AmeriScan: July 25, 2007

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California-Nevada Tahoe Basin Fire Commission Established

LAKE TAHOE, California, July 25, 2007 (ENS) - To avert another wildfire disaster like the Angora fire last month in South Lake Tahoe, the governors of California and Nevada today created the California-Nevada Tahoe Basin Fire Commission.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Governor Jim Gibbons signed a Memo of Understanding to create a panel of 17 voting members that represent each state's stake in the responsible management of lands and fire fuels within the Tahoe Basin, which straddles the California-Nevada border.

The Angora Fire began on June 24 in the North Upper Truckee area in South Lake Tahoe, California and was fully contained on July 2. The fire burned a total of 3,100 acres and destroyed 254 homes.

"It is crucial that we all work together to prevent something like the Angora Fire from happening again and also make sure people have the right fire protection tools to protect their property," said Governor Schwarzenegger at the memo signing event held at Lake Valley Firehouse 211.

"Everyone - federal and state agencies, residents, management agencies, business owners and environmental entities - shares a common goal, an environmentally healthy and functioning Lake Tahoe Basin," said Governor Gibbons Monday at a community forum about the fire in South Lake Tahoe.

The forum heard testimony from local residents, many of whom lost their homes in the Angora Fire. Some residents raised concerns regarding the permitting process for fuel reduction on private property, which is governed by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

"The Lake Tahoe Basin and the forest resources must be managed by proven forestry practices based on sound science," said Gibbons, who proposed the Commission on July 5.

The California and Nevada governors will each appoint eight voting members within the Tahoe Basin to the Commission, including, but not limited to, representatives from affected state agencies, fire agencies, and the public.

The governors requested that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns designate one person from the U.S. Forest Service to join the Commission as its 17th member.

The Commission will perform a comprehensive review of the laws, policies and practices that affect the vulnerability of the Tahoe Basin to wildfires, including a review of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The Commission will identify the wildfire suppression and fuel management practices that are currently used in the Tahoe Basin, and evaluate the effectiveness of those practices.

It will recommend improvements and changes that will reduce the Tahoe Basin's wildfire vulnerability while protecting the environment.

And finally, it will recommend ways to effectively educate homeowners and other members of the public on appropriate fuel-reduction and fire-protection measures that they can take.

The Commission must submit a report and recommendations to the two governors by March 21, 2008. It will disband 60 days after delivering its report and recommendations.

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Federal Prisons to Self-Police Environmental Violations

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, July 25, 2007 (ENS) Sixteen federal prisons housing an estimated 20,000 inmates in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia will undergo environmental inspections to see if they are meeting regulations for controlling air and water pollution, and hazardous waste.

The Department of Justice Bureau of Prisons will audit its prison facilities in the mid-Atlantic region, under an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.

The EPA says the Burean of Prisons is joining a growing number of companies and organizations that have agreed to "self-police" their environmental compliance and disclose violations they find.

Under the audit agreement, the Bureau of Prisons has agreed to disclose all EPA-enforceable regulatory violations discovered during the audit and to correct the violations within 60 days.

The Bureau of Prisons has contracted with an environmental company, Aarcher, Inc., based in Annapolis, Maryland, to perform three initial audits at the U.S. Penitentiary Canaan in Waymart, Pennsylvania, Federal Correctional Institution Loretto in Loretto, Pennsylvania, and Federal Correctional Institution Cumberland in Cumberland, Maryland.

Aarcher will use these facilities to develop the criteria for conducting all the audits as well as protocols and checklists. The Bureau of Prisons will then conduct audits at the remaining 13 facilities using its own personnel or a contractor.

Under EPA's audit policy, prisons that report their violations can reduce, and in some cases, eliminate penalties as long as the violations cause no direct harm to public health or the environment; violations are corrected immediately; and the facility has an overall good track record.

This same EPA audit policy has been a successful incentive in getting various business and industry sectors to check for compliance with all environmental laws, the agency says.

Potential environmental hazards at federal prisons are associated with heating and cooling, wastewater treatment, hazardous waste and trash disposal, asbestos management, drinking water supply, pesticide use, and vehicle maintenance.

