AmeriScan: July 15, 2006

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Thousands of Weary Firefighters Combat California Blaze

SAN BERNARDINO, California, July 15, 2006 (ENS) - At least 2,900 firefighters are battling a giant 60,000 acre fire in central California near the Western movie town of Pioneertown.

One person is dead as a result of the blaze, and 10 people are reported injured. The body of Pioneertown resident Jerry Guthrie was found about a mile from his home. The San Bernardino County's coroner is investigating the death, said National Park Service spokeswoman Jan Lemons.

Sparked by lightning on July 9, the Sawtooth Complex spread quickly in dry chapparal and merged Friday with the Millard Complex to form one perimeter east of Yucca Valley.

The Millard Complex is burning in rugged terrain in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. It is currently estimated at 15,572 acres. As the fires progress toward the west and northwest they will be managed as the Heart Incident, which is focusing on protection of the Big Bear community.

Fire officials said today the fires have reached the upper reaches of the terrain and have slowed down. They estimate the fire complex to be about 50 percent contained.

Extreme heat, low humidity and erratic winds continue in the fire area. The fire has now burned into a portion of the San Bernardino Nationall Forest, and extremely steep rocky terrain is making access difficult as the fire moves west.

To date 50 homes have been destroyed along with eight mobile homes, 13 garages, 171 outbuildings, 191 cars and pick up trucks, three RVs, 27 trailers, two railcars, and nine tractors.

More than 3,000 structures continue to be threatened in the fire area.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger Thursday declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County due to the fires, which have cost an estimated $10.3 million to fight so far.

Mandatory evacuation remains in place for Burns Canyon, and voluntary evacuations are taking place in areas south of Highway 38 from Little Cienaga Seca to the end of Rainbow Lane. This is a remote, rugged area approximately 10 miles East of the Barton Flats Campground.

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First Six Months of 2006 Warmest on Record

ASHEVILLE, North Carolina, July 15, 2006 (ENS) - The average temperature for the continental United States from January through June 2006 was the warmest first half of any year since records began in 1895, according to scientists at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center in Asheville.

Last month was the second warmest June on record, and nationally averaged precipitation was below average across the United States.

The continuation of below normal precipitation in certain regions and much warmer than average temperatures expanded moderate to extreme drought conditions in the Lower 48 states.

Still, much of the Northeast experienced severe flooding and record rainfall during the last week of June.

The global surface temperature was second warmest on record for June.

The average January-June temperature for the contiguous United States was 51.8 degrees F (11.0 degrees C), or 3.4 degrees F (1.8 degrees C) above the 20th century average.

Five states - Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri - experienced record warmth for the period. No state was near or cooler than average.

In the West, 11 states were much warmer than average. Only five states - Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and South Carolina - were cooler than normal for the month.

The average precipitation for June 2006 across the continental U.S. was 0.3 inches (8 mm) below the 20th century average.

Additionally, from January through June, warm, dry conditions spawned more than 50,000 wildfires, burning more than 3,000,000 acres in the contiguous U.S. and Alaska, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Globally, it was the second warmest June on record for global land and ocean surface temperatures since records began in 1880 (1.08 degrees F/0.60 degrees C above the 20th century mean) and the sixth warmest year to date.

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Top 10 List of Local Government Green Power Partners

WASHINGTON, DC, July 15, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its first national Top 10 Local Government Partners list highlighting the largest renewable energy purchases made by municipal and local government entities currently in the Green Power Partnership. The Top 10 list reflects Partner purchase information through June 26, 2006.

Topping the list is the City of San Diego, California, followed in second place by the Austin Independent School District in Texas.

Rounding out the top six local government purchasers of green power are Montgomery County Wind Buyers Group in Maryland, East Bay Municipal Utility District’s Main WWT Plant in California, the Round Rock Independent School District in Texas, and the City of Portland, Oregon.

Combined, the green power purchases of these Top 10 Local Government Partners amounts to over 283 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power annually. This is enough renewable energy to power 26,000 average U.S. homes per year or is equivalent to removing the emissions of nearly 35,000 cars annually.

