AmeriScan: July 7, 2006

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U.S. Superfund Law Applies to Canadian Company, Court Rules

SPOKANE, Washington, July 7, 2006 (ENS) - The United States' Superfund law that governs cleanup of contaminated sites applies to Teck Cominco Metals of Canada, regardless of the fact that the pollution discharged by the company into Lake Roosevelt originated in Canada, an appellate court has ruled.

The decision was filed Monday in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle. The court upheld an earlier decision by Federal District Court Judge Alan McDonald regarding discharges of mining waste into the Columbia River from Teck Cominco's smelter in Trail, British Columbia.

Two members of the Colville Tribe filed the original lawsuit under the citizen-suit provision of the Superfund law, to force Teck Cominco to investigate and characterize the extent of the contamination in the Washington state's Lake Roosevelt, the large reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam.

The State of Washington intervened in the lawsuit because Governor Chris Gregoire and state environmental leaders believed that the company, not United States' taxpayers, should pay for the cleanup.

Cominco argued that the Superfund law does not apply to a Canadian company that discharged hazardous wastes from a Canadian facility, and appealed the District Court decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"This decision is great news for all Washingtonians," said Governor Gregoire. "The Columbia River is a lifeline of the Pacific Northwest and the taxpayers should not have to foot the cleanup bill for contamination by a private company."

"Teck Cominco and its predecessors used our state as a dumping ground for 90 years and they should pay for the cleanup," said Gregoire.

This decision has implications for any state that borders a foreign country. If a foreign company contaminates land within the United States, the state can rely on United States law to govern cleanup and liability, instead of having to rely on less certain diplomatic processes.

"We expect this decision will result in Teck Cominco moving forward to investigate and clean up the contamination in the river and sediments to state and federal cleanup standards," said Washington Department of Ecology Director Jay Manning.

"We need Lake Roosevelt beaches, shoreline areas and bottom sediments of Lake Roosevelt to be cleaned up to the standards necessary to protect both human health and the environment from the effects of heavy-metals pollution," Manning said.

In early June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Teck Cominco Metals, in Canada, entered into an unusual agreement by which the company agreed to complete an investigation of contamination and conduct an evaluation of cleanup options under EPA oversight. The agreement limited state and tribal ability to participate fully in the cleanup process.

Manning said, "We believe this decision will strengthen EPA's agreement with Cominco, which was executed as a private contract between the federal government and an international mining company."

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$400 Million Amphibian Survival Alliance Proposed

CORVALLIS, Oregon, July 7, 2006 (ENS) - Fifty of the world's amphibian researchers are calling for a new Amphibian Survival Alliance, a $400-million initiative to help reduce and prevent amphibian declines and extinctions. They call the disappearance of frog, toad and salamander species an ecological crisis of growing proportion that continues to worsen.

In a policy statement published today in the journal "Science," the scientists say that 32 percent of all amphibian species are threatened and at least nine – perhaps as many as 122 – have become extinct since 1980.

Traditional programs and current laws and policies alone are insufficient to address global threats that cross boundaries of reserves and nations, the scientists said in their report.

They say only a more organized and effective approach to address the various diseases, habitat loss, invading species and other issues will be effective.

"This is part of an overall biodiversity crisis, and amphibians seem to have been hit the hardest of all vertebrate species," said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University, a co-author of the policy statement and one of the pioneers in this field, who first helped document amphibian declines almost 20 years ago.

"These are bioindicators that something is wrong with the planet," he said. "But amphibians play a major role in many ecosystems; in some places the amphibian biomass is greater than that of all the other vertebrates. The long-term ecological repercussions of their decline could be profound, and we have to do something about it."

Programs of research, training, monitoring, salvage operations, disease management, captive breeding and other efforts are envisioned under the new initiative, which may include a global network of centers for amphibian recovery and protection.

Support from individuals, government agencies, foundations, and the conservation community will be sought, the researchers said in their report.

Amphibians have been around for more than 300 million years, thriving before the dinosaurs and living long after they and many other species had disappeared. Their dramatic decline and extinctions now has alarmed many researchers since it first became apparent in the past two decades.

"Amphibians have sensitive skin, they live in both land and water, have no protective hair or feathers, and their eggs have no hard outer shell," Blaustein said. "So it’s clear why they may be vulnerable on some levels. However, they persisted for hundreds of millions of years and just now are disappearing in many areas."

