AmeriScan: January 29, 2007

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Levees Across the Nation Need Repair

WASHINGTON, DC, January 29, 2007 (ENS) - The Army Corps of Engineers says 146 levees across the United States pose an unacceptable risk of failing in a major flood, but they will not publicly identify which levees they are.

Corps spokesman Pete Pierce told "USA Today" that the list of the 146 levees will not be released until all levees are inspected and all communities with faulty levees are advised of the problems.

The newspaper has filed a request for that list under the Freedom of Information Act.

After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast in August 2005, breaching several of New Orleans' levees and flooding 80 percent of the city, Congress directed the Corps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, which administers federal flood insurance, to identify problem levees.

The Corps did provide USA Today with a list of how many deficient levees have been found in each state.

Poorly maintained levees must be fixed or FEMA could label them inadequate as flood controls. Then property owners the levees are supposed to protect may have to purchase expensive flood insurance.

In California, the Department of Water Resources, DWR, has this month completed structural repairs to 19 additional levee sites in the Central Valley flood control system. These 19 sites are part of the 71 California sites the Corps announced last fall to be critically damaged and in need of urgent repair because of the high risk to urban areas.

After conducting its own inspection, the DWR found the damage to the sites severe enough to require the department’s repair team to work into the beginning of the 2007 rain season to enable the levees to withstand this year’s expected winter storms.

Twelve of the completed sites are on the Sacramento River in Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo, Solano, Glenn, and Butte counties. Seven sites are in the lower San Joaquin River region in Fresno and Madera counties.

Requesting federal funding for levee repair, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a letter to President George W. Bush dated February 27, 2006, "Increasingly severe weather systems each season have accelerated the deterioration of the state’s levee system to the point where they are now in danger of failing during the next major rainfall or earthquake. This worsening situation creates conditions of extreme peril to the public and property protected by the levees, to the environment, and to the very foundation of California’s economy."

Not waiting for federal support, the state funded the levee repair on its own.

In November, the Corps told Connecticut state and local officials that four of the state's 11 federally built levee systems - in Hartford, East Hartford, Torrington and Waterbury - could be decertified by the end of 2006 if problems were not fixed.

To date, the Corps has not decertified the levees, at the request of Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell, and repairs are underway.

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California Phases Out Toxic Dry Cleaning Chemical

SACRAMENTO, California, January 29, 2007 (ENS) - A chemical common in dry cleaning will be phased out over the next 16 years to protect California air quality.

The California Air Resources Board, ARB, has adopted regulations that require dry cleaners to replace perchloroethylene, or perc, a solvent used in dry cleaning, with safer alternatives already available on the market by 2023.

Perc is listed by the ARB as a toxic air contaminant, which is California's designation for chemicals that have no exposure level which can be considered safe.

"We have safer alternatives to the perc dry cleaning process," said ARB Chairman, Dr. Robert Sawyer, "so the board chose to close the door on this method of cleaning clothes. Today's action safeguards the health of all Californians especially those near these establishments."

Beginning on January 1, 2008 no new perc-using machines will be installed in California.

By July 1, 2010, existing perc machines in facilities that share a wall with, or are located in the same building, as a residence, will be removed from service.

Perc machines that have been converted to use a primary emission control device or are 15 years or older must also be removed from service by July 1, 2010.

The remaining perc machines must be removed from service once they become 15 years old. Fifteen years allows owners to recoup the cost of buying new machines.

Finally, the use of perc for dry cleaning operations will be completely banned by January 1, 2023. This phaseout program, along with economic incentives, will allow the industry to gradually convert to more environmentally sound processes.

Under the new regulations, manufacturers that sell perc for dry cleaning use in California must keep monthly sales records.

Any solvent distributor that sells perc or recycled perc to California dry cleaning facilities or to another perc distributor is required to report annually to the ARB the amount of perc sold in California.

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Honey Bees Dying of Mysterious Disorder

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania, January 29, 2007 (ENS) - A die-off of honey bees has beekeepers struggling for survival and farmers worried about whether bees will be around to pollinate their crops this year.

An affliction recently named colony collapse disorder, CCD, has decimated commercial beekeeping operations in Pennsylvania and across the country.

"During the last three months of 2006, we began to receive reports from commercial beekeepers of an alarming number of honey bee colonies dying in the eastern United States," said Maryann Frazier, apiculture extension associate in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. "Since the beginning of the year, beekeepers from all over the country have been reporting unprecedented losses.

Initial studies of dying colonies revealed a large number of disease organisms present, with no one disease being identified as the culprit, says Dennis vanEngelsdorp, acting state apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Ongoing case studies and surveys of beekeepers experiencing CCD have found a few common management factors, but no common environmental agents or chemicals have been identified.

"Preliminary work has identified several likely factors that could be causing or contributing to CCD," said vanEngelsdorp. "Among them are mites and associated diseases, some unknown pathogenic disease and pesticide contamination or poisoning."

The bee die-off is serious because so few bees remain after previous problems. "Because the number of managed honey bee colonies is less than half of what it was 25 years ago, states such as Pennsylvania can ill afford these heavy losses," said Frazier.

The National Honey Board has pledged $13,000 of emergency funding to the CCD working group. Other organizations, such as the Florida State Beekeepers Association, are working with their membership to raise additional funding.

The important Pennsylvania apple crop, fourth largest in the country and worth about $45 million, is dependent on pollination services provided by commercial beekeepers.

