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AmeriScan: January 27, 2005

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Oil Spill from Pipeline Break Fouls Kentucky River

CARROLLTON, Kentucky, January 27, 2005 (ENS) - Crews are racing to contain some 63,000 gallons of crude oil that spilled into the Kentucky River Wednesday from a pipeline break. The oil has formed a slick at least 12 miles long, federal environmental officials said.

The spill occurred just after midnight on Wednesday in northern Kentucky above the confluence of the Kentucky and Ohio rivers. The U.S. Coast Guard, together with other federal, state and local officials responded to the spill.

Workers are attempting to keep the oil from entering the Ohio River where it may contaminate drinking water downstream in the city of Louisville. They have set up a boom across the river to direct the oil into a lock and dam near the confluence of the two rivers. Skimming equipment is being brought in to remove the oily mess.

No evacuations have been ordered, but local residents in Carrollton are warned about the strong diesel odor in their drinking water.

Governor Ernie Fletcher toured the spill site Wednesday by helicopter. As chair of the Southern States Energy Board, which is working on an initiative to improve pipeline safety, he called for an assessment of pipeline safety and security.

"We have a responsibility and a role in that, and we're going to take on that responsibility," Fletcher said.

The pipeline is owned by Mid-Valley Pipeline Co. of Hebron, a division of Sunoco Inc. A spokesman for the company said crews shut off oil flow about 10 minutes after they were alerted to the broken pipe by a remote monitoring system.

The effect on wildlife and fish is said to be minimal. "Given the time of year, and the oil is pretty thick and is probably going to float, there may not be much of a fish kill, if any at all," said a Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources spokesman.

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High Water on the Mississippi Limits Navigation

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, January 27, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Coast Guard and the marine industry established a marine Traffic Control Center (TCC) Friday to monitor and guide commercial vessels navigating the flooded Mississippi River through downtown Baton Rouge.

A safety zone has been established on the Mississippi extending from six miles north of the U.S. 190 Bridge to six miles south of the Interstate 10 Bridge.

All vessels entering the safety zone are required to coordinate their movements with the staff of the Traffic Control Center who can be reached via VHF radio on channels 67 and 11.

The Traffic Control Center and safety zone were implemented when the Mississippi River reached a height of 35 feet, flood stage for the Baton Rouge area, and will remain in effect until the river has crested and begins to fall to safe levels.

River conditions above 35 feet are more challenging for commercial vessels due to increased river flow and velocity. The Mississippi River is expected to crest at 39 feet about February 1.

Meanwhile, tugs will assist southbound vessels in the vicinity of the U.S. 190 Bridge and vessels entering and exiting the Port Allen Lock. The Coast Guard is restriction the number of barges and their speed through this safety area, and their travel will be kept to daylight hours.

Vessels operating in the safety zone are required to be staffed by experienced pilots.

The Traffic Control Center and safety zone are "pro-active measures based on lessons learned from previous high water periods," the Coast Guard said. They will remain in place for two to three weeks after the river crests as a precaution.

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Solar Industry Drums Up Congressional Support

WASHINGTON, DC, January 27, 2005 (ENS) - U.S. solar energy manufacturers are asking Congress to speed the commercialization of solar electricity in domestic markets, putting the United States back at the forefront of the emerging photovoltaic (PV) industry.

Noting that the U.S. has lagged behind Europe and Japan in solar industry manufacturing and deployment, the industry wants Congress to enact sustained, annually declining tax credits for solar deployment on homes and business.

At a Capitol Hill briefing Wednesday, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), representing over 700 companies and 20,000 employees in the U.S. solar industry, issued a report requesting the tax credits titled, "Our Solar Power Future: The U.S. Photovoltaic Industry Roadmap for 2030 and Beyond."

"Currently, there are no federal tax incentives for homeowners to have solar on their homes," said Rhone Resch, SEIA president. "With the incentives in this Roadmap, we would see a dramatic expansion in U.S. solar markets, with installed capacity of 200 gigawatts in the U.S. by 2030."

Solar photovoltaics use semiconductors, usually electronic-grade silicon, to directly transform the sun's energy into electric current. The proposed Roadmap would lower retail solar electricity prices from the current rate of 18 to 25 cents per kilowatt-hour to 5.7 cents/kWh in 10 years, making solar the least-cost retail option. Solar would provide half of all new electricity generation by 2025 under this scenario.

