AmeriScan: June 16, 2005

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White House Official Who Altered Climate Reports Joins Exxon

WASHINGTON, DC, June 16, 2005 (ENS) - Philip Cooney, who resigned from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) last weekend after it was disclosed that he had changed government reports to minimize the evidence of climate change, has been hired by Exxon Mobil.

The former CEQ chief of staff "had been looking at other options for some time," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said today. "In terms of this individual, we wish him well. We appreciate his service," he said.

But last week, the Government Accountability Project, a public interest group that promotes government accountability, gave documents to the "New York Times" that showed Cooney "repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between [greenhouse gas] emissions and global warming." The edited reports were issued in 2002 and 2003.

One of the sentences that Cooney crossed out stated, "[Global] warming also will cause reductions in mountain glaciers and advance the timing of the melt of mountain snow peaks in polar regions."

Cooney, who has no scientific training, wrote a note stating that the section "stray[ed] from research strategy into speculative findings," a position which goes against the findings of the scientific community that the greenhouse effect is accelerating changes in the climate, the Government Accountability Project said.

The White House announced on the weekend that Cooney had resigned. White House spokesperson Dana Perino said Cooney's decision to leave was "completely unrelated" to the new that he had altered government climate reports.

Perino said Cooney had chosen to spend time with his family after having "accumulated many weeks of leave."

Before joining the White House staff, Cooney was an oil industry lobbyist who worked as the head of the climate program at the American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents the oil and gas industry. Exxon is a member of the American Petroleum Institute.

Cooney will join Exxon Mobil in the fall, company spokesman Russ Roberts told The Associated Press. He declined to describe what Cooney's position with the company would be.

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Volkswagen Fined $1.1 Million for Defective Emissions Sensors

WASHINGTON, DC, June 16, 2005 (ENS) - Volkswagen will pay $1.1 million to resolve its failure to promptly notify federal authorities and to correct a defective oxygen sensor in 1999, 2000 and 2001 Golfs, Jettas, and New Beetles. The sensor is part of the emissions control system.

This is the largest civil penalty to date for this type of violation, according to the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The oxygen sensor defect affected at least 329,000 of the company's cars. As part of this settlement, Volkswagen completed a voluntary recall of the problem vehicles at a cost of over $26 million.

Vehicles with the defect may release thousands of tons of pollutants including nonmethane hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide.

The nonmethane hydrocarbons are key reactants in the production of ozone, "a major contributor to cancer-causing smog," the EPA said.

Carbon monoxide impairs breathing and is especially harmful to children, people with asthma, and the elderly, said the agency.

The defect occurs gradually on engine start-up in cool and damp environments when the oxygen sensor cracks from "thermal shock." The dashboard indicator light illuminates, telling the owner to "Check Engine."

Volkswagen received numerous warranty claims associated with cracked oxygen sensors during the winter of 1999-2000, but did not report the defect to the EPA until June 2001.

EPA investigators had already discovered excess emissions from a randomly selected vehicle during a routine test.

"Reliable and effective automobile pollution control systems are an important part of this nation's air pollution reduction strategy," Thomas Skinner, acting assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said today.

Kelly Johnson, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said the "penalty imposed in this case underscores auto manufacturers' obligation to promptly alert the EPA of defects in emission control devices."

In addition to paying the civil penalty, Volkswagen will also improve its emissions defect investigation and reporting system to ensure future compliance.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

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Utilities, Federal Agencies to Cut Lead in School Drinking Water

SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 16, 2005 (ENS) - A memo signed Wednesday by federal agencies and water utilities commits them to reduce children's exposure to lead from drinking water at schools and childcare facilities

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Education, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Other associations signing the memo include the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, the National Association of Water Companies and the National Rural Water Association.

The agreement was announced at the AWWA's Annual Conference and Exhibition in San Francisco.

The signing organizations pledged to encourage schools and child-care facilities to test drinking water for lead, share results with parents and others, and take steps to correct problems.

"EPA's goal is to emphasize prevention by focusing on three T's: testing, telling, and training," said Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Water. "This agreement is a big step toward meeting our goal."

