AmeriScan: March 6, 2002
SEVEN AGENCIES MUST RELEASE ENERGY TASK FORCE RECORDS
WASHINGTON, DC, March 6, 2002 (ENS) - A second federal judge has ordered the release of additional documents relating to Vice President Richard Cheney's energy task force meetings.
Judge Paul Friedman of Federal District Court in Washington DC told seven federal agencies that they must release thousands of pages of documents related to meetings last spring between their employees and the task force. The task force helped to craft the national energy policy issued by the White House last year.
Last week, federal district Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the Department of Energy (DOE) to release 7,584 pages of documents related to the meetings. Judge Friedman's order extends to the DOE, the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Commerce and Transportation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Management and Budget.
Friedman ordered the agencies to release most of their documents by March 25, and to release all relevant documents and issue explanations of their delay in doing so by May 3. The ruling comes in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a public interest law firm.
Judicial Watch has been seeking these documents under FOIA since April 19, 2001 and has only received a "trickle" of documents in response, the group said Tuesday.
"The stone wall is beginning to crumble," said Judicial Watch chair and general counsel Larry Klayman. "The Court's ruling is a victory for openness in government and defeat to the Bush Administration's efforts to delay release of these Energy Task Force documents."
This lawsuit complements a separate Judicial Watch lawsuit, before Judge Emmet Sullivan, against the vice president and the energy task force seeking to apply the open meetings law known as the Federal Advisory Committee Act to all task force records.
The information ordered released by the two judges will reveal which energy companies or industry lobbyists may have helped shape the White House energy plan. The plan, unveiled on May 17, 2001, included more than $34 billion in subsidies for energy industries, primarily oil and gas, coal and nuclear power.
CALIFORNIA APPROVES RECORD ENVIRONMENTAL BOND
SACRAMENTO, California, March 6, 2002 (ENS) - California residents voted Tuesday to spend $2.6 billion to fund water quality and restoration projects for rivers, streams, lakes and watersheds throughout the state.
The passage of Proposition 40 will provide will also help to improve air quality by providing funds for regional air districts and promoting tree planting in communities across the state.
"I want to commend the voters of California for overwhelmingly supporting Proposition 40 - the California Clean Water, Clean Air, Coastal Protection and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond Act of 2002 - in yesterday's elections in California," said Richard Moe, president of The National Trust for Historic Preservation. "With their votes, the California people said yes to protecting their heritage and their environment. They said yes to investing $267 million for buying, developing and preserving California's rich, but threatened heritage - resources that make up the very heart of their communities and represent a shared history."
The National Trust for Historic Preservation was part of an education campaign aimed at informing California voters about the proposition and encouraging them to vote.
"This is the largest single commitment of state funds to protect historic resources in the history of our country," added Moe. "It is a model for what other states should do and we hope will do."
Proposition 40 is one of the largest state environmental bond measures in the nation's history. A host of environmental and community groups endorsed the measure, which includes funds for youth to participate in environmental education, outdoor recreation and after school programs.
Other programs funded by the measure are aimed at making neighborhood parks safer, providing new recreational opportunities, planting trees in urban areas, restoring rivers and streams in cities, and protecting open space. The measure funds improvements to state park visitor facilities, including campsites and trails.
Many of the funds are allocated in proportion to population to ensure that bond money is spent where most Californians live, work and play. However, small cities and rural counties will also benefit from Prop 40, as the minimum grant provided by the per capita program is $220,000 for cities and $1.2 million for counties.
More information is available at: http://www.voteyeson40.org
RESEARCHERS TACKLE MOUNTAINS OF USED TIRES
AMHERST, Massachusetts, March 6, 2002 (ENS) - Two projects underway at the University of Massachusetts (UM) could help reduce the numbers of used tires headed for the nation's landfills.
One of team of UM researchers is looking at new methods of recycling old tires into new rubber goods. A second is developing a novel substance that is a combination of asphalt and recycled tires, and could be used in products as varied as roadways, construction materials, and roofing shingles.
