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AmeriScan: July 8, 2005

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EPA Rejects Petition to Strengthen Smog Regulations

WASHINGTON, DC, July 8, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rejected a petition filed by public health and conservation groups urging the agency to restore stronger anti-smog limits in some of the nation’s most polluted cities.

The groups filed the petition in response to an EPA rule adopted last year to implement the new 8-hour standard for ground level ozone, or smog.

Although the new standard is supposed to be stronger than the prior standard, EPA’s rule permits states to relax important pollution limits that applied under the old standard. In some cities, the rule could allow pollution increases of hundreds or even thousands of tons over levels previously permitted.

Earthjustice petitioned EPA to reverse this weakening provision on behalf of American Lung Association, Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Clean Air Task Force, Conservation Law Foundation, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Last Friday EPA rejected that petition.

Under the Clean Air Act, large factories that plan to locate or increase their emissions in cities violating clean air standards must meet protective New Source Review (NSR) requirements.

Among other things, a factory subject to NSR must ensure that its pollution increases will be more than offset by pollution reductions from other sources in the area. To meet the offset requirement, a factory might need to pay for additional pollution controls at other sources.

The rule just reaffirmed by EPA allows many new factories to escape these requirements under the new standard.

“This EPA action is a field day for new polluters,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “They’re allowing more pollution in cities where the air is already unhealthy to breathe. That’s grossly irresponsible, and in our view illegal.”

Cities facing the potential for increased pollution under EPA’s action include Chicago, Houston, Milwaukee, New York, Atlanta, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Washington, Beaumont-Port Arthur, Boston, Dallas, Providence, and the entire San Joaquin Valley in California.

Smog is often associated with asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, and other respiratory illness. Higher smog levels in a region are frequently accompanied by increased hospitalization and emergency room visits for respiratory disorders. Hundreds of counties across the country currently have unhealthful levels of smog, which limits outdoor activities, increases hospitalizations, and puts millions of Americans at risk for respiratory problems.

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Polluters Will Pay $50 Million to Clean Maryland Superfund Site

BALTIMORE, Maryland, July 8, 2005 (ENS) - The federal district court in Baltimore has approved a consent decree settling the government’s claims against 40 companies responsible for contamination of the Maryland Sand, Gravel and Stone Superfund Site in Elkton, Maryland.

The consent decree, filed on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), by the Justice Department requires the settling defendants to complete the cleanup. The EPA has been supervising a cleanup effort that began in 1984, and will take several more years to complete.

The total cleanup costs may exceed $50 million. The consent decree announced today involves the third and final phase of the cleanup, which will cost an estimated $23.5 million.

This 150 acre site is the location of a former sand and gravel quarry owned by the Maryland Sand, Gravel & Stone Co. From 1969 to 1974, the site was used for the disposal of industrial waste, including waste processing water, sludge, and hazardous waste drums.

After a chemical waste fire at the site in 1974, about 200,000 gallons of liquid waste were taken to an off-site landfill, and the remaining drums and sludge were buried in on-site excavation pits.

The hazardous waste disposal at the Maryland Sand Site resulted in high levels of several contaminants benzene, chlorobenzene, 1,4-dioxane, 1,1,1-trichloroethane and vinyl chloride – in the site’s soil and ground water.

In 1984 the site was added to EPA’s Superfund list of the nation’s most contaminated sites. Past cleanup activities at the site have cost $20.7 million.

Forty potentially responsible parties entered into a consent decree with the United States in 1988, agreeing to conduct the first phase of the EPA-approved cleanup plan which involved the removal of about 1,200 buried drums and construction of a pump and treat cleanup system for shallow contaminated ground water.

A 1992 consent decree amendment required the parties to complete the second phase of the cleanup, addressing monitoring and treatment of deeper groundwater.

The final phase of the cleanup includes excavating and treating contaminated soil, backfilling treated soil, and expanding the groundwater pump and treat system. This phase also includes adding substances, such as molasses or oxygen, to the groundwater to facilitate the breakdown of hazardous substances by microbes.

As part of the EPA approved cleanup plan, the settling defendants will address 1,4-dioxane contamination of groundwater and soil, which may cost an additional $7 million.

Under the Superfund law, landowners, waste generators and waste transporters that are responsible for the contamination of a Superfund site must either clean up the site, or reimburse the government or other parties for cleanup costs.

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Smart Growth Help Awarded to Five Communities

WASHINGTON, DC, July 8, 2005 (ENS) - Five communities in Maryland, New Mexico, Wyoming, Rhode Island and Idaho have been chosen to receive assistance from a team of private sector national experts in planning for future growth. The locations include cities, inner suburbs and small towns.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will direct ICF Consulting to organize multi-disciplinary teams to provide the communities with tools and resources to find innovative ways of sustaining environmentally sensitive growth and economic progress.

The five communities were selected from 56 communities from 28 states that applied for the EPA's first Smart Growth Implementation Assistance Request for Applications this spring. The agency says it is receiving a growing number of requests for technical assistance in planning for future growth.

