AmeriScan: June 28, 2005

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States Pursue Clean Air Cases Stalled by Bush Administration

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, June 28, 2005 (ENS) - Five East coast states today filed a federal lawsuit, charging that the corporate owners of three large coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania have violated the Clean Air Act. Some of the plants have been operating since the 1950s with inadequate air pollution controls, the lawsuit charges.

Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey filed their complaint against Allegheny Energy, Inc. and its subsidiaries in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said, "The sky is not a dumping ground for industrial pollution. Pollution from these coal-fired power plants operating without adequate emission controls harms the public health and the environment in New York and other states. It is fair and right to hold these plants accountable to the law."

While major upgrades have been made to improve the plants’ power producing capacity, their owners failed to install modern pollution controls as required by law, the states allege. As a result, the plants emit thousands of tons of air pollution each year, the plaintiff states complain, saying that the pollution causes smog and acid rain in Pennsylvania communities and nearby downwind states.

Pennsylvania Environmental Secretary Kathleen McGinty said, "We are calling on Allegheny Energy to put in place equipment and operational changes that will enable its plants to perform in a manner that meets the highest standards for environmental protection."

"We hope that Allegheny Energy will work with us expeditiously to clean up their plants and protect public health," McGinty said. "Allegheny’s new management team has been working to clean up the company’s financial and environmental performance. It’s time now to get the job done for the people of Pennsylvania."

Extensive documentation turned over to the states by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that the power plant owners violated the New Source Review provision of the Clean Air Act, the attorneys general say.

Established in 1977, the New Source Review program requires that an air pollution source, such as a power plant or factory, must install the best pollution control equipment available when it builds a new facility or modifies an existing facility in a way that increases emissions.

Despite having developed cases against the three power plants for ongoing Clean Air Act violations, the federal government has not brought enforcement actions.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said, "This aggressive action is necessary to protect our health because the federal government has unconscionably orphaned this case and abandoned environmental protection. Recent court decisions are consistent with our case, which relies on the Clean Air Act’s clear language. We will hold these plants accountable for causing more smog and acid rain and more asthma and respiratory disease."

The attorneys general say their case was given a boost by last week’s decision of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. That ruling rejected an argument from the power industry that only an increase in the hourly emission rate, as opposed to an increase in actual annual pollution, would trigger the Clean Air Act’s pollution control requirement.

But Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coalition of utilities, relies on other court rulings. "These northeastern political officials have lashed themselves to legal theories that have been roundly rejected in a series of federal court decisions," Segal said. "The courts in Duke Energy and in Alabama Power have rejected the specific basis for emissions increase that is crucial to the northeastern AG's theory."

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. said, "Maryland’s air quality and the Chesapeake Bay are directly and adversely impacted by emissions from coal-fired power plants in upwind states. Fair and uniform application of the nation’s clean air laws, which is the goal of this litigation, will significantly advance Maryland’s efforts to attain the federal ambient air quality standards."

The power plants at issue are the Armstrong plant in Armstrong County, the Mitchell plant in Washington County, and Hatfield’s Ferry in Greene County.

New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey said, "Allegheny Energy has ignored the requirements of the Clean Air Act at these three plants, increasing emissions that harm our children with asthma and our senior citizens with respiratory ailments. The Hatfield’s Ferry plant is among the worst coal-fired power plants in terms of its harm to public health and the environment of New Jersey."

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Hot, Windy Southwest Weather Causes Extreme Fire Danger

NORMAN, Oklahoma, June 28, 2005 (ENS) - Weather conditions on Tuesday have the potential to create "a significant fire weather situation" across parts of southeastern Nevada, southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona, according to forecasters with the NOAA Storm Prediction Center.

A very high to extreme fire danger coupled with strong gusty winds, low afternoon humidity and the chance of dry thunderstorms are all coming together across this area of the southwest Tuesday, said Phillip Bothwell, NOAA Storm Prediction Center senior development meteorologist.

"Thunderstorms have occurred across parts of the area early this morning," Bothwell explained. "The timing of the events will be critical for fire weather concerns. Some of the storms may produce wetting rains, although most are expected to be dry thunderstorms with little precipitation reaching the ground. It is the combination of the timing of the thunderstorms, the amount of rainfall they produce, the location of lightning strikes and the very hot, dry and windy surface conditions that could cause a significant fire weather threat."

