AmeriScan: July 23, 2007

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Nation's Governors Pursue Clean Energy Future

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan, July 23, 2007 (ENS) - Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty took over chairmanship of the National Governors' Association today, introducing his goal for the coming year - Securing a Clean Energy Future. His initiative has wide support many governors have introduced clean or renewable energy initiatives recently or have joined in regional greenhouse gas control associations.

"America is at a tipping point," said Governor Pawlenty, a Republican. "Our country is too dependent on imported sources of energy and greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow too quickly. Governors have a tremendous opportunity to lead the country toward a cleaner, more independent, more secure energy future."

Securing a Clean Energy Future will examine ways governors and states can increase production of cleaner domestic fuels, promote advanced electricity generation, improve energy efficiency and conservation, and accelerate research and development of clean energy technologies.

In a panel on global climate change Sunday, Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., of Utah, a Republican who chairs the NGA Natural Resources Committee said, "Global climate change is one of the most pressing issues our nation is currently facing."

"Americans are concerned about global climate change and its threat to our way of life," said New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, committee vice chair and Democratic presidential hopeful.

Panelists considered the status of the Bush administration's efforts to address global warming and ways to address climate change at both the state and federal level.

Panelist U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson defended the administration's plan of developing a coordinated response to climate change among federal agencies by the end of 2008.

NGA host Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, demonstrated her government's commitment to renewable energy by announcing Thursday that a Massachusetts company will build a $100 million cellulosic ethanol production plant in Michigan.

The Mascoma Corporation's plant will make ethanol from wood chips and non-food crops. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is working with Mascoma on a tax incentive package.

Most U.S. biofuel facilities in production, or under construction, convert corn and other food crops into fuel. Because cellulosic ethanol production uses non-food biomass, it can produce ethanol on a scale that could substitute for imported oil without depriving people or animals of food.

Granholm cited research showing that a gallon of cellulosic ethanol could reduce greenhouse gases up to 88 percent compared to a gallon of gasoline.

At the close of the NGA annual meeting, Pawlenty received the gavel from Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who led the organization last year with an innovation initiative.

Pawlenty will guide the NGA through its centennial, marking 100 years since the first meeting of governors at the White House in 1908. He unveiled a centennial logo and a centennial web page showcasing the role of governors.

New NGA Vice Chair Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, invited the governors to Philadelphia next July for the association's 100th meeting.

He said, "I can think of no better place to celebrate the NGA centennial meeting than in the birthplace of our great nation."

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Clinton Urges Congressional Hearings on Yucca Mountain

WASHINGTON, DC, July 23, 2007 (ENS) - Senator Hillary Clinton of New York Friday called for congressional hearings on Yucca Mountain, the proposed geologic repository for the nation's nuclear waste about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Democratic presidential hopeful says she wants the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, on which she serves, to pressure the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt clear radiation standards that would ensure public health and safety.

She also called on the Department of Energy to halt the project until the EPA takes action.

"There has been a great deal of confusion and stonewalling by the administration to finding appropriate, scientifically based information," Clinton said. "We need to get this information on the record and do everything we can to lay the groundwork to make it clear that we will not proceed with Yucca Mountain."

If elected president, Clinton said, she would "not go forward" with the project, which has been approved by Congress and the Bush administration.

The entire Nevada Congressional delegation is opposed to the repository.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that an earthquake off the coast of Japan that caused the leak of radioactive water from the world's largest nuclear power plant is "yet another reason the State of Nevada cannot give up the fight against Yucca Mountain."

"The Yucca Mountain site is located on and adjacent to 33 faults, and is seismically active today. An incident like the one at the Japanese reactor would be a nightmare scenario at Yucca where several thousand times the amount of nuclear materials in Japan could be exposed."

"Instead of being released into the ocean, however, the radioactive material would be released into Nevada's ground water," said Reid.

"Under the current proposal, Yucca Mountain would contain all the nuclear waste generated from more than 100 nuclear reactors. A similar accident at Yucca Mountain would jeopardize the health and safety two million people living in Southern Nevada," Reid said.

