AmeriScan: July 27, 2007

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Navy Seeks Blanket Approval to Test Sonar Off Hawaii

HONOLULU, Hawaii, July 27, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Navy is seeking to do away with the case-by-case approval for sonar training in Hawaiian waters, and today submitted an draft Environmental Impact Statement to justify a one-time blanket permit for a wide range of activities.

Environmental groups and scientists say loud underwater sounds emitted by some sonar equipment harms whales and other marine mammals and disrupts their method of communicating by echolocation.

The study proposes testing and training over 2.3 square miles around Hawaii by six "strike groups." Activities would include sonar used to detect submarines, as well as testing on micro-satellite launches, laser-directed energy and hypersonic vehicles capable of speeds of around 3,000 miles per hour.

Environmentalists have sued in the past to prevent the use of sonar without requirements to avoid marine mammals or stop the sonar blasts if they swim nearby. Last summer a federal judge briefly halted the use of sonar during the RIMPAC exercises off Hawaii.

But in January, the Defense Department exempted Navy sonar from the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act for two years.

Another lawsuit filed May 16 by EarthJustice on behalf of five nongovernmental organizations, asks the court to prohibit naval sonar exercises near Hawaii, saying that sonar can have a negative impact on marine mammals.

Capt. Scott Gureck, Pacific Fleet public affairs officer, says the Navy is "disappointed" that the groups decided to sue again.

"Since January the Navy has conducted two undersea warfare exercises, incorporating mid-frequency active sonar, with no issues," he said. "We take steps to identify and avoid marine mammals during training, and we are complying with all laws that protect marine mammals throughout the Hawaiian Islands - the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act."

An executive summary of the Navy's draft environmental impact study says no marine mammal deaths are predicted as a result of sonar, but to take "scientific uncertainty" into account the Navy is requesting a "take" of 20 marine mammals.

Public comment will be sought on the environmental impact study after it appears in the Federal Register.

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New Mexico Governor Opposes Coal Power Plant on Navajo Land

SANTA FE, New Mexico, July 27, 2007 (ENS) - New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson today expressed his opposition to a new $2 billion, 1,500 megawatt coal-fired power plant proposed for Navajo Nation lands in northwestern New Mexico near the Four Corners area.

"I am gravely concerned about the potential environmental impacts of the proposed Desert Rock Energy Facility," said the governor, who is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. "Each new conventional coal plant built without significant carbon dioxide controls is a step backwards and does not move us towards a future of more safe and efficient energy use," Richardson said.

"The estimated 12 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted each year from the Desert Rock Energy Facility would increase New Mexico greenhouse gas emissions by about 15 percent, making my aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals difficult – if not impossible – to meet."

"My administration has taken steps to ensure that any new coal-fired power plants built in New Mexico include the latest carbon clean gasification methods, making up to $60 million dollars in tax credits available for coal plants that capture at least 60 percent of carbon emissions," the governor said.

On the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, proposed its clean air permit for the Desert Rock power plant on July 19.

"The EPA's proposed permit will require the best pollution controls available for a pulverized coal-burning power plant, and will limit air pollution emissions from the facility to levels that protect public health and the environment," said Deborah Jordan, the EPA's air programs director for the Pacific Southwest region.

"We encourage Navajo Nation residents and other interested citizens to learn about the proposal and participate in the comment process," she said.

The EPA will formally publish a public notice in the Farmington Daily Times and The Navajo Times in a few weeks, which begins a public comment period that will end on October 27.

In September, the EPA will host informational public workshops about the proposed permit for Navajo Nation residents and nearby communities, and will return in October for a formal public hearing.

Governor Richardson says that based on a scientific review facility's draft EIS by the New Mexico Environment Department he believes that it would "adversely impact air quality, exacerbate existing environment problems, and negatively impact scarce surface and ground water resources."

Because Desert Rock has potential statewide impacts, Richardson called for additional hearings on the draft EIS to be held in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. "Per my direction, the New Mexico Environment Department has submitted tough comments to the Bureau of Indian Affairs outlining these serious concerns."

Now he has directed "high-level" administration officials to conduct formal discussions with the Navajo Nation "to ensure that the state's concerns regarding this project are understood and considered at this critical stage of the process."