While lead is rarely present in water leaving treatment plants or traveling through distribution systems, it can leach into drinking water from lead plumbing, solders and fixtures. The water experts say testing water at the tap in schools or child-care facilities is the best way to determine if the facilities have elevated lead levels.

Lead is a health concern, particularly for young children, as high levels of lead can impair mental development. While a child's greatest exposure to lead is typically from contaminated paint, dirt and dust, lead in drinking water can contribute to overall lead exposure.

The signatories agreed to encourage schools and child care facilities to test drinking water for lead; disseminate results to parents, students, staff, and other stakeholders; and take appropriate and necessary actions to correct problems.

Deborah Price, assistant deputy secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education, said, "We're pleased to be working in a coordinated effort with the EPA and the CDC for the benefit of keeping children healthy. Schools will receive beneficial direction from this partnership so that they can understand and reduce children's lead exposure from drinking water."

Signatories will encourage the drinking water community to inform schools and childcare facilities in their efforts to understand and reduce lead exposure from drinking water.

AWWA Executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr said, "AWWA recognized the need early on to get information to our member utilities to assist them in interacting with schools and childcare facilities. AWWA is hopeful this joint effort with our partner organizations will add additional momentum to our individual efforts."

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Worst Red Tide Forces Closure of East Coast Shellfish Harvest

WASHINGTON, DC, June 16, 2005 (ENS) - NOAA Fisheries Service took emergency action Tuesday to close a portion of federal waters off the coasts of New Hampshire and Massachusetts to the harvest of all species of shellfish, with the exception of scallop meats, due to the spread of a red tide of toxic algal blooms.

"This is the largest bloom on record in New England history warranting a public health emergency," NOAA said.

Red tide is responsible for the production of marine biotoxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in persons consuming affected shellfish. The algae blooms create a neurotoxin that accumulates in filter-feeding shellfish and other parts of the marine food web. The consumption of affected shellfish poses a serious threat to public health.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), on behalf of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, requested NOAA Fisheries Service take immediate action to close this area given the severity of the illness associated with paralytic shellfish poisoning.

“The protection of public safety is paramount,” said NOAA Fisheries Service Director Dr. Bill Hogarth.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution are working closely with the FDA and NOAA Fisheries Service to monitor the situation.

Shellfish testing in these waters indicates the organisms that are capable of producing the toxin are increasing and the bloom is moving in an easterly direction toward Georges Bank.

The area of Nantucket Lightship has active shellfish beds for both surfclams and ocean quahogs that are in the affected area. But the majority of surfclams and ocean quahogs are harvested much further to the south and are in an unaffected area.

Sea scallop adductor muscles harvested and shucked at sea as well as the artisanal Maine quahog fishery are unaffected by the toxin and are considered safe for public consumption.

The closure will remain in effect until September 30, with the possibility of a reduction or an extension of the closure based upon FDA’s determination that the concentration of the toxin in shellfish is at a level considered safe for human consumption.

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U.S. Law Imposed Outside Country Worries Mexican Lawyers

QUERETARO, Mexico, June 16, 2005 (ENS) - A Mexican law firm, concerned over what it calls "a shift in U.S. environmental enforcement policy" that would apply U.S. law to Mexican companies with operations entirely outside the United States, today sent a formal protest to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about "the threat the policy poses to Mexican sovereignty."

The transnational enforcement of the U.S. Superfund law could impose full liability on any Mexican company for the entire cost of any cleanup of contamination that might cross the border, despite the proportion really attributable to the company and without regard for the company’s compliance with Mexican environmental laws, according to Robert May, a U.S. attorney and partner in the Mexican law firm of May, Cruz Consultores, S.C.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) is the law at issue.

“Such cross-border enforcement would include CERCLA’s strict liability aspects despite the fact that the conduct may be entirely legal in the foreign country or that absolutely no negligence is involved,” states the protest letter, drafted by May.

“In addition," the letter says, "CERCLA has been interpreted by U.S. courts as applying retroactively to conduct that may have occurred years, sometimes decades, before the statute was passed.” In the view of May’s firm, that could harm Mexican industry.

