AmeriScan: January 11, 2005

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California Landslide Claims Three Lives

SANTA BARBARA, California, January 11, 2005 (ENS) - The rainstorms that have soaked California since Friday triggered a deadly landslide at the small coastal town of La Conchita Monday afternoon, killing three men and leaving at least 10 other people injured.

The slide caused the shutdown of Highway 101 and evacuation of about 200 residents. Up to 12 persons are still missing, and 18 residents have decided to stay despite evacuation orders, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said.

Late Monday, rescuers dropped listening devices into the rubble attempting to find victims before another downpour of up to two inches of rain expected overnight. One of the rescued was a badly injured 60 year old man who was buried for three hours, officials said.

Another mudslide has closed Santa Ana Road at Ojai, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said.

Broken water lines have disrupted the water supplies to La Conchita, Mussel Shoals, Sea Cliff, Upper Faria, Lower Faria, and Solimar Beach. Officials say it will take at least three days to fix the water lines.

At least 10 people have died in storm related accidents across California in the past 72 hours.

On Monday, crews found the body of a two year old girl who slipped from her mother's hands as rescuers were trying to pluck them from on top of a car submerged on a road in the high desert city of Palmdale late Sunday.

Another death happened at Malibu when a man's car slid from the Pacific Coast Highway and plunged into the ocean on Sunday.

Flash flood warnings are in effect today for Los Angeles County including downtown Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area, Los Angeles County valleys and mountains, and the National Weather Service says many rivers and streams have already overflowed their banks.

Several roads in central Los Angeles are flooded, and a mudslide early this morning has closed the Pacific Coast Highway at Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

Flood warnings are in effect for Ventura County including the coastal and interior valleys. Heavy rains as well as a release of water from Bradbury Dam will cause the Lower Santa Ynez River to flood its banks, National Weather Service forecasters warned. Areas at risk include the city of Lompoc and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Slides and flooding were reported Monday throughout the region north of Los Angeles, affecting homes and businesses, blocking road and rail travel and forcing a shutdown of interstate petroleum supply lines.

Sections of the town of Piru, about 40 miles east of Santa Barbara, have been evacuated and Lake Piru residents are unable to enter or leave the city. Ventura County officials say the Santa Felicia Dam on Piru Creek is "secure" although spillover from the dam was observed moving toward the town.

A flash flood warning is in effect for the Orange County coastal plain, the Santa Ana mountains and foothills. Mud slides and rock slides are expected, weather officials said. People are warned not to try to drive across flooded roads. "It only takes a few inches of swiftly flowing water to carry vehicles away," the National Weather Service said.

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Federal Agencies Must Prefer Bio, Not Petroleum, Products

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina, January 11, 2005 (ENS) - Secretary Ann Veneman has announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has adopted a final rule establishing a policy of preferred procurement for biobased products.

The preferred products - such as biobased greases, biodiesel and ethanol when used as additives, hydraulic fluids, biobased polymers, industrial solvents, biobased fertilizers and cutting oils - would be used instead of petroleum products.

During remarks Sunday at the 2005 American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting, Veneman said, "This rule promotes energy independence and the use of environmentally sustainable energy from biological sources, while at the same time creating new demand for agricultural commodities and new business investment and job growth in rural America."

The final rule outlines provisions for the Federal Biobased Products Preferred Procurement Program under the 2002 Farm Bill, which requires all federal agencies to preferentially purchase biobased products that have been designated by the USDA as eligible.

"The Federal Biobased Products Preferred Procurement Program creates a preference across the entire federal government to purchase biobased products, when practical, based on price, availability and performance," Veneman said.

The new rule establishes the process by which the Department of Agriculture will designate "items" for preferred procurement by federal agencies.

Federal agencies must assure within one year after the publication of this final rule that their procurement specifications require the preference of biobased products consistent with this rule.

