AmeriScan: June 19, 2007

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U.S. Spends $1.7 Million on Elephants, Apes, Rhinos, Tigers

WASHINGTON, DC, June 19, 2007 (ENS) - The Bush administration is awarding 33 grants totaling more than $1.7 million to support conservation of Asian elephants, great apes, rhinoceroses, and tigers in 17 countries.

International conservation organizations and other partners will contribute more than $2 million in matching funds for a total of more than $4 million to support conservation projects for the species.

"The American people have a great love and appreciation for wildlife and want to support the efforts of other nations to protect and conserve these species," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Todd Willens.

Willens announced the grants as the head of the U.S. delegation to the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species last week in The Netherlands.

"Combining these grants with the matching funds put up by partners, we will monitor and study elephants, tigers and rhinos, ensure they are protected from poaching and other illegal activities and enable their habitat to be conserved," he said.

The United States is awarding the grants to support conservation efforts in cooperation with local communities and landowners in Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Russia, Cameroon, Laos, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Nigeria, Republic of Congo and Liberia.

One grant will support construction of a floating anti-poaching camp in India designed to help protect elephants and other endangered species that live in Kaziranga National Park. The camp will be navigable along the Bhramaputra River, which forms the northern boundary of the park.

Another grant will be spent to mitigate the negative effects of logging on great apes in the Congo.

Another will go towards the education of journalists in Russia on tiger conservation so they are able to report on the issue accurately.

And a grant will provide health care incentives to protect the orangutans of Indonesia’s Gunung Palung National Park from illegal logging. Health care discounts will be provided to communities that are successful in protecting their boundaries with the park from illegal logging. Local people will be able to pay for health care by working on projects that protect and rehabilitate the national park.

A conservation education project will be funded to improve the protection of wild chimpanzees with theater performances and newsletters around protected areas in Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia.

The grants are awarded through the Wildlife Without Borders program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service administers these grants through its Asian Elephant, Great Apes and Rhino/Tiger Conservation Funds.

For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s international programs, click here.

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California Refinery Fined $1 Million for Groundwater Pollution

SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 19, 2007 (ENS) - A California refinery has been fined $1 million and placed on three years probation for dumping contaminated wastewater into wells, risking the safety of groundwater supplies in Santa Maria, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles.

The Santa Maria Refining Company, a subsidiary of the publicly traded Greka Energy Corporation, pleaded guilty to criminal charges of violating the Safe Drinking Water Act in April and was sentenced last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, said Friday.

Since April 2004, the EPA has been investigating allegations that officials at Greka had "knowingly and routinely" discharged oil refinery waste into underground injection wells that are permitted only for the disposal of brine, which is separated from crude oil during the refining process.

Investigators said the wastewater contained benzene, a chemical that can cause cancer, anemia, excessive bleeding as well as damage to the immune system.

In court documents, the company admitted to intentionally pumping contaminated wastewater into the injection wells.

The company also was sentenced for making false statements to the EPA. In addition to the penalty and probation, the company must pay the EPA $15,500 in restitution, and must implement an independently audited environmental compliance program.

Three individual defendants have also pleaded guilty to making false statements to the EPA in connection with this case.

Robert Thompson, 58, of Santa Maria; Edward Stotler, 60, of Santa Maria; and Brent Stromberg, 62, of Nipomo each face maximum sentences of five years in federal prison. Sentencing is pending.

The company must apply $500,000 of the $1 million penalty towards the Los Padres National Forest Restoration Project.

In a separate action in June 2006, the EPA fined the refinery $127,500 for unauthorized disposal of oil refinery wastewater into the wells.

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U.S. Forest Service Joins California Climate Action Registry

VALLEJO, California, June 19, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service has become the first federal agency to register with the California Climate Action Registry.

By joining the registry, the Forest Service has committed itself to tracking and reporting greenhouse gas emissions created by its operations in California with the aim of reducing emissions that contribute to climate change.

The Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Region encompasses 18 national forests in California, which cover one fifth of the state.

With about 3,500 vehicles and 7,600 facilities in California, officials of the Pacific Southwest Region and Pacific Southwest Research Station say the agency can really boost the state's effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"This is an issue that is very important to me personally and professionally," said Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Bernie Weingardt.

"I feel that in addition to managing the public lands we are entrusted with, we also have a mandate to manage our operations in an environmentally responsible manner," he said.

The Forest Service sees climate change "as an important global issue with physical and ecological changes already documented worldwide," the agency said in a statement June 5 announcing the registration.

"Because these and future changes will impact the sustainability of our forest ecosystems, the Forest Service takes this issue seriously and is exploring ways to contribute to the solutions being developed in California and worldwide," the agency said.

Jim Sedell, director of the Pacific Southwest Research Station says his staff is committed to working with land managers across the region to provide the best available science.

