AmeriScan: June 20, 2005

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Court Orders Bush to Release Some Energy Records

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20, 2005 (ENS) - In a mixed ruling Friday, a federal appellate court upheld a lower court decision that the Bush administration improperly withheld documents related to the fast tracking of federal energy projects.

But the court also ruled that the administration could continue to withhold the records of key staffers of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, officially called the National Energy Policy Development Group.

In a lawsuit brought by the the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the D.C. Court of Appeals found that Ronald Montagna, a Bureau of Land Management official, remained an employee of the Interior Department while serving on the White House Task Force on Energy Project Streamlining.

As a result, the court ordered the Bureau of Land Management to search and publicly disclose records related to Montagna's work on that task force. The streamlining task force has opened public lands to energy development at the expense of environmental protection and public participation, claims the NRDC.

But the court declined to grant the environmental group's request to obtain additional documents related to Cheney's energy task force, which met during the spring of 2001 in the first year of the Bush administration.

The task force produced an energy policy that relies on oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear power rather than renewables, conservation and efficiency. Legislation based on that policy has been passed by the House of Representatives and is moving through the Senate this week.

Specifically, the appellate court denied public access to the records of key task force officials, including Andrew Lundquist, the panel's executive director, who remained employed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) while staffing the task force.

In March 2004, federal district Judge Paul Friedman had ruled in NRDC's favor and ordered the Energy Department to release the Lundquist records. The U.S. Court of Appeals has now reversed part of that decision.

The appellate court found that Lundquist and the others were employees of DOE in name only and so their records were not subject to public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

"NRDC's court victories have already produced enough evidence to show that industry all but held the pen in crafting the Bush administration's polluter-friendly energy policy," said NRDC senior attorney Sharon Buccino. "But because Mr. Lundquist ran the secret task force, his records no doubt would have produced the most revealing information yet about the role of industry lobbyists."

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National Ocean Policy Bill Introduced in Congress

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20, 2005 (ENS) - Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House of Represenatives on Thursday establishes a national policy "to protect, maintain, and restore the health of marine ecosystems" and national standards for implementing the policy to ensure that federal agency actions are consistent with the policy.

The Oceans Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century Act (OCEANS-21) was introduced by Republican Congressmen Jim Saxton of New Jersey and Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania in concert with Democrats Tom Allen of Maine and Sam Farr of California.

Both the Congressionally mandated U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the independent Pew Oceans Commission conducted in depth studies that last year found U.S. marine ecosystems in danger of imminent collapse.

The bill met with conservationist approval. "Our oceans are a public trust-they belong to all of us. And with that trust comes a shared responsibility for stewardship," said Roger Rufe, president of The Ocean Conservancy.

"The OCEANS-21 Act addresses the need for better stewardship through a national vision for protecting, maintaining and restoring our oceans and calls for an ecosystem-based approach to ocean management," said Rufe.

The bill gives the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration increased authority in budget and personnel decisions. It directs the agency to carry out the national ocean policy using ecosystem-based management approaches.

It provides for budget review within natural resource programs at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The measure establishes a National Oceans Advisor to the President and a cabinet-level Committee on Ocean Policy to harmonize federal activities relating to ocean health.

Eight federal-state regional ocean partnership entities are established to develop and implement Regional Ocean Strategic Plans with a $1.3 billion annual budget.

"The time to act is now," urged Rufe, encouraging all elected officials "to follow the leadership of Allen, Farr, Saxton and Weldon and support this legislation."

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Appeals Court Upholds EPA's Storm Water General Permit

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20, 2005 (ENS) - The National Association of Home Builders and Wisconsin Builders Association are proclaiming victory after a ruling in a federal appeals court last week upheld the federal government's method for regulating storm water discharges from construction sites under the Clean Water Act.

The June 13 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, affects the home building, general construction, mining, and agricultural industries.

The decision in the case of Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, et al. v. EPA, addresses whether the public has the right to review each individual storm water management plan created under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Construction General Permit program.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the petitioners, requested that the Notice of Intent and Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan for each permit be made publicly available.

The EPA defended the Construction General Permit, and the National Association of Home Builders and several other builders’ groups aligned as intervenor-defendents.

In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the Construction General Permit does not violate the Clean Water Act’s requirements for public notice and public hearing.

The court also held that the EPA, which issues the permit, complied with requirements of the Endangered Species Act and dismissed the remaining permit challenges, saying the petitioner lacked standing.

The NRDC’s claim that the permit violates the Endangered Species Act was rejected, in part, because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the Endangered Species Act, told the court that “issuance of the General Permit was not likely to adversely affect those species and habitats.”

