AmeriScan: June 12, 2007

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Court Rules Firms That Clean Hazwaste Can Sue for Costs

WASHINGTON, DC, June 12, 2007 (ENS) - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that companies can sue to recover costs when they voluntarily clean up hazardous material at Superfund sites.

The justices ruled unanimously that the federal Superfund law allows potentially responsible parties to sue the government to recover costs incurred in voluntary cleanups.

The Bush administration's lawyers argued that companies themselves must first be sued by regulators under the Superfund law or be targeted with government enforcement action before they can sue others.

Congress intended to reduce lawsuits while encouraging settlements and cleanups supervised by the government, the administration told the justices.

The opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas holds that "accepting the government's interpretation" would render one section of the Superfund law "confusing."

Because the statute defines potentially responsible parties "so broadly as to sweep in virtually all persons likely to incur cleanup costs," accepting the government's interpretation "would reduce the number of potential plaintiffs to almost zero," making part of the law "a dead letter," Justice Thomas wrote.

In this case, respondent Atlantic Research leased property at the Shumaker Naval Ammunition Depot east of Camden, Arkansas, a facility operated by the Department of Defense where Atlantic Research retrofitted rocket motors for the United States.

Using a high-pressure water spray, Atlantic Research removed pieces of propellant from the motors and then burned the propellant pieces. Some of the wastewater and burned fuel contaminated soil and groundwater at the site.

Atlantic Research cleaned the site at its own expense and then sought to recover some of its costs by suing the United States under two sections of the Superfund law.

The District Court dismissed the case, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, holding that one section of the law does, in fact, allow such a suit. The Supreme Court upheld the Appeals Court's ruling.

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Spotted Owl Old Growth Habitat Protection Cut Back

PORTLAND, Oregon, June 12, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released its proposal to reduce protections for 20 percent of the Pacific Northwest old growth forest that provides critical habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl.

The new proposal would remove protections from 1.549 million acres of the owl's critical habitat, allowing more logging and development and harming the owl's chance of recovery.

The proposal comes as the British Columbia government is capturing the last 16 northern spotted owls remaining in the province and logging their old growth forest habitat.

"Spotted owls are only one part of this story," said Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice, a public interest nonprofit law firm. "The old growth forests that are home to the owls are part of our Northwest outdoor heritage and give us places to hike, hunt, camp, drink clean water, and breathe clean air. Removing these protections would be a tragedy."

The proposal relies on the draft recovery plan for the owl issued last month by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that was criticized even by members of the agency's own recovery plan team.

Team members said that Bush administration political appointees rejected the body of scientific knowledge showing that protecting the owl's old growth forest habitat is essential to its recovery.

"By suppressing science in the draft recovery plan and then relying on that plan, the Bush administration is setting up the dominos to topple old growth protection," said Dominick DellaSala, a biologist who was part of the owl recovery plan team.

"This proposal lets BLM [the federal Bureau of Land Management] off the hook and will allow it to gut old growth protections in Oregon," said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild. "Timber industry demands are driving revisions to undermine the Northwest Forest Plan."

"The push to dismantle the Northwest Forest Plan and other protections for the owl is being driven by sweetheart deals between the timber industry and the Bush administration in response to a series of friendly lawsuit settlements with the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry lobbying group," Earthjustice says.

The American Forest Resource Council, AFRC, says the owl draft recovery plan indicates "that in spite of locking up millions of acres of forestland in northern California, Oregon and Washington, spotted owl numbers are declining due to factors other than timber harvest."

AFRC says the owl population is declining due to "habitat loss to catastrophic wildfire and competition from the barred owl a more aggressive owl species not native to the west."

In the draft recovery plan, AFRC says, "Option 1 relies on the same assumptions and habitat structure that was put in place in the mid-1990s, which haven't worked."

"Option 2 represents an updated approach for recovering the owl since it calls for protecting the habitats they are actually utilizing. This is accomplished by using updated owl locations, site-specific habitat information, and adaptive management practices to maintain that habitat." AFRC is calling on its members to suppport Option 2.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed northern spotted owls as a threatened species in 1988.

The Service says that "rangewide the population declined at a rate of about 3.7 percent per year from 1985 to 2003. Northern spotted owl populations on federal lands had better demographic rates than elsewhere, but still declined at a mean annual rate of about 2.4 percent per year."

Throughout the Pacific Northwest, less than 20 percent of the original old growth forest remains.

To view the Fish and Wildlife Service proposal, click here.

The public is welcome to submit comments on this proposal until August 13 by email to:

Requests for public hearings must be submitted in writing by July 27, to: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, 2600 SE 98th Ave., Suite 100, Portland, OR 97266.

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Water Storage Dam Planned for Columbia River Basin

YAKIMA, Washington, June 12, 2007 (ENS) - The best location for a new water storage dam and reservoir in the Columbia River basin is Lower Crab Creek in Grant County, a newly completed assessment by federal and state agencies has concluded.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Washington state Department of Ecology are seeking a location where water can be stored to augment irrigation supplies during dry years as well as secure water for future irrigation, improve flows for fish and set aside water for future municipal, domestic and industrial uses.

