AmeriScan: June 11, 2007

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Good Samaritans Can Clean Orphan Mines Without Liability

WASHINGTON, DC, June 11, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is setting aside legal roadblocks that stop Good Samaritan volunteers from cleaning up orphaned hardrock mine sites. The runoff from these abandoned mines is responsible for degrading water quality throughout the western United States.

"Through EPA's administrative action, we are reducing the threat of litigation from voluntary hardrock mine cleanups and allowing America's Good Samaritans to finally get their shovels into the dirt," said U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

The agency is issuing the "Interim Guiding Principles for Good Samaritan Projects at Orphan Mine Sites," a set of policies and model tools, so that EPA and volunteer parties will be able to enter into Good Samaritan settlement agreements.

There are an estimated 500,000 orphan mines in the United States, most of which are former hardrock mines located in the West.

Thousands of watersheds and stream miles are impacted by drainage and runoff from these mines, one of the largest sources of water pollution in the region.

In many cases, the parties responsible for the pollution from orphan mine sites no longer exist or are not financially viable.

There are nonprofit organizations, state and local governments that are willing to clean up these abandoned sites although they are not responsible for the pollution. But potential Good Samaritans worry that they may be held liable under the Clean Water Act and CERCLA, which have prevented many cleanup projects from moving forward.

These agreements provide key legal protections to Good Samaritans as non-liable parties including a federal covenant not to sue under the Superfund law, also known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, CERCLA, and will provide protection from third-party contribution suits.

The EPA has also issued a model "comfort letter" intended for Good Samaritan parties.

The administrative tools preserve the idea under CERCLA that responsible parties should pay for cleanup. These tools do not, nor are they intended to, absolve responsible parties of their liability under existing federal law for any environmental pollution.

At many orphan mine sites and processing areas, disturbed rock and waste piles contain high levels of sulfides and heavy metals. Exposed to air and water, these piles undergo physical and chemical reactions that create acid drainage. As this drainage runs through mineral-rich rock, it can pick up other metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and zinc.

When this runoff enters local streams and rivers, it can degrade water quality and damage or destroy insect, plant and animal life, so the EPA is willing to assure the Good Samaritans that they will not be held liable for this damage.

Cleanup projects using the model Good Samaritan Settlement Agreement will require evidence of the Good Samaritan's financial responsibility to conduct the cleanup - either up-front financial assurances, or a description of financial assurances that will be obtained after the agreement is signed, but prior to the start of any work - subject to EPA approval.

The EPA says these voluntary Good Samaritan cleanups will most likely not solve all of the problems at the abandoned mines but the agency wants to encourage making incremental improvements that benefit the ecosystems impacted by these mines.

For more information on the Good Samaritan tools click here.

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EPA to Contract Out Oversight Functions

WASHINGTON, DC, June 11, 2007 (ENS) - The Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is planning to hire contractors to perform many of its audits while shifting resources away from public health issues, such as air and water pollution.

The new policy is contained in an internal email released Thursday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a national organization of workers in natural resources industries.

In the coming year the EPA Inspector General, IG, wants to concentrate on pursuing Bush administration policies on risk assessment and program evaluation.

The June 4 e-mail from Acting EPA Inspector General Bill Roderick to his top staff proposes that for the 2008 Fiscal Year, beginning this October, the Office of Program Evaluation drop evaulation of "Water, Air, Land and Multi" programs

"I want the groups renamed Enforcement, Superfund, and Special Programs," Roderick directs. "All Land resources should be focused on Superfund issues."

Roderick proposes to contract out financial audits and reviews of information security, and asks "What other financial statement audits can we see about contracting out?"

Recipients of EPA grant funding can expect to be audited. "I want to ... broaden our grant fraud work with the financial audit," Roderick writes.

At the same time the IG's office is increasing its reliance on contractors, it would reduce audits of EPA contracts to devote more resources to an evaluation program pushed by the President's Office of Management & Budget.

"I think we could take a break from contracts to hit the PART [Program Assessment Rating Tool] for 08," Roderick writes.

Roderick says "the main reason for this refocus is that we have saturated the Water, Air areas and done not much to address R&D and enforcement. Since these are important areas with a lot of money, we want to change our coverage at this juncture to provide some review of these areas. This should last at least 2-3 years before we relook and react again," he writes.

"Many would vehemently disagree with the assertion that EPA air and water pollution program merit no further oversight for the next two to three years, as Mr. Roderick suggests," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the EPA budget for FY '08 is currently under active consideration by both houses of Congress.

Congress has already moved to block a plan developed by Roderick this spring to downsize its IG, including early retirements for auditors, criminal investigators and chemists.

Roderick has been the Acting Inspector General since the previous IG, Nikki Tinsley, who had a reputation for independence, retired early last year.

In late April, the White House withdrew its EPA-IG nomination of Alex Beehler, a Defense Department official, due to congressional resistance. No replacement has yet been named.

