AmeriScan: January 24, 2005

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Barge Fire, Spill Closes Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal

CHICAGO, Illinois, January 24, 2005 (ENS) - The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal remains closed to marine traffic and cleanup crews are removing oil from the canal as quickly as the bitter, freezing weather will permit ,after an explosion onboard a tank barge on Wednesday night closed the canal. One crewman is missing and presumed dead in the explosion.

The tank barge that exploded was carrying some 588 thousand gallons of clarified slurry oil, according to the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Chicago. This cargo is a byproduct of the oil refining process and is used to make fuel oils.

The oil was loaded onto EMC423 barge at the Exxon Mobile Plant in Joilet, Illinois, and was destined for the Ameropan Oil Corporation facility in Cicero, Ilinois.

The tank barge involved in the explosion is owned and operated by the Egan Marine Corporation which operates a small fleet of barges and towboats in Lemont, Illinois.

The Coast Guard port captain has closed the Chicago Sanitary and Ship canal between South Harlem Avenue Bridge and the South Pulaski Road Bridge to all vessel traffic. The canal will be reopened as soon as it has been determined that it is safe for vessel traffic and that opening the waterway will not adversely affect the ongoing cleanup and salvage operation.

The Coast Guard has mobilized a Salvage Engineering Response Team (SERT) to assist the Chicago Port captain with safely removing the sunken barge from the canal. The SERT is a highly specialized group of eight to 10 staff engineers who are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide immediate salvage engineering support in response to marine casualties.

Heritage Environmental Corporation has been contracted by Egan Marine to clean up the spill. The Coast Guard is working closely with Heritage, with Egan Marine, and state and local agencies to mitigate any environmental impacts and ensure that the spill is contained and cleaned up efficiently.

The Army Corps of Engineers conducted another hydro survey of the canal Friday to help the Coast Guard to determine if and when the waterwayl can be reopened, but the results have not yet been released. The results of a survey Thursday were determined to be too inconclusive to make the decision to safely open the canal to vessel traffic.

The Coast Guard has assigned Commander Mark Hamilton to conduct a formal investigation into the barge fire. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is assisting the Coast Guard with this investigation and is providing technical and investigative expertise.

Members of the Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team have been mobilized to assist Marine Safety Office Chicago with additional technical expertise in pollution response and salvage operations. The National Strike Force is recognized worldwide as experts in preparedness and response to mitigate the effects of weapons of mass destruction events, oil discharges, and other emergencies on behalf of the American Public.

The Coast Guard expects that on water pollution recovery operations below the Cicero Avenue Bridge will be complete this evening. Once verified, the canal will be opened up to the Cicero Avenue Bridge. The canal will remain closed to vessel traffic between the Cicero Avenue Bridge and the South Pulaski Road Bridge until a clear path by the sunken barge has been verified.

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Senate Natural Gas Hearing Opens Energy Bill Debate

WASHINGTON, DC, January 24, 2005 (ENS) - The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has invited 32 groups to present and discuss their proposed solutions to the predicted U.S. shortage of natural gas at a half-day bipartisan conference today.

The conference will initiate efforts for the 2005 comprehensive energy bill, the committee said and it is designed to be less formal than a hearing in order to encourage more dialogue among participants and Members of the Committee.

The committee announced the conference last month and invited the public to submit written proposals that address the expected gap between natural gas supply and demand in coming years. The committee received more than 120 proposals from the public, gas producers, utilities, environmentalists, universities, think tanks and state and federal agencies.

Republican and Democrat policy staff reviewed the proposals and selected 32 groups to present 38 proposals for discussion at the conference. Five of the groups will present more than one proposal. The committee initially asked the public to address eight topics. The eight topics have since been condensed into six, and the conference has been divided into six sessions.

  1. How can we increase domestic supplies from on-shore and off-shore resources?

  2. What should our expectations be regarding imported LNG as a supply source, and what policies should be considered on LNG terminal siting and safety?

  3. What should our expectations be regarding imported LNG as a supply source, and what policies should be considered on LNG terminal siting and safety?

  4. What are environmental challenges and regulatory barriers related to expanding our natural gas supply and how can they be remedied?

  5. To what extent and how can demand be reduced through conservation and efficiency measures and through diversification of energy sources used for electric generation, industrial and other applications?

  6. Is storage and market information adequate to ensure well-functioning natural gas markets?
But before the conference has heard any testimony, the Sustainable Energy Coalition warns that it is "heavily weighted towards natural gas as well as coal, oil, and nuclear power interests rather than towards the energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that are able to offer far better options for addressing the nation's natural gas crisis."

The coalition represents 85 national and state business, consumer, environmental, and energy policy organizations advocating increased support for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.