The communities chosen for Smart Growth assistance are:

  • College Park, Maryland: The City of College Park is looking to revitalize Route 1 which is both the city's main street and a state highwayinto a vibrant, mixed-use area with new pedestrian-oriented, infill development. With EPA's assistance, the city will conduct a workshop to bring together citizens, businesses, developers, civic groups, and others to create a vision for environmentally-friendly development in the corridor and a consensus plan.

  • Taos, New Mexico: This town of 4,700 people is seeking assistance to obtain community input on design and development issues along the 3.3-mile Paseo del Pueblo Sur (State Highway 68) corridor. With the community input and the team's assistance, Taos will create plans, policies, and codes to foster development in the corridor that reflects the unique character of Taos, stimulates economic development, and improves environmental quality.

  • Cheyenne, Wyoming: The citizens of Cheyenne have been working with local government officials to create a plan for growth that will protect environmental resources, encourage more development in existing neighborhoods, and create new development that is walkable and provides housing choices and options. The city is seeking the team's assistance to analyze existing policies, codes, and administrative processes to determine if they are meeting the community's goals as stated in the plan.

  • Aquidneck Island, Rhode Island: The island's planning commission and municipalities, along with the Navy, recently completed a redevelopment master plan that aims to protect environmental quality by preserving natural ecosystems and promoting growth in established centers. The Aquidneck Island Planning Commission is seeking assistance to confirm that the plan's goals are aligned with municipal codes and ordinances so that the communities can carry out their vision for the island.

  • McCall, Idaho: A town of just over 2,000 people, McCall and its residents have crafted a comprehensive plan designed to protect environmental resources and encourage redevelopment in the city limits. In response to a new "East-West Loop Road" opening this summer, the town is looking for assistance to gather public input on proposals to encourage growth into three village centers along the roadway, as well as identify code and design changes to achieve the desired development.
Besides offering future rounds of assistance under this program, EPA will continue to offer informal help to community leaders when requested, speak at community events when possible and appropriate, make its research and publications widely available, and offer grants both to communities for technical assistance and to organizations for research and publications that will help improve development practices.

For more information, see: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/sgia.htm

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New Environmental Health Research Director Seeks Public Input

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina, July 8, 2005 (ENS) - The new director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) says members of the public, including all scientists, should help direct the future of research on how the environment influences human health.

Within a week of assuming his new role as the director of NIEHS, Dr. David Schwartz announced plans to involve researchers and the community in a strategic planning process.

The NIEHS, an environmental health research arm of the National Institutes of Health, will use information obtained to determine the most effective ways to study environmental toxins and human health.

"Almost every complex disease, from diabetes, to obesity and heart disease, to many cancers, is, in part, caused by exposures from the environment," said Dr. Schwartz.

"NIEHS is uniquely poised to improve the health of this nation. We are not limited by any one organ, system or disease we can use the breadth of our knowledge on environmental exposures to understand and intervene in the disease process. We can use science to reduce morbidity, extend longevity and improve an individual's quality of life."

The strategy is expected to focus on four elements: basic research, human health and disease, global environmental health, and training.

"Having these four areas serve as our backbone will allow us to strategically focus on funding the best science that will have the greatest impact on human health," said Dr. Schwartz. "Having a transparent, inclusive and candid process will allow us to work together to identify new opportunities, establish research priorities, determine the best ways to translate our findings to the field and the public."

To officially kick off the strategic planning process, the Institute posted a notice in the Federal Register inviting participation. "This will ensure that not only researchers, but members of the public, and those from other disciplines who may not be as familiar with NIEHS, are aware of the priority setting process, and are provided with an opportunity to provide input," Schwartz said.

A new page on the NIEHS website offers easy access to people who would like to provide input.

Initially, the Institute is especially interested in responses to six critical questions:

  1. What are the disease processes and public health concerns that are relevant to environmental health sciences?
  2. How can environmental health sciences be used to understand how biological systems work, why some individuals are more susceptible to disease, or why individuals with the same disease may have very different clinical outcomes?
  3. What are the major opportunities and challenges in global environmental health?
  4. What are the environmental exposures that need further consideration?
  5. What are the critical needs for training the next generation of scientists in environmental health?
  6. What technology and infrastructural changes are needed to fundamentally advance environmental health science?
Responses to these questions will be compiled and will be used by a Strategic Planning Group, which will include members of the NIEHS Advisory Council, to develop a brief document outlining the Institute's goals over the next five years.

The NIEHS is also soliciting nominations for the planning group. A draft document is expected to be available for public comment this fall.

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Citizens Asked to Comment on Gulf of Mexico Protection Plan

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, July 8, 2005 (ENS) - Florida residents are invited to review the priorities drafted by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance as part of an action plan for restoration and are encouraged to offer their feedback.

Senior environmental officials from the White House, seven cabinet agencies and five neighboring states gathered at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve last month to agreed on a plan to strengthen protection for the Gulf of Mexico.