The rule is scheduled to be in the January 11, 2005, issue of the Federal Register and will be posted at:

To date, USDA has identified 83 items on which it is developing test information to support designation by rulemaking and are available for viewing at: Obtain further information on the Federal Biobased Products Preferred Procurement Program at the website above or contact Marvin Duncan, Office of Energy Policy and New Uses, at 202-401-0532, or at:

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Wyoming Coalbed Methane Discharge Permit Ruled Illegal

CASPER, Wyoming, January 11, 2005 (ENS) - Wyoming ranchers fighting the impact of coalbed methane development on their lands have won a victory in federal court. A federal judge ruled Friday that a Clean Water Act permit for coalbed methane operations in Wyoming is illegal.

Federal District Judge William Downes ruled that the federal government failed to consider cumulative impacts multiple gas-water reservoirs had on non-wetland resources.

He also found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to consider the impacts to private ranchers of its general permit.

The unlawful permit allows coalbed methane operators to dump millions of gallons of polluted water into the Powder River and its tributaries. Due to the permit, ranchers have had their lands flooded, their water rights eliminated and their fields poisoned. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality recently declared coalbed methane wastewater toxic.

The ruling comes in a case brought by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice on behalf of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, the Powder River Basin Resource Council and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.

The court was "amazed that the Army Corps of Engineers issued this expansive permit without considering its impact on landowners, ranchers and Wyoming’s natural environment," Earthjustice said.

As a result of the ruling, operators cannot build new dams and reservoirs until the Corps corrects its permits approval process. An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 producing gas wells in Wyoming won’t be affected by the ruling but plans for an additional 35,000 wells could be.

The suit challenged the Corps’ general permit that governs the construction of dams and reservoirs to dispose of wastewater from coal bed methane production wells. These dams and reservoirs are built in channels of seasonal streams. The reservoirs eventually leak the water downstream.

The judge scolded the federal government, saying, “Mineral resources should be developed responsibly, keeping in mind those other values that are so important to the people of Wyoming such as preservation of Wyoming’s unique natural heritage and lifestyle.”

“This Court will not rubberstamp an agency determination that fails to consider cumulative impacts, fails to realistically assess impacts to ranchlands, and relies on unsupported, unmonitored mitigation measures,” the judge wrote.

“We applaud Judge Downes for recognizing not only the importance of mineral development but how critical it is that is be done responsibly,” said Powder River Basin Resource Council chair and rancher, Bernadette Barlow.

“As a downstream landowner we have suffered the damages to the soil and vegetation on our ranch from coalbed methane in-channel water pits so we’re relieved that the Corps of Engineers is going to have to review this permit and we hope it will help stop the irresponsible development of coalbed methane,” said Barlow.

Earthjustice attorney Neil Levine said, “The Corps must now undertake a substantial review of each dam and prohibit dams that harm people in the Powder River basin.”

Coal bed methane is natural gas that is trapped in the fissures and fractures of underground coal beds by overlying water in underground aquifers. The gas is released when the water is pumped to the surface at a rate of anywhere from several, up to one hundred, gallons a minute. This eases the pressure and allows the gas to follow the water up. This wastewater has been found to contain high levels of sodium, arsenic, iron, barium and manganese.

The high sodium levels not only threaten rivers and streams, but also farms and ranches since the clay soil and native plants are sensitive to the high salinity levels in the water and soils. Over time the clay soils completely lose their ability to uptake water and the native vegetation dies.

Since 2001, billions of gallons have been pumped from underground aquifers to get at the coalbed methane gas. Much of this water, while suitable for livestock and wildlife, can be harmful when discharged on the clay soils and native grasses.

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Florida Asks Judge to Assign Water to Rare Species

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, January 11, 2005 (ENS) - The state of Florida is asking a federal judge to protect three imperiled species when ruling on water sharing among three states in a 15 year old water fight.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is operating four dams on the Chattahoochee River in Alabama and Georgia in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act, Florida said in a motion filed Friday in U.S. District Court.

The motion argues that the dams hold back water needed by three federally listed species - the threatened Gulf sturgeon and two species of freshwater mussels - the endangered fat threeridge and threatened purple bankclimber.

The legal fight among Alabama, Florida, Georgia and federal agencies centers on water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

The three states formed a compact to develop an allocation formula for the waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, but the compact dissolved when they failed to arrive at a mutually acceptable allocation formula by the August 31, 2003 deadline.