Agreeing with the committee's general view that "rising prices, expanding demand, and declining domestic production pose a range of serious economic, environmental, and national security challenges," the coalition says it would be "detrimental to the nation's economic health and national security to expand reliance on fossil fuels through greater imports of natural gas as well as oil."

Instead, "An aggressive program to fully tap the cost-effective potential of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies would not only displace the projected increases in demand for natural gas over the next 15 years, as noted by the Committee, but also substantially reduce overall demand for the cross-section of all polluting energy sources," the coalition says.

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San Joaquin Valley Pressured to Implement Air Plan

FRESNO, California, January 24, 2005 (ENS) - One year after, the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District adopted its first federally approved plan to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for particulate matter, most of the plan is not in effect.

On Thursday, clean air advocates sent a 60 day notice of legal action, as required under the federal Clean Air Act, to seek full implementation of the plan.

The plan was created more than a decade late, and only after community groups sued the EPA to enforce the original 1991 deadline.

EPA approved a plan that relies on nine key commitments to develop controls within one year of adopting the plan. Now, a year later, only two of those commitments have been honored.

Of those, the agricultural pollution control plan, responsible for half of the reductions, falls short of providing real pollution reductions because it does not require any new control measures.

Instead, farmers can simply take credit for what they have already been doing, the critics say, the reductions are only on paper, and the air quality remains poor.

"Big Ag is still calling the shots at the air district," said Fresno native Kevin Hall with the Sierra Club. "The air district has taken existing farming practices and renamed them dust control measures. The district then takes credit for these phantom reductions. It's a numbers game, not a plan to clean the air."

Last fall, the Air District ignored two deadlines to adopt controls on commercial dryers and residential space heaters.

In December 2004, the Air District missed five more deadlines to adopt controls on agricultural internal combustion engines, cotton gins, indirect sources such as development, industrial heaters and boilers, and industrial water heaters.

"Public health should be the number one priority for the agency charged with regulating air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley. Unfortunately, we see the victims of the district's inaction every day in the regions hospitals and clinics," says Kevin Hamilton, a respiratory therapist representing the Fresno based Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. "Valley residents are literally dying for clean air."

"It's clear the Air District's word is not enough, we need real action to implement the full plan," says Rey León of Latino Issues Forum's regional office in Fresno. "The pollution problem is too severe. It is not fair to burden families or the state with the unavoidable health costs industrial pollution creates. This agency needs to be stronger in doing the work for the public health of farm workers and other non-insured working families in the Valley."

"The San Joaquin Valley Air District has a tradition of inaction and delay," says Susan Britton, Earthjustice attorney representing Medical Advocates for Health Air, Latino Issues Forum, and Sierra Club in the notice of intent to sue.

"Thankfully, the federal Clean Air Act empowers the public to oversee languid agencies and to sue in the interest of protecting public health. That is exactly what the region's clean air watchdogs intend to do."

The recent failures undermine current efforts to reach the new and more protective federal public health standard for particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, the most deadly particles because they easily penetrate the lining of the lung. The standard was proposed in 1997 after EPA reviewed hundreds of health studies.

In December, EPA designated the San Joaquin Valley one of 224 regions in the country that do not meet the standard. It must reach the standard by 2010.

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Pennsylvania Universities, Colleges on the Honor System

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, January 24, 2005 (ENS) - Under a new agreement between the federal and state governments and Pennsylvania's colleges and universities, the schools will be able to assess their environmental compliance, identify possible problems, and voluntarily correct them without penalties.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will be notified of problems that have been discovered.

Only the 82 colleges and universities who are members of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP) are eligible. The agreement encourages voluntary disclosure of violations found through environmental compliance self-audits.

“EPA believes it is important to improve environmental compliance at regional colleges and universities. This agreement sets up a system to encourage Pennsylvania academic institutions to perform their own internal audits, assess their environmental compliance and develop effective environmental management systems,” said Donald Welsh, EPA’s mid-Atlantic regional administrator.

Currently, 25 of the member colleges and universities have agreed to participate. The association will work with a professional environmental auditor experienced in conducting college and university audits.

The auditor will train personnel from the participating colleges to perform audits for compliance with federal and state environmental regulations. They will then work as peer reviewers and assess campuses to identify areas where regulatory compliance can be improved. The use of peer review teams can improve the outcome of an audit by tapping into a range of knowledge and experience. It also promotes the idea that a self-audit is designed to assist and educate the institution being audited.

“Many of Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities are on the forefront of research and development in some of the most pressing environmental issues of the day,” Secretary Kathleen McGinty said during a signing ceremony at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “It’s only logical that these same institutions take on a leadership role in managing their environmental impacts.”

“We hope removing the uncertainty surrounding such disclosures will result in more critical self-evaluations on a continuous basis and, ultimately, better environmental compliance," she said.

