AmeriScan: July 30, 2003

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Senate Rejects Fuel Economy Hike

WASHINGTON, DC, July 30, 2003 (ENS) - The Senate rejected a move to raise fuel economy standards Tuesday, deciding instead to order the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to make the decision after considering safety and economic impacts.

A provision to force cars and light trucks, which include minivans and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), to average 40 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2015 failed, with only 32 in favor and 65 against.

By a vote of 66 to 30, the Senate approved an amendment to the Senate energy bill that charges the NHTSA to first consider the impacts of new mileage requirements to the auto industry, U.S. jobs as well as vehicle size and safety before making a decision.

The plan reflects that setting fuel economy standards is complicated and should not be based on "politically set numbers," said Senator Christopher Bond, a Missouri Republican and cosponsor of the amendment.

"At the heart of this issue is safety and jobs," said Bond. "Quite frankly the proposed new fuel standards many of my colleagues were supporting would threaten both. Today's victory is good news for the American economy and the safety of our families."

Michigan Democrat Carl Levin cosponsored the amendment.

Critics of the current fuel economy standards believe that the technology exists to raise levels for both cars and light trucks to some 40 mpg without significant compromises to cost or safety.

The current corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard for cars is 27.5 mpg and 20.7 mpg for light trucks.

The Bush administration recently issued a final rule to increase CAFE standards for light trucks by 1.5 mpg over the next three years.

The administration - and many in the Senate - have been sympathetic to the views of U.S. automakers, who contend that mandated increases in fuel economy will cost them billions of dollars and will force them to compromise safety of these vehicles. U.S. automakers had discussed challenging the 1.5 mpg increase, but now appear willing to try and abide by it.

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Forest Service Excludes Some Small Timber Sales From Review

WASHINGTON, DC, July 30, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service added three categories of forest thinning projects to the list of agency actions subject to categorical exclusion from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

These categories are for "small, low-impact" timber sales, Bush administration officials said Tuesday, and the new policy will save the agency significant time and resources, including some four months of planning on each project.

The new rule applies to three new categories of management activity, the Forest Service says. First, it applies to low impact silvicultural treatments that allow the harvest of live trees up to 70 acres. The administration says this category does not allow for clear cuts.

The second category will be used for salvaging dead and dying trees on areas up to 250 acres and the third category will allow the harvest of live, dead or dying trees necessary to control insect and disease on areas up to 250 acres.

"These new categorical exclusions will save the Forest Service time, energy, and money in preparing small, routine timber harvest projects that contribute to healthy forests and healthy economies," said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. "Many of these projects are time sensitive and only have small windows of time in the year to conduct the work."

A categorical exclusion allows the agency to move forward with a project without first preparing an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement as required by NEPA.

Many conservationists believe the administration is using the fear of fire to expedite projects that will benefit the timber industry and do little to improve the health of the national forests.

None of the proposed categorical exclusions will allow more than one-half mile of temporary road construction, according to the Forest Service.

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Conservationists Sue Administration Over Forest Management

MISSOULA, Montana, July 30, 2003 (ENS) - Several conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the Bush administration Tuesday, challenging new regulations that they believe could eliminate the right of the American public to comment and appeal some Forest Service actions.

Prior to the new regulations, the Forest Service was required to provide public notice of an upcoming project and to take public comments on their plans. In addition, citizens could file administrative appeals within 45 days of a Forest Service decision.

Under the regulations finalized on June 4, 2003, top officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, can finalize projects on the determination of "an emergency situation" without public notice, comment or appeals.

In addition, for projects that the public may comment on, only individuals and organizations who "submit substantive written or oral comments" within the public comment period have a right to appeal projects.

Third, the new regulations exempt from public notice, comment and appeal all decisions for Forest Service actions that have been "categorically excluded" from environmental analysis pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

When these rules where announced in June, USDA Secretary Ann Veneman said they do not but "reduce the layers of unnecessary red tape and procedural delay that prevent agency experts from acting quickly."

These regulations, according to the plaintiffs, violate the Appeals Reform Act and illegally cut out the public from Forest Service decisions.