In the past, Clinton has said she would refuse to fund Yucca Mountain.

"I've long opposed using Yucca as a site for nuclear waste," she said in March. "Yucca mountain is not a suitable place for long-term storage of our nuclear waste. There are too many unanswered questions about both the geology of the site and integrity of the science done to support the decision to store waste there."

"It's past time to start exploring alternatives to Yucca mountain, because we need to find a safe, secure long-term waste storage solution. As President, I would work with the scientific community to address this problem and come up with alternative solutions," Clinton said.

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Du Pont Must Spend $66 Million to Cut Air Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, July 23, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement Friday with E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co. that is expected to reduce more than 13,000 tons of harmful emissions annually from four sulfuric acid production plants in Louisiana, Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

Du Pont will spend at least $66 million on air pollution controls at the plants and pay a civil penalty of $4.1 million under the Clean Air Act settlement.

The states of Louisiana, Virginia and Ohio joined the federal government in the agreement and will receive shares of the civil penalty.

The company will meet new, lower emission limits for sulfur dioxide at its sulfuric acid production units in Darrow, Louisiana; Richmond, Virginia; North Bend, Ohio; and Wurtland, Kentucky.

At the Burnside plant in Darrow, the largest of the four facilities, Du Pont will install state-of-the-art "dual absorption" pollution control equipment by September 1, 2009, at an estimated cost of at least $66 million.

At the other three plants, DuPont has the option of installing appropriate control equipment or ceasing operations to meet the new lower emission limits.

The additional cost of installing control technologies at all of the remaining three plants, if Du Pont does so, is estimated to be at least $87 million. All four plants must meet their lower emission limits by March 1, 2012.

When fully implemented, the settlement with Du Pont will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from the four plants by about 90 percent.

The federal government's complaint, filed Friday with the consent decree, alleges that Du Pont made modifications to its plants which increased emissions of sulfur dioxide without first obtaining pre-construction permits and installing required pollution control equipment.

The Clean Air Act requires major sources of air pollution to obtain such permits before making changes that would result in a significant emissions increase of any pollutant.

Du Pont is the second sulfuric acid manufacturer in the nation to agree to a company wide global compliance agreement as part of an initiative under which the Justice Department and the EPA expect to reach similar agreements with other sulfuric acid manufacturers. The first, Rhodia Inc., settled with the government earlier this year.

Du Pont's plants produce acid by burning sulfur, creating sulfur dioxide. The sulfur dioxide is converted to sulfur trioxide, which combines with water to form sulfuric acid, a component of acid rain.

Air pollution is emitted when unconverted sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid mist are released to the atmosphere. Children, the elderly, and people with heart and lung conditions are the most sensitive to sulfur dioxide exposure.

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One in Every Four New Yorkers' Blood High in Mercury

NEW YORK, New York, July 23, 2007 (ENS) - One in every four adult New Yorkers has elevated blood mercury levels, according to survey results released today by the New York City Health Department, and the elevations are closely tied to fish consumption.

Asian and higher-income New Yorkers eat more fish, and have higher average mercury levels than others, both locally and nationally. Nearly half of Asian New Yorkers have elevated blood mercury levels, the survey shows.

Among women 20 to 49 years old in New York City, the average blood mercury level is 2.64 micrograms per liter, g/L, three times that of women in the same age group nationally.

About one-quarter of New York City women in this age group have a blood mercury level at or above five g/L, the New York State reportable level.

These mercury levels pose little if any health risk for most adults, but may increase the risk of cognitive delays for children whose mothers had very high mercury levels during pregnancy, the Health Department says.

Officials emphasized that fish is an important part of a healthy diet, and that moderate fish consumption has many health benefits.

"For most people, frequent fish consumption is not a concern," said Daniel Kass, the Health Department's Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Surveillance and Policy. "Fish is a good source of protein and heart-healthy fats, and it's low in calories and unhealthy fats."

But during pregnancy, mercury can pass from a mother's bloodstream to a developing fetus. Small amounts can also pass into breast milk. And exposure to mercury early in life may cause learning problems because the brain is still developing.