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Biofuels Research Earns $8.3 Million in Federal Support

WASHINGTON, DC, June 11, 2007 (ENS) - Using corn and other food crops to make ethanol for automotive fuel sets up a competition between the dinner plate and the fuel pump and may raise the price of food, agricultural economists say.

To solve this problem, scientists are looking to non-food plant materials such as switchgrass that can be converted into ethanol. However, the technology to accomplish this conversion is not yet developed, although some test projects are underway.

The federal government is investing $8.3 million over the next three years in fundamental research in biomass genomics that will provide the scientific foundation to facilitate and accelerate the use of woody plant tissue for bioenergy and biofuel.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman Thursday announced that the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy have jointly selected 11 projects to receive this funding.

"To help meet President Bush's goal to reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years, research and alternative fuel production needs to expand beyond corn ethanol," Johanns said. "These grants diversify the portfolio of research by looking into new ways to develop cordgrass, rice and switchgrass in renewable energy sources."

These awards continue a commitment begun in 2006 to conduct fundamental research in biomass genomics that will provide the scientific foundation to facilitate and accelerate the use of woody plant tissue for bioenergy and biofuels.

The program was announced at last year's Advancing Renewable Energy: An American Rural Renaissance, a conference jointly hosted by the two agencies in St. Louis, Missouri.

"These research projects build upon the Department of Energy's strategic investments in genomics and biotechnology and strengthen our commitment to developing a robust bioenergy future vital to America's energy and economic security," Bodman said.

In this second year of the program, new research projects on cordgrass, rice, switchgrass, sorghum, poplar, and perennial grasses join the portfolio of research on poplar, alfalfa, sorghum, and wheat.

The awards will be made through the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in DOE's Office of Science, and USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service National Research Initiative.

Starting in 2007, DOE will provide $5.5 million in funding for seven projects, while USDA will award more than $1.5 million to fund three projects; one project will receive $1.3 million in joint funding from both agencies. Initial funding will support research projects for up to three years.

Awardees are:

For detailed information on the individual research projects, click here.

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Illinois Clean Coal Power Plant Wins First Permit

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, June 11, 2007 Illinois has issued the nation's first permit for a commercial clean coal generating plant. The air pollution limits set by this permit are much lower than those for conventional coal plants because high-sulfur Illinois coal will be turned into a synthetic gas before it is burned.

The air permit authorizes Christian County Generation to build the $2 billion coal gasification plant known as the Taylorville Energy Center, TEC.

"The Taylorville Energy Center will turn coal into a gas that can be more cleanly burned to generate power, which helps protect public and the environment," said Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott, announcing the new permit June 5.

TEC is a proposed 630 megawatt facility that would be among the world's most environmentally friendly coal plants.

"Illinois has among the largest reserves of coal in the world and being able to safely use this domestic energy source is a critical part of my energy plan," said Governor Rod Blagojevich.

"The Taylorville Energy Center, using cutting edge clean-coal gasification technology, is a great example of how we can grow our economy and create good paying jobs while protecting our environment," he said.

"The air we all breathe will be cleaner because gasification plants remove pollutants and impurities prior to combustion, resulting in significantly lower mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions than conventional coal plants," Scott said.

The project, near the small central Illinois city of Taylorville, still requires legislation. State Representative Gary Hannig, a Taylorville Democrat, has sponsored the Clean Coal Program Law, which would let developers enter into long-term, regulated cost-based contracts with large Illinois electric utilities.

If that bill passes during this session, construction on the plant could begin later this year, and could be operational soon as 2012, officials say.

Unlike conventional coal-fired power plants, IGCC plants have the future potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by capturing carbon dioxide that can be permanently stored underground in mature oil fields or deep saline aquifers.

In addition to vast coal reserves, Illinois' geology is well-suited for carbon sequestration, making Illinois an ideal place to build coal gasification plants.

"This is a landmark day for the State of Illinois and the Taylorville Energy Center. This permit sets the standard by which other IGCC power plants will be judged," said Greg Kunkel, vice president of independent power producer Tenaska, the managing partner of Christian County Generation.

The plant would create 1,500 construction jobs, 120 permanent jobs at the plant and 160 new mining jobs.

The Regional Development Institute at Northern Illinois University says that, once operational, the plant would add $356 million annually to the area's economy, and create nearly 800 additional indirect jobs in central Illinois.

John Thompson, director of the Coal Transition Project for the Clean Air Task Force, said, "If this plant breaks ground, people from around the world will come to Illinois to learn how we can solve some of the most significant global environmental problems facing the 21st century."

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Interior Department Sets Up Climate Change Task Force

WASHINGTON, DC, June 11, 2007 (ENS) - Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has established a new Interior Department Climate Change Task Force to study how the planet's rising temperature affects American public lands.

"I recently created the Department of the Interior task force to study climate change because of its possible effects on our ability to be good stewards of wildlife, national parks and other landscapes as well as our responsibility to help moderate greenhouse gas emissions," Kempthorne said.

"This is a priority for both departmental leaders and employees in the field," he said.

Headed by Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett, the task force involves a hundred people, including the department's assistant secretaries, career scientists, park superintendents, and refuge managers.

