National Research Council Criticizes Bush Air PlanWASHINGTON, DC, January 17, 2004 (ENS) - Existing rules under the Clean Air Act would provide more stricter emissions cuts than the Bush administration's proposed revisions to clean air regulations, according to an interim report by the National Research Council.
The report, released Thursday, adds to broad concern that the administration's proposals would allow operators of coal-fired power plants to reduce harmful emissions more slowly than current law requires.
The 18 member panel compared the likely emissions reductions under the Clean Air Act's New Source Review (NSR) program to the administration's proposed "Clear Skies" plan.
NSR was established in 1977 to ensure that older facilities install tighter pollution controls when operators modify or expand these plants, adding new sources of power.
The Bush administration has tried to ease the New Source Review requirements but a federal court has stayed those revisions.
The administration's Clear Skies plan would shift clean air regulations to a cap and trade system for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. The plan would also eliminate much of the New Source Review program.
Proponents of the plan say it would encourage greater efficiency and would provide the industry with more flexibility to meet pollution reduction targets.
But the committee found that strict enforcement of the existing New Source Review program would provide greater certainty of emissions reductions than the Bush plan - a charge echoed by a slew of environmentalists, public health advocates, state pollution control officers, Democrats and some Republicans.
"The administration's proposal would allow old, coal fired power plants to escape cleanup requirements," said Jim DiPeso, policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection. "In addition, the proposal would give the old plants an unfair competitive advantage over newer, cleaner facilities."
The National Research Council panel will release its final report by the end of the year - it was asked to produce the study by Congress in 2003.
The findings of the interim report come in the wake of a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Inspector General that determined the Bush proposals to revise the New Source Review provisions have "seriously hampered" ongoing litigation, out-of-court settlements and new enforcement actions against coal fired electric utilities.
Despite the stay, the new rule has weakened the ability of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to obtain appropriate controls through settlements or court imposed remedies, according to the report.
Court Lifts Injunction Protecting Oregon Old GrowthSAN FRANCISCO, California, January 17, 2004 (ENS) - A federal appellate court has lifted an emergency injunction that blocked salvage logging in old growth areas scorched by the massive 2002 Biscuit fire.
The decision is the latest legal twist over how to recover broad swaths of forest ravaged by fire, which charred some 500,000 acres in southwest Oregon.
The injunction covered seven timber sales on 6,600 acres in old growth forest reserves within Oregon's Siskiyou National Forest. The sales include some 47 million board feet and were auctioned by the U.S. Forest Service in July.
The decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is a blow to environmentalists, who are keen to permanently block logging in these old growth reserves. They contend the Bush administration is using the fire as an excuse to push controversial timber sales.
The reserves were designated primarily for fish and wildlife habitat under the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.
The suit alleges that the plan to log the old growth reserves violates federal laws that protect ancient forests for wildlife and salmon and the public's right to have a role in deciding the management of these public lands.
"We knew the order stopping these sales was temporary," said Earthjustice attorney Todd True. "Even now, however, the federal government could stop the controversy by withdrawing its plans for extensive logging of old-growth forests where clean rivers flow, wildlife flourishes, and people hike and paddle. So far, however, the government has refused to take this balanced and responsible step,"
The district court will hear arguments in the case on March 22, and it is not clear whether any logging will occur before then.
"We still believe the proposed logging in old-growth reserves and roadless areas is illegal, and we will still have our day in court," said Rolf Skar, campaign director of the Siskiyou Regional Education Project.
"Logging is proceeding on timber sales outside old growth reserves and we have not tried to stop it," Skar said. "We now just hope the timber companies do the right thing and hold off logging these ancient forests over the winter until a judge has a chance to hear the entire case."
The overall Biscuit fire salvage plan is one of the largest proposed timber sales in U.S. history - it allows the logging of some 370 million board feet.
EPA Scratches the Surface of Teflon ToxicityWASHINGTON, DC, January 17, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) draft assessment of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used to make Teflon, finds that exposure to the chemical presents "a potential risk of developmental and other adverse effects."
The draft assessment offered no firm conclusions on the health risk to humans and is based on animal studies.
The document drew criticism from environmentalists who contend the EPA did not include all relevant data on the chemical, which is manufactured by DuPont.
"There is a big difference between sound science and tilted science, and at every turn in this important process, EPA officials favored DuPont," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, an education and advocacy group based in Washington, DC. "We don't know if DuPont lobbyists played a role or if these were just agency mistakes. But for those who were expecting a thorough and fair review, this is a huge disappointment."
PFOA, also known as C-8, is a chemical processing aid widely used in the manufacture of a consumer and industrial products.
The chemical is used to make dozens of popular consumer products found in nearly every home, from Teflon or other non-stick coated cookware, Stainmaster and other carpet protectors, clothing, fast food packaging, and various cleaning, textile and paper products.