The Top 10 Local Government Green Power Partners, listed in descending order of purchase size, are:

  1. City of San Diego (Calif.) 65,400,000 kWh
  2. Austin Independent School District (Texas) 48,827,000 kWh
  3. Montgomery County Wind Buyers Group (Md.) 40,845,139 kWh
  4. New York State Municipal Wind Buyers Group 31,584,167 kWh
  5. East Bay Municipal Utility District / Main WWT Plant (Calif.) 26,000,000 kWh
  6. Round Rock Independent School District (Texas) 18,000,000 kWh
  7. City of Portland (Ore.) 17,602,000 kWh
  8. City of Boston (Mass.) 17,300,000 kWh
  9. Rochester City School District (NY) 8,920,000 kWh
  10. Inland Empire Utilities Agency (Calif.) 8,643,000 kWh
EPA’s Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program helping to increase the use of green power among leading U.S. organizations. The program encourages organizations to purchase green power as a way to reduce the risk of climate change and the environmental impacts associated with conventional electricity use.

Currently, the Green Power Partnership has more than 600 Partners voluntarily purchasing over 5.3 billion kWh of green power. Partners include Fortune 500 companies, local, state, and federal governments, trade associations, as well as colleges and universities.

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Southern California Water District Votes Yes on $9.5 Billion in Bonds

LOS ANGELES, California, July 15, 2006 (ENS) - Joining other California water, environmental, business and elected leaders in support of two water-related bonds on the November 2006 ballot, the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has endorsed Propositions 1E and 84. If both bond measures are approved, they would provide a total of $9.5 billion for water quality and control in the state.

The Metropolitan Water District is a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies serving 18 million people in six counties. The district imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies, and helps its members to develop increased water conservation, recycling, storage and other resource management programs.

Proposition 1E is part of the $37 billion infrastructure package approved by the California Legislature in May. The proposed bond measure would provide $4.1 billion for levee repair and flood control programs to shore up the state's deteriorating levee system in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

If approved by voters, Proposition 84 - the "Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Act of 2006" - would provide $5.4 billion for a wide range of water - and resource-related programs and projects throughout the state.

"Together, these proposed measures will build on the critical work initiated under previous bond initiatives, including Propositions 204, 13 and 50," said Metropolitan General Manager Jeff Kightlinger on Tuesday immediately after the Board's vote to approve the proposed bonds.

"They offer a comprehensive, broad-based approach to address critical issues of public concern, including water quality, supply reliability, levee stability and strengthened flood protection," Kightlinger said. "The measures also will allow us to protect our coastline, conserve our forests, wildlife, rivers, lakes and streams, and invest in our parks."

In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in February declared a state of emergency for California's aging and deteriorating levee system. He ordered that the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) develop a plan to begin immediate repairs to prevent catastrophic flooding and loss of life in the event of a levee disaster in the delta.

Studies have concluded a major levee failure in the delta could disrupt water supplies for much of California and potentially cause up to $40 billion in economic losses statewide.

The DWR has identified 50 levee erosion sites, 29 of which are deemed critical, primarily along the Sacramento River. The delta is a primary source of drinking water for Metropolitan and 18 million Southern Californians.

Of the funding provided by Proposition 1E, $3 billion would go toward the delta and levee system that feed into the state and federal water projects. The remaining $1.09 billion includes $500 million for local flood control projects, $300 million for storm water flood management, and $290 million for alluvial floodplain and bypass projects.

Proposition 84, which qualified for the ballot through a voter initiative process, would make $2.71 billion available for water management projects, including $800 million for levee and flood protection, and $2.67 billion for resource and conservation programs.

Proposition 84 funding includes $525 million for safe drinking water and water quality projects; $445 for forest and wildlife conservation; $400 million for beaches, bays and coastal waters; $360 for coastal watershed protection; $400 million for state parks and nature education facilities; and $41 million for Colorado River canal-lining projects.

In addition, the DWR would oversee $1 billion in competitive grants for integrated regional water management projects within defined hydrologic regions. Another $100 million in grants would be provided to projects that cross over regional boundaries.