The greatest threat for wildfires would be expected to follow after the lightning strikes where little precipitation has occurred across the very dry vegetation when dry southwesterly winds of 20 mph with gusts of 40 mph can be expected. Those involved with fire weather across southeastern Nevada, southwestern Utah and northwest Arizona should monitor the weather conditions and stay alert for the latest statements from their local NOAA National Weather Service forecast offices.

The next few days will bring somewhat lighter winds but continued hot and dry conditions, Bothwell said.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho said that Red Flag Warnings are in effect for Western Utah and the Arizona Strip for low humidity and strong winds. They are also in effect for central, east-central and southern Nevada for gusty winds, low relative humidity and dry lightning.

Windy weather continues today in the Great Basin and Arizona due to a combination of a low pressure trough in the Pacific Northwest and a strong ridge over the Southwest. In addition, an upper low swinging through central California and eventually across the Great Basin will bring a threat of dry lightning to portions of the Great Basin and Arizona, the NIFC warned.

s While the 68,000 acre fire near St. George, Utah is 90 percent contained today, but the Shivwits Indian Reservation, commercial communications sites, power lines, gas lines and wildlife habitat remain threatened. Highway 91 remains closed.

Firefighters also are battling another Utah fire that is still out of control. A subdivision in the town of Harmony Heights was evacuated today as the Blue Spring Fire in the Dixie National Forest burned too close for comfort. This fire is three miles north of Leeds and is burning in grass, pinyon, pine and oak brush. It has scorched 10,000 acres and is only 30 percent contained.

The community of New Harmony, wildlife habit and wilderness values are threatened. Traffic along the I-15 corridor is a safety concern. "Increasing afternoon winds caused torching and crowning," fire officials said.

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Warming Climate Forecast to Wipe Out Ducks, Geese

WASHINGTON, DC, June 28, 2005 (ENS) - A warmer climate and shrinking wetlands caused by global warming means trouble for ducks, geese and other migratory waterfowl, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) warns in a new scientific report.

The birds face "substantial population declines during this century in North America," according to "The Waterfowler’s Guide to Global Warming," issued Monday.

Ducks and geese that use America’s flyways face "a trifecta of troubles caused by global warming," says National Wildlife Federation President Larry Schweiger, "including major loss of prime breeding grounds, a reduction of coastal winter habitat and disruptions in migration."

The first comprehensive look at how global warming affects North American waterfowl, the report was issued jointly by the National Wildlife Federation and 27 of its affiliated state conservation organizations.

The wildlife advocacy organization is looking to sportsmen to help battle climate change on behalf of the waterfowl they enjoy hunting.

"I am confident that sportsmen will lead the way in overcoming this challenge," said Schweiger. "We must not allow global warming to take our nation’s waterfowl legacy away from our children. Global warming poses a basic threat to our conservation tradition. It challenges our responsibility to be good stewards of the water, land and wildlife."

The report looks at how projected global warming could affect waterfowl in each of the four North American flyways - Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific.

The NWF calls "startling" findings that global warming could reduce wetland habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region by up to 91 percent by 2080.

Patty Glick, global warming specialist for the National Wildlife Federation and the report’s author, said, "As the climate warms and evaporation and plant transpiration increase, many of these ponds are likely to dry up or be wet for shorter periods, making them less suitable habitat for breeding pairs and duck broods."

This could result in a decline in duck breeding pairs of anywhere from nine to 69 percent, the research shows. Species at particular risk include mallards, gadwall, blue-winged teal, northern pintails, canvasbacks, redheads and ruddy ducks.

"Waterfowl are part of an American wildlife tradition that we cannot afford to lose," says George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, a co-sponsor of the report. "The millions of ducks, geese and cranes Americans love depend on the health of the Prairie Potholes as a breeding ground, and we could be leaving ducks high and dry by the end of the century."

The Prairie Pothole Region is dubbed North America’s Duck Factory because it produces millions of ducks and geese annually in millions of shallow depressions and ponds that fill with water in spring, providing ideal breeding habitat.

On the coasts, waterfowl are facing the loss of up to 45 percent of the wetlands they depend on in winter due to a possible 3 to 34 inch rise in average sea level by 2100, the report states.

Especially vulnerable are the shallow wetlands of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts that provide important wintering habitat for diving ducks such as canvasbacks, redheads, ruddy ducks and scaup.

