehicle offered as part of a national sweepstakes.

This year's cleanup includes a focus on Audubon Pennsylvania and its Important Bird Area program. Audubon Pennsylvania, the state chapter of the National Audubon Society, has identified 82 Important Bird Area sites encompassing more than two million acres of the state's public and private lands.

The Important Bird Area program combats threats to the most essential and vulnerable bird habitats through habitat conservation measures.

"Reversing the damage litter and illegal dumping do to bird habitats is key to preserving Pennsylvania's natural ecosystems," said Audubon Pennsylvania Executive Director Timothy Schaeffer.

For information on the Great Pennsylvania Cleanup, and to find or register a cleanup, visit the new www.greatpacleanup.org website. The site contains safety information, links to other cleanup organizations, a logo that can be downloaded, T-shirt iron-on transfers and posters, and lesson plans for teachers.

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