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AmeriScan: February 17, 2006

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NASA and NOAA Open Science Policies Not Matched at EPA

WASHINGTON, DC, February 17, 2006 (ENS) - Despite public concerns about Bush administration political interference with science, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requiring prior headquarters approval for all communications by its scientists with the media, according to an agency email released Thursday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a national association of government workers in natural resource agencies.

The EPA's screening of all press interviews is at variance with recent pronouncements of scientific openness by two other federal agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

In a February 9, 2006 email to all staff, Ann Brown the news director for the EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD), wrote, "We are asked to remind all employees that EPA's standard media procedure is to refer all media queries regarding ORD to Ann Brown, ORD News Director, prior to agreeing to or conducting any interviews…Support for this policy also will allow reasonable time for appropriate management response."

By contrast, on February 4, 2006, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin sent an all-employee email in which he committed the agency to "open scientific and technical inquiry and dialogue with the public."

Griffin wrote, "It is not the job of public affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff."

On February 10, 2006, NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher told The Washington Post that "I encourage scientists to conduct peer-reviewed research and provide the honest results of those findings," adding that "My policy…is to have a free and open organization."

"Why are scientists at NASA free to answer questions about global warming while their colleagues at EPA are not?" asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Science does not come in Republican or Democratic flavors; scientists should be able to discuss findings without having to check whether facts comport with management policy."

Scientists often fall outside the coverage of whistleblower protection laws, says Ruch, so scientists who violate agency gag rules may be punished for insubordination.

Legislation that would grant scientists the right to openly discuss their findings is pending before both houses of Congress. California Representative Henry Waxman, a Democrat, introduced HR 839 in the House, and Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, also a Democrat, introduced S 1358 in the Senate.

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Crews Struggle to Clean Arthur Kill Oil Spill

NEW YORK, New York, February 17, 2006 (ENS) - The Arthur Kill waterway has been reopened to marine traffic after a 31,000 gallon crude oil spill at the Chevron Perth Amboy facility, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey that was reported Monday.

A Unified Incident Command composed of Chevron Products Co., the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as state and city environmental agencies continue to respond to spill.

More than 300 personnel from the Unified Incident Command, including contractors, have been on-site at one point or another this week working to manage response efforts and contain and clean up the spill.

More than a mile and a half of containment boom has been deployed. On-water oil recovery is being conducted by five oil skimming vessels. Another 33 vessels are being used for a variety of purposes, such as deploying or maintaining containment and absorbent booms.

Starting Tuesday, crews and equipment recovered approximately 29,400 gallons of oil-water mixture.

Work crews began removing oil residue from vessels on the Arthur Kill on Tuesday and continued efforts over night. Thus far, four vessels have been cleaned and nine vessels are to be cleaned.

Responders are working to clean up wetland areas on the Staten Island side of the Arthur Kill. There are 110 workers currently working on the Staten Island shore from Mill Creek to Port Mobile to clean up affects from the spill.

Environmental contractors are removing debris from the shoreline and setting up booms along the shoreline from Mill Creek to about one-eighth of a mile north of the Outer Bridge Crossing Bridge to contain and collect oil.

The spill occurred during a transfer of approximately 1.5 million gallons of number six heavy fuel oil from a barge to the facility. The cause of the spill is under investigation. Chevron is cooperating with regulatory agencies to determine the cause.

In addition to state and city efforts to monitor and address oil impacts, Tri-State Bird Rescue is on scene and patrolling the spill area by boat. No oiled wildlife have been recovered, however, there have been sightings of oiled birds.

People who observe injured or oiled wildlife should not attempt to rescue them. Doing so can be dangerous, and may cause injury to both the would-be rescuer and the wildlife. Instead, observers should carefully note the type of wildlife, accurate location, and time of their observation and promptly report it by calling: 732-738-2155. Trained wildlife experts will be dispatched to recover and care for the injured wildlife.

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Mixed Stormwater and Sewage Overflows Not Tracked, Groups Warn

WASHINGTON, DC, February 17, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not tracking hundreds of U.S. cities and other local governments that are failing to comply with Clean Water Act rules governing combined sewer overflows, according to a letter signed by 27 citizens groups and sent to the agency earlier this week.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and 26 other groups say the overflows of mixed sewage and stormwater pose threats to public health and degrade lakes, streams, rivers and other bodies of water.

The groups are urging EPA to take immediate action to "make the compliance data it has publicly available and take enforcement actions against municipalities in violation of the Clean Water Act."

EIP Senior Counsel Michele Merkel said, "We put out a report last year that documented municipalities' noncompliance with CSO control policy, which is part of the Clean Water Act. None of the violations that we documented are in the EPA's enforcement database, even though this information is supposed to be made public through that database." 

The database is known as the Enforcement & Compliance History Outline (ECHO) at: http://www.epa.gov/echo/. It is supposed to record whether compliance inspections have been conducted by EPA or State/local governments, whether violations were detected, and what enforcement actions were taken and penalties were assessed in response to environmental law violations.

Merkel said, "The public does have a right to know when a municipality breaks the Clean Water Act law and what has been done about it, without having to submit cumbersome Freedom of Information Act requests for information that is supposed to be already available."