“This is a critical victory for home builders because lawsuits like these eat away at housing affordability,” said David Wilson, president of the National Association of Home Builders and a custom home builder from Ketchum, Idaho. “Builders want to protect the environment, but we do not want more layers of regulation that cost time and money to fulfill and do little to protect the environment.”

Compliance with existing storm water requirements already adds from $1,400 to $4,500 to the cost of every lot, Wilson said.

“While we believe there is still room for improvement in the storm water permitting program, we are relieved that no additional permitting costs will be added to the cost of housing, which is already loaded down with fees,” said Wilson.

The Construction General Permit is used by builders in five states and as a model for the majority of states that regulate storm water discharge.

The Construction General Permit outlines a set of provisions construction operators must follow to comply with the requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) storm water regulations. The general permit covers any site one acre and above, including smaller sites that are part of a larger common plan of development or sale.

While it is the most streamlined permitting mechanism available to builders, they must still file a Notice of Intent, develop an implementing a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan, undergo inspections and submit a Notice of Termination.

"The Seventh Circuit ruling showed that EPA's existing program provides responsible regulatory oversight without undue burden on industry," said R. Timothy McCrum, partner in the law firm of Crowell & Moring, which represented the builders. "Had the court not ruled sensibly, Americans would have almost certainly seen extensive and costly delays in the building of new homes and other important economic development projects."

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New Mexico Governor Seeks to Limit Climate Change

SANTA FE, New Mexico, June 20, 2005 (ENS) - New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is looking for ways the state can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. He has signed an Executive Order that directs the New Mexico Climate Change Advisory Group to determine how New Mexico's total greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced to 2000 levels by 2012.

By comparison, the Kyoto Protocol requires that signatories reduce greenhouse gas emissions to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Richardson's Executive Order, signed June 9, asks the 40 member advisory group, which includes industry, environmental, and tribal representation, to find ways to cut the state's greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent below 2000 levels by 2020, and 75 percent below 2000 levels by 2050.

“A group of national science academies from various nations including Brazil, China, India, Japan, Russia, and the United States has confirmed the science of global warming and climate change,” said Richardson.

“Those groups agree that we must work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and if we don’t act soon, the potential consequences could be devastating - from sea level change, to drought, to weather disasters," he said.

Scientists have found that continued warming in New Mexico could result in a reduction in water supplies, shorter and warmer winters with winter precipitation falling more often as rain than snow, earlier snowmelts, greater water loss due to evaporation, more wildfires, more extreme weather events, such as drought and floods, higher energy costs for cooling in the summer, greater risk of heat related illnesses, and disruptions to natural habitats and ecosystems.

A former secretary of energy under the Clinton administration, Richardson said, "Without action at the federal level, states like New Mexico have a responsibility to address this important issue.”

The New Mexico Climate Change Advisory Group includes representatives of the Public Service Company of New Mexico, the mining company Phelps Dodge, the New Mexico Farm Bureau, Angel Fire Ski Area, Duke Energy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Coalition for Clean and Affordable Energy, the Navajo Nation, the All Indian Pueblo Council, and the Municipal League.

The Advisory Group's first meeting will be held in July and will include an in-depth discussion on the science of climate change. This event, and all future meetings of the group, will be open to the public.

Richardson is not the only governor to address climate change. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an Executive Order June 1 that establishes stricter targets for reduction of global warming pollution.

By 2010, California emissions will be reduced to 2000 levels, or by 11 percent. By 2020, California emissions must drop to 1990 levels, or by 25 percent; and then by 2050, California emissions must fall to 80 percent below 1990 levels.

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Pima County to Pay $1.3 Million for Tucson Sewage Spill

TUCSON, Arizona, June 20, 2005 (ENS) - The release of up to 30 million gallons of raw sewage into the Santa Cruz River in September 2002, as well more than 200 other unlawful discharges, have cost the Pima County Wastewater Management Department $1.3 million.

The county, which contains the city of Tucson, has agreed to pay a $500,000 civil penalty and spend $800,000 to purchase land near its wastewater facilities for wildlife habitat, and flood control as a supplemental environmental project.

Starting on September 7, 2002, raw sewage was discharged for 12 days from the County's Northeast Outfall Interceptor located near Speedway Boulevard in Tucson, resulting in the release of up to 30 million gallons of raw sewage into the Santa Cruz River.

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Steve Owens said, "The Speedway discharge was the largest spill of raw sewage in Arizona's history, and there have been other unlawful discharges as well."

The settlement, approved by the Superior Court on June 15, covers at least 214 other unlawful releases of raw sewage from the County's system since January 2001 through March 2005.

