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AmeriScan: June 30, 2005

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Congressional Democrats Try to Block Bush Mercury Rule

WASHINGTON, DC, June 30, 2005 (ENS) - House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and four fellow Democrats introduced a joint resolution Wednesday to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) mercury rule.

The House members were joined by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, who introduced a Senate companion to the legislation.

The EPA issued its mercury "cap and trade" rule in March which would grant coal- fired power plants mercury allowances. Those mercury allowances could be sold to other power plants, if emissions fall below the allowable levels.

The Bush administration says this is the first control ever placed on emissions of mercury and the market-based system would allow the industry the time to develop the technology necessary to reduce mercury emissions.

Critics say the rule would allow pollution to continue for more than a decade beyond what the Clean Air Act requires.

Pelosi said, "President Bush's mercury rule is a gift to the big energy companies that helped put him in office. The administration downplayed scientific evidence of the dangers of mercury and even let energy lobbyists write parts of the mercury rule. We should enforce the Clean Air Act and require all power plants to rapidly reduce mercury pollution, which is so hazardous to our children. Democrats will do everything in our power to stop this dangerous rule."

Mercury is a neurotoxin that bio-accumulates in the environment and passes up the food chain. In the Northeast, 84,000 newborns are at risk of mercury-related brain damage per year.

Coal-fired power plants are a leading generator of human-made mercury emissions. Eating contaminated fish is the chief danger for human exposure, and it can be unhealthy to an unborn fetus if ingested by the mother.

Congressmen Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, Tom Allen of Maine, Henry Waxman of California, and Jim Cooper of Tennessee joined Pelosi in sponsoring the mercury resolution.

Meehan said, "A recent study by the Biodiversity Research Institute found nine mercury hot-spots in the Northeast region, including a major zone north of Boston in Massachusetts and in southern New Hampshire. With the EPA reporting that one in six American women of child-bearing age has unsafe levels of mercury, it's outrageous for the Bush administration to allow companies to continue to pollute water supplies with tons of mercury, which is a neurotoxin."

"This weekend, millions of Americans will celebrate our nation's 229th birthday with a shorefront vacation," Allen said. "In virtually every state, they will be warned that mercury pollution may make the fish they catch dangerous to eat. In Maine and 16 other states, such warnings apply to every lake, river and stream."

"In its 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, Congress mandated a clear timetable to require that mercury be regulated as a hazardous air pollutant," said Allen. "Our resolution will direct the Bush administration to obey the law and abandon its plan to delay mercury regulations for another decade."

Waxman said, "The administration's mercury rule is a regulatory travesty. It fails to protect the public and the environment from toxic mercury emissions, blatantly ignores the Clean Air Act, lacks critical supporting analyses, and allows industry to avoid using available and cost-effective controls. Congress should insist on a strong and protective rule to reduce mercury pollution, as the law requires."

"My home state of Tennessee has long been recognized as a sportsman's paradise with beautiful lakes and streams enjoyed by Tennesseeans and visitors alike," said Cooper. "Unfortunately, Tennessee is now also ranked as one of the worst states for mercury pollution. We must do everything we can to protect our health and wildlife, and we need to do it now."

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Conservation Alliance Intensifies Arctic Refuge Campaign

WASHINGTON, DC, June 30, 2005 (ENS) - Congress is expected to vote this fall on whether to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling, so a coalition of conservation, religious, and citizens organizations will be using the summer months to campaign for protection of the pristine area on Alaska's North Slope.

“Every day, we hear from more and more people from across the nation who are outraged that some in Congress are trying to drill in America’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said William Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society.

“Arctic Refuge Action will channel that passion to ensure that Congress hears America and protects the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Meadows said.

The FY 2006 budget resolution, passed by Congress this spring, opened the door for a vote that could allow oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Called the "backdoor in the budget" lawmakers could require the Senate Energy and House Resources to pass $2.4 billion in "savings" through the budget reconciliation process.

Proponents say the "savings" could come from revenues generated by sales of drilling leases in the Arctic Refuge.

President George W. Bush is behind the Arctic drilling and says a great deal of oil could be supplied with a small footprint and advanced technology.

Estimates of the amount of oil in the refuge vary widely. Oil interests say up to 16 billion barrels could be extracted from 2,000 acres of ANWR. A coalition of drilling proponents said last week, "Nowhere in North America is so much oil concentrated in such a small area. A tiny portion of ANWR can provide more oil than Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and New Mexico combined."