AICUP president Don Francis said, “The specter of fines, penalties and other harsh consequences has been lifted, allowing our members to proactively identify and correct processes on campus that either conflict with environmental laws or create unknown hazards for those involved."

"Over the next few years," said Francis, "volunteer teams of peer reviewers will be walking our campuses identifying areas where improved regulatory compliance can be achieved and they will do so with the full cooperation of the audited campus."

The policy does not cover criminal violations, or violations resulting in significant harm to public health or the environment. EPA will also not waive penalties covering any economic benefit created by past violations.

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Schools, Groups Tackle Hawaii's Invasive Species

HONOLULU, Hawaii, January 24, 2005 (ENS) - The Hawaii Invasive Species Council has awarded over $107,000 to community groups, educational institutions and environmental organizations across the state to help educate the public on how they can help fight invasive species. Projects announced Thursday include curriculum development, video production and community based programs.

The coqui frog from Puerto Rico that now croaks loudly on the Big Island; the spreading, rootless, water fern Salvinia molesta; a species of tree from South America called Miconia calvescens that Dr. Ray Fosberg of the Smithsonian Institution says is, "the one plant that could really destroy the Hawaiian forest," are but three of the dozens of invasive species that threaten Hawaii.

The 2003 State Legislature created the Hawaii Invasive Species Council. Lawmakers saw the invasion of Hawaii by alien invasive species is the single greatest threat to Hawaii's economy, natural environment, and the health and lifestyle of Hawaii's people and visitors.

"Invasive species pose a unique threat to the delicate ecosystem of Hawaii," said Peter Young, who chairs the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

"Keeping non-native pests out of the state and helping eradicate or contain those already here requires educating the public, because we need everyone's help," said Young.

The Tri-Isle Resource Conservation and Development Council will establish environmental education curriculum to educate intermediate and high school students about the threats posed by two invasive species, the little fire ant and the red imported fire ant.

Leeward Community College Educational Media Center Video Production Unit will produce four, one hour shows on the subject of invasive species. Outreach to the community will include multiple airings of these programs as well as promotional pieces to build public awareness.

In the Palolo neighborhood on Oahu, the Youth Conservation Corps along with the Hawaii Land Restoration Institute will work with young people to increase community based commitment to and involvement in invasive species control and native habitat restoration.

The Hawaii Invasive Species Council provides the institutional framework for leadership and coordination for a statewide invasive species prevention and control program.

Members of the Council include Directors of the Departments of Land and Natural Resources, Agriculture, Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, Health, Transportation, and University of Hawaii, and Hawaiian Home Lands, Commerce and Consumer Affairs, and Defense.

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Tribes, EPA Work to Eliminate Leaking Underground Fuel Tanks

SEATTLE, Washington, January 24, 2005 (ENS) - The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have signed a new agreement to work together in protecting drinking water on the Fort Hall Reservation on the Snake River in Idaho. This new partnership will focus on identifying and reducing threats to drinking water posed by leaking and abandoned fuel tanks.

Under the three year agreement, the Tribes will write environmental regulations and expand technical capabilities with a grant from the EPA. This partnership builds on recent efforts by the Tribes, federal agencies, state officials, and local residents to find innovative ways to protect the area's drinking water.

Kelly Wright has been selected by the Tribal Council to be the Tribes' underground storage tank manager. Wright will create a commercial and agricultural tank tracking database which will help the reservation officials identify which tanks may be leaking.

According to Ron Kreizenbeck, acting EPA regional administrator, education will be an key part of this program. "The Shoshone-Bannock's inspector will work closely with tank owners and operators to help them better understand federal and Tribal leak prevention requirements."

In Arizona, the EPA's Waste Management Division director for the Pacific Southwest region, Jeff Scott said "The EPA and the Navajo EPA are serious about enforcing underground tank regulations. Leak prevention is critical because unseen leaks caused by corrosion, overfills or other spills can pollute precious ground water supplies - a limited resource on the Navajo Nation. A hole the size of a pinhead can release 400 gallons of fuel in a year's time, enough to foul millions of gallons of fresh water."

"In 2002, the underground storage tanks compliance rate was two percent," said Henry Haven, geologist with the Underground Storage Tank and Leaking Underground Storage Tank program with the Navaho EPA. "In the 2004 inspections, the compliance rate jumped to 54 percent, which is remarkable.

These efforts are part of a larger program by the EPA to prevent and clean up leaks from underground fuel storage tanks.

Underground Storage Tanks (UST) and Leaking Underground Storage Tanks (LUST) will be the focus of a national conference in Seattle in March hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPS) Region 10.

The 17th Annual UST / LUST National Conference will feature workshops, and roundtable discussions.

There also will be a exhibition where conference participants can view new UST/LUST tools and products developed by colleagues.

