AmeriScan: June 7, 2007

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One-Third Large U.S. Estuaries in Poor Condition

WASHINGTON, DC, June 7, 2007 (ENS) - Nationally, 37 percent of the waters where large rivers meet the sea are in poor overall condition, according to the first National Estuary Program Coastal Condition Report released Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.

All of Puerto Rico's estuaries are in poor overall condition, and nearly half of the estuaries on the Northeast Coast and the Gulf Coast are rated poor by the EPA.

Only 36 percent of estuaries on the the West Coast, and 23 percent of those on the Southeast Coast are in poor overall condition.

The report analyzed 1,239 sites to rank the condition of ecological resources in the 28 estuaries of EPA's National Estuary Program, NEP.

These 28 estuaries are located in 18 coastal states and Puerto Rico. They have been designated as estuaries of national significance because of their unique economic, ecological, recreational and aesthetic values.

They include Long Island Sound, the New York/New Jersey Harbor, and Delaware Bay in the Northeast; Tampa Bay, Mobile Bay and Galveston Bay on the Gulf of Mexico; and the San Francisco Estuary and Puget Sound on the West Coast.

Overall, estuaries in the National Estuary Program scored better than or equal to all other non-NEP U.S. estuaries despite denser populations.

The information in the report is based upon EPA-sponsored monitoring data collected from 28 NEPs between 1999 and 2003 as well as monitoring data collected by the individual NEPs.

The data were collected as part of EPA's National Coastal Assessment the most comprehensive and nationally consistent data set available on estuarine conditions.

The NEP estuaries were rated individually, regionally, and nationally using four primary indicators of estuarine condition: water quality; sediment quality; benthic, or bottom, condition; and fish-tissue contaminant concentrations.

During the past 20 years, population pressures along the coasts have increased. By 2000, counties with large estuaries that cover less than six percent of the coastal land area contain more than two-thirds of the coastal population, the EPA found.

To see the National Estuary Program Coastal Condition Report click here.

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Groups Want Gender-Bending Detergents Banned

WASHINGTON, DC, June 7, 2007 (ENS) - Laundry workers, commercial fishermen and environmental and public health groups petitioned the EPA on Tuesday, asking the agency to provide health and safety protections from the endocrine-disrupting chemicals, nonyplphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). The chemicals are used principally in cleaning products and detergents.

The groups are calling for further health and safety studies, labeling of products containing the chemicals, and banning their use in industrial and consumer detergents, since safer alternatives are available.

"When fish change gender and develop sexual deformities because of the chemicals we discharge into our streams, it's a danger signal we should take very seriously," said Ed Hopkins, director of the Environmental Quality Program at the Sierra Club, one of the petitioning groups.

Even at low levels, NPEs are known to cause male fish to produce eggs, disrupt normal male-to-female sex ratios and harm the ability of fish to reproduce. Cases of such "intersexed" fish have been documented from the Potomac River to the Pacific coast.

Although research into the human health effects of NPEs is limited, one study shows that exposure of the human placenta to NPEs byproduct, nonylphenol, may result in early termination of pregnancy and fetal growth defects.

Almost 400 million pounds of NPE products are produced in the United States each year, yet the government has failed to analyze the potential health effects on the general public or workers who handle these products regularly, the petitioners say.

"Some of the partial breakdown products of NPE are more toxic and persistent than the original substance," warns Philip Dickey, staff scientist at the Washington Toxics Coalition.

"Wastewater treatment plants can remove much of the NPE but they discharge these toxic byproducts. If you add up the toxicity of all the little pieces, it can be significant," said Dickey. "We need to stop using chemicals with these kinds of properties."

Studies have demonstrated that tiny amounts of NPEs in water - less than one part per billion - harm rainbow trout, salmon, oysters and winter flounder. "Continuing to allow these chemicals continued into our waters could severely harm the future of the fishing industry," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

The European Union has essentially banned the use of NPEs, and Canada set such strict standards for discharging NPEs into water as to force a shift to safer alternatives. The groups assembled today are calling on the EPA to follow these other countries' example.

The EPA had no comment on the petition.

Petitioners include the Sierra Club, Environmental Law and Policy Center, UNITE HERE, Washington Toxics Coalition, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

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Alaska Natives on Capitol Hill to Stop Big Oil

WASHINGTON, DC, June 7, 2007 (ENS) - A delegation of Alaskan whalers and subsistence hunters, polar bear scientists, and policy experts is in the nation's capital this week, seeking changes to a new five year offshore oil and gas drilling program that threatens traditional livelihoods and Arctic wildlife.

The Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service, MMS, plans to open more than 73 million acres in America's Chukchi and Beaufort Seas - known as the Polar Bear Seas - to oil and gas operations, unless Congress acts to modify the plan, which takes effect July 1.

The Chukchi and Beaufort Seas support nearly one-fifth of the world's polar bear population, as well as whales, walruses, sea lions, and sea otters.