"No one needs to stop eating fish, but some people may need to change the type and amount they eat," Kass said. "Young children, breastfeeding mothers, and women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy should eat fish that are lower in mercury and limit fish that are higher in mercury."

People who eat fish three or fewer times each week have, on average, levels of mercury below the reportable level, while average readings exceed the reportable level among those who eat fish four or more times.

To help educate New Yorkers about which fish is right for them, the Health Department has developed recommendations for pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children in a brochure entitled "Eat Fish, Choose Wisely," available in English, Spanish and Chinese through 311.

The brochure lists fish by their level of mercury. High-mercury fish include Chilean sea bass, grouper, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, tuna steaks and sushi grade tuna.

To keep eating fish while keeping mercury exposure low - choose fish lower in mercury; don't eat fish that are high in mercury; eat fewer, or smaller, servings of fish; choose smaller fish; and eat a variety of fish.

The Health Department also reminds people about contaminants in fish caught in New York City's rivers and harbors. Kass says, "They may contain harmful contaminants."

Today's findings are the latest from New York City's Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, NYC-HANES, the first such survey ever conducted by a U.S. city.

In NYC-HANES, the Health Department assessed health issues by visiting households to gather information, and conducted face-to-face interviews, physical exams, and laboratory tests.

The on-line publication of the NYC HANES findings on mercury also covers lead and cadmium levels. To find it online, click here.

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New York Governor Fills Environmental Protection Coffers

ALBANY, New York, July 23, 2007 (ENS) - New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has signed legislation that will increase revenue to the State's Environmental Protection Fund from $225 million to $250 million in the 2008-09 fiscal year, and to $300 million in fiscal year 2009-10 and thereafter.

"The Environmental Protection Fund is a pivotal funding source for the state's premier environmental programs," said Governor Spitzer. "It is critically important that we advance the state's comprehensive environmental agenda and that requires that we back up our ambitious policy objectives with appropriate funding."

The Environmental Protection Fund is financed by the real estate transfer tax. Established in 1993, the Fund has increased over time and provides money for recycling, landfill closure, urban parks, farmland preservation, smart growth, open space, water quality, pollution prevention and other programs administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Adoption of this bill sets aside money that can be used by the Environmental Protection Fund while still requiring annual appropriations in future state budgets.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis said, "The Environmental Protection Fund has been an invaluable tool, helping to preserve open space and working farmland, close landfills and sustain recycling programs. Governor Spitzer's decision to expand the EPF is great news for New Yorkers and underscores his green credentials."

The move pleased environmental groups across the state.

"This funding will help protect biodiversity, open space, clean water and clear air throughout New York," said Jessica Ottney, director of state government relations for The Nature Conservancy in New York.

"ADK and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference applaud the Governor for signing this important legislation," said Neil Woodworth, Executive Director of ADK and of-counsel to the Trail Conference. "Enactment of this legislation will provide greatly needed additional funds for open space protection in the Hudson Valley, Catskills and Adirondacks and for stewardship of publicly owned lands."

Robert Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, said, "The Fund not only protects the health of New York's irreplaceable Adirondacks, it supports key programs in the New York City metro area, including urban forestry, waterfront revitalization and municipal parks."

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Federal Subsidy for New Coal Plant Challenged in Court

WASHINGTON, DC, July 23, 2007 (ENS) - Three conservation groups have filed a lawsuit over federal financing of a new coal-fired power plant in Montana that they claim would increase global warming for decades.

The Rural Utilities Service, RUS, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced in May that it would fund 85 percent of the Highwood Generating Station near Great Falls, Montana, at an estimated cost of $600 million.

RUS is also planning to fund seven similar new coal-fired plants across the country. Burning coal produces greenhouse gases, which trap heat from the Sun close to the planet.

With this lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in Washington, DC, the Montana Environment Information Center, Citizens for Clean Energy, and Sierra Club aim to compel RUS to consider the environmental harms caused by new coal plants before it commits billions of taxpayer dollars to these investments.