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New Jersey Solar Market Takes Off

NEWARK, New Jersey, June 20, 2005 (ENS) - More than 100 solar market participants gathered today at the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s solar rooftop terrace to celebrate the summer solstice and a milestone in the growth of New Jersey’s solar market.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities Office of Clean Energy reported that over 500 solar electric systems have been installed in New Jersey since 2001 through the New Jersey Clean Energy Program, and the market is strengthening.

A new solar credits program that pays solar system owners for generating and using clean, emission free electricity is helping to finance many of those systems and building confidence in New Jersey’s solar market.

"We in New Jersey are proud to be at the forefront of the growing and booming solar market industry," said Acting Governor Richard Codey. "In addition, we offer some of the most generous rebates and incentives in the nation in an effort to encourage the use of renewable energy."

The Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) Program is New Jersey’s financing mechanism for solar electricity and a way to compensate solar generators for the generation and use of clean, emission free power.

Registered-solar owners receive one SREC certificate for each 1,000 kWh of electricity produced by the solar system.

These certificates can then be traded at prices ranging from $160 to over $200, depending on market dynamics and the amount of demand for SRECs.

The Office of Clean Energy reports today 2,216 SRECs were traded in the first year and New Jersey SREC prices have trended upward, ranging from $160 in August 2004 to $200 in April 2005.

Demand is forecast to double in the in reporting year 2005.

An average residential solar system produces 8,000 kWh, at no cost, and generates up to $1,600 a year. Along with the solar rebates available through the state, the added revenues improve business and residential customers’ ability to finance projects and reduce the payback period for solar.

s “The ‘New Jersey Solar Mixer’ is a great opportunity for all involved parties to come together, celebrate our triumphant beginning, and share plans for an even more successful future – in an industry that is currently booming,” said Jeanne Fox, president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

“Our hope is that clean and renewable energy in New Jersey will become an industry that is regulated by the market and will respond to market demands, sustaining itself and creating alternatives to cleaner generation of electricity.”

In the year since the SRECs were first approved in New Jersey, the Office of Clean Energy today reports that New Jersey residents and businesses received a total of $21 million in solar rebates since 2001 - nearly $11 million in 2004 alone.

Consumer demand in New Jersey for solar has quadrupled from 42 systems installed in 2002 to 282 systems installed in 2004.

The most unique feature of New Jersey’s program is that SRECs are owned by the system owners, creating an incentive for both residential and business customers to invest in solar.

In other states, the utilities or installers own the renewable energy certificates.

Large and small solar electric systems owners attended today's event, networking with trade companies, solar installers, manufacturing companies and large national entities that are part of the US solar and renewable market - such as BP Solar, the MidAtlantic Solar Energy Industry Association, Johnson & Johnson, Sun Farm Ventures, Inc., and Reliant Energy Solutions.

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Small Oil Spill Causes Big Trouble for Louisiana Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, June 20, 2005 (ENS) - About 560 gallons of light crude oil that spilled into a national wildlife refuge south of Gulfport has fouled a brown pelican nesting area, leaving at least 460 birds dead.

The small spill, which occured during Tropical Storm Arlene last weekend brought personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office, and Louisiana State Department of Environmental Quality and Amerada Hess to the scene.

All crews are working together to clean up the spill and to recover as much of the affected wildlife as possible.

The spill happened at Breton Sound 51 Platform, operated by Amerada Hess near the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, some 60 miles southeast of New Orleans.

The oil company crew evacuated the rig during the storm Sunday and returned later in the day to discover the oil spill, the Coast Guard said.

The spill was not large, only about 15 barrels, but it was enough to affect up to 1,000 birds as well as shoreline and marsh grasses.

"We are deeply concerned about this unfortunate incident and we are taking all possible steps to respond," said Gerald Bresnick, Vice President, Environment, Health and Safety Amerada Hess Corporation. "We will continue to work closely with all federal and state agencies to mitigate this situation as quickly as possible."

Last week, more than 75 people were on the scene to recover the released oil and to aid in the recovery of the affected wildlife.

Containment boom and absorbent pads were deployed on site and the Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education, and the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) have established a rehabilitation site in Venice, Louisiana, to care for oiled birds.

A restricted zone has been established for aircraft and vessels; aircraft are not permitted within five miles of the site and vessels within two miles.

The IBRRC rushed 10 oil spill team members to this spill. "Many of the pelicans are babies, the nonprofit bird rescue group said.

The pelican rookery was part of an effort to rebuild Louisiana's brown pelican population, harmed by the use of pesticides like DDT in the 1950s and 1960s.

The spill roused IBRRC's concern for another population of pelicans near its headquarters in Southern California. "An oil spill near Anacapa Island could devastate our own endangered brown pelican population," the group said of the Anacapa islands in the Santa Barbara Channel.

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