The Department of Energy estimates that 4.254 billion barrels could be extracted with 95 percent certainty from the ANWR Coastal Plain and 1002 Area. See the analysis here.

The conservation coalition would like to see all oil under the refuge stay where it is. In July and August, an intensive organizing and communications effort will be conducted by conservation groups, grassroots organizations, religious groups, businesses, and Native American groups to "help conservation-minded citizens across the country deliver a clear message to Congress that Americans do not want drilling in the Arctic Refuge."

“The drilling lobby knows that they’d lose if they played by the rules, so they’re abusing the rules to sneak Arctic Refuge drilling past the American people,” said Kim Novik, Midwest field organizer for the Alaska Coalition, which is a founding member of the Arctic Refuge Action partnership. “Fortunately, most Americans aren’t falling for it. We know what’s at stake and are ready to speak out for the Arctic Refuge.”

Already, Arctic Refuge Action member groups have sponsored events in Vermont, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey; the Northeast and Midwest will be the next campaign areas.

The campaign underwrote an unprecedented live telecast and webcast of the annual caribou migration on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that was featured June 12 on Good Morning America and on June 14 on stations nationwide. Excerpts can be seen at http://www.drexel.edu/seemore.

Teams of organizers in marked "rally vans," will hold public rallies and press events, help local activists arrange meetings with members of Congress, and support other local visibility and advocacy efforts.

Later in the summer, the Arctic Refuge Action plans radio, television, and print advertising in key markets nationwide to further raise awareness of September’s pivotal reconciliation vote.

The campaign is also maintaining a special toll-free Action Line to connect citizens directly with their members of Congress: 1-888-8-WILD-AK. Find out more at: http://www.ArcticRefugeAction.org.

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Formosa Plastics Must Cut Vinyl Chloride Emissions

WASHINGTON, DC, June 30, 2005 (ENS) - Formosa Plastics Corporation has settled a joint federal-state lawsuit over excess vinyl chloride emissions and other violations of federal and state environmental laws at the company's facility in Delaware City, Delaware, federal and state law enforcement officials announced Wednesday.

Formosa’s Delaware City plant emits vinyl chloride, a toxic chemical regulated under the Clean Air Act which is used in the manufacturing of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Exposure to PVC emissions has been linked to liver cancer, other liver diseases, and neurological disorders. Vinyl chloride is also considered "highly likely to be carcinogenic in both humans and animals," the officials said.

In settlement papers filed in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware, Formosa has agreed to take several steps to comply with environmental regulations, pay a $450,000 penalty, and take additional measures to reduce vinyl chloride emissions, including an $840,000 project that exceeds federal and state legal requirements.

The settlement "clearly benefits the people of Delaware who live near this facility,” said Kelly Johnson, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) cooperated in the investigation.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. As part of the settlement, the company has neither admitted nor denied liability for the alleged violations.

In June 2003, EPA and DNREC inspectors documented violations of vinyl chloride emission standards and other environmental regulations. The federal and state complaints, filed along with a proposed consent decree, allege:

  • Excess emissions of vinyl chloride, and other violations of the Clean Air Act’s vinyl chloride monitoring, reporting, and leak detection requirements;
  • Violations of federal and state hazardous waste storage regulations;
  • Clean Water Act violations, including inadequate water pollution monitoring and failure to prepare and implement an oil spill prevention and control plan;
  • Failure to timely notify federal, state and local emergency response officials of significant vinyl chloride emissions.
      The settlement requires the company to meet stringent future goals for reductions of vinyl chloride emissions or, alternatively, pay significant stipulated penalties.

      “All evidence indicates that vinyl chloride is a substance meriting significant concern and, through this agreement, the citizens of Delaware will be exposed to less of it,” said Colm Connolly, U.S. Attorney for Delaware.

      Given the concerns with the health effects of vinyl chloride, Formosa’s binding agreement to immediately reduce its current vinyl chloride permit limit from 1,000 parts per million (ppm) on an annual plant specific basis to a rolling 12-month weighted average of 750 ppm is very significant, according to the EPA.

      The agreement requires that Formosa use its reasonable best efforts over a period of three years to further reduce the vinyl chloride emissions to a goal of 550 ppm on a 12-month weighted average and incorporate that new level into its permit limit. A failure to reach this goal of 550 ppm for its permit limit will result in additional penalties.