Richardson says he respects "the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation and the rights of tribal governments to determine their economic futures and to pursue positive change within their communities." He understands the "dire economic conditions and high unemployment rates on the reservation," the governor said.

Some Navajo communities in the Four Corners area are trying to prevent Sithe Global Power and the Dine Power Authority from builing Desert Rock.

"It is blatant environmental racism and injustice when you place a third power plant in an impoverished community with little or no access to healthcare," said Lori Goodman of Dine CARE. "For our elders and future generations, we vow to fight this intrusion upon our people's health and way of life."

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Norfolk Southern, Engineer Charged in Pennsylvania Lye Spill

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, July 27, 2007 (ENS) - Environmental criminal charges were filed Thursday against Norfolk Southern Corporation and a former engineer who was at the helm of a Norfolk Southern train that derailed in June 2006.

The derailment spilled 42,000 gallons of sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda or lye, into the soil, wetlands and waters of two counties in northwestern Pennsylvania causing millions of dollars in damage and killing thousands of fish.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett identified the defendant engineer as Michael Seifert, 46, of West Seneca, New York, and eight-year veteran engineer with Norfolk Southern.

Corbett said the Attorney General's investigation was launched based on a referral from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, following the derailment at Keating Summit in, McKean County. Evidence and testimony about the derailment was presented to an investigating grand jury, which recommended the charges.

According to the grand jury, on June 30, 2006, Seifert was operating a Norfolk Southern train down Keating Summit at a top speed of 76 miles per hour when 31 cars derailed. The speed limit on that stretch of tracks is 15 miles per hour.

The grand jury found that Seifert appeared incoherent at times and fell asleep prior to the derailment. Several hours after the accident, morphine and benzodiazepines were detected in Seifert's bloodstream.

Corbett said that Seifert had been disciplined by Norfolk Southern in the past for similar conduct.

In March 2007, Seifert was charged with two counts of risking a catastrophe and one count of reckless endangerment by the McKean County District Attorney's Office. Seifert has posted bail and is awaiting trial on those charges.

The grand jury found that four of the 31 derailed cars contained sodium hydroxide, a regulated hazardous substance.

Corbett said that 42,000 gallons of sodium hydroxide was dumped out of the train cars into Big Fill Run and then carried downstream to Sinnemahoning Portage Creek. Over eight miles of streams in McKean and Cameron County were devastated by the spill.

"Prior to the derailment, the upper reaches of Sinnemahoning Portage Creek had the state's highest quality water rating and four miles of Class A wild trout that attracted anglers throughout the country," Corbett said. "Because of the defendants' criminal actions, the stream's ecosystem was completely destroyed."

Seifert is charged with two felony counts of unlawful dumping of hazardous waste and one misdemeanor count unlawful conduct under the Solid Waste Management Act. He is also charged with one misdemeanor count of unlawful conduct under the Clean Streams Law.

Norfolk Southern Corporation is charged with two misdemeanor counts of unlawful conduct under the Solid Waste Management Act.

In the year that has passed since the incident, Norfolk Southern officials say the company has spent nearly $4 million on its environmental response and to restore the area and waterways impacted by the incident. The company's site restoration activities were completed during the week of June 18.

"The areas impacted by the incident have significantly recovered," the company said. "Numerous fish, including native brook trout, have been observed in the portion of Portage Creek adjacent to and downstream of the derailment site."

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Comment Invited on Cleanup of Three Cape Cod Estuaries

BOSTON, Massachusetts, July 30, 2007 (ENS) - A draft document identifying the need to limit and reduce the nutrient nitrogen in the coastal waters of Centerville River, Scudder Bay, and East Bay on Cape Cod will be the subject of a meeting seeking public comment on Wednesday, August 1.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, MassDEP, will host the meeting from 7-9 p.m. in the Town Council Hearing Room of the Barnstable Town Hall, 367 Main Street.

The embayment restoration plan for these estuaries, formulated by MassDEP and the University of Massachusetts/Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology, is proposed as part of a comprehensive six year, collaborative project intended to improve estuarine water quality in 89 embayments along the southeastern Massachusetts coastline.

Two of the embayments covered in this report - Centerville River and Bumps River - are listed on the 2004 Massachusetts Integrated List of Waters as impaired primarily by pathogens.