The lawsuit was filed by lawyers with the environmental law firm Earthjustice on behalf of The Wilderness Society, American Wildlands, and Pacific Rivers Council in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana.

"The administration's actions send a clear signal to ordinary Americans: Your comments do not count because we know best," said Bob Friemark, Pacific Northwest Regional Director for The Wilderness Society. "During the past six months this administration has proposed many, many regulation changes that eliminate or reduce public participation, while they have done nothing to make the Forest Service more accountable for its actions."

The groups note that one of the officials allowed to make decisions without notice, comment or appeals is the USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Mark Rey, who served as a lobbyist for the timber industry from 1976 to 1994.

"Under these new regulations, Mark Rey could meet with his timber industry friends to work out a timber sale on public lands, then finalize the decision so that the public would be denied any legal right to notice, comment, or appeal," said Doug Honnold, an Earthjustice attorney handling the case.

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NRC Reviewing Performance at Point Beach Nuclear Plant

TWO RIVERS, Wisconsin, July 30, 2003 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) this week began a special inspection to review performance at the Point Beach Nuclear Plant, a two reactor facility near Two Rivers, Wisconsin that is operated by Nuclear Management Company.

The inspection is the result of the finding by plant staff in November 2001 that the auxiliary cooling water system for the plant could fail to function under certain abnormal conditions.

The auxiliary feedwater system is used to safely shut down the reactor if problems occur during plant operations and to continue removing heat from the reactor after shutdown.

After evaluating preliminary inspection findings, the NRC staff in July 2002 issued its final determination that the potential failure was a "red finding," meaning it is of high importance to safety.

The facility's operator, the Nuclear Management Company, believed the problems should be treated as an old design issue and not as a broader concern that requires more extensive inspections.

But NRC inspectors have determined that the utility failed to implement thorough and complete corrective actions and therefore the situation did not meet criteria to qualify as an old design issue.

In addition, the NRC is investigating a preliminary "red finding" in regards to an incident in late October 2002, when plant operators found that one of the recirculation lines that ensure a continuous flow of water through the operating pump of the was partially clogged.

Although the NRC said the utility took adequate corrective action, it issued a preliminary red finding because it could lead to the failure of the auxiliary feedwater system.

Another aspect of the inspection stems from problems with the utility's emergency preparedness program to deal with possible emergencies at the plant.

According to the NRC, the special inspection will have three stages, each involving two weeks of onsite inspection. First, the agency will examine the plant's corrective action program - how the utility finds and corrects problems.

Second, it will address the emergency preparedness program - how the utility would respond to an emergency at the plant.

Third, NRC will compile a broad review of the plant's engineering, operations, and maintenance programs.

The inspection is expected to continue through September 2003.

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Tests of Farmed Salmon Raise PCB Concerns

WASHINGTON, DC, July 30, 2003 (ENS) - Farmed salmon are likely to be higher levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) than any other protein source in the current U.S. food supply, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported Tuesday.

An EWG study found that seven of 10 farmed salmon had PCB levels high enough to raise cancer-risk concerns, relative to health standards of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The group purchased the farmed salmon in Washington, DC, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.

The PCB levels found in the farmed salmon were on average 16 times higher than levels found in wild salmon.

Industry groups say the report is overblown and note that the PCB levels found are well below the limits set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for commercially sold fish.

But EWG says that the EPA standard, which was revised in 1999 and is applicable only to wild caught salmon, is 500 times more protective than the PCB limits applied by the FDA.

If farmed salmon with the average PCB level found in this study were caught in the wild, EPA advice would restrict consumption to no more than one meal a month, according to the EWG report.

The FDA has not updated its PCB health limit for commercial seafood since it was originally issued in 1984.

"FDA could not have predicted the rise of the farmed salmon industry when it set its PCB safety standard decades ago," said EWG Vice President for Research Jane Houlihan. "The industry's growth has been rapid and unexpected, but it is having a real public health consequence."

Salmon farming has made salmon the third most popular fish in the United States, comprising some 22 percent of all retail seafood counter sales.