Florida wants to protect fish and wildlife along the Apalachicola River and the seafood industry in Apalachicola Bay. Alabama and Georgia want water for growth, hydropower and shipping.

Florida says it does not want the dams removed, but is demanding that the Corps end its authorization of water use by upstream cities, including Atlanta, Georgia.

The Corps has allowed cities to continue taking up to 462 million gallons of water daily from reservoirs under contracts that expired in 1990, Florida argues. In addition, the Corps has failed to consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on how to protect the threatened species, Florida says.

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World's First Hydrogen Shuttle Buses Go to Florida

DETROIT, Michigan, January 11, 2005 (ENS) - Surrounded by the auto industry’s latest creations at the Detroit Auto Show, Florida Monday became the first customer for Ford’s new hydrogen powered shuttle bus expected to hit the road next year. The state is ordering eight of the V-10, Ford E-450 buses - the world’s first commercially available hydrogen vehicles.

“Hydrogen is the most abundant element on earth, existing in our air, drinking water and fuel,” said Governor Jeb Bush. “Using hydrogen as a renewable power source decreases America’s dependence on foreign oil, protects air quality and diversifies our economy.”

Propelled by an internal combustion engine that is supercharged and inter-cooled for maximum efficiency, the 12-passenger bus is designed to run on hydrogen fuel instead of gasoline.

The eight buses will be based in Central Florida.

The vehicle is equipped with a 26 gallon equivalent, 5,000 pounds-per-square-inch hydrogen fuel tank with an expected range of about 150 miles. With near-zero emissions, the engine is up to 25 percent more fuel efficient than a typical gasoline engine.

“My great-grandfather's vision was to provide affordable transportation for the world. I want to expand that vision for the 21st century and provide transportation that is affordable in every sense of the word – socially and environmentally, as well as economically,” said Ford Motor Company Chairman and CEO Bill Ford. “That means vehicles that are safe, clean, and energy efficient.”

Eighteen months ago, Governor Bush launched H2 Florida, a statewide initiative to accelerate the commercialization of hydrogen technologies, spur investment and economic opportunity and safeguard natural resources. As part of the initiative, the state partners with industry, governments and universities to showcase hydrogen technologies and stimulate a consumer market.

“These state of the art hydrogen vehicles use existing, proven technologies to deliver environmental benefits simply and cost-effectively,” said Allan Bedwell Department of Environmental Protection deputy secretary for regulatory programs and energy. “Public and private investment is taking pollution-free transportation from a laboratory concept to an every day reality - and it is happening first in Florida.”

Last spring, Ford and BP America selected Florida as one of three U.S. sites to demonstrate hydrogen fuel cell cars and fueling stations. The hydrogen powered vehicles, which emit only steam, will be used by DEP park rangers at Wekiwa Springs State Park and customer service representatives at Progress Energy Florida.

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MacWorld Expo Held to Environmentally Responsible Standard

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 11, 2005 (ENS) - The Computer TakeBack Campaign, a national coalition of environmental watchdog organizations, is calling on Apple Computers to support recycling of the discarded electronics that bear the Apple name. Pressure from the Campaign has recently brought other computer makers, including Dell and HP, to take this responsible stand.

The activists are staging a protest today, with banners and street theater, at the Moscone Conference Center outside the MacWorld Expo, to demand that Apple CEO Steve Jobs take responsibility for waste created by the company’s obsolete electronic goods.

"We want to know why Steve Jobs and Apple refuse to support electronic recycling programs,” says Ted Smith of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. “While other computer makers have accepted that they have a responsibility for their outdated machines, Apple continues to oppose e-waste recycling legislation across the country."

Computer Take-Back Campaign members Mamta Khanna of the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health and Robin Schneider of Texas Coalition for the Environment will also speak to the assembled demonstrators.

Inside the Moscone Center, at least one company has environmentally responsible computing on its agenda. Better Energy Systems of Great Britain is introducing Solio™, a solar charger for electronic equipment.

“The concept of taking free energy from the sun to power your iPod simply makes sense," said Better Energy Systems’ CEO Christopher Hornor, "whether one intends to spend a long weekend at the beach or simply requires mobile power for that long commute."

