U.S. Must Answer NAFTA Body on Mercury PollutionMONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, March 2, 2005 (ENS) - The Bush administration must file a formal response to an allegation by U.S. and Canadian environmental groups that the U.S. government is failing to effectively enforce its own laws against coal-fired power plants and is allowing mercury emissions to degrade water bodies on both sides of the border.
The request for a response was issued Thursday by the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) which is responsible for enforcing the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, a side agreement under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The groups claim by failing to enforce the Clean Water Act from 1993 through 2004 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has allowed excessive mercury emissions to enter the air and water, degrading thousands of lakes, rivers and streams.
The United States has up to 60 days to respond. Then the CEC Secretariat will review the environmental groups' submission in light of the United States' response to determine whether it warrants going on to the next step in the CEC process - development of a factual record.
On September 20, 2004, the submission was registered by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund and Waterkeeper Alliance on behalf of Friends of the Earth Canada, Friends of the Earth-US, Earthroots, Centre for Environmentally Sustainable Development, Great Lakes United, Pollution Probe, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Sierra Club US and Canada.
"The Bush administration is allowing coal plants to use our waterways as toxic waste dumps and simply refuses to effectively enforce the Clean Water Act against these polluters," said Scott Edwards, legal director of the Waterkeeper Alliance. "The CEC’s decision to seek a response from the government is the first step towards ensuring that the government finally acts to protect the health of our waterways and at-risk mothers and children in the US and Canada."
The complaint centers on coal-fired power plants in 10 states - Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia - which the groups claim emit almost 60 percent of U.S. mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and that the experience in those ten states is "reflective of the broader problem in the U.S."
The groups assert that the number of fish consumption advisories for mercury has risen from 899 to 2347 since 1993, and that, according to the EPA, 35 percent of the total lake acres and 24 percent of the river miles in the U.S. are now under fish consumption advisories.
The submission contends that the EPA "is allowing both nonpoint and point source discharges of mercury from coal-fired power plants that are contributing to a steady degradation of the nation's waterways as evidenced by increasing mercury fish advisories and the effective withdrawal of existing uses (fishable) of many of these water bodies."
These discharges include both air emissions of mercury that fall back to the land in the form of precipitation or as dry particles and direct discharges to water.
The Commission for Environmental Cooperation is an international organization created by Canada, Mexico and the United States under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation. The CEC was established to address regional environmental concerns, help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts, and to promote the effective enforcement of environmental law.
Teflon Chemical in Drinking Water Costs DuPont $107 MillionPARKERSBURG, West Virginia, March 2, 2005 - DuPont Co. has settled a class action water contamination lawsuit against the company for $107.6 million, an arrangement approved Monday in a fairness hearing by Wood County Circuit Judge George Hill.
The class action suit was brought against the company in August 2001 by residents living near the Dupont Washington Works plant south of Parkersburg.
Plaintiffs claimed their health was harmed when their drinking water supplies were contaminated by ammonium perfluorooctanoate, known as PFAO, or C8, and used by DuPont as part of its manufacturing process for Teflon.
DuPont has argued that C8, is a detergent-like substance and has no harmful human health effects. The company has reduced its C8 emissions by 95 percent since the original lawsuit was filed, said DuPont attorney Harry Deitzler.
DuPont, based in Wilmington, Delaware, said in September that it decided to settle the case because of the time and expense of litigation. The company did not comment on the settlement Monday.
Under the agreement, blood tests will be conducted on residents with wells and current and former customers of six area water districts to find out who is eligible for damages.
DuPont must provide the six local water utilities with new treatment equipment to reduce PFOA in water supplies at an estimated cost of $10 million.
One of the lead plaintiffs, Joe Kiger testified Monday he became concerned about C8 in his drinking water after receiving a letter from his water supplier, Lubeck Public Service District in October 2000 stating the unregulated chemical was in the district's drinking water.
"As time went on, you heard about health problems in the neighborhood. Nobody seemed to have any answers," Kiger told the "Parkersburg News and Sentinel." He contacted local, state, federal and plant officials in an effort to find what C8 was, why it was in the water and what, if any, health effects it might have on those who were drinking and or using the water.
Filing the lawsuit was a last resort, Kiger said, and he and fellow plaintiffs were "criticized, ostracized in the community by some people. They kept telling us we were going to run DuPont out. We took a lot of ridicule. It was never our intent to shut down DuPont. We just wanted to find out what C8 was and what it was doing to our health," Kiger said.