PCBs were banned in the United States in the late 1970s and are among the "dirty dozen" chemical contaminants slated for global phase-out under the United Nations treaty on persistent organic pollutants. PCBs are highly persistent, and they have been linked to cancer and impaired fetal brain development.

Farmed salmon are fattened with ground fishmeal and fish oils that are high in PCBs, according to EWG.

"When Congress banned PCBs in 1976, no one contemplated that 20-odd years later we would have invented a new industry that re-concentrates these toxins in our bodies," said Houlihan.

EWG says more resources should to be given to the FDA so it can move quickly to conduct a study of PCB contamination in farmed salmon - and make all the results public. The group recommends that consumers choose wild instead of farmed salmon, and they should eat an eight-ounce serving of farmed salmon no more than once a month.

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Coast Guard Proposes New Ballast Water Management Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, July 30, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Coast Guard today proposed new measures to prevent and control the spread of invasive species in U.S. waters through ballast water discharges.

Ballast water is considered the most important aquatic pathway for invasive species, which are increasingly viewed as a global environmental problem with large and long-lasting ecological and economic impacts.

For example, some 145 aquatic invasive species have found a new home in the Great Lakes, and many inland states are now struggling with rising populations of invaders, such as the zebra mussel, which can crowd out native species and dominate aquatic ecosystems.

Under authority in the National Invasive Species Act of 1996, the Coast Guard has proposed a mandatory national ballast water management program for all vessels equipped with ballast water tanks that operate in U.S. waters and/or enter U.S. waters after operating beyond the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Vessels entering U.S. waters after operating beyond the EEZ would be required to employ at least one of the following ballast water management practices: perform complete ballast water exchange in an area no less than 200 nautical miles from any shore; retain ballast water onboard the vessel; use an alternative environmentally sound method of ballast water management that has been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard prior to the vessel entering U.S. waters,; or discharge ballast water to an approved reception facility.

The General Accounting Office, in recent testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said that current federal efforts are not adequate to prevent the introduction of invasive species via the ballast water of ships.

The current requirement that vessels carrying out an open ocean exchange of ballast water "does not effectively remove or kill all organisms in the tanks," and the Coast Guard does not even enforce this requirement strictly enough, said Barry Hill, director of Interior issues for the GAO's Office of Environment and Natural Resources.

The Coast Guard will accept comments on its proposal through October 28, 2003.

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PA, Army Corps to Clean Up Four Urban Rivers

WASHINGTON, DC, July 30, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today announced four pilot projects to promote cleanup and restoration for urban rivers. The $50,000 projects aim to clean up the Passaic River in New Jersey, the Gowanus Canal in New York, Fourche Creek in Arkansas, and City Creek in Utah.

The grants come from the EPA as part of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the agency and the Army Corps in 2002 to partner on restoration efforts of degraded urban rivers.

As part of this agreement, EPA and the Corps pledged to select eight demonstration pilot projects in fiscal year 2003 demonstrating how coordinated government and private sector efforts can not only restore contaminated rivers but also revitalize urban environments.

"These rivers are invaluable resources," said EPA's Acting Administrator Marianne Lamont Horinko, "and these grants will help revitalize them, improving environmental and public health protection, and bringing new life to the cities they nourish."

According to the EPA and the Army Corps, these projects were selected through a competitive process for their plans to emphasize partnerships among many organizations. In addition, the agencies say these projects promote collaboration within the watershed among businesses and the nonprofit community and advance pollution prevention, water quality improvements, restoration of wildlife habitat and promote reuse.

"These projects also will enhance the economic life along these rivers," said Maj. Gen. Robert Griffin, Acting Director of Civil Works, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "They are excellent examples of successful integration of Corps and EPA activities and they represent a win-win solution to moving forward on advancing the cleanup of these valuable water resources."

The EPA and the Corps selected the first round of four pilots in April 2003. Those four projects center on the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. and Maryland, the Elizabeth River in Virginia, the Blackstone-Woonasquatucket Rivers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and the Tres Rios River in Arizona.

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