Hosted by Florida, the five Gulf states and the federal government began outlining a shared ecosystem approach for improving the health of the more than 3.7 billion acres of Gulf water through coordinated coastal research, ocean education and water quality safeguards.

Last spring Florida Governor Jeb Bush asked the five Gulf governors to join him in a state-federal alliance to restore, protect and improve the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The draft plan centers on, improving and protecting water quality; restoring coastal wetlands and estuarine ecosystems; reducing pollution and nutrient loading; identifying and characterizing Gulf habitats to support coastal management; and expanding environmental education to improve stewardship.

“Our marine resources are the foundation for Florida’s quality of life and ocean-based economy,” said DEP Secretary Colleen Castille. “Florida is committed to working with our government partners and the residents of all five Gulf states to establish a comprehensive framework for the long-term protection of the Gulf of Mexico.”

The multi-agency partnership is inviting input from residents, businesses, scientists and interest groups for the next month for inclusion in a formal action plan. Each bordering state is also hosting a round of stakeholder meetings to solicit public input on how best to preserve the Gulf’s health.

The Alliance priorities detailed in five white papers are available for review online. The website includes links to each white paper along with a comment form to submit feedback on water quality, coastal wetlands, nutrient loading, Gulf habitats and environmental education.

For more information on the Gulf of Mexico Alliance or to submit comments, visit: www.gulfofmexicoalliance.org

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Mayors Gather for Sundance Summit on Global Warming

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, July 8, 2005 (ENS) - Sunday through Tuesday, some 40 mayors from cities large and small across the United States will gather in Salt Lake City for the Sundance Summit where they will work on ways to curb global warming.

Hosted by actor Robert Redford, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), the Sundance Summit was conceived to capitalize on the influence and leadership of mayors to impact global warming.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to exchange ideas with other cities and policy makers that have, like Boulder, taken a leadership role in addressing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change,” said Mayor Mark Ruzzin of Boulder, Colorado. “I look forward to representing Boulder at the summit, and to bringing back home tools and information that will help our community meet its emission reduction goals.”

Speakers include former Vice President Al Gore, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who served as Energy Secretary in the Clinton administration, and Jean Michel Cousteau of the Ocean Futures Society.

Mayor John Hickenlooper of Denver, Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle, and Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago are among the attending mayors. Each of them has made efforts over the past few years to limit the emission of greenhouse gases responsible for climate warming.

Some attendees will not be U.S. mayors, but heads of other governments who wish to benefit. Bob Gough, Intertribal Council on Utility Policy will be there as will Vancouver, British Columbia Deputy Mayor David Cadman.

At the summit, local government executives will be encouraged to use alternative fuels and take other measures to save money and reduce unfriendly emissions. In Salt Lake City, for instance, a switch to energy-saving bulbs in city facilities has resulted in savings, which the city used to purchase clean wind power.

“Another important element of the summit will be the opportunity to network with and strengthen the coalition of cities across the country that are taking seriously the threat of climate change,” said Ruzzin. “I am convinced that over time these efforts will move the national dialogue forward on climate change and help the United States catch up with the rest of the world.”

ICLEI has worked for over a decade with more than 600 cities, world wide, through their Cities for Climate Protection Campaign (CCP). In 2004, in the U.S. alone, 147 CCP cities collectively reduced heat trapping gas emissions by 23 million tons and realized cost savings of over $600 million.

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Sustainable Agriculture Chair Endowed at University of California

DAVIS, California, July 8, 2005 (ENS) - The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has made a gift of $1.5 million to establish an endowed chair to support the new Agricultural Sustainability Institute at the University of California-Davis.

The gift will fund the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems within the institute.

The foundation also has provided a $95,000 grant to help the institute initiate and host an annual symposium series for the nation's academic leaders in the areas of the sustainability of agriculture and food systems.

"We are pleased that the Kellogg Foundation shares our vision for establishing UC Davis as an international hub for research and training in sustainable agriculture," said Neal Van Alfen, dean of UC Davis' College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"These two gifts will enable us to bring in top quality leadership to guide the institute and hold annual meetings with experts in this field so that they are better equipped to advise policymakers, agriculturists, foundation leaders and community advocates."

The institute, established just this year, is now under the leadership of Interim Director Cal Qualset, a professor emeritus of agronomy and range science, and former director of the Genetic Resources Conservation Program at UC Davis.

"The time is ripe for the formation of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute," Qualset said. "Consumers want to buy healthful foods, producers are committed to protecting natural resources and university researchers are keenly interested in the serious science behind the concept of sustainable agriculture."

The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has a 20 year history of furthering agricultural sustainability, a concept that stresses environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.

The institute will work with the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and with the California Food and Fiber Future (CF3) Project, an educational partnership currently funded through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Food and Society Initiative at UC Davis.

It will be associated with the California Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program, a collaborative effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the California Department of Social Services and the University of California to improve the diet and nutrition skills of food stamp recipients and their families.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was established in 1930 by cereal manufacturer Will Keith Kellogg "to help people help themselves through the practical application of knowledge and resources to improve their quality of life and that of future generations."

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