Some of the causes have been identified. Rising levels of ultraviolet radiation, increases in pollutants, pesticides, extensive habitat loss due to agriculture or urbanization, invasive species, and various fungal diseases have all been implicated.

"There are a lot of concerns, and we should work to address all of them, not just one," Blaustein said. "At first we need to focus our efforts on research so we have a better idea of what types of recovery programs will best work, and then we need active projects in the field."

Amphibian declines have been documented in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Several species in the Pacific Northwest are listed as candidates for the endangered species list. More than a dozen species have disappeared from Australia in recent years.

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10,000 EPA Scientists Protest Library Closures

WASHINGTON, DC, July 7, 2006 (ENS) - Representatives for 10,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists are asking Congress to stop the Bush administration from closing the agency’s network of technical research libraries.

The scientists, engineers and other technical specialists amount to more than half of the total EPA workforce. They contend that thousands of scientific studies are being put out of reach, hindering emergency preparedness, anti-pollution enforcement and long-term research, according to the letter released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The Washington, DC based organization represents employees of natural resources agencies across the United States.

In his proposed budget for FY 2007, President Bush deleted $2 million of support for EPA’s libraries, amounting to 80 percent of the agency’s total budget for libraries. Without waiting for Congress to act, EPA has begun closing libraries, shutting down access to collections and reassigning staff.

In their letter, the EPA scientists say the library closures are "one more example of the Bush administration’s effort to suppress information on environmental and public health-related topics."

"EPA library services are [now] greatly reduced or no longer available to the general public" in agency regional offices serving 19 states, the EPA scientists write.

The letter signed by presidents of 17 locals of four unions - the American Federation of Federal Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union, the National Association of Government Employees and the Engineers and Scientists of California - was sent to Congressional appropriators Tuesday.

They write that some 50,000 original research documents will become completely unavailable because they are not available electronically and the agency has no budget for digitizing them.

They scientists fear that the public and academic researchers may lose any access to EPA library materials as services to the public are being cut and there are no plans to maintain the inter-library loan process.

EPA internal studies show that providing full library access saves an estimated 214,000 hours in professional staff time worth some $7.5 million annually, an amount far larger than the total agency library budget of $2.5 million.

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Vessel Speed Limit Proposed to Protect North Atlantic Right Whales

WASHINGTON, DC, July 7, 2006 (ENS) - NOAA Fisheries Service has proposed vessel speed restrictions along the U.S. east coast to reduce the risk of collisions between North Atlantic right whales and ocean-going vessels.

The proposed rule is the first time speed restrictions have been recommended in the agency’s long-standing efforts to recover right whales.

With only an estimated 300 North Atlantic right whales reamining, this critically endangered species is highly vulnerable to ship collisions.

"Reducing serious injuries and deaths among right whales due to ship collisions will allow more of these rare animals to reach maturity and to reproduce. That's a key factor for recovery," said Bill Hogarth, NOAA Fisheries Service director. "We believe the measures proposed here will make U.S. east coast waters safer for right whales."

The rule proposes a speed restriction of 10 knots or less during certain times in each of three major regions along the U.S. east coast (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast).

These proposed measures are adapted to right whale seasonal occurrence in each area, as well as commercial ship traffic patterns and navigational concerns. Speed restrictions would apply to vessels that are 65 feet in length or greater, except federal agency vessels.

The rule also proposes a speed restriction to protect whales that appear in times and places when these seasonal measures are not in effect, through "dynamic management."

These proposed regulations are part of the Agency’s larger Ship Strike Reduction Strategy, which recommends continuing existing protective actions, such as a system of aircraft surveys and mandatory ship reporting systems that provide advisories and information on right whale locations to mariners.

The Strategy calls for developing a conservation agreement with Canada, consulting under the Endangered Species Act with federal agencies on operations of their ships, and an expanded outreach and education program.

In addition, NOAA Fisheries Service and National Ocean Service developed a proposal to modify key shipping routes into Boston. The proposal, submitted to the International Maritime Organization in April, by the U.S. Coast Guard on behalf of the United States, is expected to have a significant reduction of risks to right whales from ships.

