AmeriScan: July 18, 2003

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Closed Russian Nuclear Cities Opened to Shut Down Reactors

WASHINGTON, DC, July 18, 2003 (ENS) - Officials from the United States and Russia signed agreements in Moscow Thursday that will allow Americans access to the traditionally closed Russian nuclear cities of Seversk and Zheleznogorsk to begin the work of shutting down the last weapons grade plutonium production reactors in operation in the former Soviet Union.

The reactors have approximately 15 years of remaining life and, as a group, could generate an additional 25 metric tons of plutonium, the equivalent of approximately one additional nuclear weapon per day.

The reactors, although originally designed to produce weapons grade plutonium, also provide heat and electricity required by the surrounding communities in Siberia. The EWGPP program is providing fossil-fueled energy plants to supply such heat and electricity to the surrounding communities, facilitating the shut down of the reactors.

This agreement is a step in the U.S.-Russia Elimination of Weapons-Grade Plutonium Production Program initiated by U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Alexandr Rumyantsev.

"Replacing these reactors with fossil fuel energy is critical to eliminate the production of weapons-grade plutonium in Russia and closing these facilities," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "Russia and the United States have enjoyed a good relationship on this program and we look forward to continued progress."

At a ceremony in Vienna in March, Secretary Abraham and Minister Rumyantsev signed an agreement that would reduce the threat from weapons of mass destruction by stopping plutonium production at the last three Russian plutonium production reactors.

In May, Abraham and the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Yuri Ushakov, announced that contracts for $466 million were awarded to two U.S. companies to begin the shutdown work. The contracts will go to Washington Group International for work on two reactors in Seversk and Raytheon Technical Services for work on one reactor in Zheleznogorsk, the Energy Department said.

Agreeing on access arrangements ensures that the work can stay on schedule and be completed with Russian and U.S. firms working together.

The three plutonium production reactors will continue to operate until the fossil fuel replacement plants are completed. These reactors have deficiencies in the areas of design, equipment, and materials, and are considered to be among the highest risk reactors in the world. To ensure reactor safety, high priority safety upgrades are being expeditiously pursued.

The Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Lab will be responsible for necessary nuclear safety upgrades at both sites. These upgrades will not extend the life of the reactor facilities.

The access arrangements signed Thursday govern the provision of fossil replacement plants. Access arrangements for the nuclear safety upgrades are being negotiated separately.

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House Committee Blocks Bush Plan to Outsource Park Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, July 18, 2003 (ENS) - A committee of the U.S. House of Representatives decided Thursday to preserve language in the fiscal year 2004 Interior Appropriations bill that protects national park staff and visitors from a White House policy that would outsource to private contractors up to 70 percent of positions in the National Park Service. Now the issue passes to the Senate.

"This is an enormous victory for our national parks and for millions of park visitors," said Thomas Kiernan, National Parks Conservation Association president. "We need the Senate and conferees to also stand up for our national parks and not allow the administration to put the stewardship of our national heritage in the hands of the lowest bidder without full consideration for the implications to our parks."

The House Committee on Appropriations added bipartisan language in the Interior Appropriations bill of Chairman Charles Taylor, a North Carolina Republican, that would stop the administration's plan to privatize government agencies, such as the park service, until Congress could develop a better understanding of the costs and consequences.

Interior Ranking Member Norm Dicks, of Washington, and Representatives Brian Baird of Washington, and David Obey of Wisconsin, all Democrats, as well as Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican, spoke on the House floor about their concerns with the administration's privatization policy.

Even the co-sponsor of the amendment to strike the protective language from the bill, Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, said that the "administration's plans overreach."

National park positions subject to the administration's privatization scheme include archaeologists, biologists, museum curators, interpreters, maintenance workers, and others whose jobs are critical to meeting the needs of park visitors, educating school groups, and protecting the parks.

"The administration's allies in the House realized that there was enough opposition to their privatization scheme and did not want to risk a loss on the House floor," Kiernan said. "The key now will be for the Senate and conferees to withstand the massive pressure being brought to bear from the administration, which has threatened a veto over the provision."