      Formosa also agreed to implement a supplemental environmental project estimated to cost $840,000 that includes new control equipment and techniques for the PVC manufacturing process, exceeding federal and state legal requirements.

      Formosa has agreed to implement enhanced procedures and employee training to reduce emissions of vinyl chloride and other pollutants, improve leak detection at the facility, and improve its solid and hazardous waste program.

      The company also agreed to reduce the level of vinyl chloride contained in wastewater entering certain aeration basins in the facility to eliminate the possibility of hazardous waste entering the aeration basins.

      “We appreciate the cooperation that Formosa has demonstrated in reaching this innovative agreement,” said Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary John Hughes. “The commitments made by Formosa will further reduce emissions of vinyl chloride below regulatory standards - actions that will benefit the citizens of Delaware and our environment.”

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      Exelon Fined $602,000 for Air Quality Violations

      NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania, June 30, 2005 (ENS) - Exelon Generation Co. LLC will pay $602,000 in civil penalties for emission violations at its Cromby Generating Station in East Pikeland Township, Chester County, the state of Pennsylvania announced today.

      “These violations, documented by continuous emission monitors at the facility, were due to faulty software changes to the monitoring system,”said state Department of Environmental Protection Southeast Regional Director Joseph Feola. “These problems have since been corrected.”

      Large facilities, such as electric generating stations and petroleum refineries, use continuous emission monitors on potential air pollution sources to document whether permit limits are being met. DEP requires this information to be submitted on a quarterly basis.

      From April through October 2004, Exelon exceeded the permitted sulfur dioxide (SOx) emission limit rate for a large multi-fuel-fired utility boiler operated under terms of a facility-wide air permit. The boiler is approved to use both coal and oil as a fuel source.

      Under terms of the June 28 agreement, Exelon will pay $602,250 to the Commonwealth’s Clean Air Fund, which comprises fees and penalties that the state has collected and uses to finance air quality improvements.

      Exelon has paid fines for similar emission violations over the past several years: $15,200 for violations in 2003; $15,000 for 2002 and $3,000 for exceedances documented in 2001.

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      Hawaii Bans Coastal Light Pollution

      HONOLULU, Hawaii, June 30, 2005 (ENS) - Bright lights from mansions and hotels that shine out hundreds of feet onto the ocean will no longer be allowed in Hawaii.

      A new law that prohibits large floodlights and spotlights that are for decorative or aesthetic purposes from shining out into the ocean was approved during the legislative session just closed, and it will become law in two weeks.

      Lights needed for harbors, airports, and other government operations will be allowed under the bill, as well as lights from hotels as long as they do not cast light beyond 30 feet from the shoreline.

      The Sierra Club Hawaii chapter, which lobbied for the law, says such artificial lights have been documented as causing the death of hatching sea turtles, fledgling shearwaters, nocturnal flying sea birds and migratory birds.

      A similar bill last year was vetoed by Governor Linda Lingle, a Republican, but she permitted this year's version to become law.

      The coastal lighting issue was first raised by local fisherman Wayne Dang, who was tired of going to his favorite Black Point fishing grounds only to be caught in the glare of large floodlights from nearby mansions. Dang noticed that the light was bothering the fish - they did not bite where the water was lit up.

      At public hearings on the measure, testimony in support came from environmental organizations, astronomers, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fisherfolk and baitshops, and the Portlock Community Association, whose members was aggravated with absentee mansion owners leaving lights to shine out over the ocean.

      Hawaii will soon have new laws protecting its environment. Bills to provide additional recycling centers through a rebate program, increase clean energy use by expanding the net energy metering program and a state energy efficient vehicle requirement, prohibit golf courses on farmland, and reduce coastal light pollution all survived last Monday's veto notice deadline. In addition to the Legacy Lands Act, which Governor Lingle signed into law last Thursday, these new bills will become law within the next two weeks.

      s "For homeowners and hotels, using bright coastal lights is simply a matter of aesthetics," said Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter. "But for Hawaii's fragile marine and bird life, it is a matter of survival. We are glad that lawmakers finally saw the light."

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      No Cleanup for Ground Water at New Jersey Radium Sites

      MONTCLAIR, New Jersey, June 30, 2005 (ENS) - After assessing the risk of doing nothing to clean up ground water at the Montclair/West Orange and Glen Ridge Radium Sites in Essex County, New Jersey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that the ground water does not require any cleanup.

