AmeriScan: January 26, 2007

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Mayors Seek $4 Billion Grant to Fight Global Warming

WASHINGTON, DC, January 26, 2007 (ENS) - More than 260 of the nation’s mayors wrapped up the 75th Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors today with a call for a $4 billion Energy and Environmental Block Grant to help cities combat global warming by increasing community energy efficiency.

"Cities are on the frontlines of the global warming issue with mayors leading the way. But we can’t do it alone. We need the federal government to be a real partner with us on climate protection and achieving energy independence. That is why we are proposing an Energy and Environmental Block Grant," said Conference President and Trenton, New Jersey Mayor Douglas Palmer.

The block grant would provide funding directly to cities and urban counties for programs that improve community energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and decrease the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

The request for an Energy and Environmental Block Grant followed a special session on climate protection led by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Carmel, Indiana Mayor James Brainard.

Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts participated in the Climate Protection session together with Oscar-nominated producer of the global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," Lawrence Bender.

Speaking at a news conference Mayor Nickels announced the Mayors Climate Campaign 2007, which will press the 110th Congress establish a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions and a flexible market-based system of tradable allowances for emitting industries; and pass climate-friendly energy and transportation policies.

"Change is in the air and the time to act is now," said Nickels. "In Seattle, where our electric utility is carbon neutral, we are showing that you can power a city without toasting a planet. Now we need our leaders in Washington to step up to the aggressive but achievable goal of cutting emissions 80 percent nationwide by 2050."

Nickels and nine other mayors started the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in February 2005. To date, 376 mayors from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, representing more than 56.4 million Americans, have signed the pledge to take action to cut local emissions in line with the Kyoto Protocol and to press Congress for leadership.

The agreement has been unanimously endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

In a show of support, hundreds of mayors joined today’s announcement, many of them sporting green "I Signed It" buttons, reflecting their pledges to cut emissions and address the threat of climate change.

Cities are taking action. Seattle’s city owned electric utility, Seattle City Light, is the first power company in the nation to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. It has done this through conservation, using renewable power sources and investing in mostly local carbon-offset programs.

Carmel, Indiana Mayor Brainard is promoting fuel efficiency, hydrogen cars, and extensive tree plantings.

For more information on the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, go to: www.seattle.gov/mayor/climate.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are 1,139 such cities in the country.

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Bush Orders Federal Agencies to Slash Energy Consumption

WASHINGTON, DC, January 26, 2007 (ENS) - President George W. Bush Wednesday issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to cut their energy consumption, shift federal fleets to alternative fuel and plug-in hybrid vehicles, and expand procurement programs for environmentally friendly products.

Under the order, agencies operating fleets of at least 20 motor vehicles must reduce their consumption of petroleum products by two percent a year through the end of fiscal 2015.

Bush said federal agencies would start buying new plug-in hybrid vehicles "as soon as they hit the market."

The order requires agencies to reduce their overall energy use by three percent annually through 2015 and to cut water consumption two percent annually over the same period.

Agencies must increase alternative fuel consumption at least 10 percent annually.

The order mandates that agencies expand procurement programs focusing on environmentally friendly products, including bio-based products.

At least 50 percent of current renewable energy purchases must come from renewable sources that began generating power after January 1, 1999, the order states.

Agencies must reduce the use of chemicals and toxic materials and purchase lower risk chemicals and toxic materials from a top priority list.

In addition, annually, 95 percent of electronic products purchased must meet Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool standards where applicable. The order requires agencies to enable Energy Star features on all computers and monitors; and reuse, donate, sell, or recycle 100 percent of electronic products using environmentally sound management practices.

Finally, by 2010 the federal government must increase to at least 2,500 the number of operations that implement environmental management systems, up from about 1,000 today.

The Executive Order consolidates and strengthens five other executive orders and two memorandums of understanding and establishes new and updated goals, practices, and reporting requirements for environmental, energy, and transportation performance and accountability.

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NOAA Budget Asks $10 Million for Maine's Penobscot River

AUGUSTA, Maine, January 26, 2007 (ENS) - The Bush administration today announced that it is requesting $10 million dollars from Congress to restore the once abundant sea-run fisheries of the Penobscot River in Maine, the second largest river in the Northeast.