Research is underway to examine the role of healthy forests in reducing emissions through the absorption of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

"We also are excited to have this opportunity to lead by example in reducing our own contribution to greenhouse gas emissions," said Sedell.

The Forest Service's participation with the California Climate Action Registry will be phased in.

At first, greenhouse gas emission tracking will focus on vehicle fleet and facility emissions of the agency in California. At this stage it will not include emissions from wildfires, or from fires deliberately set by forest managers to reduce fuels.

A second phase may include the full range of Forest Service activities in California, including the tracking of biological emissions as well as potential greenhouse gas benefits from management activities.

The California Climate Action Registry is a non-profit public/private partnership establised in 2005. It serves as a voluntary greenhouse gas registry to protect, encourage, and promote early actions to reduce emissions.

Over 240 major companies, cities, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations measure and publicly report their emissions through the Registry. www.climateregistry.org

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Pennsylvania Wind Farm Starts Spinning Power

MAHANOY TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania, June 19, 2007 (ENS) - Governor Edward Rendell flipped the switch that started the turbines of Pennsylvania’s newest wind farm today.

"This is an exciting day for Pennsylvania," said the governor, standing atop Locust Ridge in Schuylkill County. "This project shows the kind of growth we can achieve by committing ourselves to clean and renewable energy, and by making the strategic investments necessary to attract leading companies that create quality jobs for our men and women."

The Locust Ridge Wind Farm will produce 68,328 megawatt hours annually - enough emissions-free electricity to power about 6,500 typical Pennsylvania homes each year.

The wind farm is owned by the Spanish company Iberdrola, the largest owner and operator of renewable energy facilities in the world, and was developed by its affiliate, Community Energy Inc. The Spanish company Gamesa constructed the 13 turbines at the wind farm.

Iberdrola Chairman Ignacio Galan told the Global Energy Leaders Summit today in London that the company "envisages the United States as one of the most important growth opportunities."

Governor Rendell takes credit for the policies that attracted these companies to his state.

"Pennsylvania has established itself as a top destination for alternative energy companies and development projects," said the governor.

"Some of the world’s leading companies in the field, like Iberdrola and Gamesa, the two companies involved here today, have chosen to set-up shop in Pennsylvania. They realize that they can compete and succeed here because of our commitment to growing this industry and our competitive business environment."

Pennsylvania already has with 179 megawatts, MW, of wind generating capacity, including Locust Ridge. Within the next 12 months, the commonwealth expects new wind farm projects will add another 214 MW of capacity.

"It is exciting that Pennsylvania is leading the drive towards energy independence and building solutions to climate change, like wind energy, which also grow the economy and protect electricity customers from potentially volatile fossil fuel prices," said Brent Alderfer, executive vice president, Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA.

Iberdrola has 60 employees at its new corporate offices in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Its Community Energy affiliate, founded in Wayne, in 1999, has more than 2,000 MW of wind power capacity at projects that are already operating or are in development.

Gamesa has invested $108 million in Pennsylvania and has created more than 800 jobs here. The company operates two manufacturing plants in the state. Its North American headquarters is located in Philadelphia.

The opening of the Locust Ridge Wind Farm comes at an ideal time for the governor as he attempts to persuade state legislators to support his Energy Independence Strategy, which is now pending before the General Assembly.

The strategy builds on the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard Pennsylvania enacted in November 2004 during the Rendell administration.

The standard requires that 18 percent of energy sold in Pennsylvania come from renewable and alternative sources by 2021. It is expected to result in 3,000 to 4,000 MW of wind power for sale in Pennsylvania.

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Six Ways to Clean New Jersey's Passaic River Proposed

WASHINGTON, DC, June 19, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has released six proposals for cleaning up New Jersey's Passaic River, one of the nation's most polluted waterways. The river is laden with toxic chemicals and metals, as well as sewage and urban runoff.

The six options, developed by the EPA and five other federal and state agencies, include dredging and capping the sediments of the lower eight miles and could carry a price tag of $0.9 to $2.3 billion.

Addressing contaminated sediments in the lower eight miles of the river will target the source that contributes the vast majority of the dioxin and almost half of the PCBs, pesticides and mercury in the river below Dundee Dam.

The options will be submitted to a work group consisting of federal and state agencies and environmental and community groups, and parties that are potentially responsible for the contamination. The EPA will consider their input before formally proposing a specific cleanup plan.

"We will get this river cleaned up and make it a jewel of New Jersey," said Alan Steinberg, EPA regional administrator.

"Of course, this can’t happen overnight," he said, "but addressing this major source of contamination will take us a long way toward reversing decades of pollution that has blighted this important natural and economic resource."

Any accelerated cleanup action would be taken at the same time that EPA is overseeing a supplemental study of the 17 mile tidal stretch of the river. This study is currently being undertaken by a group of companies that are potentially responsible for the contamination of the river.