The letter states, "Noncompliance with the CSO control policy is widespread, although it is not reflected in ECHO."

In their letter, the groups ask the EPA to place all compliance data on its website, particularly when it relates to its wet weather enforcement priorities."

For example, the letter points out that the EPA conducted a Combined Sewer Overflow Statistically-Valid Noncompliance Rate Study in 2002 and 2004. Although EPA posted the final results of its 2004 study, it did not include facility-specific data. Because this information is also not in ECHO, the public must resort to lengthy Freedom of Information Act battles to obtain city-specific information.

The letter asks that the EPA "immediately post all of the compliance data it gathered for the study on its website."

"Updating databases should not be an excuse for delayed and weak enforcement," Merkle said. EPA has had information in its hands about CSO violations for years, and it should be acting on those violations."

The EPA says on the ECHO website, "To the extent possible, this Web site presents the information as reported into Federal databases. However, users must note that some information is required, and some is put in voluntarily by States."

"EPA requires more information to be entered into the databases on larger facilities. Data entry at smaller facilities is required in some instances, but not required in other instances. Therefore, the completeness of the data in the program systems is much higher for larger facilities," the agency says.

In addition to EIP, the letter is signed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Law and Policy Center of the Midwest, Conservation Council of North Carolina, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Clean Water for North Carolina, Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers, Natural Resources Protective Association, Northwest Environmental Advocates, Western Nebraska Resources Council, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Environmental Advocates, Coast Range Association, Sierra Club, Conservation Law Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Inc., Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, American Rivers, Savannah Riverkeeper, Inc., U.S. PIRG, Friends of Chicago River, PIRGIM, Robert E. Rutkowski, Topeka, Kansas, and Oliver Houck, law professor, Tulane University.

The full text of the joint letter from the 27 groups is available online at: www.environmentalintegrity.org.

The May 17, 2005 EIP report and related news releases on CSO violations in the Midwestern United States is online at: http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/pub317.cfm

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EPA Drops Oxygen Requirement for Cleaner Burning Gas

WASHINGTON, DC, February 17, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is revoking the two percent oxygen content requirement for reformulated gasoline (RFG) nationwide.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized the action, which the EPA says "reduces production burdens while continuing to protect the environment with clean fuel blends as the use of ethanol increases."

Reformulated gasoline is gasoline blended to burn cleaner and reduce smog-forming and toxic pollutants in the air. The Clean Air Act requires use of reformulated gasoline in those parts of the country with the worst ozone air pollution problems. Other areas have elected to use it.

Currently, about 30 percent of gasoline burned in the United States is reformulated. The revocation takes effect nationwide on May 6 and in California 60 days after the regulation's publication in the Federal Register.

The Clean Air Act specifies that RFG must contain oxygen - two percent by weight. MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) and ethanol are the two most commonly used substances that add oxygen to gasoline.

Reformulated gasoline is for year round use to reduce ozone air pollution problems. Reformulated gasoline produces 15-17 percent less pollution than conventional gasoline, the EPA says.

Since January 1, 1995 reformulated gasoline is being used statewide in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia.

It also has been required in portions of California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, including the greater metropolitan areas.

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HazChem Criminal Who Sent Waste to Rotterdam Fined $2 Million

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, February 17, 2006 (ENS) - Joel Udell and two affiliated businesses, Pyramid Chemical Sales Co. and Nittany Warehouse LP, were sentenced on Tuesday to pay more than $2 million in restitution and fines for mishandling hazardous wastes in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

In addition, U.S. District Court Judge Bruce W. Kauffman sentenced Udell, who now resides in Boca Raton, Florida, to six months in home confinement in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania under electronic monitoring and 500 hours of community service in Pottstown.

The sentence was lighter than the maximum that the judge could have imposed. Udell faced a maximum sentence of 48 years imprisonment, a fine of $3.75 million, 27 years supervised release, and a special assessment of $1,500. The businesses each faced a maximum fine of $7.5 million, five years probation and $6,000 special assessment.

Udell and his companies had pleaded guilty to storing hazardous waste without a permit at the former Nittany Warehouse in Pottstown, from May 1998 to early 2001, exporting hazardous waste outside the United States without consent of the receiving country on various dates in 2000, and transporting hazardous waste without manifests and to unpermitted facilities in 2000.

The charges grew out of the defendants' operation of a surplus chemical brokerage business in Ambler and Pottstown. Beginning in May 1998, Pottstown authorities attempted to get Udell to repair the Nittany Warehouse on High Street in Pottstown and to improve storage of thousands of containers of chemicals, including flammable, corrosive and toxic material stored in deteriorated or broken containers and bags.

Pottstown sued Udell and Nittany Warehouse in state court in 1999, obtained a state court order in April, 2000. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) forced the defendants to perform a Superfund cleanup from July 2000 to early 2001.

During that period, the defendants shipped 29 forty foot containers of aging chemicals to Rotterdam. The containers stayed at the port for three years when Dutch authorities refused to permit them to be reshipped because of their poor condition, and the defendants refused to have them repackaged and returned to the United States.