DuPont could be required to spend $235 million on a program to monitor the health of residents who were exposed to the chemical.
Under the terms of the settlement, the company will fund a $5 million independent study to determine if PFOA makes people sick and pay $22.6 million in legal fees and expenses for residents who sued.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the midst of its own extensive study of PFOA's health effects. In July 2004, the EPA alleged that DuPont repeatedly failed over 20 years to submit required information about C8.
The agency is seeking millions of dollars in fines for violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The company is challenging the fines.
Energy Budget Changed Plutonium Fuel Factory Waste PlansATLANTA, Georgia, March 2, 2005 (ENS) - The citizens group Georgians Against Nuclear Energy (GANE) has filed two legal objections with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) against issuance of a construction authorization for the first U.S. mixed plutonium-uranium (MOX) fuel factory.
The group says the new Energy Department budget released February 7 made two major changes affecting the facility that are not covered in the Environment Impact Statement now before the Commission.
The MOX fuel factory is proposed for the federal government's Savannah River Site (SRS), a sprawling nuclear research and production laboratory near the Georgia-South Carolina border. MOX fuel would be produced by combining surplus plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons with uranium into a form that can be used by nuclear power plants.
A consortium of three companies - Duke Project Services Group, the French state owned firm COGEMA, Inc., and Stone & Webster - has applied to the NRC for a license to construct and operate the facility.
The GANE documents, filed Monday in the formal MOX plant licensing proceedings now before the Commission, challenge the adequacy of the NRC's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the MOX plant, issued on January 28.
GANE contends that the EIS is based on outdated information and that significant changes to the plutonium disposition program by the Department of Energy (DOE) require that the EIS to be redone and be reopened for public comment.
The EIS is based on a waste management proposal suspended by the Energy Department after the EIS was issued, an action that GANE says was "apparently unknown by the NRC" at the time it published the Environmental Impact Statement.
The Energy Department announced in its February 7 budget proposal to Congress that it was suspending a facility to treat nuclear waste from the MOX plant.
GANE's second contention to the EIS concerns what the group says is "the failure to analyze DOE's revived plan to immobilize some surplus weapons plutonium at SRS as nuclear waste."
The Energy Department has revived the "vitrification" option for weapons-grade plutonium at SRS, a fact not mentioned in the EIS.
"During much of 2004, DOE was quietly exploring the feasibility of a new vitrification plan, whereby plutonium would be vitrified along with radioactive glass and managed as waste," said GANE coordinator Glenn Carroll.
"In the FY 2006 budget request DOE announced it was seeking funds to design a new vitrification facility at SRS," she said.
"It appears that the NRC was asleep at the wheel in not noticing these vitrification developments and that the DOE was too arrogant to formally provide information to the NRC about them," said Carroll.
Carroll says DOE's reinstatement of the immobilization "alternative" requires the Commission to analyze the environmental impacts of dealing with plutonium by vitrification as compared to MOX.
GANE asserts that no license to begin construction of the MOX plant can be issued by the NRC's Atomic Safety Licensing Board because the license would be based on an EIS which does not meet the legal requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. The law requires that a supplemental EIS be prepared when significant changes occur to a proposed action.
DOE has claimed it will begin "site preparation" for the MOX plant in May though no construction license has yet been issued and legal challenges to the plant are ongoing.
GANE there are too many unanswered questions about the program for construction to begin. "The flawed EIS, which reveals that the NRC and DOE are not communicating about significant changes to the plutonium disposition program, must be withdrawn and all licensing decisions based on it frozen," said Glenn Carroll, GANE coordinator.
"We've been highly concerned about the lack of planning for the toxic MOX waste stream from the beginning and now it is obvious that our concern that this deadly material was not receiving due attention is well grounded," said Carroll.
"The good news," says Carroll, "is that DOE is moving to fully secure plutonium now at SRS by immobilizing it in existing high-level waste. GANE's role is to ensure that the environmental analysis of this viable plutonium disposition option is fully explored by holding the NRC legally accountable in the EIS process."
GANE and other environmental and non-proliferation groups favor plutonium immobilization over use of the highly radioactive substance as a fuel for nuclear reactors. They say vitrification is cheaper, produces less waste than MOX, and is safer both in the U.S. and Russia from a non-proliferation perspective.