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Allegheny Energy to Scrub Hatfield's Ferry Power Plant Emissions

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, July 15, 2006 (ENS) - Allegheny Energy, Inc. Thursday announced plans to install flue gas desulfurization equipment, or scrubbers, at its coal-fired Hatfield's Ferry Power Station, near Masontown, Pennsylvania. The project will reduce the plant's sulfur dioxide emissions by approximately 95 percent, or 145,000 tons per year, and significantly lower mercury emissions at the facility.

The announcement resulted from a legal settlement the company reached with Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture) and the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) to halt air pollution violations at the Hatfield's Ferry plant.

The agreement calls for immediate action to reduce soot pollution and long-term reductions that will result from the installation of scrubbers. Because the Hatfield's Ferry plant is one of the largest sources of particulate pollution in the state and the nation's fourth largest source of dangerous sulfur dioxide pollution, this one agreement will mean 200 fewer premature deaths and savings of $1.2 billion in health care costs annually, Penn Future said.

"I am absolutely thrilled that this is the last summer when I have to keep my grandchildren inside to protect their lungs from this dangerous soot," said Charlotte O'Rourke, local resident and plaintiff in the PennFuture case. "Before the lawsuit, this plant polluted the air with soot six out of seven days, making life unbearable. I was reluctant to sue, but now I am glad that my neighbors and friends will finally have relief."

"This is a great result, and EIP was proud to work with PennFuture and Charlotte O'Rourke to help make it happen," said EIP Director Eric Schaeffer. "Allegheny's willingness to make a big investment in scrubbing this plant was the key to resolving our lawsuit."

Allegheny estimates that the cost of the project is approximately $550 million, which includes converting all three generating units from forced draft to balanced draft operation to improve plant reliability. The expected completion date is 2009.

"Installing scrubbers at Hatfield is a major step in meeting our commitment to environmental stewardship," said Paul Evanson, chairman, president and CEO of Allegheny Energy.

"With our financial turnaround largely complete, we are now moving aggressively to improve our environmental performance. We will have scrubbers on all of our supercritical coal-fired units by 2009, giving Allegheny one of the cleanest coal fleets in the nation," said Evanson. "Environmental stewardship is one of the company's top priorities."

"This agreement will not only improve the health of local families, it will also make the area much more attractive to new residents and industries," said Charles McPhedran, senior attorney for PennFuture. "The clean-up will also mean new local jobs, as workers install and operate the modern pollution controls. PennFuture is proud that our work will make such a positive difference in the lives of the local residents."

The company also will install scrubbers at its Fort Martin Power Station near Maidsville, West Virginia. The project will remove approximately 95 percent, or more than 92,000 tons, of sulfur dioxide emissions and significantly lower mercury emissions from the 1,107-megawatt facility. By using securitization, a financing technique approved by the West Virginia legislature and Public Service Commission, Allegheny will be able to complete this project by 2009.

Construction is underway for a new chimney and ductwork enhancements to ensure all emissions run through existing scrubbers at the company's Pleasants Power Station in Willow Island, West Virginia. The improvements, with an estimated cost of $110 million, will further reduce sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions and mitigate fly ash dispersal issues at the 1,300-megawatt facility.

Allegheny now includes Powder River Basin coal as part of its fuel mixture to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions on an interim basis until planned scrubber projects are operational.

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Jaguar Habitat Decision Again Headed for Court

WASHINGTON, DC, July 15, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday that it will not designate critical habitat for the endangered jaguar in the southwestern United States, prompting an immediate a 60-day notice of intent to sue from the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Arizona based nonprofit organization.

"This latest decision will not withstand judicial review," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Pinos Altos, New Mexico.

Litigation, public education and organizing by the Center for Biological Diversity were responsible for the original listing of the jaguar as an endangered species in the United States on July 22, 1997.

The Service based its decision on the fact that U.S. habitat is not essential to the conservation of the species, and thus does not meet the Endangered Species Act's requirements for being designated as critical habitat.