Both research groups are part of the polymer science and engineering department.
"Rubber is one the most useful materials of the modern era, and helped spawn the industrial revolution," said professor Richard Farris. "It is prized in industry for its strength, elasticity and wear resistance."
"Unfortunately, rubber also represents one of the most difficult recycling problems ever encountered," added Farris. "One of the biggest pollution problems in this country is scrap tires. Although it's easy to collect, rubber is difficult to recycle. It's chemically cross linked, and those links will not melt and will not dissolve."
Researchers estimate that there are about two billion scrap tires now piled in U.S. landfills, with more than 273 million additional tires reaching the waste stream each year.
"This adds up to approximately 3.6 million tons of waste each year, or 230 pounds of rubber reaching the waste stream per second," noted Drew Williams, a doctoral candidate studying the issue. "Of these 273 million tires, about 170 million are burned for fuel, and 60 million are used in low tech ways, such as for synthetic turf for athletic fields. The remaining 40 million tires end up in landfills."
The team led by Farris is revisiting and improving a process introduced in 1853 by Goodyear, in which the reclaimed rubber is ground into a fine powder and mixed with unvulcanized rubber. The mixture is then vulcanized: that is, the material is heated and new cross links are formed, via the additional sulfur or other reactive materials, in order to restore its strength and elasticity.
Just five percent of scrap tires are now used this way because of quality concerns, Farris said. His team has developed a method to create a rubber material containing 100 percent reclaimed rubber, without compromising the material's quality.
Williams is developing a material that combines rubber and asphalt into a product that withstands traditional asphalt's tendency to melt or become sticky in hot weather, and remains very flexible even at very low temperatures.
"These projects really represent 'green' chemistry at its best," said Farris. "We're generating lower amounts of waste, and reclaiming used materials, and all we're adding is heat and pressure."
COLORADO LOGGING PROJECT APPEALED
DENVER, Colorado, March 6, 2002 (ENS) - Conservation groups are appealing a Forest Service decision to log roadless lands as part of the Upper South Platte Watershed Protection and Restoration Project in the Pike-San Isabel National Forest.
The administrative appeal of the January decision, filed by seven conservation groups, marks the second time that conservationists have challenged proposed logging in these roadless areas - three of which have been proposed by citizens for wilderness protection. Conservationists did not challenge or slow logging on more than 11,000 acres of adjacent roaded lands that are also part of the project.
An appeal filed last September by the same groups forced the Forest Service to withdraw its decision in order to conduct an economic analysis of the project. While noting that in the January decision the Forest Service had significantly improved the project, conservationists lamented that the agency had failed to address key concerns.
"While the Forest Service significantly improved the project from its earlier decision, the agency failed to address the issue we care most about: preserving the forest's wild character. These are roadless lands that citizens have proposed for wilderness," said Suzanne Jones, assistant regional director for The Wilderness Society. "This project would still log thousands of acres and create 250 acres of clearcuts within three proposed wilderness areas, with no guarantees that the agency would still consider them for wilderness when it finally revises its outdated forest plan."
By law, the Forest Service must reinventory roadless lands, analyze their wilderness potential, and decide whether to recommend additional wilderness for protection by Congress when the agency revises a forest's management plan every 10 to 15 years. The Pike-San Isabel National Forest's management plan is already 17 years old, but the Forest Service has done little to complete the Plan revision.
In a schedule submitted to Congress, the Forest Service proposed to put off completing the revision for at least another three years.
If the Forest Plan had been revised as scheduled, the agency would have already considered recommending roadless areas in the forest for wilderness protection.
"We are in the middle of a national debate over the protection of national forest roadless areas," noted Jean Smith of the Upper Arkansas & South Platte Project, a local conservation group that has been mapping roadless areas on the Pike-San Isabel for the past seven years.
"The Forest Service has repeatedly failed to recognize the importance of analyzing a project's impact on wildlands and guaranteeing that wild character will be preserved," continued Smith. "Citizens expect better."
OHIO CITY DEVOTES MILLIONS TO CONTROLLING SEWAGE
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio, March 6, 2002 (ENS) - The city of Youngstown has agreed to spend $12 million in short term improvements over the next six years and $100 million over the next two decades to develop and implement a long term sewage discharge control plan.
The settlement between the city, the state of Ohio, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Justice Department (DOJ) is expected to eliminate 800 million gallons of illegal sewage discharges each year. The agreement addresses long standing raw sewage discharges from Youngstown's combined sewer system.
Combined sewer systems carry sanitary sewage, wastewater and storm water runoff from rainfall or snowmelt in a single system of pipes to a public treatment works. When heavy rainfall or snowmelt reaches combined systems, total wastewater flow can exceed the capacity, resulting in the overflow of raw sewage directly to nearby streams, rivers or other water bodies.
The untreated discharges - combined sewer overflows (CSOs) - can contaminate waters with bacteria, pathogens and other harmful pollutants, causing water quality problems and thereby threaten public health.
"The improvements Youngstown will make to its sewage system resulting from this settlement will go a long way to protecting human health and the environment throughout the city and Mahoning and Trumbull counties," said Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general at DOJ's environment and natural resources division. "This joint settlement reflects the effectiveness of federal-state partnerships in addressing CSO violations."
The settlement ensures that the city will eliminate the discharge of raw sewage during dry weather, and makes progress toward controlling Youngstown's combined sewer overflows. Youngstown will also pay a total civil penalty of $60,000 for its past violations, which will be split evenly between the United States and the state of Ohio.
"Close cooperation between EPA, the Department of Justice and the state of Ohio has resulted in a settlement that will significantly benefit the environment," said EPA regional administrator Thomas Skinner. "Controlling discharges of raw sewage will have an immediate positive impact on the Mahoning River, but the heart of the agreement is the long-term control plan that will play a major role in restoring the waterway."
CRITICAL HABITAT DECLINED FOR PACIFIC RIGHT WHALES
WASHINGTON, DC, March 6, 2002 (ENS) - The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has denied a petition to designate critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale.
The agency was petitioned by the Center for Biological Diversity to designate critical habitat for the northern right whale, the world's most endangered whale species, on October 4, 2000.
"The Bush administration had to ignore its own recovery plans, its own scientists, and its own regulations to take this indefensible position," said Brent Plater, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity and author of the critical habitat petition. "We will not allow the right whale to be sacrificed in Bush's attempt to eviscerate the ESA, and neither will the courts."
In the announcement, NMFS held that the "extent of critical habitat cannot be determined at this time because the essential biological requirements of the population...are not sufficiently understood."
The Center argued that the biological and ecological needs of right whales have been known for decades. NMFS biologists have published data indicating that right whales have occurred in the northern Pacific region, and ongoing threats to right whales in the Bering Sea have been identified by high ranking NMFS scientists, the Center says.
"The marine agency has failed to take the most basic steps to protect this population," said Plater. "There is no recovery plan for the species, there is no critical habitat designated, and the marine agency even refused to craft regulations to help protect the whales while they forage in Alaskan waters. The right whale's resurgence in the Bering Sea should be a symbol of hope for a region facing ecological collapse, but the marine agency insists on treating the population like a pariah."
The Center has filed a 60 day notice of intent to sue the agency for failing to designate critical habitat for the Pacific right whale, and will also file a Freedom of Information Act request for all information NMFS relied on in making its determination.
The Center's original petition was submitted to designate critical habitat for the North Pacific population of the northern right whale. After the petition was filed, the marine agency reclassified this population into two different species: Eubalaena glacialis in the Atlantic Ocean, and Eubalaena japonica in the Pacific Ocean.
The Atlantic species already has critical habitat designated. The proposed critical habitat for the Pacific species comprises a very small portion of the historic range of the species, and was based on biological and physical characteristics compiled by NMFS.
Although no longer commercially hunted, northern right whales are killed each year by human activities such as entanglements with fishing gear and collisions with ships.
CLEAN AIR AWARDS HONOR INNOVATIVE PROJECTS
WASHINGTON, DC, March 6, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has honored 47 local and state governments, industries and citizens groups with the second Annual Clean Air Excellence Awards.
"It is a great honor to congratulate these trend setting businesses, municipalities and civic organizations that are demonstrating valuable leadership in protecting air quality in the United States," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.
"To achieve our goals, EPA has sought to engage the imagination of everyone who cares about clean air - and tonight's winners have answered that call," Whitman added. "These awards make it clear that they have done so with the kind of creativity and innovation that we need to be successful."
The awards were established to recognize individuals and organizations for using innovative ideas to improve air quality across the country. The EPA said the awards demonstrate that government and industry working together can achieve a healthy environment without sacrificing economic growth.
The Clean Air Excellence Awards program was established in 2000 at the recommendation of the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee (CAAAC), a senior level independent policy committee that advises the EPA on implementation of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. The CAAAC selected this year's winners out of 112 entries.
From a Clean Fuel Bus Campaign in New York City, to North Carolina's "Air Adventures" puppet show, to the development of a sustainable, mixed use community in Los Angeles, the award recipients "offer the best examples of clean air leadership from across the country," the EPA said.
A full list of the award recipients is available at: http://www.epa.gov/oar/caaac/2001awar.asp
COMPUTER MODELS TRACK SMOKE FROM PRESCRIBED BURNS
ASHEVILLE, North Carolina, March 6, 2002 (ENS) - U.S. Forest Service (USFS) researchers are testing desktop modeling programs to provide forest managers the real-time information they need to reduce the impact of smoke from prescribed burning.
Prescribed burning - the deliberate setting of fires under controlled conditions - is used to treat some six to eight million acres in the South each year. About half this area is burned for forest management, the remainder for agricultural and range purposes.
Southern land managers recognize prescribed burning as the most economical way to reduce the risk of wildfires and to maintain habitat for fire dependent plant and animal species.
But prescribed burning is limited by air quality concerns in the South, where urbanization continues to grow and major highways snake through forested areas. Thick smoke can reduce visibility to zero and create treacherous driving conditions.
Dr. Gary Achtemeier, meteorologist with the USFS Southern Research Station, has tested two modeling programs designed to simulate the movement of night smoke resulting from prescribed burning.
"Simulating smoke at night is a very complex problem," said Achtemeier, who leads the Southern Research Station's Smoke Management Team in Athens, Georgia. "Shifts in the wind can carry smoke to different locations at various times during the same night."
"You can't really use wind information from nearby weather stations because they usually report wind speeds of less than two miles per hour as calm," Achtemeier said. A wind blowing at two miles per hour for ten hours can actually move smoke 20 miles from its origin point, potentially affecting road visibility at many locations and at great distances."
The two prescribed burn (PB) models, PB-Piedmont and PB-Coastal Plain, are designed to run on laptop computers at faster than real time. PB-Piedmont simulates the movement of night wind as it drifts through the shallow gaps in ridges and down road and stream cuts of the Piedmont, while PB-Coastal Plain tracks smoke movement over the flat Coastal Plain and nearby water surfaces.
Both PB-Piedmont and PB-Coastal Plain are simplified models designed for the specific weather conditions that occur when smoke is trapped close to the ground. The models are connected with weather forecasts and can predict smoke movement in a range of about half an hour.
"We consider our current versions 'nowcast' rather than 'forecast' models," said Achtemeier. "We plan to connect the PB models with the high resolution weather prediction models being developed by the Southern High Resolution Modeling Consortium. This will increase the predictive range of the models to 48 hours or longer."
Although the models are performing as designed, Achtemeier cautions that further validation studies must be done before they can be adopted by forest and land managers.
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