The 2006 DOE budget is found at http://www.mbe.doe.gov/budget/06budget/Start.pdf
Los Alamos Lab Signs Fence-to-Fence Cleanup OrderSANTA FE, New Mexico, March 2, 2005 (ENS) - Federal and New Mexico state officials Tuesday signed a legally enforceable fence-to-fence clean up order for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) with officials from the University of California, which operates the lab for the National Nuclear Security Administration of the Department of Energy (DOE).
The result of two years of negotiations, the agreement requires comprehensive investigation and clean up of environmental contamination at LANL, including remediation of material disposal areas, ground water and other areas of contamination.
The order also sets a schedule for environmental clean up work, which must be completed by 2015.
LANL comprises 49 current and former Technical Areas covering approximately 40 square miles.
From 1943 to the present, operations at LANL have generated, treated, stored, and disposed of solid wastes, hazardous wastes, and hazardous wastes mixed with radioactive wastes. Solid, hazardous, and radioactive wastes were disposed of in numerous septic systems, surface impoundments, pits, trenches, shafts, landfills, waste piles and other sites located throughout LANL.
The types of hazardous and solid wastes that have been handled and disposed of include chlorinated and non-chlorinated solvents, high explosives, metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), nitrates, and radionuclides.
Governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat who headed the DOE in the Clinton administration, and New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, a Republican, announced general agreement on this clean up order last March. Since then, the technical and legal staffs of the parties have been at work hammering out the details of the document signed Tuesday.
Lt. Governor Diane Denish, Attorney General Patricia Madrid joined the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in the formal signing of the order.
“This agreement will help protect New Mexicans for generations to come,” said Denish. “The state and LANL standing together here today is proof that tough but fair environmental regulation can pay dividends.”
“Execution of this enforceable order is a major accomplishment for NMED and all the people of New Mexico,” said NMED Secretary Ron Curry. “After many years of tough negotiations, this legal order puts New Mexicans in control of LANL clean up and gives us the power to make sure this important work is completed.”
“This order represents a clear path forward for a measured clean up of laboratory sites and helps meet our ongoing commitment to protecting the safety of our people and the surrounding environment,” said LANL Director Pete Nanos. “We appreciate the relationship of trust this agreement represents between the state and our laboratory.”
In addition to this order, DOE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently formalized a Federal Facility Compliance Agreement (FFCA). This agreement will ensure that all surface water monitoring plans required by the order are completed.
“The Department appreciates the commitment of NMED in establishing a firm regulatory role for the State,” said Ed Wilmot, Manager of the Los Alamos Site Office. “Both the Laboratory and Federal management have been significantly changed during the last year to improve our performance in becoming environmental stewards.” “My office has worked closely with NMED to fashion a corrective order for environmental clean up at LANL,” said
Under the agreement the state is still free to pursue any remedies for natural resource damages that may have occurred.
In several locations, there has been contamination of the regional aquifer, from which Los Alamos County draws drinking water. Currently at LANL, more than 1,900 sites require corrective action.
A copy of the Order on Consent is available at the NMED website: http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/HWB/lanlperm.html.
California Revives Million Solar Roofs LegislationSACRAMENTO, California, March 2, 2005 (ENS) - California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a proposal to the California legislature Monday that would speed the commercialization of solar electricity in the state, producing 3,000 MW of solar capacity by 2018 and electrifying one of the world’s strongest markets for solar energy.
The Solar Energy Industries Association, representing over 700 companies and 20,000 employees in the U.S. solar industry, applauded the proposal which would create a 10 year incentive fund encouraging both residences and commercial buildings to install solar power.
“This proposal comes directly from the governor’s office, which shifts the odds substantially in favor of the bill’s passage,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA President.
On Monday, Schwarzenegger announced his support for bipartisan legislation that will provide the foundation for his goal to create one million solar roofs in the state by 2018.
"I promised the people of California during the campaign that as governor I would push for solar power. Today, I am keeping that promise to harness renewable solar energy with the help of my friends Senator [Kevin] Murray and Senator [John] Campbell, to create one million solar roofs," the governor said.
State Senators Murray, a Culver City Democrat, and Campbell, an Irvine Republican, have introduced SB 1 and SB 1017, which together will create the “Million Solar Roofs Initiative,” a framework for both commercial and residential roofs to be solar energy equipped.