"Based on a thorough review of all available data, the Service has determined there are no physical and biological features in the United States that meet the definition of critical habitat as defined under the Act," said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, acting director of the Service's Southwest Region.

"We will continue to work closely with the Jaguar Conservation Team to address the conservation of jaguars in the United States and also with our Mexican partners to help with conservation of the species in Mexico."

"Today’s decision is based on purposefully inadequate information, and erroneous logic," said Robinson.

Transient male jaguars, thought to be from a population 130 miles south of the border, are occasionally sighted in southwest New Mexico and southeastern Arizona. U.S. habitat is believed to be marginal - at the extreme northern limit of the species' range - and represents less than one percent of the species' current range, Tuggle said.

Preservation and recovery of the jaguar depends almost entirely on conservation efforts in Mexico and Central and South America, he said.

Jaguars are the largest cats native to North America, typically displaying black rosettes on their golden fur but occasionally exhibiting a black phase.

Jaguars once roamed the entire southern suite of states from Monterrey Bay in California through the Appalachian Mountains and Florida. Jaguars were hunted out of the southeastern United States by the 19th century.

In the western United States they were exterminated by the Fish and Wildlife Service and its predecessor agency to protect livestock. The last female jaguar known in the United States was killed in 1963 in eastern Arizona where Mexican gray wolves have been reintroduced.

Jaguars have continued to migrate from Mexico into Arizona and New Mexico throughout the 20th century. Most of the returning animals have been killed.

But the Center says that over the past 10 years five different jaguars have been photographed by trip cameras and hunters who allowed the jaguars to live. It appears several male jaguars are consistently using areas in the United States for all or part of their ranges and some of these are still alive today.

Jaguars are losing habitat in the southwestern United States at an accelerating pace, the Center contends. The riparian forest of the San Pedro River in Arizona, which may serve as a travel pathway for jaguars from Mexico, is threatened as a result of the ongoing draining of the river for agriculture and urban development.

The riparian forest of the Gila River is threatened by a major water project that Congress authorized in December 2004. Livestock grazing continues to destroy streamsides, and massive new strip mines are being proposed and approved that would destroy riparian habitat and further de-water rivers and streams.

The jaguar’s upland habitats are threatened as well, the Center says. Urban and exurban development encroaches into jaguar habitat throughout much of its range. And increasing border developments – such as fences, stadium-style lights, roads and off-road vehicle destruction of vegetation – threaten the ability of jaguars to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

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California's Save Mart Supermarkets Collect E-Waste for Recycling

FRESNO, California, July 15, 2006 (ENS) - Save Mart Supermarkets today became the first supermarket chain in California to serve as a collector of electronic waste. Today and Sunday, six Save Mart stores across Northern and Central California are giving customers and the community a chance to safely unload their old computers, television sets and other out-dated, unusable or unwanted electronic items for proper recycling.

It is illegal to throw an unwanted television or computer monitor in the trash in the state of California. Electronic items have toxic elements in them that are environmentally hazardous when they are dumped into landfills. By law, such products must now be recycled properly and in ways that will not harm the environment.

Save Mart is collecting electronic waste over this two-day, six-location event. The electronics will be trucked away and recycled by Fresno-based Electronic Recyclers, the largest recycler of electronic waste in California andSave Mart's partner for this event.

"We're extremely proud to be partnering with Save Mart for this special program," said John Shegerian, president and CEO of Electronic Recyclers. "Save Mart is an organization that has long been forward-thinking in terms of environmental concerns, developing many innovative programs - most recently with their adoption of Earthwise reusable shopping bags. Now they are helping their customers and the community become more environmentally responsible by offering them a convenient opportunity to safely dispose of their old electronic junk at the same time."

Californians replace hundreds of thousands of TVs, computers, monitors and other electronic devices every year. Plus, they store literally millions more that are not used any more in homes, garages and businesses. Electronic products contain valuable resources such as metal, plastic and glass, which can and should be recycled instead of thrown away.

Six Save Mart Supermarkets in Antioch, San Jose, Merced, Modesto, Visalia, and Fresno are receiving public drop-offs of electronic waste today and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

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