"These Alaska Natives have come to Washington to inform Members of Congress about what is at stake if the proposed five year OCS plan comes to pass," says Kristen Miller, legislative director of the Alaska Wilderness League, a national organization that works to protect Alaska's wild lands and waters.

"The survival of Native traditions is on the line and Congress should act to protect these cultures before they disappear forever due to the short-sighted agenda of Big Oil interests," Miller said.

Alaska Native villages are deeply concerned about the threat of oil and gas drilling in the Polar Bear Seas. Several villages have passed resolutions in opposition to the proposed drilling, including Point Hope, and Barrow, Alaska.

"The five year plan is another example of division and disconnect within the Department of the Interior, DOI, itself," Miller said.

"While one branch of the DOI, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is considering stronger protections for polar bears under the Endangered Species Act," she said, "the Minerals Management Service, another branch of the same DOI, is spending taxpayer dollars to inaugurate massive oil and gas drilling in the heart of polar bear habitat."

In addition to the environmental disruption caused by oil exploration, extraction and storage, the native people are concerned about the potential for oil spills in Arctic waters - particularly harmful because there are no proven methods for cleanup.

"MMS admits that there is no effective technology for cleaning up an oil spill in icy northern waters," warns attorney Peter Van Tuyn, counsel to the Alaska Wilderness League. "Yet in the same breath, MMS also admits that spills are likely to occur in these pristine waters."

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Lawsuit Seeks to Keep Yellowstone Grizzlies on Protected List

BOISE, Idaho, June 7, 2007 (ENS) - Conservation groups filed a lawsuit in Idaho federal district court Monday challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone area's grizzly bear population.

The legal challenge asks the court to restore the Threatened status of the Yellowstone grizzly population because of ongoing and threatened habitat destruction, insufficient bear numbers, and inadequate legal protections.

The government's decision to delist will subject the bears to hunting in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

Doug Honnold, an Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups, says, "Yellowstone's grizzlies face a double threat - much of their current habitat is not protected, and even in the heart of the ecosystem warming temperatures are decimating the bears' most essential food."

Yellowstone grizzlies rely on high-fat seeds of whitebark pine as a key food source in critical months before hibernation.

Warming temperatures have enabled mountain pine beetles to kill high-altitude whitebark pine trees. When whitebark pine seed cone crops fail, Yellowstone grizzly bear mortalities rise and the number of grizzly cubs born the following spring plummets.

Earthjustice and Advocates for the West represent the plaintiff groups Western Watersheds Project, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity, Great Bear Foundation, and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

Grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states have been reduced to one percent of their historic range and one to two percent of their historic numbers due to persecution, poisoning, predator control efforts, livestock grazing, sport hunting, and habitat destruction, the groups point out.

More than 270 scientists have urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bear population because it is too small and isolated for long-term viability, which would require 2,000 to 3,000 bears in linked populations.

To address this problem, the Service proposes to truck bears from northwest Montana to Yellowstone to maintain genetic diversity in the population.

While the Fish and Wildlife Service counts grizzlies throughout the Yellowstone area in assessing recovery, its delisting proposal contains no habitat protections for more than 40 percent of currently occupied grizzly bear habitat in the Yellowstone ecosystem, the plaintiff groups complain.

Under the government's plan, nearly two million acres of grizzly bear habitat in the Yellowstone ecosystem would be open to increased motorized access, more than 630,000 acres would be open for logging, and more than 850,000 acres would be open to oil and gas development.

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Fort Lewis Agrees to Pretreat Hazardous Wastes

OLYMPIA, Washington, June 7, 2007 (ENS) - The Washington Department of Ecology and Fort Lewis have agreed to eliminate potential discharges of hazardous wastes to the Fort's wastewater treatment plant.

The memorandum of understanding signed Tuesday outlines the steps and timeline Fort Lewis will follow to develop and implement a pretreatment program for any industrial wastes generated by the Fort and other potential sources that use the garrison's wastewater treatment plant - Madigan Army Medical Center, McChord Air Force Base, Camp Murray, the American Lake Veterans Administration Hospital and Clover Park district schools.

The state agency and Fort Lewis officials agree that intercepting and pretreating industrial wastes is important because the Fort's wastewater treatment system was not designed to handle hazardous waste.

A pretreatment program will intercept, capture and appropriately manage industrial wastes, providing an even stronger measure of protection.

"Protecting and restoring the health of Puget Sound is a top priority for Governor [Christine] Gregoire and Ecology, and this agreement will help eliminate potential sources of industrial pollution to an already fragile ecosystem," said Department of Ecology Director Jay Manning.

Since the Fort Lewis wastewater treatment plant services five other sources, Manning says this agreement has the potential to protect Puget Sound from the pollution of a city-sized population.

Fort Lewis and Ecology had previously agreed in principle on the need for a pretreatment program at the military installation.