The announcement includes details of the FY2008 budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.

The NOAA budget includes $38 million nationwide for protecting and restoring coastal and marine areas, including the Penobscot, "a project to eventually restore nearly 1,000 stream miles of habitat for endangered Atlantic salmon and other fish species."

Funding for the Penobscot River Restoration Project includes $8 million for dam acquisition and $2 million to NOAA’s Office of Habitat Conservation for technical assistance, pre-removal and post-removal studies, and engineering.

The not-for-profit Penobscot River Restoration Trust holds an option to purchase the dams for $25 million and is seeking more acquisition funds. Over $7.5 million has been raised from private sources. Maine’s Congressional Delegation helped secure more than $4.5 million dollars in federal funds to date. Further support has come from the state, from tribes, businesses, and local, state and national organizations.

Project partners include NOAA, the Department of the Interior, dam owner PPL Corporation, the Penobscot Indian Nation, the state of Maine, and American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Maine Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and the Penobscot River Restoration Trust.

"The White House and NOAA are indicating to Congress that the success of this innovative partnership among business, state, tribal and federal government, and citizens to restore the Penobscot River is of great national value," said Laura Rose Day, executive director of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust.

"For more than 10,000 years, the Penobscot River has been the heart of our homeland," said Penobscot Indian Nation Chief Kirk Francis. "Our identity as a tribe is deeply intertwined with the health of the river. The river’s restoration is critical to our cultural survival."

Chief Francis expressed appreciation to the Maine Congressional Delegation "who have been so supportive and encouraged the administration to continue funding this project."

Maine's Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both Republicans, today expressed support for the budget proposal.

"This announcement comes on the heels of news last week that the Penobscot River Restoration Project received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Coastal Wetlands Program and we are pleased with this demonstration of growing federal support for the project," said Senator Snowe.

"NOAA's commitment to this project is great news for the Penobscot River," said Maine Governor John Baldacci, a Democrat. "The benefits of this landmark conservation project to the State of Maine are far reaching. It proves that we can balance fisheries conservation with our need of hydropower."

"This is perhaps the most important fresh-water restoration project underway in North America," said Michael Tetreault, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine. "The benefits of the project are far reaching for species including federally endangered shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, river herring, striped bass, tomcod, rainbow smelt and Atlantic salmon."

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Court Upholds Independent Fish Monitor on Columbia, Snake Rivers

PORTLAND, Oregon, January 26, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Thursday that an attempt to close the independent Fish Passage Center by Bonneville Power Administration, BPA, was illegal.

The court ordered BPA, a federal agency under the Department of Energy, to continue funding and support for the Fish Passage Center for the foreseeable future.

The decision came in response to a petition filed by Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

It means that the independent experts of the Fish Passage Center will be able to keep analyzing fish runs and river operations for the Columbia and lower Snake Rivers.

Petitioners say the center’s work is vital to protecting and enhancing salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other fish moving through dams on these river systems.

BPA claimed language inserted into a congressional committee report by Senator Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, barred the Fish Passage Center from receiving further funding. BPA then attempted to transfer the Center’s functions to a private consultant.

"The Ninth Circuit held BPA accountable," said Stephanie Parent of the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center who filed the petition. "Not only does BPA have a duty to fish, it has a duty to the public to engage in good government."

The court held that BPA’s attempt to replace the Fish Passage Center violated the provisions of the Northwest Power Act. In March, this same court had stayed BPA’s actions on the very day that the Center was slated to cease operation but did not, until today, rule on the merits of the case.

BPA said in a statement Thursday, "We’re disappointed the Ninth Circuit Court didn’t accept BPA’s multi-faceted rationale for its decision to transfer functions critical to salmon and steelhead survival from the Fish Passage Center to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory."

"We want to be clear that this issue has never been about whether these particular fish mitigation efforts are important. They are. What became an issue in this case was how these functions could best be carried out for the region."

BPA is currently reviewing the court’s ruling and evaluating its options.