The three coastal water bodies - all with watersheds in Barnstable - are currently impaired by excess nutrients, mainly nitrogen.

"This cleanup plan charts a new path for enhancing recreational opportunities and restoring ecological health on Cape Cod," MassDEP Acting Commissioner Arleen O'Donnell said.

Population growth and increased land use development, particularly during the last several decades in southeastern Massachusetts, have created an overabundance of nitrogen in Cape Cod harbors, bays and estuaries.

The primary controllable source of nitrogen is wastewater discharged both from septic systems and wastewater treatment systems.

Stormwater runoff, leaching lawn fertilizers, discharges from agricultural land uses, and atmospheric deposition also contribute varying quantities of nitrogen.

Nitrogen is causes eutrophication that can lead to loss of eelgrass beds, which are critical habitats for insects, shellfish, and fish as well as undesirable increases in algae, which are less beneficial than eelgrass.

Nitrogen also leads to periodic extreme decreases in dissolved oxygen concentrations that threaten aquatic life and periodic algae blooms.

At the public meeting, MassDEP staff will present a draft Total Maximum Daily Load, TMDL, for limiting nitrogen to the amounts that the water bodies can absorb without violating water quality standards and impairing uses such as fishing and recreational activities.

The plan calls for reducing watershed sources of nitrogen by up to 52 percent. Most of the reductions will be from better treatment and handling of wastewater, but nitrogen from stormwater and fertilizer use should also be controlled wherever possible.

To read the Final Technical Report for the Centerville River TMDL click here.

The public comment period ends Friday, August 31, 2007. Written comments can be submitted to: Michael Ackerman, at: michael.ackerman@state.ma.us

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Massachusetts Gas Station Owners Fined $600,000 for Spills

BOSTON, Massachusetts, July 27, 2007 (ENS) – Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has obtained a $600,000 judgment against the owners and operators of four gas stations in Medford and Malden for failing to clean up spills of gasoline and other petroleum products. The gasoline stations are high volume, cash-only gas and automotive repair stations operated by Tony Eskanian.

The judgment, entered Monday by Suffolk Superior Court Associate Justice Carol Ball, requires Tony Eskanian and Ramona Eskanian, both of Winchester, and J & S Petroleum Corporation to clean up the contamination at the gas stations pursuant to a court ordered schedule prepared by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, MassDEP.

"This judgment reaffirms the crucial role that state laws play in assuring that contaminated sites are cleaned up in a timely manner," said Coakley. "Businesses and business owners must be held accountable for damage to the environment that threatens our precious natural resources."

The judgment resolves a 2004 lawsuit alleging that the owners and operators of the gasoline stations leaked gasoline and other pollutants into the groundwater and soil and failed to follow clean-up procedures required by the state Superfund Law.

Under state regulations known as the Massachusetts Contingency Plan, when a hazardous material or gasoline is released to the environment, the responsible parties must assess the situation in a timely manner, remediate the spill, and report the outcome of the clean up to MassDEP.

The complaint alleges that the defendants committed multiple violations of the state's hazardous spill remediation laws at the gasoline stations over a 10 year period.

In April 2002, there was a gasoline leak at the Service 93 Station, resulting in gasoline from an underground storage tank infiltrating ground water wells, which flowed from the property into a utility vault owned by National Grid, creating a build-up of combustible vapors.

In addition to addressing this emergency situation, the Eskanians were required to assess fully the extent of the leak, develop a correction plan to be approved by MassDEP, and perform and document the clean up, but failed to do so.

The owner-operators also failed to perform annual compliance testing and weekly inspections and failed to replace damaged equipment on the vapor recovery equipment on gas pumps, which protects the atmosphere and consumers from harmful gasoline vapors.

Within the next 14 months, the Eskanians, the trusts they manage, and J& S Petroleum Corporation must clean up each gasoline station to Massachusetts Contingency Plan standards and must be approved by MassDEP.

If the defendants fully satisfy all of their clean-up obligations in a timely manner, $300,000 of the penalty may be forgiven.

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Bill Banning Dogfights Follows Vick Indictment

WASHINGTON, DC, July 27, 2007 (ENS) – U.S. Democratic Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Barbara Boxer of California have proposed an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act that could lead to the eradication of dogfighting in the United States.