In northern breeding habitats, the ducks and geese are breeding earlier and expanding their ranges farther north. Warmer fall and winter temperatures in the north may reduce seasonal ice cover, making it unnecessary for ducks and geese to fly as far south to find ice free water and adequate food.

Thawing permafrost and changes in the vegetation of boreal forests and tundra regions of Alaska and Canada also could affect important breeding habitat for North America’s waterfowl.

"Even where changes associated with global warming alone might not cause problems, the combined effects from human activities such as oil and gas development, forestry, mining and global warming make it difficult for some waterfowl to adapt to a rapidly changing environment," says Glick. "Waterfowl face an up-hill battle."

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House Votes Wild and Scenic Status for White Salmon River

WASHINGTON, DC, June 28, 2005 (ENS) - Legislation to include a portion of the White Salmon River in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System passed the House of Representatives Monday.

Introduced by Congressman Brian Baird, a Washington Democrat, the measure creates wild and scenic river protection for 20 miles of the Upper White Salmon River and its tributary, Cascade Creek, within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

"The upper White Salmon is one of Washington’s true natural treasures," said Baird. "I am thrilled Congress has recognized the Upper White Salmon’s value and voted to preserve its unique and irreplaceable resources."

The bill has broad public support within the local community and throughout the region, including the support of the U.S. Forest Service.

"We commend Representative Baird for his leadership to ensure that future generations of Washington residents will be able to enjoy the same pristine river that we do today," said Connie Kelleher, staff attorney with American Rivers. "We congratulate the Friends of the White Salmon River for years of hard work that have paid off today."

"The Upper White Salmon’s beauty and abundance should be preserved for future generations to enjoy," said Baird. "This wild and scenic river designation will allow fishing enthusiasts, hikers, river rafters, paddlers, and sightseers to enjoy a pristine river setting. The designation will also benefit the local hospitality industry and area businesses."

If the Senate passes the bill and it is signed by President George W. Bush, the upper White Salmon will become Washington's fourth wild and scenic river - joining the lower White Salmon, Klickitat, Skagit rivers.

Congress added the lower White Salmon River to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1986, at the same time directing the Forest Service to study the upper White Salmon for possible wild and scenic designation.

To qualify, a river must be free-flowing and must be deemed to have one or more "outstandingly remarkable" scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values.

Currently, there are 163 wild and scenic rivers in the United States, totaling 11,302.9 miles.

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Florida Constructs Hurricane Resistant Building Codes

GAINESVILLE, Florida, June 28, 2005 (ENS) - New Florida homes withstood last year's four hurricanes better than their older counterparts due to improvements in the state's hurricane building code, say University of Florida engineers.

UF engineering researchers have completed one of the most extensive studies of how homes built before and after Florida's latest building code held up against hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan.

They concluded that homes built under the Florida Building Code that became effective in 2002 sustained less damage on average than those built between 1994 and 2001 under the Standard Building Code. Homes completed before 1994 fared even worse.

"The iterations and changes over the years to the codes Florida uses have made a measurable difference," said Kurt Gurley, a UF associate professor of civil engineering and the lead investigator on the project.

The engineers, whose study of 200 homes was funded with a $90,000 grant from the Florida Building Commission (FBC) through the Florida Department of Community Affairs, presented their report today at the FBC's meeting in St. Petersburg.

A subcommittee will consider the study as well as other research and information to help steer recommendations for possible new code changes later this year.

The UF research is important because it demonstrates that quality codes are a key part of the prescription against hurricane damage, said Jeff Burton, building code manager at the Tampa-based Institute for Business & Home Safety, a building safety advocacy group whose engineering experts participated in the study. That is especially true outside Florida, already considered the nation's leader in wind protection codes, Burton said.

"Comparatively speaking, there are other states that have no codes that have a high probability of a hurricane making landfall," he said. "In my line of work, I go to various states and try to educate them. Unless you have proof that they need codes, number one, and number two, that they actually work, it's a hard sell."

Gurley and his team found that shingle-roofed homes built under the 2002 code retained more asphalt shingles than homes built under the 1994 code. Retaining shingles is critical in hurricanes because loss of too many can compromise the roof, allowing rain to enter the attic and living space. The new code requires shingles rated to withstand higher winds than the previous code.

The team also found that a recent requirement for reinforced garage doors proved effective. They saw many pre-1994 homes whose weaker garage doors were blown off their tracks, a failure that often allowed wind to enter the house, damage the contents and attack the integrity of the roof from inside.