"Interior manages lands that span 12 time zones; our mission reaches pole to pole," Scarlett said. "To fulfill our mission, we need to understand the effects of a changing climate on water flows, sea coasts and sea ice, wildlife, and vegetation.

"Our task force is evaluating these changes and identifying strategies for managing lands and waters, protecting wildlife and reducing our own environmental footprint in this dynamic world," she said.

The Department of the Interior manages one in every five acres of the U.S. land mass and operates dams and irrigation facilities that provide water to farmers who generate nearly two-thirds of the nation's produce.

The department manages leases from which one-third of the nation's domestic energy supplies are produced.

The department's lands and waters host sites for alternative energies such as biomass, geothermal, solar and wind power.

The task force includes three subcommittees - one on legal and policy issues; a second on land and water management issues; and a third on climate change scientific issues specifically related to Interior's responsibilities.

The task force is examining how possible climate changes would affect disaster management, water resource management and habitat management and devising new management responses for changing landscapes.

The task force will evaluate the management of Interior's facilities and fleet to identify opportunities for energy conservation and renewable energy.

It will explore whether global and regional climate modeling can be scaled to the point that it can be used to manage parks, refuges, and dams.

And it will examine whether new types of monitoring might strengthen understanding of trends in water availability and timing of flows, vegetative patterns, movement of species and other factors.

The task force subcommittee will report its initial priorities and activities to the steering committee by mid-June.

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Court Rejects Delaware Horseshoe Crab Moratorium

DOVER, Delaware, June 11, 2007 (ENS) - The Delaware Superior Court has thrown out the state's two year moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting, imposed last December to allow depleted horseshoe crab populations to recover.

In a ruling Friday, the court handed down a judgement in favor of two businesses involved in the harvesting and sale of horseshoe crabs from the Delaware Bay.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, DNREC, imposed the two year moratorium effective December 11, 2006 as a protective measure for the horseshoe crab population and the migratory bird populations that depend on the resource for food.

Records show that horseshoe crab populations sharply declined in the 1990s in the Delaware Bay and Estuary due to over-harvesting of horseshoe crab eggs.

"Today's ruling represents a debatable legal decision by the court and a lousy environmental decision for the state," said DNREC Secretary John Hughes.

"My agency will take the next strongest approach that the court will allow the 100,000 male-only horseshoe crab harvest, in keeping with Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission policy," he said.

As a result of the ruling, DNREC will develop emergency regulations for the 2007 season based upon recommendations by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Horseshoe Crab Management Board.

The emergency regulations, which took effect today, will reduce Delaware's annual harvest quota from 150,000 horseshoe crabs of either sex to 100,000 male-only horseshoe crabs.

At that time, he imposed the moratorium, Secretary Hughes emphasized the importance of establishing an alternative to the horseshoe crab as bail for eel and conch.

He emphasized his agency's $350,000 support for the University of Delaware's College of Marine and Earth Studies' work to develop alternative bait for the industry, which has been joined by the DuPont Company.

Over the past few years, 14 Atlantic coast states, including Maryland and New Jersey, have implemented conservation measures to protect the horseshoe crab.

The regulations by Delaware and New Jersey were designed to address the immediate threat to the red knot and other shorebird populations by allowing the horseshoe crabs to recover.

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EnviroFlash Emails Warn of Hazardous Air Quality

WASHINGTON, DC, June 11, 2007 (ENS) - An automatic, zip code based, email alert system for air quality called EnviroFlash is the latest way for sensitive people to find out when hazardous levels of air pollutants are expected in their vicinity.

EnviroFlash is a free service provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with input from state environmental agencies. Subscribers sign up for a free daily email that tells them what level of air pollution is expected in their zip code area the following day.

In addition, subscribers can choose an EnviroFlash UV Index that provides notification of ultraviolet radiation alerts and the next day UV Index. This alert warns people when to wear sunscreen or cover up with longsleeved shirts and long pants.

To find out whether EnviroFlash is available in your area, click here. Then select a state, and the availability of the service in that state appears on your screen.

In California, for instance, the service is available only in San Diego.

In the nation's capital, air quality forecasting is active and all monitors are reporting.

Now the EnviroFlash service is available in many parts of New England, and the entire state of Maine was added this week, replacing the manual Smog Alert that was only available for coastal areas.

Previously, New Englanders interested in receiving air quality alerts relied on Smog Alert which only sent out emails when a forecast of "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" or higher was issued.

The EPA says many state and local air agencies have expressed interest in using the EnviroFlash program, so the list of available cities will continue to grow this summer.

EnviroFlash is flexible, allowing subscribers to specify at what Air Quality Index category they wish to receive notification.

This means that those who are very sensitive to air quality levels can receive emails whenever the air quality forecast in their area is Moderate or above. All others are encouraged to sign up at the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range.

Anyone wishing to receive emails for more than one zip code will be able to create multiple subscriptions.

If the forecast is revised early in the day, the air quality meteorologists will have the ability to push an email out to those affected by the change.

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