Inmate training programs also could violate environmental laws.

A dry cleaning operation, for example, would use perchloroethylene, a hazardous material, to clean fabric. A furniture refinishing shop or a woodworking shop would use methylenechloride to strip off old varnish or polyurethane to protect the raw wood. Both of these are hazardous materials that need special handling.

EPA Regional Administrator Donald Welsh praised the Bureau of Prisons. "Correctional institutions have many environmental matters to consider in protecting the health of inmates, employees and the communities where they're located," he said. "By volunteering to check its facilities and fix problems that may exist, the bureau is demonstrating its environmental responsibility."

Federal prisons to be audited in Pennsylvania include the U.S. Penitentiary Canaan, Federal Correctional Institution Loretto, Allenwood Federal Corrections Complex of three facilities, U.S. Penitentiary Lewisburg, Federal Correctional Institution McKean, Federal Correctional Institution Schuylkill, and the Federal Detention Center Philadelphia.

Federal prisons to be audited in West Virginia include the Federal Correctional Institution Gilmer, Federal Correctional Institution Beckley, Federal Prison Camp Alderson, Federal Correctional Institution Morgantown, and the U.S. Penitentiary Hazelton.

The Federal Correctional Institution Cumberland in Maryland and the U.S. Penitentiary Lee in Virginia will also be audited.

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Explosive Blast Starts Demolition of Oregon's Marmot Dam

PORTLAND, Oregon, July 25, 2007 (ENS) - Marmot Dam has been a feature of the Sandy River Basin for nearly a century, bringing power to Portland area homes and businesses. But on Tuesday, more than 4,000 pounds of explosives were used to blow the top off the Marmot Dam.

This summer, Portland General Electric, PGE, is removing the dam, opening a new chapter for native fish and wildlife of the Sandy River.

At 47 feet high, the Sandy River's Marmot Dam will be the largest dam ever removed in Oregon and the tallest removed in the Northwest in 40 years, utility officials said.

The process began earlier this month with the construction of a shallow earthen "coffer" dam upstream from Marmot Dam. This step creates a dry work area and exposes the concrete dam for demolition crews.

In 1999, PGE announced it would close its Bull Run hydro project after nearly 100 years of operation.

The Bull Run project provides enough electricity to power more than 10,000 homes, but upgrade costs and concern for fish led PGE to conclude it was time to return the area to the wild. The power will be replaced by wind generation.

Removal of Marmot Dam, scheduled to be complete by fall, is the first step in the plan's goal to help restore wild salmon and steelhead runs, improve habitat and boost recreational opportunities in the basin.

The utility is spending $17 million to remove the Marmot Dam, and the 16 foot Little Sandy Dam on the nearby Little Sandy River. The tunnel that takes water from Marmot Dam to the Little Sandy River also will be removed in 2007.

When demolition is completed in 2008, Rosyln Lake, lying between the Sandy and the Little Sandy, will be gone.

For the first time in almost a century, fish will enjoy unimpeded access to 100 miles of some of the best salmon and steelhead habitat in northwest Oregon. Removal also will enhance water flows along about 15 miles of existing habitat.

PGE will donate water rights to the State of Oregon, while nearly 1,500 acres of Bull Run land will go to the Wild Rivers Conservancy as the centerpieces of a planned 9,000 acre conservation and recreation area.

"This river renaissance on the Sandy is cause for great celebration and will be an inspiration for communities in the Northwest and across the country," said Rob Masonis, senior director of the Northwest office of American Rivers.

"The undammed Sandy River, flowing freely from Mt. Hood to the Columbia, will be good for local businesses, clean water, and fish and wildlife," said Masonis. "The Sandy will show us that when a river is healthy, we all thrive."

"By replacing the Bull Run hydro project's generation with wind power," he said, "PGE is showing that a future of healthy rivers and clean energy is within reach."

Masonis says that over the next few years other Pacific Northwest dams will be removed on the Rogue, Hood, White Salmon and Elwha rivers.