The study found that construction and operational costs would be less in the Lower Crab Creek basin than in other locations assessed - Hawk Creek, Foster Creek, and Sand Hollow.

The site also posed the lowest risk and the best geology for construction of a dam and reservoir. Early on, Foster Creek was found to have geotechnical flaws and eliminated from consideration.

Crab Creek is one of the few perennial streams in the Columbia Basin, flowing from the northeastern Columbia River Plateau to empty into the Columbia River near the small town of Beverly.

The appraisal was conducted as part of an ongoing commitment by the state of Washington and federal government to evaluate the potential for new storage in the Columbia River Basin. Those efforts have been bolstered by legislation passed in 2006, funding development of water resources on the Columbia River.

In 2004, state, Reclamation and the Columbia Basin project irrigation districts entered into an agreement to promote improved water management on the Columbia River and to explore new storage opportunities.

"Long-term storage is an important component of a balanced water management program on the Columbia River," said Derek Sandison, central regional director for the Department of Ecology.

The conservation group American Rivers questions whether there is really a need to build a new dam.

"Before we go any further in this process, we must first make sure we understand what our water supply needs are," said Rob Masonis, director of American Rivers' Northwest office. "To date, there is no factual information suggesting a need for the enormous quantity of water that would be stored behind the dams analyzed in this report."

"To avoid spending billions of taxpayer dollars on a new large dam that will inundate private property, farmland, prized fishing lakes, critical habitat for endangered steelhead, and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, we need a thorough and accurate analysis of our water needs and whether those needs can be met by more cost-effective and less-damaging alternatives, including more efficient water use, water conservation and market-based tools," said Masonis.

Sandison agrees that efficiency and conservation are important. "Other essential elements of a successful program include reusing conserved water, supporting smaller water storage projects, encouraging water markets and improving how water is managed now," he said.

Bill Gray, a manager with Reclamation, said, "Construction of a facility at the Crab Creek site has significant environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural impacts that would need to be thoroughly evaluated in an environmental impact statement."

Drought has been an increasingly frequent problem in the areas, and Mosonis says climate change will alter the water needs of central Washington state. "Global warming threatens to fundamentally change rivers and water supply in Washington. Until we answer two critical questions - how much water will we need and where will we need it - we should not invest more time and money further analyzing particular dam sites."

A copy of the assessment is online at:

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Rivers in North Carolina, Georgia at Record Lows

WASHINGTON, DC, June 12, 2007 (ENS) - Despite some rainfall at the end of the month, streamflows during May in North Carolina were at or near record low levels, particularly in the western part of the state, according to scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, USGS.

May was a dry month in neighboring Georgia bringing many of the state's rivers and streams to their lowest levels ever recorded for the month.

The USGS has been monitoring and recording streamflow for more than 100 years at many locations throughout North Carolina and Georgia, including the French Broad River at Asheville, North Carolina, which has been continuously monitored since 1895.

Streams at this location in May were at or below the levels recorded on the same date in 2002, during the most recent severe drought.

This was the lowest May streamflow recorded in 115 years for Georgia's Oostanaula River at the Resaca gage; 110 years for the Oconee River at the Milledgeville gage, and 98 years for the Flint River at the Albany gage.

Streamflow was the lowest recorded for 50 years for any month for the Suwannee River at Fargo.

"Little if any widespread, sustained relief from the drought is anticipated," said Georgia State Climatologist David Stooksbury. "The long-term outlook suggests the drought will continue to intensify."

With the conditions so dry this early in the year, it could impact water supplies, ecological habitats, and recreational uses. Already the agricultural industry is feeling the drought.

"Extreme drought now covers most agricultural areas, delaying peanut and cotton planting and raising concerns for the crops this year," said Brad Haire of the University of Georgia.

Groundwater levels also are declining across Georgia and North Carolina, although the effects depend on the hydrogeology and pumping characteristics of specific aquifers. Many wells are approaching their average annual minimum water level, which normally occurs in late summer or early fall.

Conditions across North Carolina range from "abnormally dry" in the northeastern part of the state to "extreme drought" in the southwestern mountains, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly report by federal government scientists.

Normally the lowest streamflows of the year occur in late summer, when water use demands are highest, and in the fall. USGS scientists warn that if below average rainfall continues through the summer and fall, new record low flows are likely to occur in many of North Carolina's rivers.

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Concord River Pollution Costly for Massachustts Town

BOSTON, Massachusetts, June 12, 2007 (ENS) - The town of Billerica, Massachusetts has agreed to pay a $250,000 penalty to settle allegations that the town discharged pollutants into the Concord River, according to federal and state legal documents filed May 31 in U.S. District Court in Boston.

Billerica is a residential community of about 40,000 people in northeastern Massachusetts.

The town discharged pollutants directly into the Concord River and into a tributary of the Concord River from its water treatment Plant without a permit, according to complaints from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, MassDEP.

The discharges contributed to degradation of water quality and impairment of the river habitat near the water treatment plant.

The town exceeded permitted effluent limits for phosphorus, fecal coliform bacteria, pH, and ammonia nitrogen. The town also failed to submit discharge monitoring reports, failed to comply with monitoring requirements, and failed to submit infiltration and inflow reporting.