The version of the Interior Appropriations bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee does not protect the Park Service from excessive outsourcing, although the committee added specific language to the bill exempting the U.S. Forest Service. Floor action in the Senate could occur later this month.

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New Cleanup Funded at 11 Superfund Sites in Nine States

WASHINGTON, DC, July 18, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the green light to begin clean up at 11 new Superfund projects in nine states - Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Idaho. The new starts are in addition to the 450 sites currently being cleaned up under the Superfund program.

EPA’s Superfund budget for cleanup in this fiscal year is some $277 million - $227 million from the fiscal year 2003 Superfund appropriation and an estimated additional $50 million from past appropriations. Most of EPA’s Superfund monies are devoted to what the EPA calls “orphan” sites where the responsible parties cannot be found to pay for cleaning up their own contamination.

The 11 new projects selected for cleanup were chosen based on the human health risks posed by the site. “The $277 million will allow us to begin new work at the top priority sites across the country and continue work on sites where cleanup has already begun,” said Marianne Lamont Horinko, EPA acting administrator.

The 11 new projects are:

“I want to emphasize that we will monitor all projects, including those where cleanup will not begin this year, to ensure they do not pose any immediate risk to the people living nearby,” she said.

Appropriations from Congress for the Superfund program, which includes emergency removals, site assessment, site cleanup, enforcement, and administration, have remained between $1.3 and $1.5 billion since 1995.

“Our first priority is to continue work on sites where cleanup has already begun,” she said. “The Superfund program has made huge progress over the years. What we’ve got left on the Superfund National Priorities List are large, complex sites. Ongoing cleanup work, which can take decades, is eating up a big chunk of the money available.”

At this time, 12 projects at 10 sites have not been selected to receive funding. However, all funding decisions announced today are not final, and the Agency will make another announcement at the end of the fiscal year after determining what remaining funds are available, Horinko said. Any sites not receiving funding do not pose immediate risks to human health and will be considered for funding next year, she added.

The administration has requested a $150 million increase in its Superfund budget for fiscal year 2004 in order to accelerate cleanup at ongoing sites and begin long-term cleanup at new sites. “The additional money would allow us to continue momentum in the Superfund program and allow us to begin work at new sites that are awaiting cleanup,” said Horinko. To date, EPA has cleaned up 852 sites on the (NPL).

For more information on the 11 newly funded cleanup sites, go to: http://www.epa.gov/superfund

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Steel Mill Emissions Targeted in Court

WASHINGTON, DC, July 18, 2003 (ENS) - Each year, 20 U.S. iron and steel manufacturing plants emit some 360 tons of toxic metals into the air, including 110 tons of lead and chromium and 250 tons of manganese. On behalf of the Sierra Club, the nonprofit public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice today asked the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose more protective emissions standards.

“EPA’s inadequate standards allow toxic metals to pollute our air, our lungs and our communities,” said Jane Williams, chair of Sierra Club’s Toxics Committee. “Three hundred tons of toxic metals do not just disappear when they go out the smokestack; they fall back onto our lands and waters, where they persist in the environment and poison our food supply. It is emissions like these that make the fish in our waters inedible and threaten our children’s health in communities across the country.”

In the past, toxic emissions from steel mills have not been subject to any federal standards - a problem that the Environmental Protection Agency addressed only after being compelled to do so by a previous Earthjustice lawsuit. Even now, Earthjustice says, the agency’s regulations are "far weaker than the law requires and inadequate to protect public health and the environment."

“Each and every one of EPA’s air toxics standards for industrial facilities that has been challenged by environmentalists has been rejected by the courts as inadequate,” said Jim Pew, attorney for Earthjustice. “This one is no exception."

"Although Congress required the EPA to set standards that match the emission levels achieved by the cleanest mills, these don’t come close," said Pew. "Further, they leave steel mills’ emissions of several highly toxic pollutants - including dioxins and polycyclic organic matter - completely uncontrolled.”