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Air, Water, Hazwaste Violations Cost Equistar $125 Million

HOUSTON, Texas, July 25, 2007 (ENS) - Equistar Chemicals of Houston, Texas has agreed to settle federal environmental violations by spending more than $125 million on pollution controls and cleanup. The company must address a host of air, water and hazardous waste violations at seven of its petrochemical plants in Texas, Illinois, Iowa and Louisiana.

The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that their settlement requires the petrochemical company to do more than regulations require.

"Equistar will be the first in the petrochemical industry to adopt these stricter environmental measures, many of which will go beyond what the regulations would require," said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance.

"Through these investments in environmental compliance, Equistar has a chance to turn its performance record around, and ultimately become a leader in the industry by running a cleaner, less polluting facility," Nakayama said.

The case was brought as a result of inspections conducted by the EPA's National Enforcement Investigations Center at Equistar's Channelview, Texas, and Morris, Illinois facilities.

EPA inspectors identified extensive violations of the Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Clean Water Act.

The inspectors also found that Equistar had violated laws requiring the company to immediately report spills and releases of hazardous substances to federal and state emergency response centers.

Once Equistar was notified of the violations, the company agreed to address potential compliance issues at all seven of its petrochemical plants, the federal agencies said. Equistar has begun to correct the violations.

Under the first 18 months of the settlement, Equistar is required to conduct a number of separate environmental audits of its operations to identify any additional problems, report its findings and proposed corrective measures back to the EPA and state regulators, and fix the problems.

In addition, Equistar has agreed to monitor and fix leaks of volatile organic compounds, VOCs, and hazardous air pollutants, such as benzene, from process units; to change equipment that uses ozone-depleting substances; and to reduce flaring of VOCs.

Equistar will be penalized for flaring based on the amount of pollution released to the atmosphere.

VOCs can contribute to respiratory disorders such as asthma and reduced lung capacity, the EPA says. They can also cause damage to ecosystems and reduce visibility.

At its Channelview facility in Texas, Equistar will install a wastewater treatment system that will reduce harmful air emissions by at least 26 tons per year. The company must eliminate the improper land disposal of an estimated 150,000 tons of benzene-contaminated hazardous waste per year.

Equistar also will pay a civil penalty of $2.5 million to be divided among the federal government and participating states, and spend $6.56 million on federal and state supplemental environmental projects.

The projects include a system to capture hazardous air emissions from process vents at the Channelview facility, and state projects that include the purchase of emergency response equipment and newer, cleaner school buses; funding for the Mississippi River Tourism Center; and cleanup of hazardous waste left by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

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San Diego Gas and Electric Convicted of Asbestos Violations

SAN DIEGO, California, July 25, 2007 (ENS) - A federal jury in San Diego has found San Diego Gas and Electric Company guilty on three counts of violating asbestos work practice standards and one count of making false statements.

The charges relate to the company's removal of asbestos from 9.23 miles of underground piping at the former Encanto Gas Holder facility in Lemon Grove, California, in 2000 and 2001.

In addition, Kyle Rhuebottom, the project manager for the prime contractor on the site, and David Williamson, a company employee, were each found guilty of one count of violating asbestos work practice standards.

According to court documents, the company knew the piping at the Encanto facility was coated with asbestos, based on analytical testing.

Once the company decided to sell the property, company officials solicited bids for demolition and removal of the asbestos-coated piping.

Despite knowing that the piping coating contained asbestos, the company began removing the pipe wrap without treating it as regulated asbestos-containing material.

On July 13, the jury found that the company, Rhuebottom and Williamson failed to contain the asbestos or place it in a leak-proof container.

The jury also found that the company failed to provide adequate notice in advance of the asbestos removal, failed to adequately wet the asbestos during removal, and falsely claimed that a company employee was a certified asbestos consultant.

Asbestos is made up of microscopic bundles of fibers that may become airborne when asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed. When these fibers get into the air they may be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause significant health problems, including death.

The defendants are scheduled to appear before United States District Judge Dana Sabraw on September 6 for further proceedings.