Billerica's discharges of phosphorus contribute to the excessive aquatic plant growth that characterizes the river system, the EPA said. These conditions are the result of an overabundance of nutrients, primarily phosphorus, being discharged to the river.

On top of the civil penalty of $250,000, the town will implement two supplemental environmental projects at a cost of $50,000.

First, the town will test for lead in school drinking water and take measures to address elevated lead levels, if they are detected. Exposure to elevated levels of lead can result in developmental delays, especially in infants and young children.

The second project calls for the town to evaluate whether a disinfectant byproduct - called N-nitrosodimethylamine, or NDMA - is present in the water supply and factors effecting its formation.

NDMA is a probable carcinogen that is not currently regulated, explains the EPA, saying that more research is underway to determine if it is forming in drinking water supplies and, if so, at what levels.

If NDMA is detected in Billerica's water supply, the town will take measures as required by MassDEP.

MassDEP Acting Commissioner Arleen O'Donnell said, "Under this agreement, Billerica will ensure that the plant is adequately treating wastewater and the town will go further by proactively testing for lead in their schools' drinking water, and will study NDMA in order to help us better understand whether NDMA needs to be regulated."

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Endangered Hawaiian Petrels Found on Remote Island

HONOLULU, Hawaii, June 12, 2007 (ENS) - A large population endangered seabirds thought to be on the brink of extinction has been discovered in the the remote mountains of the Hawaiian island of Lanai.

The small island is 98 percent owned by Castle and Cooke, a Hawaiian real estate and resort developer.

Wildlife biologists from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the University of Hawaii and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working in collaboration with Castle and Cooke, report that there is a large population of endangered Hawaiian petrel, or uau, surviving in the remote mountains of Lanai.

The birds have been found nesting in the upper watershed areas of Lanai where Castle and Cooke has been implementing a watershed protection program.

The discovery of the population was made last year but was just announced to the public on Friday.

"Castle and Cooke's work to protect the watershed is a great benefit not just for the water resources it provides to the community but clearly for Hawaiian wildlife as well," said Allan Smith, DLNR interim chairperson.

Uau were once common throughout the Hawaiian islands but were killed by introduced cats, rats, and barn owls, and suffered fromthe loss of their nesting habitats.

Smith said the state agency is encouraging the Castle and Cooke to protect even larger areas of the watershed. "They have also begun to control introduced predators that could kill the young nestlings in their burrows before they are able to fly," Smith said.

"The Lanai Hale watershed had not been surveyed for petrels since the 1980's so we didn't know what to expect," said Scott Fretz, DLNR wildlife program manager. "We assumed there would be few, if any, birds remaining on Lanai, but once we started the surveys we immediately realized that we had found something special."

"We don't yet know the total number of birds on Lanai but there appear to be hundreds, if not more, which would make this one of the biggest populations known in the state," Fretz said. "The population there has grown significantly in the last 20 years."

Uau spend most of their lives at sea, returning to land only part of the year to breed and fledge their young. Even then, the birds only return to the upland nesting areas after dark and in the morning they fly to sea to feed before dawn.

They are an elusive species to study and biologists employ special methods such as thermal imagers, night vision technology, and marine radar to gather information to develop conservation programs for the birds.

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Piano Signed by Fats Domino Auctioned for Greener New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, June 12, 2007 (ENS) - A unique piano signed by world famous New Orleans musician Antoine "Fats" Domino is being auctioned off this week to raise funds for an environmentally sustainable restoration of the hurricane-ravaged city.

The Baldwin piano is currently on display in the lobby of the International House Hotel on Camp Street where Domino signed it after singing his 1950s hit "Ain't That A Shame," with the unforgettable line "my tears fell like rain."

Nicknamed the "green" piano, the Baldwin is made from wood that was legally and sustainably harvested. The unique piano is offered via an online auction on Bidding ends on June 15 at 6 pm EDT.

Proceeds of the auction will benefit the national environmental organization Global Green USA, in their efforts to rebuild New Orleans.

At the online auction, people also can bid on items signed by other artists, including signed Gibson guitars, special VIP packages and other items donated by artists who performed at this year's New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

The Gibson Foundation, which supports this effort, is the philanthropic arm of the Gibson Guitar Corp. For more information on Gibson Foundation go to

Global Green USA was on the ground in New Orleans soon after the hurricanes struck. In 2006 Global Green USA and Brad Pitt held a sustainable architecture and design competition to act as a catalyst for the green rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Global Green is now exploring partnerships with the National Council of Churches, the Healthy Building Network, the Enterprise Foundation, and Habitat for Humanity among other affordable housing builders to help those families most in need of new healthy homes.

Global Green will provide its technical expertise to help green the reconstruction of New Orleans' schools. "Healthy green schools will make students more productive, healthier and cost less money to operate," the organization says.

In addition, Global Green plans to create a Green Building Resource and Design Center to serve as a focal point for the rebuilding community and provide homeowners, builders, architects and developers with the knowledge and understanding to identify, purchase and utilize healthy, green building products.

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