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New Hampshire Electroplating Superfund Site to Be Cleaned

MERRIMACK, New Hampshire, January 11, 2005 (ENS) - Demolition gets underway this week at the 13 acre New Hampshire Plating Company Superfund site, in Merrimack.

New Hampshire Plating operated as an electroplating facility from 1962 to 1985. Wastewater containing metals, solvents and cyanide used in the electroplating operations was discharged into drainage channels in the former building floor, and flowed into unlined lagoons that were formerly wetlands north of the building.

Contaminants from the unlined lagoons impacted on-site wetlands, contaminated surface and subsurface soils, and reached the groundwater.

During the demolition, EPA contractors will use hydraulic hammers to take down a 13,600 ton concrete storage cell, created during an earlier phase of the work at the site. The concrete will be broken into gravel sized pieces and stockpiled on site, to be used later in the project during construction of a permeable cap over the site.

Once the concrete storage cell has been broken down into gravel, the EPA will sample the underlying soil to determine if contamination is present in this area of the site. In the spring, any contaminated soils will be excavated and treated; then excavated areas will be backfilled, regraded and replanted with grass. Once the work is complete, the property will be available for public use.

“EPA is committed to returning this site to a safe and environmentally sound condition,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “Demolition of the storage cell moves us one step closer to returning this property to the town of Merrimack, cleaned and ready for reuse.”

In addition to the demolition, EPA will clear seven acres of brush, trees, and overgrowth from the site so that construction vehicles can access the property; relocate portions of the existing chain-link fence along the western perimeter of the site so that it follows the property line; permanently remove a second chain link fence so that vehicles can access the construction area; and, set up staging areas for upcoming construction activities.

Last August, the EPA, the New Hampshire Congressional delegation and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services announced $4 million of new funding for the site which is being used to clear the site and build access roads and staging areas in anticipation of additional construction work next spring.

In 2001, EPA awarded a grant of $99,000 to develop a reuse plan for the site. The draft reuse plan that the town’s landscape architect developed calls for recreational use of the site.

To date, EPA has spent a total of about $8.5 million at the site to conduct interim cleanup measures, perform comprehensive site investigations and complete remedial design efforts.

In addition, as compensation for the loss of wetlands at the site, EPA and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services have provided over $1.6 million for the purchase and protection of the 50 acre Greens Pond wetland area in Merrimack and the 38 acre Grassy Pond wetland area in Litchfield. The site was added to EPA's Superfund list in 1992.

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Public Input Asked on Proposed Ohio Uranium Enrichment Plant

WASHINGTON, DC, January 11, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff has scheduled a meeting in Piketon, Ohio, for Tuesday, January 18, to provide members of the public an opportunity to comment on the scope of the agency’s environmental review for the proposed American Centrifuge Plant.

The NRC has been reviewing the application for the gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant since USEC, Inc., which would operate the plant, filed it in August. If approved, the plant would enrich uranium to be used in producing fuel for nuclear power plants.

In October 2004, the NRC issued an order establishing a 30-month time frame for completing its review and issuing a decision on the USEC application. In February 2004, the agency approved a USEC application for its lead cascade facility, which provides information on the machines planned for use during the plant’s commercial operation.

The NRC’s detailed reviews of the facility’s safety, security and environmental issues will be documented in two key documents: a Safety Evaluation Report and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Piketon meeting has been scheduled to obtain public input on what environmental issues should be included in the EIS.

The agency says those issues could include land use, transportation, geology and soils, water resources, ecology, air quality, noise, historical and cultural resources, visual and scenic resources, socioeconomics, environmental justice, public and occupational health, and waste management, but the final list may differ based on public input.

The location for the meeting is Zahns Corner Middle School, 2379 Schuster Road, Piketon, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. The NRC staff will also be available for more informal one-on-one discussions at 6:00 p.m.

Anyone wanting to present oral comments is encouraged to pre-register by contacting Ron Linton of the NRC by telephone at 1-800-368-5642, extension 7777, or by e-mail at: People may also register to speak just before the start of the meeting.