Because petroleum products leaking from underground storage tanks have been a major cause of groundwater contamination in the United States, Congress enacted laws to clean up leaking tanks, to prevent tanks from leaking, and to detect leaks quickly if they do occur.

Until January 31, 2005, program tools - such as a manual, guidance document, computer application or video, - can still be included in the exhibition. Contact Lela Bijou at 703-603-7145 or by e-mail at Promotion of a particular company or product is not permitted.

The conference is cosponsored by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Underground Storage Tanks, the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission, the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials, and the state of Washington.

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Corps Proposes Minnesota River Basin Restoration

SAINT PAUL, Minnesota, January 24, 2005 (ENS) - Since European settlement, the native prairie alongside the Minnesota River has been replaced by agriculture with constructed drainage systems, and more than 90 percent of pre-settlement wetlands have been drained or filled. The magnitude and frequency of flooding in the Minnesota River basin have increased in recent years, causing extensive damages, according to a new study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District.

This study identified many opportunities to restore aquatic habitats, to improve water quality, to reduce erosion and sediment and to improve water resources management in the Minnesota River basin.

The study provides a basis for proceeding with the following studies in this basin: integrated watershed, water quality management and ecosystem restoration analysis, leading to the development of a basin scale watershed management plan; Blue Earth River aquatic ecosystem restoration feasibility study; and Marsh Lake aquatic ecosystem restoration feasibility study.

The integrated watershed, water quality management and ecosystem restoration analysis would "facilitate better watershed management, would identify specific opportunities for improvement and would integrate the efforts of a wide range of agencies currently working independently, leading to more cost-effective use of existing government programs," the Corps said.

The Corps suggests that the Blue Earth River study could lead to restoration of habitat and connectivity between the Minnesota River and 1,200 miles of perennial tributary streams that have been isolated from the main stem for nearly a century.

Reconnecting this ecosystem would benefit at least 22 species of native fish and increase associated recreational opportunities throughout the Blue Earth River basin, the Corps said.

The Marsh Lake study would identify measures to restore more than 5,000 acres of wetland habitat within an existing Corps of Engineers’ reservoir and reconnect Lac qui Parle to more than 750 miles of streams.

A reconnaissance study is the first step required by Congress before the Corps of Engineers may begin a more detailed planning effort. Its purpose is to determine if there is federal interest in funding a water resource project in any particular basin.

The Corps began its Minnesota River study in April 2003. It cost $200,000 to complete.

The Minnesota River originates at the Minnesota-South Dakota border, flows 335 miles through some of the richest agricultural land in Minnesota, and joins the Mississippi River at Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The Minnesota River contributes sediment and fertilizer loads to the Mississippi.

The river drains 16,770 square miles, of which 14,840 are in Minnesota, 1,610 are in South Dakota, and the remainder are in North Dakota and Iowa. The Corps of Engineers maintains a nine foot deep navigation channel in the lower 15 river miles from Savage, Minnesota, to the Mississippi River confluence.

The result of its Minnesota River Basin Reconnaissance Study was posted on the Internet today for public review and comment at:

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Protected Agave Proven a Hybrid Could Lose Status

PHOENIX, Arizona, January 24, 2005 (ENS) - The Arizona agave - a species listed as endangered since 1984 - has been confirmed to be a hybrid. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed removing it from the list of plants protected under the Endangered Species Act although only fewer than 100 plants remain in the wild.

Controlled experiments on the reproductive limitations of the Arizona agave conducted at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix have confirmed that the plant is a hybrid.

Hybrid plants - a phenomenon common among agaves - are not eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Under the act, it has been illegal to import, export or transport Arizona agave across state lines, or conduct interstate or international commerce or maliciously damage the plant. If delisted, the Arizona agave would continue to receive limited protection under Arizona's Native Plant law, which requires a permit to remove plants from the wild or to sell them.

The plant was first described in 1970 as a unique species, Agave arizonica, from specimens collected in the New River Mountains of central Arizona.

The eight to 14 inch diameter and 12 to 16 inch tall succulent sprouts a flower stalk up to 13 feet tall. Fewer than 100 plants are known in the wild, all in Gila, Yavapai and Maricopa counties on the Tonto National Forest and private land in chaparral and juniper grasslands.

Since the listing, a growing body of evidence has lead to the determination that the plant - found only where the range of Toumey's agave, A. toumeyana var. bella, and the golden-flowered agave, A. chrysantha, overlap - is indeed a hybrid of the two parent species.

The Service published its proposal to delist the Arizona agave in today's Federal Register. The proposal is available at:

Comments are welcome through March 14, 2005, and should be addressed to the Field Supervisor, Arizona Ecological Services Field Office, 2321 West Royal Palm Road, Suite 103, Phoenix, AZ 85021. Public hearing requests must be received by Febrary 28, 2005.