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Nevada Fairways Save a Billion Gallons of Water a Year

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, July 25, 2007 (ENS) - Golf courses in arid Southern Nevada are saving a billion gallons of water each year by replacing thirsty grass with water-efficient landscaping. The Southern Nevada Water Authority calculates that since 2001, Las Vegas area courses have contributed to this saving by converting 425 acres from grass to water-smart landscaped courses.

Eleven courses in Southern Nevada are now in the midst of landscape conversions - among them, Red Rock Country Club has converted more than a million square feet this year alone at its Arroyo and Mountain courses.

Spanish Trail Golf and Country Club is undergoing a major overhaul of the entire course, including turf removal, reshaping and improving ponds and moving irrigation lines, said superintendent Jon Valentine.

The City of Henderson has launched major landscape conversions at its municipal Wild Horse Golf Course, while the Angel Park Golf Club is in the midst of a 70 acre conversion scheduled for completion in 2008, said superintendent Bill Rohret. So far, he said, players are giving the changes "rave reviews."

Southern Nevada gets nearly 90 percent of its water from the Colorado River. Every drop is precious now, as the Colorado River system is facing the worst drought on record.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority credits community cooperation with drought restrictions and water-efficiency programs for the drop of 18 billion gallons in water consumption between 2002 and 2006, despite the fact that 330,000 new residents moved into the area and 40 million people visit each year.

The Water Authority credits golf courses for their many water conservation measures. All 43 local golf courses have on-site weather stations linked to their irrigations systems by computers that enable each course to base their irrigation schedules on daily weather conditions.

These systems monitor the moisture given off by grasses and plants, so water is applied only as needed.

Current drought restrictions subject local golf courses to water budgets, restricting them to 6.3 acre-feet of water per acre. An acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons.

Even the lush Bali Hai Golf Club in Las Vegas, with its seven acres of water features, 4,000 trees and 100,000 tropical plants, is on a water budget.

Golf course water budgets are based upon acre-feet of water for each acre irrigated, including lakes and ponds that exist within a golf course and those serving as a golf course irrigation reservoirs.

Once measured, the irrigated acreage remains fixed, creating an incentive for golf courses to convert unneeded turf to other styles of water-efficient landscaping.

Golf courses must pay financial penalties for any water used over budgeted amounts.

"Golf courses are the most judicious business about the way they use water," said Valentine at Spanish Trail. "We don't just set a timer and walk away. Water conservation is one of the biggest parts of what we do every day."

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Clinton White House Climate Adviser Returns to UK Roots

WASHINGTON, DC, July 25, 2007 (ENS) - Dr. Robert Watson, former head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and currently chief scientist and a senior adviser at the World Bank, is returning to the United Kingdom to become a professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia, UEA, and to advise the UK government on environmental matters.

Watson takes up his post on August 1. He will help to shape the strategic direction of the national Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which is headquartered at the university.

Later in the year he will also become chief scientific adviser for the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

From 1997 to 2002, Dr. Watson was chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which involves thousands of scientists in its assessments of scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change.

In May 1996, Watson joined the World Bank, and he was previously associate director for environment in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President in the Clinton White House.

Prior to joining the White House staff, Watson was director of the Science Division and chief scientist for the Office of Mission to Planet Earth at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA.

Professor Trevor Davies, pro-vice-chancellor at the University of East Anglia said he was delighted at the appointment.

"Bob Watson is an acknowledged world expert on climate change, biodiversity and sustainability. His appointment as Defra's chief scientist reflects his unparalleled expertise in so many of the environmental challenges faced by the UK and the world," he said.

British-born and educated at Queen Mary College, London, Watson has led international environmental assessments on all the global concerns of the last two decades - ozone depletion, climate change, ecosystem change and agriculture and development.

"I am excited at the opportunity of returning to the UK after 34 years in the U.S. to be working at the UEA - a truly world-class university and with the Tyndall Centre - a leader in climate science," Watson said.

"The opportunity to internationally promote the research at UEA and the Tyndall Centre coupled with the opportunity to provide scientific advice to Defra is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

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