If the bills become law, when homeowners buy a solar system, on average, they will receive a nearly 40 percent rebate, or $5,000. Over the average 25-year life of the system, with electricity bill savings and mortgage interest tax savings, the system would pay for itself.
Other tax credits and incentives including a 7.5 percent tax credit for every dollar spent on a solar system above and beyond the rebate received from state or federal sources make the program look attractive to consumers.
The other bill directs the Public Utilities Commission to provide funding and support, through a self-generated incentive program, for the installation of solar energy systems on new and existing residential and commercial sites.
Schwarzenegger said, “Today, in California where we are famous for the sun, we are going to put the positive benefits of that sun to good use. Through the ‘Million Solar Roofs Initiative’ and the willingness of the building community to join us in this effort, we will succeed in providing a stable alternative source of energy.”
On Tuesday, Environment California hosted a briefing with representatives from Germany and Japan, home of the world’s two largest solar markets, as well as three American energy economists to discuss the economic benefits of growing California’s solar power market.
Last year, a bill authored by Murray, sponsored by Environment California, and supported by Governor Schwarzenegger aimed to build more than a million solar homes by 2017.
While the bill died at the end of the 2004 legislative session, Environment California's Bernadette Del Chiaro says "momentum was achieved and prospects for passing the nation's first and most aggressive solar homes policy are high for this legislative session."
Solar Power Manufacturers Launch Alliance
LAS VEGAS, Nevada, March 2, 2005 (ENS) - A new solar industry group - Americans for Solar Power-PV Manufacturers Alliance (ASPv-PVMA) - officially flipped the switch to the ON position, Tuesday at the solar trade show Power-Gen.
The new organization's purpose is to help America achieve an annual 1 gigawatt (GW) market for distributed solar electricity in the year 2010. The 1 GW goal is equal to the amount of PV produced worldwide in 2004 - enough electricity to power the city of Las Vegas.
ASPv-PVMA's founding companies include American Solar Electric Inc., BP Solar, First Solar, Kyocera Solar, Sanyo Energy, and Sun Power and Geothermal.
Glenn Hamer, ASPv-PVMA president, said, "ASPv-PVMA will provide expert analysis to help the states take advantage of their solar resources, while mobilizing the American people to embrace solar energy. Within 10 years I am confident that every electricity customer in the United States, whether residential, commercial, or governmental, will have access to cost effective solar electric power."
The U.S. solar electricity market is at an important juncture and poised for even greater growth, said Hamer.
The governor of California is leading a campaign to generate 3 GW of solar electricity in the state by 2017. New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania are refining important solar initiatives.
The Western Governors Association - covering 18 states - is committed to developing 30 GW of clean energy by 2015 in a program that could lead to major expansion of PV in its member states, and is now building state initiatives in Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico.
A federal energy bill with solar-related provisions is also a possibility.
"New technologies such as First Solar's advanced module manufacturing process are rapidly reducing solar electricity costs to levels that make economic sense to consumers," said Mike Ahearn, CEO of First Solar.
"The proper regulatory and incentive programs will enable U.S. consumers to start generating their own clean, affordable electricity, as they are already doing in Japan and parts of Europe," he added.
"As a global leader in solar power for more than 30 years, BP Solar believes there is an important role for solar power in helping meet the nation's growing energy needs," said Mary Shields, BP Solar Regional President.
"The American West has the sunshine, the political leadership and desire, and the growing energy needs to drive historic solar power growth right now," said Hamer.
For 2005, ASPv-PVMA will focus on California's Million Solar Roofs program; the North East PV cluster, led by New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York; the Western Governors Association's 30 GW Clean Energy Initiative; revisions to the Arizona Environmental Portfolio Standard; the Texas revision to its Renewables Portfolio Standard; and the implementation of the solar portion of the Colorado RPS.
Additionally, it will provide analytical support for legislation advancing in Nevada, New Mexico and Hawaii.
The new organization said it will "leverage the pending federal energy bill" to help states achieve their solar objectives.
For more information, visit: www.forsolar.org
First Wild Horses Sold Under New Law
WASHINGTON, DC, March 2, 2005 (ENS) - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has carried out its first sale of wild horses – 200 mares to a Wyoming company - under legislation passed by Congress in December as a rider on the Omnibus Appropriations Bill.
The new sale authority directs the BLM to offer for sale those wild horses and burros that are more than 10 years old or have been unsuccessfully offered for adoption at least three times. The agency estimates that about 8,400 animals are affected by the new law.