In total, honey bee pollination contributes about $55 million to the value of crops in the state, said Frazier. Besides apples, crops that depend at least in part on honey bee pollination include peaches, soybeans, pears, pumpkins, cucumbers, cherries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.

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Wells Fargo Tops Green Power Buyers List

WASHINGTON, DC, January 29, 2007 (ENS) - For the first time, a corporation heads U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's national Top 25 list of green power purchasers.

The banking and financial services company Wells Fargo reached the top spot, purchasing 550 million kilowatt hours annually.

Organizations that purchase electricity generated from clean, renewable resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, biomass and low-impact hydro make up the quarterly list.

"These organizations are demonstrating that environmental stewardship and profitable business operations can go hand in hand," said Bill Wehrum, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. "Purchasing green power is good for the environment and supports our nation's efforts to increase the diversity in our energy supplies with alternative and renewable energy sources."

After Wells Fargo & Company, Whole Foods Market ranks second and the U.S. Air Force ranks third.

The U.S. EPA itself ranks fourth, with Johnson & Johnson rounding out the top five.

Newcomers to the list include Cisco Systems Inc., New York University,, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Kohl's Department Stores.

EPA's Top 25 green power purchasers are buying more than four billion kilowatt-hours of green power on an annual basis. This is equivalent to the energy needed to power more than 350,000 average American homes each year.

The EPA Green Power Partnership encourages organizations to purchase green power as a way to reduce the environmental impacts associated with the use of electricity from fossil fuels and to diversify America's fuel supply.

The partnership includes a variety of organizations - Fortune 500 companies, small and medium businesses, government institutions as well as colleges and universities.

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Greek Shippers Fined $1.25 Million for Oily Discharges

WASHINGTON, DC, January 29, 2007 (ENS) - Greek shipping companies Chian Spirit Maritime Enterprises, Inc. and Venetico Marine each pleaded guilty today in District court in Delaware to a felony violation related to the operation of the M/V Irene E.M., a large bulk carrier.

Chian Spirit, the carrier owner, and Venetico, the carrier operator, admitted to violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships by dumping oily waste overboard and misleading U.S. Coast Guard investigators by presenting a false log book that omitted the discharges.

As part of the plea agreement, the companies will pay a combined criminal penalty of $1.25 million, $250,000 of which will be dedicated to a marine-based environmental enhancement community service project on the Delaware Bay.

The companies must also implement a detailed, court monitored Environmental Compliance Plan.

"Companies that illegally and intentionally pollute our oceans violate the law and harm one of our most precious and vulnerable natural resources," said David Uhlmann, chief of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

According to the plea agreement, on December 5, 2005, the Irene requested entry into the Delaware Bay, en route to Newark, New Jersey.

During the Coast Guard's routine boarding, officers aboard the Irene provided Coast Guard investigators with the false log book.

Investigation showed that the vessel's oil water separator had been inoperable for months and a false pipe was constructed to bypass the separator when it was operating. A vessel crewmember testified that the ship illegally discharged waste oil into the ocean about four times a week.

Most of these discharges took place at night or far from shore during trips to various ports, from Africa to Brazil, and from Brazil to the United States, so as to avoid detection.

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Shell Pays $1.2 Million for Polluting New Jersey Water

TRENTON, New Jersey, January 29, 2007 (ENS) - Petroleum giant Shell and its affiliated company Motiva have agreed to pay a $1.2 million fine for ignoring state orders to clean up pollution from leaking underground fuel tanks at a Ridgewood, New Jersey service station.

"Of the total penalty, $500,000 recoups the economic benefit that Shell/Motiva reaped by evading DEP cleanup orders," said Commissioner Lisa Jackson, who heads the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, DEP.

"Even though the station eventually came into compliance, this settlement sends a clear message to other polluters - if you delay, you will still pay," Jackson said.

The settlement stems from three gasoline leaks from underground storage tanks at the Shell service station at Route 17 and Franklin Turnpike in the village of Ridgewood, Bergen County.

Shell Oil Co. owned the station from 1985 until 1998, when Houston-based Motiva Enterprises LLC, a joint venture of Shell and Saudi Refining Inc., assumed ownership.

Ridgewood first detected gasoline in its water in June 1987, and shut down two municipal wells adjacent to the Shell station. DEP traced the contamination to the station.

Shell installed pump-and-treat and vapor extraction systems to deal with on-site contamination. Ridgewood installed an off-site treatment system and placed the wells back into service.

In February 1995, Shell notified DEP of another discharge of 1,700 gallons of gasoline. Shell upgraded its on-site treatment systems.

The following year, DEP issued a Spill Act directive, ordering the company to remove the discharge and provide enhanced treatment for the municipal water supply.

The company failed to comply; DEP issued a Notice of Violation against Shell on May 30, 1997.

In June 1998, Shell informed DEP of a third discharge of approximately 1,000 gallons. This time, the company shut down the pump-and-treat system, arguing it was not designed to handle the contamination.

Between May 1997 and August 2000, DEP attempted to guide Shell and Motiva into compliance but department directives were not followed.

On August 30, 2000, DEP issued fine notices totaling $1.6 million.

After this, the company upgraded the on-site treatment systems to meet DEP requirements. It also delineated the vertical and horizontal extent of the contamination plume as the department required.

As an additional condition of the settlement, Shell and Motiva have agreed to complete the remediation.

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