The North Atlantic right whale lives in coastal or shelf waters. Its range includes winter calving and nursery areas in coastal waters off the southeastern United States, and summer feeding grounds in New England waters and north to the Bay of Fundy and Scotian Shelf.

Depleted by commercial whaling, North Atlantic right whales suffer injury and death from ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

Written comments on the proposed regulations published today must be sent to NOAA Fisheries Service no later than August 25, 2006.

Send public comments to: Chief, Marine Mammal Conservation Division, Attn: Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Strategy, Office of Protected Resources, NOAA Fisheries, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, Md. 20910. Comments may also be sent via email to: shipstrike.comments@noaa.gov or to the federal rulemaking portal: http://www.regulations.gov (follow instructions for submitting comments).

A copy of the proposed rule can be found at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike/

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Oil Pollution Fines Handed to Puget Sound Restoration Groups

SEATTLE, Washington, July 7, 2006 (ENS) - Fourteen projects to restore Puget Sound, Hood Canal and associated marine waters will move ahead this summer with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Puget Sound Marine Conservation Fund.

The Fund was established last year as part of the settlement of a criminal case with Evergreen International Shipping Line.

Announcing the successful grant recipients on Wednesday, John McKay, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, was joined by Jay Manning, director of the Washington State Department of Ecology.

"These grants will help in ways large and small to improve the health of Puget Sound," said McKay. "It is appropriate that as part of the punishment imposed criminal defendants in cases such as this contribute to restoring, preserving and protecting the community’s waterways."

The successful projects to be funded were chosen from 121 pre-proposals and 28 full proposals submitted to a screening committee comprised of representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The $1.7 million in grants will be enhanced with nearly $1.3 million in matching contributions.

Among the projects being funded are restoration of the salt marsh and intertidal habitats in the Nisqually Delta, Dungeness River Estuary, and the Qwuloolt Estuary in Marysville.

One grant will pay for the removal of a creosote lumber bulkhead on Protection Island, a prime seabird and marine mammal breeding area near Port Townsend.

Grant money will also pay for the removal of derelict fishing gear from the Northwest Straits. There is funding for teacher training about marine conservation, expansion of the Whale Sighting Network and Soundwatch Boater Education program.

"Because Puget Sound and Hood Canal are so beautiful, a lot of people think they are healthy, but we have growing evidence that they are in trouble from pollution and loss of critical fish and wildlife habitat, said Ecology Director Jay Manning. "These projects will help to reverse the loss of critical habitat on our shorelines and in our estuaries."

In April 2005, Taiwan based Evergreen International S.A. pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to 24 felony counts brought in Seattle, Washington; Los Angeles, California; Newark, New Jersey; Portland, Oregon; and Charleston, South Carolina.

The charges included concealing the deliberate, illegal discharge of waste oil. The company also pleaded guilty to a negligent discharge of waste oil in the Columbia River in March 2001.

The Coast Guard investigation began in 2001, after the discovery of 500 gallons of oil in the Columbia River near Kalama, Washington.

Inspectors with the Coast Guard and Ecology discovered an Evergreen ship was using a removable bypass or "magic pipe" to dump oil waste into the water. Similar pipes were found on seven other Evergreen ships.

Following the guilty plea, the company was ordered to pay $25 million in monetary penalties, of which $10 million was to be paid as community service, the largest amount ever paid in a case involving deliberate vessel pollution. The Puget Sound Marine Conservation Fund was established with Western Washington’s share of the $10 million split among the five districts for environmental community service projects.

A complete listing of the projects being funded through this first round of grants is online here.

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Hilton Foundation Grants $13 Million to Water Development in Africa

LOS ANGELES, California, July 7, 2006 (ENS) - The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has awarded grants of $13 million to six nongovernmental organizations that are leaders in delivering clean drinking water and sanitation systems in Africa.

Coupled with previous Hilton Foundation-funded water projects, the new programs are expected to deliver potable water to nearly 1.6 million people over the next five years.

The grants also expand water development to Ethiopia, an area of critical need in East Africa, while filling gaps in the Hilton Foundation’s current projects in three West African countries.

"Water is life and today 1.2 billion people lack this basic necessity," said Steven Hilton, president and CEO of the Hilton Foundation. "Every 15 seconds a child dies from a preventable, water-related disease and 80 percent of all illness in the developing world stems from contaminated water and poor sanitation. That’s why our foundation has made supplying potable water to developing countries a major priority."