“As we implement the new sale-authority legislation passed by Congress, we are committed to finding long-term care for these wild horses and burros,” said BLM Director Kathleen Clarke. “We are working to place as many of these animals as we can in good homes, and we are appealing to wild horse advocacy groups, Indian Tribes, and humane organizations, as well as the general public, to help us in this effort.”
The 200 mares were sold to Wild Horses Wyoming, LLC, a southeastern Wyoming company committed to protecting wild horses.
Ron Hawkins, ranch operations partner in the Wyoming company, said, “I'm very pleased and proud that Wild Horses Wyoming is the BLM’s first buyer of wild horses under the legislation recently passed by Congress. Our company is committed to the long-term care of these historic animals, and I urge the public to support us in our efforts to ensure good homes for those horses facing an uncertain future under the new law.”
Wild horse and burro protection groups fear that wild horses, protected since 1971 under federal law, may be sold for processing into meat.
The Wild Horse and Burros Freedom Alliance says the BLM fails to mention that "these horses were unnecessarily removed from their rightful range due to pressure from special interest groups who run private commercial operations on our public lands (cattle, oil)."
"Less than three percent of the beef consumed in the U.S. comes from animals raised on public lands," the group says, pointing out that, "Ranchers are charged only $1.81 per month to graze a cow and calf on our public lands. That's less than it costs to feed a hamster."
The BLM says, "The cost of holding and caring for wild horses and burros in both short- and long-term facilities is projected to be about $20 million in Fiscal Year 2005, which will be more than half of what the agency expects to spend on the wild horse and burro program in the current fiscal year. The cost of caring for and feeding a wild horse in a long-term facility is about $465 per animal per year."
There are about 37,000 wild horses and burros roaming on public lands managed by the BLM in 10 Western states, the agency says. "Wild horses and burros have virtually no natural predators and their herd sizes on the range can double about every five years. As a result, the current free-roaming population exceeds by some 9,000 the number that BLM-managed rangelands can sustain."
But the Wild Horse Sanctuary, a horse protection organization, says, "We are told that 37,000 wild horses are all that the designated Herd Management Areas (HMA's) of land will support. Yet, over six million cattle and sheep graze hundreds of millions of acres of public land in 10 western states."
"There is plenty of room on your public land to release the 14,000 wild horses now being held in 'long term' facilities. These are the horses that face certain slaughter under Sec. 142," the Wild Horse Sanctuary says. The group suggests that older mares be injected with long-term PZP vaccine (for more info go to pzpinfo.org) to prevent further reproduction.
In 1971,when the Wild Horse & Burro Act was passed, there were 303 herd areas where wild horses and burros roamed. Now there are only 184, and the Wild Horse and Burros Freedom Alliance says that number is steadily declining "due to zeroing out policies of the BLM."
The BLM has set up a toll-free number for those interested in buying a wild horse or burro, 1-800-710-7597. Interested groups or individuals may also contact the Bureau at a new e-mail address regarding the purchase of wild horses and burros: email@example.com.
U.S. Ship Dinged $200,000 for Damaged Mexican Sea Floor
NEW YORK, New York, March 2, 2005 (ENS) - A U.S. research ship has left Mexco after officials aboard agreed to pay US$200,000 to restore the ocean bottom about 30 miles off the Yucatan peninsula where it ran aground two weeks ago.
The research vessel Maurice Ewing sailed from Progresso, Mexico, Tuesday after completing a research mission that began on January 12. Scientists from Mexican, U.S. and British universities examined the Chicxulub crater to learn about the asteroid impact that might have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. The National Science Foundation owns the RV Ewing, which is operated by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory based at Columbia University in New York.
On Monday night February 14, the Ewing ran aground while maneuvering at slow speed 35 nautical miles from Progresso.
In a statement the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said the ship’s charts indicated adequate water depth at the location of the grounding and there was no damage to the vessel.
Later that week, upon completion of the research mission, the Ewing entered the port of Progresso to assist the Mexican authorities with their inquiry.
Following discussions with PROFEPA, the Mexican environmental agency, an agreement was reached to provide $200,000 for the restoration of the sea floor in the area of the grounding, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said.
Underwater rock formations and coral were damaged by the ship's hull.
An international team of scientists from the Instituto Geofisica of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, the University of Texas Institute of Geophysics, and the universities of Cambridge and London in the United Kingdom completed their five-week research mission undetered by the incident.