The protest letter states that “current EPA policy completely disregards the sovereignty of Mexican and Canadian environmental laws and institutions - and in fact attempts to supercede them, which in and of itself is unacceptably jingoistic and violates a basic legal precept contained in established U.S. law that statutes should be construed to avoid unreasonable interference with the sovereignty of other nations.”

May cites a case now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that involves Teck Cominco, a Canadian mining company with operations entirely within Canada. The company is being sued to force it to comply with an EPA Unilateral Administrative Order under the CERCLA.

"The Teck Cominco case has direct implications for Mexican industry," May says. "In various published articles about transboundary enforcement of U.S. environmental laws, EPA officials have indicated an interest in pursuing such enforcement both in Canada and Mexico."

May sent his protest letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, with copies in English and Spanish to more than 200 high-level U.S., Canadian and Mexican government officials and legislators.

The letter asks the U.S. government “to rethink its policy of hemispheric statutory hegemony, and to work collaboratively in innovative ways with its neighbors to achieve permanent and real environmental results.”

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South Korea Bans Poultry Imports From New York

SEOUL, South Korea, June 16, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Agriculture Department informed the World Organization for Animal Health on June 10 of the outbreak of a low-pathogenic bird flu (H7N2) on a duck farm in Sullivan, New York, according to a report Tuesday in "The Korea Times" newspaper.

The report is briefly listed on the website of the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA), which says, "The export of poultry and pet birds from New York State is currently prohibited effective 06-10-05 due to the finding of H7N2 (low pathogenicity notifiable avian influenza - LPNAI) in ducks in New York."

As a result, South Korea has halted the import of poultry products from New York State, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said Tuesday.

The virus is known as the H7N2 strain, but it can develop into a high-pathogenic one and infect humans, the Korean ministry said, adding that the U.S. farm authorities are conducting further tests.

Korea's quarantine halt is limited only to poultry from the state of New York, and it will be lifted once the influenza is confirmed to be low-pathogenic, the ministry said.

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Environmental Loophole Pinpointed in Development Bank Standards

WASHINGTON, DC, June 16, 2005 (ENS) - A report released Wednesday by the World Resources Institute recommends that multilateral development banks incorporate environmental and social policies into their lending to financial intermediary institutions in developing countries.

The report is released as the World Bank Group's private-sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), updates its environmental and social safeguards.

The revised policies are expected to be approved by the World Bank Board within the next few months, but the latest draft of these "performance standards" does not address how the new guidelines will apply to financial intermediary institutions.

Traditionally, multilateral development banks have made direct loans for projects such as roads and large dams. However, the growing trend is for these large banks to make loans to intermediary banks, such as commercial banks or investment funds, which then invest the money in projects.

The projects funded by the intermediary banks may range from large infrastructure developments, such as dams, to small and medium sized businesses.

s WRI's report, "Multilateral Development Bank Lending Through Financial Intermediaries: Environmental and Social Challenges," finds that multilateral development banks often support loans to financial intermediary institutions based only on a limited assessment of potential environmental and social impacts of the subprojects.

"Large lending banks such as the IFC should require the same standards for all projects, whether the lending is direct or channeled through a financial intermediary," said Atiyah Curmally of the World Resources Institute (WRI), who co-authored the report with WRI's Jon Sohn and Christopher Wright.

"As it stands now in the draft performance standards, a large percentage of IFC lending may not require application of environmental and social standards - a potentially significant loophole."

The report surveys the current financial intermediary lending practices of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the IFC.

The report's findings are based on interviews with staff members at the multilateral development banks and a survey of their publications.

WRI's report recommends that multilateral development banks create a new environmental and social policy system that applies traditional multilateral development bank environmental and social safeguards to financial intermediary institutions.

The larger banks should develop a transparent environmental and social risk rating tool to ensure that all financial intermediary institutions have the ability to manage subproject risks prior to making investments in those subprojects, WRI recommends.

Increased transparency and information disclosure for financial intermediary investments should be required, WRI suggests.

The report also advises that donor countries increase support for funds to build the capacity of financial intermediary institutions to manage environmental and social risks.

The report is available online at: www.wri.org/iffe.

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