      The conclusions of the study and assessment mean that cleanup work is done at the sites. The agency will take public comment and hold a public meeting and information sessions on this proposed decision.

      "With the cleanup complete, EPA has achieved its goal of protecting the people and the environment in the affected communities," said Acting EPA Regional Administrator Kathleen Callahan. "I encourage the public to continue its active involvement in the site and comment on our proposal."

      The Montclair/West Orange and Glen Ridge Radium sites were contaminated with radioactive waste materials suspected to have come from radium processing companies located nearby during the early 1900s. Some of the radium-contaminated soil was used as fill or was mixed with cement for sidewalks and foundations.

      In 1983, the state of New Jersey discovered homes with high levels of radon gas from the decay of radium in the soil, as well as high levels of indoor and outdoor gamma radiation.

      In response, EPA installed radon ventilation systems and gamma radiation shielding in affected homes. The sites were listed on the National Priorities List of the nation's most hazardous waste sites in February 1985.

      After performing a scientific study of the nature and extent of the contamination, EPA excavated and disposed of all radium-contaminated soil and restored the affected properties. EPA completed excavation activities in December 2004, removing and disposing of about 220,000 cubic yards of radioactive soil and debris and filling in the excavated areas with clean soil.

      At the time EPA decided how to clean up the contaminated soil, the agency also recognized the need to examine potential impacts from the radiological contamination to ground water. EPA performed a study, which shows the ground water meets drinking water standards for radiological contaminants and that radon levels in the ground water are consistent with regional background levels.

      To discuss these findings and the proposal not to do further cleanup, the EPA will hold public information sessions on July 12 and July 13, 2005 from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm at the EPA trailer compound at 1 Oak Street, Montclair, New Jersey.

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      Largest Solid Core Planet Outside Solar System Discovered

      WASHINGTON, DC, June 30, 2005 (ENS) - NASA researchers have discovered the largest solid core ever found in an extrasolar planet, and their discovery confirms a planet formation theory, astronomers announced today.

      The planet, orbiting the sun-like star HD 149026, is roughly equal in mass to Saturn, but it is significantly smaller in diameter.

      It takes just 2.87 days to circle around its star and the upper atmosphere temperature is around 2,000 degree Fahrenheit.

      Modeling of the planet structure shows that the planet has a solid core that is about 70 times the mass of Earth.

      "For theorists, the discovery of a planet with such a large core is as important as the discovery of the first extrasolar planet around the star 51 Pegasi in 1995," said Shigeru Ida, theorist from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan.

      When the consortium of American, Japanese and Chilean astronomers first looked at this planet they expected a planet similar to Jupiter.

      "None of our models predicted that nature could make a planet like the one we are studying," said Bun'ei Sato, member of the consortium and postdoctoral fellow at Okayama Astrophysical Observatory, Japan.

      Scientists have rarely had opportunities like this to collect such solid evidence about planet formation.

      More than 150 extrasolar planets have been discovered by observing changes in the speed of a star, as it moves toward and away from Earth. The changes in speed are caused by the gravitational pull of planets.

      s This planet also passes in front of its star and dims the starlight. "When that happens, we are able to calculate the physical size of the planet, whether it has a solid core, and even what its atmosphere is like," said Debra Fischer. She is consortium team leader and professor of astronomy at San Francisco State University, California.

      This is the first observational evidence that proves the "core accretion" theory about how planets are formed.

      Scientists have two competing but viable theories about planet formation.

      In the "gravitational instability" theory, planets form during a rapid collapse of a dense cloud.

      With the "core accretion" theory, planets start as small rock-ice cores that grow as they gravitationally acquire additional mass. However, scientists believe that the large, rocky core of this planet could not have formed by cloud collapse. They think that it must have grown a core first, and then acquired gas.

      "This is a confirmation of the core accretion theory for planet formation and evidence that planets of this kind should exist in abundance," said Greg Henry, an astronomer at Tennessee State University, Nashville, who detected the dimming of the star by the planet with his robotic telescopes at Fairborn Observatory on Mount Hopkins, Arizona.

      Support for this research came from the NASA, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the National Science Foundation. A paper on this discovery was accepted for publication in the "Astrophysical Journal." The paper and supporting materials and illustrations can be obtained at: http://tauceti.sfsu.edu/n2k

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