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: