AmeriScan: June 20, 2007

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Poll: Most Americans Want Government to Set Low Carbon Standards

STANFORD, California, June 20, 2007 (ENS) - A new national public opinion poll on how to curb climate change shows a majority of Americans prefer to have the government impose standards on energy and fuel companies rather than other policies to reduce the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

The survey results were released today at the National Press Club in Washington by Stanford University, "New Scientist" magazine, and think tank Resources for the Future.

Pollsters found that 73 percent of respondents support government standards to limit emissions of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. They would require electricity generators to use alternative energy in exchange for a $10 increase in a typical monthly electric bill.

Given the same price increase, only 47 percent of those surveyed favor cap-and-trade programs, in which the government imposes a limit on companies' greenhouse gas emissions but issues tradeable permits allowing them to emit a certain amount of pollution.

The results are timely because cap-and-trade programs anchor several bills now under consideration in Congress.

"This survey helps policymakers anticipate which policies could be sold to the public and which wouldn't," said Jon Krosnick, a Stanford professor of communication and political science who helped design the poll.

"Our findings suggest that Americans are open to policies they think will work and are affordable," said Krosnick.

Three policies were proposed in an April survey of 1,491 adult Americans by the polling firm Knowledge Networks. All three are designed to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by five percent by 2020.

By comparison, the Kyoto Protocol requires its signatories to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions an average of 5.2 percent by 2012.

In the first policy, oil companies would meet sales targets for low-emission fuels, such as gasoline mixed with ethanol. Power companies would produce a certain amount of electricity from facilities that emit no greenhouse gases.

In the second policy, government would impose a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, giving companies a financial incentive to make cuts.

The third policy would have the government set an overall cap on emissions and issue tradeable permits that allow companies to emit a certain amount of greenhouse gases.

"This survey adds to an accumulating body of evidence that the public really supports policies that address global warming," said Matthew DeBell, a researcher at Stanford's Institute for Research in the Social Sciences who helped to design the survey.

"Before, there was no documentation that people were willing to put their money where their mouths are," DeBell said. "This shows that people are willing to support these policies even when costs are incurred."

The shift in public attitude is critical, the researchers said, because the United States produces 25 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, so Americans must help address global warming.

The poll showed that Democrats, the young, people with higher incomes, and western residents were more likely than Republicans, the old, and low income people to support government policies that reduce greenhouse gases.

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U.S. Oil Tanker Firm Concealed Criminal Discharges

BEAUMONT, Texas, June 20, 2007 (ENS) - One of the largest publicly traded tanker companies in the world was sentenced today in Beaumont to pay $10 million as part of a $37 million criminal settlement with the United States for dumping oil overboard in violation of the law.

Overseas Shipholding Group Inc., OSG, was charged with 33 felony counts involving 12 oil tankers and ports at Beaumont, Boston, Massachusetts; Portland, Maine; San Francisco, California; and Wilmington, North Carolina.

The total $37 million penalty, announced on December 19, 2006 in Boston, is the largest-ever involving deliberate vessel pollution, said Ronald Tenpas, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment & Natural Resources Division and John Ratcliffe, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.

The charges involving 12 OSG oil tankers took place from June 2001 to March 2006 and include violations of the Clean Water Act, as amended by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990; violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships; conspiracy; false statements; and obstruction of justice.

In pleading guilty, OSG admitted that it deliberately falsified various ships' Oil Record Books, required logs in which all overboard discharges are to be accurately recorded.

The company admitted making discharges at night and concealing bypass methods used to circumvent required pollution prevention equipment during U.S. port calls so the U.S. Coast Guard would not discover the criminal activity.

The $37 million penalty includes a $27.8 million criminal fine and a $9.2 million organizational community service payment that will fund environmental projects from coast to coast.

For the part of the case in East Texas, U.S. District Court Judge Thad Heartfield today approved the proposed plea agreement with federal prosecutors and sentenced OSG to immediately pay a total of $7 million - $5.3 million criminal fine and $1.7 million in community service - for making false statements to the Coast Guard.

OSG was ordered to pay another $3 million in escrow for additional charges that will bring the total to $10 million in the Eastern District of Texas.

OSG will make the $1.7 million in community service payments to the National Park Foundation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund environmental projects and initiatives to benefit the Eastern District of Texas, including the coastal waters of seven counties.

The payment will fund environmental education by the Environmental Learning and Research Center at Lamar University and the acquisition of land for the Big Thicket National Preserve.

A total of $2 million - $540,000 in East Texas - is designated to fund a satellite surveillance pilot program to monitor ships off the U.S. coast.

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Enviros Poised to Sue EPA Over Ships' Air Emissions

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20, 2007 (ENS) - Last week, Earthjustice and Friends of the Earth warned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that in 60 days they could sue the agency for failing to meet an April 27 deadline to regulate air pollution from large ships.

EPA recently postponed its commitment to set standards for ship engines by 18 months, until December 2009.

"The diesel death zones around port and coastal communities continue to expand with no relief," said Teri Shore of Friends of the Earth in San Francisco. "With this last delay, Bush's EPA has shredded any hope that ship smokestacks bringing cargo to our nation's ports will be forced to clean up any time soon."

Ocean-going vessels are one of the largest mobile sources of air pollution in the world, generating 18 to 30 percent of global nitrogen oxide emissions that contribute to smog and 16 percent of sulfur oxide emissions from petroleum sources, the groups say.

"The ships burn dirty, asphalt-like bunker fuel that is thousands of times dirtier than diesel used by trucks or trains and most operate on engines that pre-date even weak international standards," they said in a statement.

"Just one ship pulling into port can pollute as much a 350,000 cars in one hour and major ports receive hundreds of ship calls a month," said Friends of the Earth and Earthjustice.

The air pollution from large ships is one of the least addressed environmental justice issues facing port communities nationwide including Oakland, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Houston, and New Orleans, they said.

EPA committed to the 2007 deadline to regulate ocean-going vessel emissions in a 2003 Final Rule approved by the Washington D. C. Circuit Court of Appeals in response to a previous smokestack pollution lawsuit by Bluewater Network, which has since merged with Friends of the Earth

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to establish regulations to reduce air pollution from non-automobile engines that significantly contribute to pollution in areas with poor air quality.

"The EPA would like to ignore its own commitments to finally address the ship pollution problem," said Sarah Burt of the nonprofit public interest law firm Earthjustice. "EPA's cavalier approach to the Clean Air Act is forcing polluted communities to take this issue to the courts."

The groups warn that smokestack emissions from the global shipping fleet are projected to double in North America in the next decade, exposing people to diesel exhaust that contributes to respiratory illness, cancer, heart disease and premature death.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, recently introduced the Marine Vessel Emissions Act of 2007, SB1499, that would require cleaner fuels and engines in all ocean-going vessels calling on U.S. ports. Congresswoman Hilda Solis, also a California Democrat, introduced the same legislation as HR2548 in the House of Representatives.

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Google to Become Carbon Neutral by Next Year

PARIS, France, June 20, 2007 (ENS) - Google, the largest search engine on the web, has made a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2008.

In Paris on Tuesday, Google announced its membership in The Climate Group, a non-profit organization working to accelerate the international uptake of corporate and government best practice in emissions reduction.

The Climate Group will partner with Google to help the company achieve carbon neutrality and support its plans for greater energy efficiency and renewable energy. Google will offset of any remaining emissions that cannot be eliminated directly by investing in credible carbon offset plans.

"Innovation goes to the heart of what Google does," said Eric Schmidt, chairman and chief executive of Google. "By investing in new technologies and by working in partnership with others, we can make a meaningful contribution to the environment. This is just a start. We are actively looking for more opportunities to help tackle climate change."

"Google has been working on energy efficiency since 2001 when we started to build our own servers," said Urs Hoelzle, senior vice president, operations and Google Fellow. "The Climate Group will help deepen our understanding about climate change and the action we can take to minimize our carbon emissions."

Dr. Steve Howard, CEO of The Climate Group, said, "The very real threats posed by global warming demand bold, imaginative and far-reaching action by every sector of the economy. Google's commitment to invest in environmental innovation, combined with their worldwide reach will significantly help promote and accelerate international action on climate change."

Google says it plans to maximize the efficiency of its data centers, which account for most of the energy it consumes.

Google will increase its use of renewable energy with solar power at its headquarters in Mountain View, California that started up earlier this week, and plug-in hybrids for company cars.

Google is committed to creating an additional 50 megawatts of renewable energy generating capacity by 2012, enough to power 50,000 homes, Google executives said.

"Overall the Internet is a relatively clean technology: sending an email or downloading an album has less impact than posting a letter or buying a CD," Hoelzle said. "And by maximizing our energy efficiency, creating an additional 50 MWs of renewable energy generating capacity and investing in innovative green technology, Google will help build a cleaner energy future."

Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund, WWF, in the United States approves of Google's moves. "Google, not surprisingly, innovates to address an issue that affects almost every person, place and animal on the planet," he said.

"In the last quarter," Roberts said, "the company put in place the single largest solar installation of any U.S. corporation, committed to buying 50 MW of renewable energy and worked with WWF, Intel and other industry leaders to develop and launch the Climate Savers Computing Initiative to move carbon reductions broadly through its sector."

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West Coast Governors Seek Clean Water Funding Cut by Bush

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20, 2007 (ENS) - Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, Christine Gregoire of Washington, and Ted Kulongoski of Oregon have issued a joint request to Congress to restore funding for clean coastal waters that was cut by the Bush administration from the 2008 budget.

The Republican governor of California and the two Democrat governors are cooperating to prevent or eliminate polluted runoff that can cause dead zones and blooms of noxious algae off their coasts.

The three governors sent a joint letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. They are seeking a restoration of funding for a long-standing program to deal with nonpoint source pollution that was eliminated in the President's Fiscal Year 2008 budget request.

In their letter, dated June 6 and made public today, the governors note their disappointment in the elimination of the NOAA Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program in the NOAA spending plan and also in next year's budget request presented to Congress by President George W. Bush.

Calling the elimination of this program "short-sighted," the governors ask Congress to restore funding at a level of $10 million in 2008 to deal with nonpoint source pollution.

Nonpoint source pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries pollutants, depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters, and underground sources of drinking water.

"We urge Congress to restore $10 million in NOAA's FY2008 budget to support the long-term efforts of 35 affected states, territories and commonwealths to implement this important work through coastal management programs," the governors write.

"We intend to work with the administration to ensure it includes this amount in the FY 2009 NOAA budget," the governors say.

Nonpoint source pollution is considered a primary cause of water pollution in the United States, they remind the subcommittee chairs, saying, "Stormwater runoff in coastal watersheds carries bacteria and viruses, oils and chemicals from streets and parking lots, excess fertizilers, and pollutants from other human activities."

On September 18, 2006, the three states entered into an agreement to address critical ocean protection and management issues. The West Coast Governors' Agreement on Ocean Health affirms their commitment to work together to clean up coastal waters.

In their letter, the governors point out that clean coastal waters are "fundamental" to healthy coastal economies.

"The Administration's position is inconsistent with Congress' clear record of support in this matter," the governors write. "It is also contrary to the interests of communities that depend on clean coastal waters for their livelihood and for all Americans who recognize that these fragile environments greatly contribute to the quality of life."

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Western Pacific Fisheries Council Head Accused of Illegal Lobbying

HONOLULU, Hawaii, June 20, 2007 (ENS) - A Native Hawaiian cultural organization, three of Hawaii's environmental organizations, and a national science and policy organization today called for the resignation of Kitty Simonds, the executive director of the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, WESPAC.

One of eight regional councils in the United States, WESPAC advises the federal government on the management of fisheries from Hawaii to Guam to American Samoa - an area of nearly 1.5 million square miles.

The demand for Simonds' resignation follows the announcement Tuesday that four of Hawaii's environmental advocates are filing complaints with the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General, alleging that Simonds is engaged in "unethical and illegal behavior."

Their complaints document WESPAC's involvement in the organizing, or allowing of, illegal lobbying, misuse of federal grants, and a range of other staffing and regulatory violations under Simonds leadership.

Complainants are Keiko Bonk, campaign director for the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Network; Tina Owens, director of The Lost Fish Coalition and member of the West Hawaii Fisheries Council; Linda Paul, executive director for the Aquatics Division of the Hawaii Audubon Society; and Makaala Kaaumoana, vice chair of Hui Ho'omalu e ka Aina, a Hawaiian environmental group on the island of Kauai.

The complainants ask Hawaii's Congressional leaders to press the Commerce Department to act on their complaints and also to initiate a Congressional investigation.

Bonk states that she was a witness at a number of meetings where illegal lobbying efforts were organized, and that she informed participants that she believed the activity to be illegal.

She documents her discovery that WESPAC had organized separate meetings which excluded anyone critical of their lobbying efforts. Bonk says she has evidence that WESPAC employees deliberately provided false information about the funding of this lobbying.

Bonk filed a previous complaint with the chair of WESPAC, which she also sent to members of Hawaii's congressional delegation and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which controls funding for WESPAC and the other regional fishery management councils.

Bonk has received a letter from U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii saying that he discussed Bonk's initial complaint with Dr. William Hogarth, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Inouye's letter includes a response from Hogarth in which he acknowledged that because WESPAC receives federal grants, the activities described in the complaint, if true, would be considered illegal.

Today the five groups - Na Imi Pono, the Hawaii Audubon Society, the Snorkel Bob Foundation, the Conservation Council for Hawaii, and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute - issued a joint statement supporting the complainants.

"These complaints are from very credible persons, are well documented, and demonstrate a systematic pattern of behavior that is at best unethical and at worst illegal," the groups said. "Spending federal taxpayer money on political lobbying activities undermines the trust of the public in our government."

"We believe WESPAC needs a clean start and that Ms. Simonds should step down," the groups said.

William Aila, director of the Native Hawaiian cultural organization Na Imi Pono, said, "I am particularly concerned because it appears that WESPAC has been attempting to hide their illegal activity under the cover of Native Hawaiian practices, creating divisions within the Hawaiian community, and creating a climate in which it erroneously appears that Hawaiians are discriminating against non-Hawaiians."

Robert Wintner, executive director of the Snorkel Bob Foundation, said, "I think that the complaints filed against WESPAC represent a growing recognition that the federal government has done a very poor job managing our fisheries, further undermining the health of Hawaii's reefs."

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States Ranked on Vulnerablity to Rising Gas Prices

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20, 2007 (ENS) - Southern states are the most vulnerable to rising gas prices, while states in the Northeast are the least vulnerable, according to a first-time ranking issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC.

The states also are rated on policies that protect consumers and the environment and reduce vulnerability to oil price increases.

"Filling the tank is a burden nowadays," said Deron Lovaas, energy analyst at NRDC, releasing the report on Tuesday. "The good news is that some states are enacting policies which give consumers vehicle and fuel choices. Now federal policymakers must follow suit by boosting fuel economy standards and supporting renewable fuels."

The report, "Addicted to Oil: Ranking States' Oil Vulnerability and Solutions for Change" was commissioned by the NRDC and authored by David Gardiner & Associates, LLC, an Arlington, Virginia consultancy on energy and climate issues.

It ranks all 50 states based on the hit drivers take to their wallets, showing that while oil dependence affects all states, some are hit harder than others.

The 10 states most vulnerable to rising prices are - Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona, Louisiana, Arkansas, and West Virginia.

A second ranking shows that while some states are promoting clean cars, clean fuels, and smart growth, others are taking little or no action. About one-third of states are taking few steps to reduce their oil dependence.

Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming are the states doing the least.

By contrast, California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington are doing the most to promote energy-saving policies to wean themselves from oil.

Citizens in the most vulnerable state - Mississippi - spend an average of more than six percent of their per capita income on gasoline - 2.5 times more than the capita income spent by residents of Connecticut, the least vulnerable state.

The report outlines solutions to end oil dependence and protect citizens from increases in gas prices, and which states have adopted such policies.

Policies that encourage clean cars, clean fuels, smart growth planning and development, and public transit are making some states less vulnerable to increases in gas prices.

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