Affordable wind power is available to supply the electricity needs of consumers in eastern Montana, but RUS decided to fund a coal-fired plant, which will generate six times the amount of power needed by area residents.

"Building a coal plant is the opposite of rural development," said Rich Liebert, a retired army lieutenant colonel and rancher near the Highwood plant, who chairs Citizens for Clean Energy.

"We've been hard hit by drought, and it's only going to get worse for farmers as global warming makes it hotter and drier," Liebert said. "The Rural Utilities Service is supposed to have agricultural interests at heart, but instead of promoting clean renewable energy that directly benefits local agriculture, it's promoting coal."

The final environmental impact study issued by RUS in February found that "soils, water, air, biological resources, noise, transportation, farmland and land use, human health and safety, and environmental justice" would be adversely impacted, but impacts would be "non-significant."

The proposed plant would comply with Montana's air quality standards, including its recent mercury rule. Four 1.5-MW wind turbines would be constructed and operated on the same site.

The plant would have "significant adverse impacts" on a National Historic Landmark site, where the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped during their trek around the Great Falls of the Missouri River the study found.

"This is the kind of needlessly destructive project that makes you think there ought to be a law against it, and in fact there is," said Abigail Dillen, an attorney with Earthjustice, the public interest law firm representing the groups.

"The federal government is required to seek out options to protect air and water and historic resources, and RUS is not living up to that responsibility."

Dillen says RUS is defying direction from the White House, which said new coal plants should be financed by private investors, not federal agencies.

In addition, RUS is in the midst of the funding process for seven other larger coal plants - in Missouri, Wyoming, Idaho, Florida, Oklahoma, and two in Kentucky.

Sierra Club attorney Pat Gallagher said, "These new coal plants will emit millions of tons of greenhouse gases every year, and at the same time they will eat up the market for clean renewable energy."

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Cape Hattaras National Seashore Remains Open to ORVs

RALEIGH, North Carolina, July 23, 2007 (ENS) - The National Park Service is not going to close Cape Hatteras National Seashore to off-road vehicles, while it considers how to respond to a federal judge's ruling last Tuesday that ORVs on the seashore are illegal.

Park Superintendent Mike Murray said the Service is "evaluating and considering how to respond" to the order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Terrance Boyle while sentencing a motorist to pay a $100 for reckless driving on the Outer Banks beach near Oregon Inlet.

The order indicates that NPS is not in compliance with legal requirements to authorize and manage ORV use at the Seashore which Murray explains predates the 1937 authorization of the area as a national seashore.

Prior to paving NC Highway 12 in 1954, island residents and visitors routinely used the beaches and interdunal areas as a transportation route.

The completion of the BonnerBridge across Oregon Inlet in 1963 made access to Hatteras Island much easier which resulted in increased vehicle use of beaches for recreational purposes and use has continued to increase.

At the moment the Seashore is operating under an Interim Strategy issued in January 2006 to guide protected species management practices within the park for three years until a long-term ORV management plan and regulation can be developed.

A final decision document and Finding of No Significant Impact for the Interim Strategy was approved on July 13, 2007 by Regional Director Patricia Hooks.

On December 11, 2006, the Park Service announced the intent to develop an ORV management plan and environmental impact statement, and completed the initial public scoping in March 2007 for that planning process.

On June 28, 2007 the Park Service published a Notice of Intent to establish a negotiated rulemaking committee to assist the with development of the required ORV regulation. The public comment period for this Notice of Intent ends on July 30.

Jason Rylander of Defenders of Wildlife called Jude Boyle's order "a wake-up call to the National Park Service" and said the group for years has been urging implementation of "a responsible ORV management plan and designated trails in appropriate areas."

"At Cape Hatteras, poorly managed ORV use is damaging sensitive wildlife habitat, harming endangered and threatened sea turtles and piping plovers, and disturbing nesting populations of seabirds like the least tern and American oystercatcher," Rylander said.

He said, "Seasonal restrictions on ORV use, a ban on night driving on the beach, and other appropriate management tools would go a long way toward ensuring that both people and wildlife can safely enjoy this natural treasure."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.