Steel mills emit toxic and persistent organic pollutants, including dioxins, polycyclic organic matter, and benzene. Even in minute amounts, lead, chromium, dioxins, polycyclic organic matter and benzene can cause cancer, birth defects, brain damage, kidney damage and other serious adverse health effects. Manganese can cause a variety of adverse neurological effects.

“What is so frustrating,” said Pew, “is that some steel mills are already doing an effective job of controlling their emissions, and they have demonstrated that much cleaner operations are possible. If EPA would just require the other mills to match their performance - which is what the Clean Air Act required - toxic emissions would be greatly decreased.”

The challenge to the steel mill standards is one of a number of lawsuits filed by Earthjustice over inadequate air toxics regulations. Earlier this week, Earthjustice and Sierra Club filed a petition for review of standards for the nation’s 169 existing brick and clay kilns, which emit about 3,900 tons per year of hydrogen fluoride, 2,600 tons per year of hydrogen chloride, and six tons per year of various metals, including mercury and lead.

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Biodiesel Gets a Boost from Federal Grants

WASHINGTON, DC, July 18, 2003 (ENS) - Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman today announced the availability of $920,000 in grants to conduct a biodiesel fuel education program. Availability of the grant is contingent on finalizing a proposed rulemaking for the administration of grants under this program. A maximum of two grants will be awarded.

“The biodiesel education program supports President [George W.] Bush’s energy plan to expand the economic prospects and environmental promise of renewable energy,” said Veneman. “This administration is committed to encouraging the further development of a biodiesel industry in the United States.”

The purpose of the program is to award the grants for the development of an education program to target governmental and private entities that operate vehicle fleets.

The program will address issues identified by fleet operators and other potential users of this alternative fuel, including the need to balance the positive environmental, social and human health effects of biodiesel consumption with the increased cost per gallon. In addition, the education programs are to be designed to inform other interested entities and the public about biodiesel fuel use.

Biodiesel can be made from almost any agricultural oil including soybean oil, animal fats and recycled greases. Biodiesel is biodegradable and reduces air toxics and cancer causing compounds and can be considered to be an environmentally preferable fuel. Burning biodiesel or biodiesel blends reduces most forms of air pollution, including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

Biodiesel is gaining in popularity because of its environmentally friendly characteristics. Lollapalooza 2003, the rock music festival, is using 100 percent biodiesel in generators this summer in an effort to protect the health of concert goers while minimizing its harmful impact on the environment. West Central Soy is providing the biodiesel for the tour.

“There will be thousands of people at concerts this summer breathing in diesel exhaust, and Lollapalooza tour organizers know that's not a healthy thing,” said Gary Haer of West Central Soy, the company supplying the festival with biodiesel. Haer is also vice president of the National Biodiesel Board, a nonprofit trade association.

On June 24, officials in Berkeley, California announced the city has transitioned to 100 percent biodiesel (B100) in its diesel vehicles. Berkeley is the first city of its size in the United States to switch to pure biodiesel.

A joint U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture study showed biodiesel reduces lifecycle carbon dioxide by 78 percent. Biodiesel is free of sulfates and is the only alternative fuel to have completed the rigorous health effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act, according to the National Biodiesel Board. Results show its use significantly reduces the threat of cancer and other ailments compared to petroleum diesel.

Detailed information about program requirements and information on how to apply for the USDA grants is available online at: http://www.usda.gov/oce/oepnu/index.htm.

Eligibility of applicants is limited to nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education that have demonstrated both knowledge of biodiesel fuel production, use or distribution and the ability to conduct educational and technical support programs. Applications must be received by the close of business on August 14 to be considered.

Contact Carmela Bailey, Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service at: 202-401-6443 or cbailey@csrees.usda.gov; or James Duffield, Office of Energy Policy and New Uses, U.S. Department of Agriculture, at: 202-401-0523 or jduffield@oce.usda.gov.

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Sierra Club Joins 2004 Election Coalition

WASHINGTON, DC, July 18, 2003 (ENS) - A coalition of environmental, employee, and pro-choice organizations has come together to register, educate and mobilize the public for the 2004 elections. The Sierra Club announced Tuesday that it is joining the new political coalition, called America Votes, as a founding member.