Homes built under the newest code did not survive unscathed, Gurley said. Wind sometimes damaged or blew out the soffits, vents located underneath roof overhangs to allow air to circulate through the attic. This allowed wind-driven rain to enter the attic, soaking insulation, damaging ceilings and home contents.

Gurley said improving soffit performance is one area the Florida Building Commission will likely tackle in its next set of code revisions.

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Reward Offered in Monterey Bay Sea Otter Killings

MONTEREY, California, June 28, 2005 (ENS) - Defenders of Wildlife is offering a total of $2,500 as a reward to the witness or witnesses who provide information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the shooting of two sea otters in the Monterey Bay area on or about May 7, 2005 and June 12, 2005.

"We are outraged by these senseless shootings. These heinous crimes will simply not be tolerated," said Jim Curland, marine program associate for Defenders of Wildlife. "We hope the reward will be instrumental in identifying the culprits involved and that appropriate legal action will soon follow."

The sea otter is protected under both the federal Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act and has a "fully protected status" under California state law. Currently, the California sea otter population is estimated at slightly over 2,800 animals.

Previous reward offers still stand for those responsible for the killing of a sea otter that was found in mid-April of 2000 in Santa Barbara County, another sea otter found in September 2000 in Monterey Bay, otters found shot in March and August of 2002 in Santa Barbara County, and an additional otter found shot in June 2002 in San Luis Obispo County.

In the marine ecosystem, sea otters are considered a keystone species, meaning that their presence or absence has an impact on other marine species and marine ecosystems. Sea otters help sustain vital kelp forests by feeding on the shellfish and other plant-eating species that would otherwise consume kelp forests. Kelp forests, in turn, serve as important nursery grounds for many types of fin fishes.

Curland emphasized the importance of public involvement in solving shooting incidents. "We hope that anyone with information that could lead to the apprehension of the individual or individuals involved will do the right thing and contact U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."

Funding for the Defenders of Wildlife's reward comes from their Imperiled Predator Reward Fund established in 1998 to bring those who kill predator species to justice.

Anyone with knowledge of the sea otter killings can contact Special Agent Ed Newcomer of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, by phone at 310-328-1516 x230 or by email at: ed_newcomer@fws.gov

For more on California sea otters, visit: http://www.defenders.org/wildlife/new/marine/otters/ca/overview.html

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Forest Conservation Film Now Online

MISSOULA, Montana, June 28, 2005 (ENS) - A new documentary film about the wonders of the U.S. National Forests and the threats they face is now available online. This nine-minute DVD is an introduction to the national forests and is intended as a resource for educators and citizens interested in the environment, and the clean water, wildlife and recreation these forests provide.

"America's National Forests" is produced by the Unified Forest Defense Campaign, a coalition of national and regional conservation organizations and High Plains Films. It is written and narrated by award-winning author Rick Bass.

This film takes the position that government fuels management that is supposed to be protecting homes and communities from fire or restoring the national forests is instead focused on logging big trees deep in the back country.

Corporate interests have taken more from the forests than the forests can sustain, says narrator Bass. Roads are winding ever farther and deeper through the forests "at staggering cost to the taxpayer."

The forests are now also bearing the weight of oil and gas industry. Montana's majestic Rocky Mountain front is now "up for grabs," even though it is thought to hold just a few hours worth of fuel, Bass says in the film.

The explosive proliferation of off-road vehicles is one of the greatest threats to the peace and quiet of the national forests, the film says. It takes the view that the forests should be reserved for quieter pursuits such as hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, fishing and even hunting.

To view the film, click on one of the following links:

Real Player Broadband http://real.newmediamill.speedera.net/ramgen/real.newmediamill/ufdc/forestsbb.rm

Real Player Dial Up http://real.newmediamill.speedera.net/ramgen/real.newmediamill/ufdc/forestsmd.rm

Windows Player Broadband mms://wm.newmediamill.speedera.net/wm.newmediamill/ufdc/forestsbb.wmv

Windows Player Dial Up mms://wm.newmediamill.speedera.net/wm.newmediamill/ufdc/forestsmd.wmv

Bass, who lives in Montana's Yaak Valley, is the author of 21 books, including "Where the Sea Used to Be." His stories have been awarded the Pushcart Prize and the O. Henry Award and have been collected in The Best American Short Stories.

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