The restitution imposed as part of the sentences covers the port operator's costs for storing the chemicals for three years, the Dutch government's costs in incinerating almost 300 tons of chemicals at the end of 2003, and EPA's costs in overseeing the warehouse cleanup in Pottstown.

"These defendants knowingly mishandled hazardous waste both in Pennsylvania and abroad," said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "The message is clear: we will pursue criminals demonstrating such willful disregard for the public's safety and the environment - even when it crosses jurisdictional lines - and we will continue the collaborative efforts with international authorities to prosecute these crimes."

The case was investigated by the U.S. EPA Criminal Investigation Division, with assistance from EPA's National Enforcement Investigations Center in Denver, the Netherlands Ministry of the Environment, the Borough of Pottstown, and the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Emergency Response Officials Plan for Quake Plus Spill

MEMPHIS, Tennessee, February 17, 2006 (ENS) - Emergency response officials from 13 states plus federal and local agencies are dreaming up their worst nightmares. Next week in Memphis, they will start working out the logistics for a practice exercise to handle worst case scenarios.

Hundreds of officials will gather from February 21 to 23 at the Memphis Marriott Downtown for the first in a series of planning meetings culminating in a two week disaster drill in June 2007 encompassing multiple locations and compounded emergencies.

The disaster scenario will begin with a catastrophic earthquake in the Midwest and Mid-South's New Madrid Seismic Zone, followed by a hazardous materials spill in one of the Great Lakes. A series of additional complications stemming from the two events will challenge the skills and resources of thousands of emergency, public safety, transportation and public health officials.

The emergency planning exercise, called Spill of National Significance (SONS), is held every three years. Lead federal agency for SONS07 is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, working in cooperation with FEMA and the U.S. Coast Guard.

"SONS07 will be the first major exercise in a decade involving a catastrophic seismic event in the New Madrid Zone," said Jim Wilkinson, executive director of the Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC). "This is also the first time a SONS exercise has been conducted in this part of the country."

"Hurricane Katrina didn't inspire the exercise, but it's fair to say the players and the public have a different mindset than they did a year ago when it comes to preparing for a catastrophe," said Doug Eames, SONS07 exercise director for the Coast Guard. "This exercise gives responders an opportunity to learn lessons and tighten up planning processes without real-world damage or casualties."

Along with the federal agencies, SONS07 participants will include the Earthquake Consortium and a number of private businesses. CUSEC member states include Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. Associate CUSEC members: Iowa, Louisiana and Ohio. Michigan and Wisconsin will also participate.

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Katrina Eyewitnesses Encouraged to Tell Their Stories

WASHINGTON, DC, February 17, 2006 (ENS) - Relocated residents of the greater New Orleans area who stayed during Hurricane Katrina and personally witnessed flooding due to levee overtopping or floodwall breaching before relocating are asked to provide information, photos, and any other related data to the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET).

This information will help IPET to provide engineering answers to questions about the performance of the New Orleans hurricane and flood protection system during Hurricane Katrina.

IPET, established by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, includes some of the nation's leading engineers and scientists from federal, state and local government agencies, academia and private industry. At least 150 engineers, scientists and other professionals, representing more than 50 independent organizations, are on the IPET team. The IPET includes 10 analysis teams; almost all are jointly co-led by professionals from independent organizations and from the Corps.

Since September, IPET team members have been gathering data in the New Orleans area, including eyewitness accounts, related to the hurricane protection system and the impacts from Hurricane Katrina. To expand this fact gathering effort, IPET is attempting to contact displaced residents who might have information useful to this critical study.

IPET is particularly interested in information from the morning of Monday, August 29, 2005, when Katrina made landfall.

Information that would be valuable includes personal observations of levee and floodwall overtopping or breaching (photographs or videotape with date-time code would be of special interest); descriptions of water levels and wave activity in the areas of the 17th Street, Orleans, London Avenue or Inner Harbor Navigation Canals or the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet; and descriptions of flooding, particularly when the flooding began, how fast the water rose, and the direction of flow.

Persons providing information will be asked to supply their name and contact information to allow the IPET to contact them with additional questions and to determine the location of their observations. The information provided will be combined in a general IPET summary.

Anyone with information may contact the IPET.

The IPET website: https://ipet.wes.army.mil has a link where people can electronically submit their information. Eyewitnesses can email information to Katrina.Accounts@usace.army.mil; or call a toll free number at: 1-866-502-2570, extension 5004, Monday through Friday 8 am to 3 pm EST.

Information can be mailed to the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, ATTN: IPET - Katrina Accounts, 3909 Halls Ferry Road, Vicksburg, MS 39180.

All releasable IPET documents, including design and construction records on the New Orleans hurricane protection system, are posted on the public website, https://ipet.wes.army.mil. Interim IPET reports and data will be released and posted on the IPET website as they are validated and verified. IPET's Report 1 was released on the site January 10. IPET's final report will be completed June 1, 2006.

All IPET reports and data are being reviewed by an External Review Panel of experts from the American Society of Civil Engineers. A National Research Council panel of experts will review and provide comments on the IPET and ASCE efforts. The National Research Council panel will report its findings in the summer of 2006. All of these reports will be made public.

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