"Dogfighting is simply barbaric and inhumane, and it is unacceptable that this cruel so-called ‘sport' still exists," Kerry said Thursday.

"There is no place for dogfighting in our civilized society, and we must outlaw it. It is time for us to address this issue with the seriousness it deserves.

Dogfighting recently came to public notice after Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was indicted last week on dogfighting-related charges.

A federal grand jury in Richmond, Virginia July 17 indicted Vick and three other men on charges related to their alleged operation of a dogfighting ring based at a property Vick owns in southeastern Virginia.

Vick was charged with competitive dogfighting and conducting the venture across state lines.

Vick told the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" newspaper that he was not aware of dogfighting activities on the property, saying he rarely visited it.

The Kerry-Boxer bill would amend the Animal Welfare Act and upgrade existing federal dogfighting laws by:

Marie Belew Wheatley, president and CEO of American Humane Association says there is a link between violence to animals and violence to people. "It's been shown that people who are cruel to animals are likely to commit violent acts against people as well," she said. "By helping to eliminate dogfighting, this bill will go a long way toward creating a more humane and compassionate society, not just for dogs, but for everyone."

Today, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said he prompted sports shoe giant Nike to suspend its commercial relationship with Vick.

"The allegations against Michael Vick are so serious and disturbing that The Humane Society of the United States called on its corporate backers to end their commercial relationships with the star player," said Pacelle. "We are very pleased that Nike has today signaled it has a zero tolerance policy for athletes who may be involved with staged animal fights and other forms of malicious animal cruelty by indefinitely suspending its relationship with Vick."

In a statement, Nike said the company has not terminated the relationship because Vick deserves "the same due process as any citizen in the United States."

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Plant-Based Plastic Green Toys Debut at Gift Show

SAN FRANCISCO, California, July 27, 2007 (ENS) - Cereplast, Inc., a publicly traded manufacturer of bio-based renewable plastics, said today that it will provide bio-based plastic resin for a new line of environmentally friendly toys from Green Toys™, Inc.

Green Toys will preview its first product lineup at the San Francisco International Gift Fair which opens tomorrow for five days at Moscone Center.

Green Toys' products made from Cereplast bio-based plastic resin bring a safe and responsible option to the toy department for environmentally conscious parents.

Cereplast resin is made from plants such as corn, wheat, potato and tapioca starches rather than petroleum. For this injection molding application, Cereplast is also using poly lactic acid from NatureWorks LLC, a stand-alone company owned by agricultural giant Cargill.

NatureWorks polymer is derived from the fermentation of dextrose, a form of sugar. NatureWorks is the world's first and only performance plastic made from 100 percent annually renewable resources.

These renewable resources ensure that the cost of production remains constant while creating a material that is phthalate-free, latex-free, asbestos-free, gluten-free and does not contain any heavy metals.
Green Toys plastic playthings are made from plants, not petroleum. (Photo courtesy Green Toys)
The safe and environmentally friendly plastic material in these children's toys also is compostable under controlled conditions.

"The wide range of applications for Cereplast resin continues to grow and Green Toys is proving yet again that bio-based plastic is just beginning to realize its market potential," said Frederic Scheer, Cereplast chairman and CEO.

In addition, Green Toys is using biodegradable colorants from PolyOne Corporation and is using packaging that is made from recycled paper products with no traditional plastics.

"As the mother of two young children, I understand parents wanting to do their part to improve and preserve our world for our children," said Laurie Hyman, co-founder of Green Toys. "Offering children toys that send a positive message about protecting our planet helps to educate the younger generation about how to make good choices for our environment. It may even create young ambassadors for Mother Nature."

Green Toys' initial products will be available in retail stores starting in the fall. They will include the Green Toys™ Tea Set, Green Toys™ Indoor Gardening Kit, Green Toys™ Cookware and Dining Set and the Green Toys™ Sand Play Set.

"We've been involved in creating fun and innovative toys for years, but with Green Toys Inc. we feel that we're doing more than providing children with entertainment," said Robert von Goeben, co-founder of Green Toys. "We're also offering a real alternative for consumers looking for Earth-friendly toys."

"Our products are a blast for kids, important to parents, and good for the Earth, von Goeben said. "What could be more fun than that?"

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