For that reason, Fort Lewis began working on design of such a system in September 2006 and hired a professional engineer in December to start the assistance and inspection component of such a program.

"We are seriously committed to preserving the land and water for which we've been given stewardship responsibility," said Colonel Cynthia Murphy, Fort Lewis garrison commander.

"We've long been an environmental leader in Washington state and among defense establishments, and this agreement teams us with the Department of Ecology to protect the natural resources of this beautiful region," she said.

Under the cooperative agreement, Fort Lewis will identify, sample and inspect all sources of industrial wastewater currently discharging to the Fort's treatment plant. Then, through the issuance of discharge permits or other administrative controls, Fort Lewis will limit discharges to the treatment plant to those pollutants that the plant can effectively treat and control.

The Fort will ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to amend its current National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit to incorporate the pretreatment program.

Located about 10 miles southwest of Tacoma, Washington, the Fort was named after Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition. With 25,000 soldiers and civilian workers, it is one of the largest military reservations in the United States.

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Macy's Goes Solar in 26 California Stores

SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 7, 2007 (ENS) - Macy's plans to install solar power systems and reduce energy consumption in 26 stores throughout California in partnership with SunPower Corporation, a Silicon Valley manufacturer of solar power equipment, the retailer announced Tuesday.

SunPower's subsidiary PowerLight will install rooftop solar power systems on the selected Macy's stores.

"The move to solar shows Macy's commitment to using cleaner technologies, and in doing so we will reduce energy demand," says Macy's, Inc. Vice Chair Tom Cole. "We are proud to join the fight against greenhouse gas emissions in California because we believe a successful business is dependent on a healthy environment."

Combining solar power with efficiency will allow Macy's to achieve an estimated 40 percent reduction in electricity that the stores draw from the grid.

"By combining energy efficiency with solar power, Macy's is taking the extra step to cut our peak load demand," Cole said.

Energy efficiency upgrades will include high-efficiency lighting, upgrades to heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems, as well as energy management systems.

The solar systems, combined with the energy efficiency upgrades, are expected to offset 24 million kilowatt hours of energy consumption annually.

Macy's estimates that its carbon footprint will be reduced by more than 195 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over the lifetime of the systems.

For 15 of the 26 stores, Macy's will purchase solar-generated electricity under the SunPower AccessT program. This solar services agreement allows the retailer to purchase just the electricity generated at its stores - not the solar power systems themselves - from a third-party financier.

At the end of a 10 year term, Macy's will have the option to renew the agreement, transfer the equipment to a new site, or buy the system.

Macy's will buy solar power systems for the remaining 11 stores through an outright system purchase.

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Residential Fuel Cells Around the Corner

WESTWOOD, Massachusetts, June 7, 2007 (ENS) - Acumentrics Corporation, a developer of solid oxide fuel cells, has submitted a five kilowatt fuel cell generator that could supply power to a home to federal government authorities for evaluation.

The solid oxide fuel cell generator will be evaluated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NIST is responsible for developing rating methodologies for many consumer appliances such as air conditioners and refrigerators.

NIST is using the Acumentrics generator, among others, to help develop a proposed standard for rating the performance of residential fuel cells. They have also evaluated polymer fuel cell technology.

"As fuel cell manufacturers continue to improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of fuel cell technology, the feasibility of residential fuel cells draws closer," said Mark Davis, the principal investigator of NIST's Residential Fuel Cell Test Facility.

"NIST strongly believes that widespread adoption of residential fuel cells will suffer without a means for future consumers to evaluate the costs and benefits of the technology in terms with which they are familiar," Davis said.

"NIST provides a critical service to American consumers," said Gary Simon, Acumentrics' CEO. "We are looking forward to their feedback, because it is unbiased. And I know our team has developed a safe system, not only in terms of people and buildings, but also the environment."

Acumentrics, winner of a 2007 New England Innovation Award, believes that its tubular ceramic fuel cells will be most compatible with home use because they offer electric load following and fuel flexibility.

Because Acumentrics' ceramic fuel-cell tubes operate at high temperature, Simon explains, they accept hydrocarbons such as propane, natural gas, and biogas directly.

Acumentrics' fuel cells also can operate on hydrogen, but Simon believes customers are attracted to their compatibility with known, easily obtainable and affordable fuels.

Acumentrics has fielded over 30 fuel cell systems, and is participating in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance that promotes the development of environmentally friendly solid oxide fuel cells.

The Energy Department calls solid oxide fuel cells one of the cleanest, most efficient power-generating technologies now under development and says they have the highest efficiency of any fuel cell type.

In May, the Energy Department said that six industry teams, including Acumentrics, have successfully completed tests of the first solid oxide fuel cell prototypes that can be manufactured at costs approaching those of conventional stationary power-generation technology.

Find out more about NIST's residential fuel cell evaluation here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.