The majority of the new Hilton grants, $7.2 million, will go to the Millennium Water Program, a consortium of the Millennium Water Alliance - World Vision, CARE, Living Water International and WaterAid. The Millennium Water Alliance will serve as secretariat for this initiative.

"By partnering we can share technical expertise and equipment, learn from each other, and have a wider impact and influence on the lives of poor people than working independently," said Peter Lochery, director of the CARE Water Team and vice chairman of the Millennium Water Alliance.

A separate additional grant of $5.2 million to the World Vision Ethiopia Water and Sanitation Program will cover seven districts in Ethiopia where World Vision is actively working on a Hilton Foundation-funded trachoma control program.

"We have collaborated with the Hilton Foundation for more than 15 years on West Africa water projects and we welcome its partnership in Ethiopia where the need is imperative," said Richard Stearns, president of World Vision.

"Ethiopia’s compelling need for clean water and sanitation has been on our radar since 2001," said Hilton. "Here is a country with 73 million people, the third largest population in Africa, where only 11 percent of the rural population has access to safe water and only four percent has access to sanitation."

Based in Los Angeles, the Hilton Foundation was created in 1944 by the late hotel entrepreneur and business leader, Conrad N. Hilton, who left his fortune to the foundation with instructions to help the most disadvantaged and vulnerable throughout the world without regard to religion, ethnicity or geography.

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Corn Growers Join Willie Nelson for Biodiesel Plant Opening

HILLSBORO, Texas, July 7, 2006 (ENS) - Singer, songwriter and family farm advocate Willie Nelson opened a new biodiesel production plant at Carl’s Corner Truck Stop in Hillsboro on July 3, the day before Independence Day. The plant, owned by Pacific Biodeisel Texas, LP, will provide renewable biodiesel directly to the trucking industry at the retail fuel distributor’s location on Interstate 35.

The rise of biodiesel, helped along by Nelson's advocacy of the cleaner burning fuel, is good news for American corn growers. Larry Mitchell, chief executive of the American Corn Growers Association, joined Nelson at the opening of the new production facility.

"On this day before our nation celebrates its independence, this historic move by our long time friend Willie Nelson links the past of this region of Texas with its future and moves America towards greater independence," said Mitchell.

The American Corn Growers Association works to expand the understanding, acceptance and expansion of many renewable energy sources such as biodiesel, ethanol, wind generated electricity, biomass and solar power.

In October 2004 Nelson started selling a B20 Biodiesel blend - 20 percent biodiesel, 80 percent diesel - from a truck stop, just south of Dallas, Texas. He then partnered with Carl Cornelius and Distribution Drive to make the B20 biodiesel blend available at the Carl's Corner truck stop, just north of Hillsboro on highway I-35, between Dallas and Waco.

Pacific Biodiesel, which built the production plant at Carl's Corner, and will operate it, was born in 1996 on Maui as the answer to concerns over potential environmental and health problems resulting from restaurant grease clogging the Central Maui Landfill.

Robert King, owner of King Diesel on Maui, who was contracted to maintain the generators at the Landfill, decided to make biodiesel fuel out of the restaurant grease. The small scale, economically feasible Maui operation was recognized by biodiesel authorities nationwide as one of the first commercially viable biodiesel plants in the United States.

In 2000 Pacific Biodiesel built a biofuel plant in Honolulu and has since built plants around the world.

Part-time Maui residents Willie and Annie Nelson began using biodiesel produced by Pacific Biodiesel in their cars about three years ago, which sparked their interest in promoting the fuel to truckers.

Willie Nelson says biodiesel helps farmers by giving them added income, helps truckers to burn cleaner fuel and helps the environment.

Mitchell says biofuels can be produced across the United States. "We have to realize that we must reverse the pendulum that has swung so far to a fossil fuel economy and back it up just a bit to a bio-fuel and renewable-fuel economy. Our farms can once again be an essential component to our nation’s energy needs."

"Biodiesel and ethanol can be made from soybeans, corn and other surplus grains," Mitchell said. "These same fuels can also be made from many other feed-stocks and they do not have to be just a soy, corn based, Midwestern industry. There is biomass in every state of the union and renewable fuels should be produced in every state."

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