SEIA says its Roadmap strategy would generate 60,000 U.S. solar industry jobs and more than $34 billion in new manufacturing investments over the next 10 years. By 2030, the U.S. solar industry could employ 260,000 people.

The industry effort was supported by New Hampshire Republican Congressman Charles Bass. "I will use every opportunity as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to advocate the Roadmap's targets as a minimum of what is possible," he said. "Solar energy will be a practical and cost efficient component of the United States' energy mix."

"Solar power can play an important role in fueling America's future economic growth," said Senator James Jeffords, a Vermont Independent. "It can provide a clean, renewable and inexpensive source of energy while simultaneously creating new high-tech jobs."

Congressman Zack Wamp, a Tennessee Republican said, "The acceleration of renewable energy technologies and the increase in support for solar must be key ingredients to the Congress's plan for energy independence. As co-chairman of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, and as point man for energy issues on the House Policy Committee, I plan to aggressively pursue a sharper focus on energy efficiency and energy conservation in the 109th Congress."

With natural gas demand and prices skyrocketing, much of the briefing focused on the role solar could play in easing the natural gas crunch. SEIA's Rhone Resch estimated that solar power would displace six trillion cubic feet of natural gas by 2025 under the Roadmap scenario, saving American consumers approximately $60 billion.

To read the Roadmap, go to: http://www.seia.org .

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Most California Children Never Reach State's National Parks

OAKLAND, California, January 27, 2005 (ENS) - California is rich in national parks - from Redwood park in the north; to Yosemite, Sequoia and Death Valley in the central part of the state; to Joshua Tree in the south and the Channel Islands off the Los Angeles coast.

But 99 percent of California's children do not enter these parks because the National Park Service has insufficient funding and staff, a new report by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has found.

More than 50 education leaders across California have endorsed the NPCA report, reflecting the widespread bipartisan support for increased funding for America's national parks.

"I strongly believe in protecting the great state of California's national parks, and see them not only as amazing places to recreate but important living classrooms for school children," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. "I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues and the administration in increasing funding for these national treasures, for our heritage and our children."

Although Congress has regularly increased funding to protect the national parks, the National Park Service budget has failed to keep pace with needs. As a result, education programs and staff are being cut in national parks across California and throughout the country, leaving park service educators without the necessary resources to keep up with growing demand from teachers, students, and parents, the NPCA says.

Although more than 80,000 students are "educated and inspired" in California's national parks each year, the NPCA report points out that number is only one percent of the seven million students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade in the state.

"California's national parks offer tremendous outdoor learning resources for students, teachers, and schools," said California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, one of the report's endorsers.

O'Connell said that national park education programs "provide not only diverse academic lessons, but inspire the next generation to become responsible stewards of our precious natural and historical resources."

The NPCA report, "Making the Grade: Educational Opportunities and Challenges in California's National Parks," reviewed education programs from 11 national parks in California representative of the range of education programs available in the state's geographically diverse national parks.

"National parks are our country's most powerful living classrooms," said NPCA Senior Outreach Manager Diane Boyd. "Part of providing a high-quality education to our children is ensuring access to the unique learning opportunities in our national parks. To do that, Congress and the administration must work together to increase operational funding for the National Park Service above and beyond current levels."

The full report is available online at: http://www.npca.org/report/education.asp

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Environmentalists Ask California for Strict Perchlorate Limit

SACRAMENTO, California, January 27, 2005 (ENS) - Environmental, health and community groups Tuesday petitioned the state to "act aggressively" to protect pregnant women, their fetuses and newborn infants from a toxic chemical component of rocket fuel.

The petition to the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal-EPA) and the state Department of Health Services calls for immediate action to lower the amount of the chemical perchlorate allowed in drinking water.

"Rocket fuel in drinking water threatens our children," said Sujatha Jahagirdar, Environment California Research & Policy Center clean water policy advocate. "California should act immediately to protect the public."

The petition urges Cal-EPA to lower its perchlorate safety recommendation to one part per billion (ppb) and set an emergency standard to accelerate cleanup. The state's currently proposed standard is six ppb.

The petition cites new data on perchlorate's toxicity and widespread contamination of water, milk and food, plus a new state law requiring drinking water standards to take into consideration the health of pregnant women and infants, as reasons a lower level is needed.

After issuing an emergency standard, state officials would be required to review the data and issue a final standard within 240 days.

The groups urged state officials to immediately consider the study released earlier this month by the National Research Council (NRC), and recent Food and Drug Administration tests that found perchlorate contamination of food and milk is more widespread than previously thought.