BPA markets about 40 percent of the electricity consumed in the Pacific Northwest. The power is produced at 31 federal dams in the Northwest and one nuclear plant and is sold to more than 140 Northwest utilities. BPA operates a high-voltage transmission grid, comprising more than 15,000 miles of lines and associated substations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

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Maryland's Spectron Superfund Site to Be Cleansed of Hazardous Chemicals

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, January 26, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, announced Thursday it has reached a $21.8 million settlement with 95 parties to clean up the Spectron Inc. Superfund Site in Elkton, Maryland.

Under this consent decree, reached in pre-litigation negotiations, the settling defendants have agreed to perform and fund an estimated $19.5 million cleanup at the site.

During industrial operations from 1961 through 1988, soil and groundwater at the Spectron site became contaminated with hazardous substances including volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethene and perchloroethane.

In 1961, Galaxy Chemicals Inc. began operating a solvent recycling facility, reprocessing wastes from the pharmaceutical, paint, and chemical process industries.

After Galaxy Chemicals' bankruptcy in 1975, the facility was reopened as Solvent Distillers Inc., which in 1987 changed its name to Spectron, Inc. In 1988, Spectron went bankrupt and closed the facility, abandoning many hazardous substances used in its operations.

In 1989, EPA took emergency response measures at the site to remove and dispose of 1,300 drums and 62 tanks at the site containing hazardous substances, and ordered several of the potentially responsible parites to continue cleanup activities. The site was placed on the Superfund list in 1994.

The settlement includes reimbursement to the EPA of about $1.8 million in past cleanup costs, and payment of $507,300 to the natural resource trustees to restore aquatic habitat and resources, including migratory fish such as blueback herring that were harmed by contaminant releases from the site.

The U.S. Justice Department filed the proposed consent decree in federal district court on behalf of the EPA and four other agencies that are natural resource trustees – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maryland Department of the Environment, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and federal court approval.

The settling defendants are alleged to have generated or arranged for the disposal or treatment of hazardous substances contaminating the eight acre Superfund site.

In 2002, the government reached a $5.8 million settlement with more than 480 parties responsible for small amounts of contamination at the Spectron Site, including companies, individuals, municipalities, and state and federal agencies.

Earlier this year, the government reached a settlement agreement with 48 additional such parties for nearly $1 million.

In all, settling defendants are paying 96 percent of the total cleanup costs at the Spectron Site – an estimated $39.65 million – and are providing adequate funding to restore natural resources, the EPA said.

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Common Pesticide Reduces Food Value of Algae

SILVER SPRING, Maryland, January 26, 2007 (ENS) - Researchers with the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science have identified negative effects of the commonly used herbicide atrazine on phytoplankton, the free-floating algae that form the base of the food chain for aquatic animals.

Published in the current issue of the journal "Pesticide-Biochemistry and Physiology," the study indicates protein levels in phytoplankton decreased as a result of atrazine exposure.

"Many aquatic animals such as clams and oysters rely on phytoplankton as a food source," said NOAA research ecologist Marie DeLorenzo. "Disruption to the cellular composition of phytoplankton species may negatively affect nutritional levels of the plant, resulting in decreased growth rates for those animals that consume phytoplankton."

Research was conducted on five algal species exposed to atrazine levels within the range of concentrations that have been measured in the estuarine environment.

In the majority of the species tested, the amount of energy converted into protein from photosynthesis "significantly decreased," the researchers reported.

Photosynthesis is the process in green plants by which light energy is used to convert water and carbon dioxide into organic materials, producing oxygen as a byproduct.

Atrazine is one of the most heavily used herbicides in the United States. It acts as an inhibitor of photosynthesis by preventing the transfer of energy in certain plant species.

"The use of atrazine as a growth inhibitor in broadleaf and grassy weeds is an accepted practice beneficial to farmers and landscape professionals," said Mike Fulton, a NOAA research fishery biologist. "But it is equally important to gain an understanding of the potential effects of this herbicide on non-target aquatic plant species."

In phytoplankton species exposed to atrazine, NOAA researchers observed decreases in size that may negatively affect higher level species in the aquatic food chain as this food source loses nutritional value.

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