Studies of PFOA have raised a number of potential toxicity concerns.
In addition, the chemical has been found to accumulate in human blood and it does not appear to break down in the environment.
The Environmental Working Group faulted the agency for not fully considering a range of studies that indicate the chemical is dangerous to human health.
The organization notes that studies by 3M and DuPont scientists have linked the Teflon chemical to four types of cancer, immune system suppression and risk of heart attack and stroke.
The EPA is now in court against DuPont for illegally suppressing health and water pollution studies over the past 20 years.
The agency is also investigating how this chemical has entered the bloodstream of more than 95 percent of Americans.
Dupont insists there are no health risks from the chemical, but it has acknowledged that the presence of PFOA in human blood merits investigation.
PFOA has been used for 50 years, the company says, with no known adverse effects to human health.
The EPA's Science Advisory Board will review the draft assessment next month.
ChevronTexaco Out of Arctic Drilling Lobby GroupSAN RAMON, California, January 17, 2004 (ENS) - Oil giant ChevronTexaco has left Arctic Power, a single issue lobbying organization dedicated to opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas drilling.
In a report by "CBS MarketWatch", a ChevronTexaco spokesperson stated that the company had not been a member of the pro-drilling group since 2000.
The revelation comes on the heels of an announcement by ConocoPhillips that it is no longer involved with the lobbying efforts of Arctic Power.
Environmentalists say the disclosures by the two oil companies provide further evidence that the oil industry is losing interest in exploring the Arctic Refuge.
Three of the four largest oil companies operating on Alaska's North Slope - ConocoPhillips, BP, and ChevronTexaco - are now known to not be actively involved in the lobbying efforts to open the Arctic Refuge for drilling.
BP, the second-largest operator on Alaska's North Slope, also left Arctic Power in the fall of 2002. ExxonMobil is the only major oil company still involved with the group, which was formed in 1992.
Arctic Power still has about 10,000 members and remains strongly supported by the Alaskan state government, which provided some $200,000 last year to fund the organization.
Environmentalists are preparing for yet another tough battle over ANWR, with Republicans in Congress and the Bush administration keen to push for opening the refuge.
Language to open ANWR was defeated in the Senate in 2003 by a vote of 52 to 48, but prospects look better this year for proponents given a stronger Republican majority in the Senate.
Four incoming senators believed to be favorable to drilling have replaced opponents of opening ANWR.
Entangled Right Whale Respotted, Appears HealthyWASHINGTON, DC, January 17, 2004 (ENS) - A young male North Atlantic right whale that was partially disentangled from fishing gear by federal scientists last March, was spotted last week off the coast of Cumberland Island, Georgia.
Officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) and the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS) closely photographed the whale - called Kingfisher - and assessed the entanglement nine months after the team lost track of it.
"This whale is in much better condition than we had anticipated," said Dr. Charles Mayo, senior scientist and director of whale rescue at PCCS. "Most of the entangling rope has come off the whale during the past year."
In March 2004, the NOAA team removed some rope and gear from the whale as he traveled along the coasts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
Poor weather conditions and the movement of the whale prevented the team from removing all of the ropes.
"We are extremely pleased this whale has survived being entangled for this length of time," said Dr. Teri Rowles, NOAA Fisheries lead veterinarian and head of the Marine Mammal Stranding and Response Program. "We plan to monitor Kingfisher, but at this point the entanglement does not appear to be life threatening."
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world's most endangered whale species - hunted nearly to extinction, fewer than 300 individuals remain today.
Ship strikes are the most common cause of death, and four North Atlantic right whales have been found dead this season.
These whales seem particularly susceptible to ship strikes, said NOAA, since they swim slowly, spend considerable time at the surface, and appear to take little or no evasive action when ships approach.
Last week the U.S. Navy ordered its vessel commanders to exercise greater caution when operating in the migratory corridors of the whales.
Citizen Groups Seek Puget Sound Shore ProtectionSEATTLE, Washington, January 17, 2004 (ENS) - Environmentalists have filed an appeal with the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board seeking to reinstate protections for Pierce County's marine shorelines in a county ordinance covering critical areas.
The Pierce County Council removed the protections from the ordinance just before final passage last November.
Critics say the biggest impact of the council's decision is that there will be no buffers on marine shorelines for at least four years. While kelp beds and bluffs that erode and supply fresh sand for beaches will receive some limited protection, it is not as protective as a buffer requirement.
The appeal was filed by People For Puget Sound and Citizens for a Healthy Bay.
Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People For Puget Sound, called Puget Sound's shorelines the "key ecosystems that anchor the entire marine food web."
Pierce County encompasses some of the last remaining undisturbed shoreline habitat in central Puget Sound, Fletcher added.