Under a law signed last year by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state must review the effects of perchlorate on pregnant women and infants in developing a perchlorate standard.

"Once California accounts for widespread contamination of food and the need to protect pregnant women and newborns, the conclusion is clear," said Dr. Gina Solomon, a physician with Natural Resources Defense Council. "The scientific evidence points toward a perchlorate standard of one part per billion."

Perchlorate, the major component of solid rocket propellant, contaminates more than 350 California drinking water sources, including the Colorado River. In small concentrations it can interfere with the thyroid gland's ability to produce hormones, resulting in a potential increase of learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder in children.

The groups warned that the Pentagon and defense industry are pushing to allow much higher levels of perchlorate in drinking water - 200 to 350 ppb.

The Department of Defense (DoD), through the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program, will be funding demonstration projects for treatment of perchlorate in drinking water, starting this year.

"The objective of this effort," the DoD said," is to evaluate alternative technologies that can significantly reduce the costs of removing perchlorate for large-scale drinking water treatment."

Multiple demonstration projects selected through a competitive selection process will be funded. The demonstrations will be conducted at selected public water supply utilities in southern California that have been impacted by perchlorate.

The DoD says perchlorate should be cleaned up to a level of four to 18 ppb.

"Communities across the state are crying for the state to act immediately," concluded Andria Ventura, environmental health organizer for Clean Water Action.

"We hope that state policy-makers take the task of protecting our children seriously," added Penny Newman of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice. "Any cleanup standard should protect kids from learning disabilities and other lifelong problems. Anything less is unacceptable."

Signatories to the petition submitted to the California Department of Health Services and Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment include: Environment California, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Working Group, Sierra Club California, Clean Water Action, Center for Community Action & Environmental Justice, INSIST, and Citizens for Chuckwalla Valley.

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BLM Proposes to Open Great Divide for More Drilling

LARAMIE, Wyoming, January 27, 2005 (ENS) - The Bureau of Land Management is currently revising its long range management plan for the 4.7 million acres of public land in the Great Divide area, which includes the eastern half of Wyoming's world renowned Red Desert.

In its preferred alternative, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposes to open over 90 percent of these public lands to industrial-scale oil and gas drilling, and drill over six times as many wells under the new plan as are allowed under the existing one, when drilling is already proceeding at a record pace.

The BLM will be holding public meetings on the Great Divide management plan February 7 - 10 in Rock Springs, Baggs, Rawlins, and Laramie to accept public comment on proposals for the Red Desert.

The Biodiversity Conservation Alliance says the Great Divide area "includes desert wildlands with sculpted badlands, island mountain ranges, and important habitats for wild horses, ferruginous hawks, mountain plovers, elk, and black-footed ferrets," which are an endangered species.

The Bureau of Land Management manages 4.7 million acres of public lands and minerals in this area under the Great Divide Plan. Over the past decade, the BLM has managed these lands almost exclusively for oil, gas, and coal extraction, and has done little to protect its natural resources, the conservationists say.

canyon

Encampment River canyon is in the area that could be open for drilling. (Photo courtesy BLM)
Under the new plan, sensitive big game winter ranges and migration corridors, important habitats for rare wildlife would continue to get only the token protection of seasonal restrictions, which allow industrialization of the most fragile areas as long as construction occurs during less sensitive times of year, the same approach that is being taken by the Alaska BLM to justify drilling environmentally sensitive areas in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

And under the agency's preferred alternative, important parts of Adobe Town would be opened to drilling, while potential wilderness in the Pedro Mountains and Wild Cow Creek would not even be considered for protection, the alliance says.

The plan fails to protect almost 3,000 identified respected places that are important to Native Americans, archeologists, and trails enthusiasts, hundreds of which are eligible for designation on the National Register of Historic Places.

Air pollution in the Great Divide area would double, threatening air quality in protected areas and increasing levels of acid rain, the conservationists warn.

"Water quality would be degraded in many areas due to surface discharge of toxic coalbed methane wastewater, and many of the wide open spaces that characterize this heart of the Wild West would be," the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance says.

The comment period closes on March 18. The alliance is urging as many people as possible to appear at the public hearings and is organizing ride shares and vans from northern Colorado and Wyoming to the public meetings.

To read the BLM Great Divide Management Plan log on to: http://www.rawlinsrmp.com/

Visit the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance at: http://voiceforthewild.org/greatdivide/index.html.