These proposals come in the wake of a report by the National Academy of Sciences that found little evidence that dredging projects carried out by the agency are successful.

The study said EPA needed much better monitoring of such projects and should consider both the short-term and long-term effects of dredging.

In evaluating alternatives, EPA is required by law to take into account how well the option protects human health and the environment, how effective the solution is in both the short and long terms, how well the option can be implemented, community acceptance, and cost.

The six alternatives and their estimated costs are:

  1. Removing fine-grained sediment from the lower eight miles by dredging ($2 - $2.3 billion)
  2. Capping the sediments in the lower eight miles by placing clean materials on top of the contaminated ones ($0.9 - $1.1 billion)
  3. Reconstructing a current federally-recognized navigation channel by using a combination of capping and backfilling for the lower eight miles of the river ($1.5 - $1.9 billion)
  4. Constructing a new navigational channel for current use and capping the lower eight miles ($1.3 - $1.6 billion)
  5. Constructing a new navigation channel for new uses that will develop in the future once the river is restored, then capping the lower eight miles of the river ($1.4 - $1.8 billion)
  6. Constructing a new navigational channel for future use; dredging fine-grained materials from a one-mile stretch with the highest concentration of contamination and from another one-mile zone where the most erosion takes place, then capping the entire eight mile stretch ($1.5 - $1.8 billion)
For a copy of the proposal and for more information about actions already taken to clean up the Passaic, go to http://www.ourpassaic.org.

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Felon Griles Wants to Work for Disney, Not Go to Jail

WASHINGTON, DC, June 19, 2007 (ENS) - Lawyers for former Interior Deputy Secretary Steven Griles are arguing that the convicted felon should not serve any prison time but instead be sentenced to perform community service for a program funded by The Walt Disney Company and recreational industry lobbyists.

Documents posted Monday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, the industry consortium has already approved a slot for Griles in which he would fundraise, secure corporate partners and handle "communication ... with government entities and the media."

Griles pled guilty on March 23, 2007 to obstructing a congressional investigation, a felony that carries a maximum five year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for a prison term ranging from 10 to 16 months for a first conviction. As part of the plea bargain with Griles, the Justice Department is seeking only five months in prison and five months of community service.

In a June 8 filing, lawyers for Griles argue that he should do no prison time but instead serve three months of home confinement and perform 500 hours of community service.

That community service would be split between a Disney-funded program called Wonderful Outdoor World, WOW, and a program providing college sports memorabilia to wounded Iraq war vets.

Griles’ lawyers contend that part of the community benefit is WOW "could not otherwise afford to hire the kind of expertise that Mr. Griles can provide."

"Griles was convicted for hiding his connections to a ‘green scam’ organization that was a conduit for peddling corporate influence through the Interior Department and now he claims influence peddling is a service to the community," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.

Ruch was referring to Griles’ ties to Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a group that funneled money from convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The WOW program was created in 2003 when several federal agencies, including the Interior Department, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with The Walt Disney Company, which describes itself as "a diversified international entertainment company ... dedicated to integrating business needs with environmental values."

Griles’ lawyers also argue that sentencing him to prison "could deter others from testifying before Congress."

Griles says he testified before a committee chaired by Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, in order "to clear his name" of charges that he was, in the words of an Abramoff e-mail, "our guy" at Interior.

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Reward Offered in Shooting of Golden Eaglets

CEDAR CITY, Utah, June 19, 2007 (ENS) - Utah state and federal agencies are offering up to $3,500 in reward money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the shooting of two golden eaglets in Iron County, Utah.

The eaglets were found on June 14, at a historic eagle nest site north of the Iron County Firing Range near the Three Peaks Recreation Area, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

The eaglets, within a week or 10 days of being able to fly, were killed at the nest site.

A third eaglet managed to escape and was recovered at the bottom of an adjacent pit some 100 feet deep. This male eaglet is being treated for its injuries and will be in rehabilitation for some time, the Service said today.

Historically, this nest has produced one to two young every year. But this year was a rarity, triplets, an uncommon occurrence for eagles anywhere.

"This is a tremendous loss for the many wildlife viewers and photographers who have been following their progress for the last few months," the Service said.

An examination of the two dead eaglets indicated that the shooting occurred within the past few days.

The nesting site, often referred to as the iron mine site, has been a productive location for golden eagles for more than 20 years.

Golden eagles are protected by both federal and state law. Violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is a federal offense carrying a maximum penalty of $100,000 fine and one year in jail for the killing of an eagle.

The state and federal agencies are seeking information from the public. Callers with information may remain anonymous.

Contact:

Special Agent Bonnie Bell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cedar City Office: 435.865.0861
Sergeant Brian Shearer, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Southern Region: 435.865.6100
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources - Help Stop Poaching Hotline: 1-800-662-3337

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