"Allowing these areas to be developed will harm salmon habitat in central Puget Sound," said Stan Cummings, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Bay in Tacoma. "These local ordinances are a vital part of the strategy to protect salmon."
"Buffering shorelines with natural vegetation that protects feeder bluffs, cleanses water, adds detritus, and maintains sediment regimes is absolutely critical to protecting the ecological function of the shorelines," Cummings said.
The groups note that the state's growth management act requires all local governments to adopt critical areas ordinances to protect sensitive habitats like marine shorelines, upon which the survival of forage fish, salmon, and killer whales depend.
"The council removed protections for marine shorelines after the public hearings and behind closed doors," said Amy Williams-Derry, who represents the citizens' groups as an attorney with the Seattle office of the law firm Earthjustice. "This last-minute change to the law leaves a gaping hole in protections for bluffs, beaches, healthy water, and a healthy environment in Puget Sound."
Birds Dying in Mystery Ventura Oil SpillSACRAMENTO, California, January 17, 2004 (ENS) - The California Department of Fish and Game Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) continues to search for and collect oiled seabirds along the coast between Ventura County and Venice Beach.
The source of oil affecting these birds remains unknown. OSPR wardens and other field personnel are expanding their efforts to identify the source of this oil. Samples of oil from the birds’ feathers and nearby waters are being analyzed by OSPR’s Petroleum Chemistry Laboratory, near Sacramento.
As of Saturday, 580 seabirds, mostly western grebes, — have been captured and taken to the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro for cleaning and rehabilitation. Of that total, 43 birds were dead on arrival and another 43 died while in care.
OSPR’s veterinary van is in full operation at Ventura Harbor. It serves as a central location where rescued seabirds can be stabilized before transport to the fully-equipped Center in San Pedro. Point Mugu Naval Air Station continues to be used as a second collection and stabilization point.
The public is reminded not to handle or approach oiled or injured wildlife. "Injured animals can be even more dangerous to humans than healthy ones," OSPR warns.
Anyone seeing an animal in distress is asked to report its exact location to 562-342-7222. Trained wildlife professionals will be dispatched with appropriate equipment to capture and transport the animal without further injury.
The Oiled Bird Care Center is one of 12 primary care facilities located along California’s coast, specially designed for this purpose by California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network, a partnership program of DFG-OSPR and the University of California-Davis Wildlife Health Center. The Network is seeking volunteers over age 18 to work with wildlife personnel. Interested adults may call 800-228-4544 for more information or to volunteer.
Eco-Projects Eligible for Pennsylvania's New $150 Million FundHARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, January 17, 2004 (ENS) - The state of Pennsylvania is making a $150 million investment to strengthen agriculture and tourism, Pennsylvania's two largest industries. Agricultural projects that impact the environment such as waste handling and energy use, and tourism projects that feature nature and the outdoors are among the activities that are eligible for funding.
The Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) has approved guidelines and is now accepting applications for the First Industries Fund, a $150 million grant and loan program, that Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, believes is important for Pennsylvania's economy.
"These sectors provide jobs and enhance the livelihood of thousands of Pennsylvania families. They bring billions of dollars into our economy. It simply makes good sense that we offer them more support,” the governor said.
The new funding was unveiled Thursday during the Public Officials Luncheon at the 2005 Farm Show. On hand to make the announcement were Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Yablonsky, Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff, and Deputy Secretary for Tourism, Film, and Marketing Mickey Rowley.
The Agriculture Program will provide $100 million for grants, loans, and loan guarantees to businesses and non-profit organizations to undertake the promotion and development of agriculture within Pennsylvania.
The funding could cover activities which implement best management practices related to agricultural waste, waste products and byproducts, or fertilizer. The money could be applied to energy related activities that affect production agriculture or agribusiness, and the sale of farm commodities at farmers markets, or in underserved areas. Or the funds could simply be applied to production of agricultural products.
Loans up to $500,000 can be used for costs associated with agricultural projects. Applicants will also have access to loan guarantees up to $2.5 million or 50 percent of their outstanding project costs, whichever is less.
The Tourism Program provides $50 million in grants, loans, and loan guarantees for businesses and nonprofit organizations in this field. Grants up to $250,000 are available to fund predevelopment and feasibility studies.
Loans are available for costs associated with projects which include historic, heritage, cultural, sporting, amusement, nature, outdoor recreational, or retail destinations located in Pennsylvania.
Hospitality and restaurant establishments associated with those destinations, businesses that develop and market travel packages, and public/private partnerships formed to enhance or optimize the use of resources such as state owned parks and state game lands are also eligible.
Applicants will also have access to loan guarantees up to $2.5 million or 50 percent of their outstanding project costs, whichever is less.
For guidelines and more information on the First Industries Fund, visit www.newPA.com, or call 1-866-GO-NEWPA or 1-866-466-3972.