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Two Companies Penalized for Filling Virginia Wetlands

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, January 27, 2005 (ENS) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regional office has settled a Clean Water Act case against two companies over filling federally protected wetlands in Newport News, Virginia.

In an EPA consent agreement, J. Denbigh Associates, Inc. and Howard B. Hankins, Inc. have agreed to pay a $2,556 penalty and restore the 2.5 acres of affected wetlands at a property located off Jefferson Avenue, south of Industrial Park Drive, in Newport News, Virginia.

In addition, these parties have agreed to preserve an additional 4.1 acres of wetlands near Grafton Ponds, place deed restrictions protecting the remaining 25 acres of wetlands on the site, and buy six acres in a wetlands mitigation bank.

A wetlands mitigation bank is a wetland area that has been restored, created, or enhanced, reserved, which is then set aside to compensate for future conversions of wetlands for development activities.

The EPA cited J. Denbigh Associates, the property owner, and Howard B. Hankins, Inc., a land clearing contractor, for unlawfully disturbing 2.5 acres of wetlands through ditching and filling activities in 1999 and early 2000.

The ditches were not stabilized, causing the erosion of sediment into Stoney Run, a tributary of the James River.

The companies did not have a required U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the discharge of fill or dredged material into wetlands and waterways. The permit requirement is designed to minimize the destruction of these natural resources, which serve a number of critical environmental and economic functions, including flood control, water filtration, and wildlife habitat.

The EPA also cited these parties for violating a Clean Water Act requirement that owners or operators of construction sites obtain a storm water discharge permit, including a storm water pollution prevention plan. These plans are designed to reduce contaminated runoff, which may contain pollutants such as oil and grease, hazardous chemicals, and nutrients.

As part of the settlement, the parties neither admitted nor denied liability for the alleged violations.

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New Jersey, Massachusetts Battle Hazardous Radon Gas

TRENTON, New Jersey, January 27, 2005 (ENS) - New Jersey has issued a new radon testing guidance that includes a statewide, three category tier system that will be used to better protect the public from exposure to this harmful gas.

Radon is a radioactive, invisible and odorless gas that comes from the decay of naturally occurring uranium in the soil, and it can accumulate in homes and buildings at dangerous levels.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., with about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year attributable to radon exposure. In New England alone, about 1,000 people die each year from lung cancer due to radon exposure.

"The new information helps us protect public health in areas where elevated levels of radon present risk," said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell "Testing for radon is simple and inexpensive, and elevated levels can readily be lowered."

Radon mitigation systems can be installed at an average cost of $1,200. DEP provides a list of certified businesses that offer testing and mitigation services. Do it yourself test kits also can be obtained from many hardware stores and local health departments.

All radon test results conducted in New Jersey are reported to DEP by certified companies performing the tests or that manufacture test kits. This data is used to classify municipalities into a three tier system according to the potential for identifying homes with indoor radon problems.

The Department determines the number of homes in which a radon test was performed and the percentage of those homes with a test result that was greater than or equal to the guidance level of four (4) picoCuries per liter (pCi/L).

The average indoor radon level in the United States is about 1.3 pCi/L. At the level of 4 pCi/L, DEP recommends a homeowner consider steps to reduce long-term exposure to radon gas.

The tier system classifies municipalities as having high (Tier 1), moderate (Tier 2) or low (Tier 3) potential for indoor radon levels.

DEP will provide municipalities whose radon designation was upgraded to Tiers 1 and 2 with materials to develop an outreach program for homeowners. Activities to increase awareness about the need for testing include local proclamations, news flyers and presentations to community groups.

For more information, homeowners can contact DEP's Radon Section at (800) 648-0394 or visit www.njradon.org.

A Massachusetts school district has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its radon remediation work. The Belchertown School District was awarded the National "EPA Indoor Environments - Radon in Schools Excellence Award" this week for its exemplary efforts to identify and promptly mitigate elevated levels of radon gas at one of its elementary schools.

The district's efforts successfully reduced elevated levels of radon to well below EPA's safety standards at the Swift River Elementary School where it was detected by testing in January 2003.

Accepting the award on behalf of the school district, Superintendent of Schools for Belchertown Richard Pazasis, said, "Belchertown consistently adheres to its number one district-wide goal, to protect the health and safety of all students, school personnel, and visitors. This goal includes paying attention to the ever-changing environmental challenges which face schools. I thank everyone who worked with us to make this effort a success."

More information about radon is available at: http://www.epa.gov/radon/ or by calling the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Radon Hotline at 1-800-723-6695.



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