"In 2004, the Sierra Club, America's largest grassroots environmental organization, plans to reach more voters than ever before," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.

"In the mail, on the phone, and at the door," said Pope, "we will talk to voters and the public about how polluters are being allowed to jeopardize the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the lands they love - and what people can do to keep their families safe. "

America Votes will combine resources, research, and strategy to develop targeted, state of the art methods to reach out to voters on issues that they care deeply about to encourage greater voter participation.

The partnership joins together ACORN, AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, EMILY's List, the League of Conservation Voters, MoveOn.org, Moving America Forward, NAACP National Voter Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Partnership for America's Families, People For the American Way, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Service Employees International Union, and the Sierra Club.

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Livestock That Trampled Habitat Removed from Big Sur

TUCSON, Arizona, July 18, 2003 (ENS) - In response to a notice of impending legal action by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Los Padres National Forest has removed livestock from the Pacific Valley Flats unit of the Gorda grazing allotment, on the Big Sur coast of California.

The environmental advocacy group says it served the U.S. Forest Service with a notice of intent to sue because the agency failed to prevent harm by domestic livestock to the endangered Smith's Blue Butterfly and the Central California Coast steelhead trout on these sensitive lands.

After the notice was sent to the Forest Service on July 8, the offending livestock were removed from Pacific Valley Flats.

Livestock that had been excluded from other allotments due to endangered species impacts, were moved onto the Gorda allotment in April.

Livestock damaged stands of seacliff buckwheat, the only food plant for the endangered Smith's Blue Butterfly. Livestock may even have trampled and killed feeding caterpillars.

Livestock also broke through fences into the Prewitt Creek preserve, critical habitat for endangered steelhead trout.

"The Forest Service is just shifting the problem around instead of stopping it. It appears that they are more concerned with subsidizing the income of a few individuals than with the wider public good," said Steve Chambers, wilderness chair of the Ventana Chapter Sierra Club.

In the process of discovering the violations, Boon Hughey, an Atascadero resident, also found a tiny promontory inaccessible to cows which was carpeted with seacliff buckwheat, while the adjacent areas open to cows had very few plants.

"This demonstrates that effects of grazing on the foodplant of Smith's Blue have been grossly underestimated by the Forest Service," he said.

"The Forest Service failed to meet even the simplest conditions that the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed they should do before putting cows back on - like fixing fences and drinking troughs, placing salt licks and moving a corral," explained Martin Taylor, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

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Osprey Reintroduction Ahead of Schedule in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio, July 18, 2003 (ENS) - State wildlife biologists have announced a record 22 osprey nests in Ohio, putting efforts to reintroduce the raptor ahead of schedule, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. This number surpasses the goal, set in 1995, of 20 nests in Ohio by 2010.

Ospreys, now an Ohio endangered species, were once fairly common in Ohio. They are also known as fish eagles because of their size and almost exclusive diet of fish. The large raptors have wing spans of nearly five feet.

State wildlife biologists have located nests in Butler, Delaware, Erie, Fayette, Guernsey, Harrison, Jefferson, Mahoning, Pickaway, Portage, Stark, Summit, Trumbull, Tuscarawas, Warren and Williams counties.

"We are pleased to have been able to initiate the return of the osprey to Ohio," said Dave Sherman, wildlife biologist at the Crane Creek Research Station. "This species adds to our state's wildlife diversity and should continue to thrive here."

Forty chicks this year hatched from 22 nests, up from last year's breeding season when 32 chicks were produced from 19 nests.

In addition to successfully reproducing resident birds, 16 osprey were recently relocated to eastern and northern Ohio from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

Prior to Ohio's reintroduction efforts, the last ospreys hatched came from Grand Lake Saint Marys in 1913. The last known nest in the state was at Buckeye Lake in 1941.

Reintroduction of the osprey is supported by sales of cardinal license plates. Plates can be obtained from any deputy registrar's office or by calling 1-888-PLATES3. Ohioans can also contribute by checking the appropriate box for wildlife diversity efforts on their Ohio income tax return form.

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