AmeriScan: March 3, 2005

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House Committee Passes $284 Billion Transport Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, March 3, 2005 (ENS) - Legislation that would provide $284 billion in federal highway, transit and road safety projects through 2009 was unanimously approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in a voice vote Wednesday.

The bill, H.R. 3, The Transportation Equity Act - Legacy for Users (TEA LU), was introduced by the bipartisan leadership of the Transportation Committee.

Committee Chairman Congressman Don Young, an Alaska Republican, said he anticipates the legislation will be voted on by the full U.S. House next week.

"The American people deserve solutions to the problems of congestion, crumbling roads and delayed shipments of freight," Young said prior to the full Committee vote.

"I want to stress that in this global economy, we will not remain an economic power if we do not maintain and improve our transportation infrastructure. Our economy and our way of life depend on our ability to rapidly move both people and products."

Congressman Tom Petri, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee, emphasized the economic benefits of the $284 billion measure. "It is estimated that for every $1 billion invested in federal highway and transit, 47,500 jobs are created or sustained. This is an investment into the backbone of our economy. More than 67 percent of the nation's freight moves on highways, an annual value to the economy of more than $5 trillion."

More than 700 members of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) will convene in Washington, next week at the APTA Legislative Conference to push for passage of the measure.

APTA President William Millar said in February, "Given the growth in public transportation and the increased demand by the American people to have a balanced transportation network that includes public transportation, I call on President Bush and the leaders of Congress to make the reauthorization of a long-term, well-funded and fully guaranteed transportation bill a top priority."

There is some urgency about passage of this measure before May 31, when the current TEA 21 extension expires. The transportation bill proposed in the last session of Congress did not pass.

"Despite their success over the past year," said Millar, "the nation's public transportation systems have been unable to plan for the future as this all important piece of federal transportation legislation failed to pass. Delays in passage have meant delays in planning and will lead to increased costs for projects throughout the country."

The US Fuel Cell Council applauded the committee’s inclusion of nearly $64.8 million for fuel cell buses in the proposed legislation.

The legislation includes the Fuel Cell Bus Technology Demonstration Program, a cost-shared, competitively awarded grant with a maximum of three projects carried out by geographically diverse nonprofit organizations and recipients.

The initiative covers hydrogen production, energy storage, fuel cell technologies, vehicle systems integration and power electronics technologies. It focuses on technology integration, testing, demonstration and validation of fuel cell vehicle technologies and supporting infrastructure.

"Today’s decision is a wonderful first step in bringing fuel cell technology to America’s transit industry. Having said that, the fuel cell industry believes a more robust program is necessary to accelerate full scale commercialization," said Robert Rose, executive director of the US Fuel Cell Council.

Rose pointed to the 10 city program already under way in Europe, the CUTE program, as a example of the scale of program the Council supports and the industry needs.

The bill also amends the list of projects that are eligible under the Clean Fuels Formula Grants program to allow for constructing new facilities as well as improving existing facilities.

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Bill Would Stop EPA Plan to Discharge Partly Treated Sewage

WASHINGTON, DC, March 3, 2005 (ENS) - A bill to protect the public from waterborne diseases by prohibiting publicly owned sewage treatment works from dumping partially treated sewage was introduced in the House of Representatives this morning by two Republican and two Democratic Congressmen.

The Save Our Waters from Sewage Act follows a bipartisan letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson signed by 135 Representatives on February 22. It asks the agency to withdraw a draft guidance issued in 2003 that would expand and legalize the practice of dumping partially treated sewage.

The Representatives objected to the EPA guidance which would divert sewage around secondary treatment units, then combine the filtered but untreated sewage with fully treated wastewater before discharge in a process known as blending.

It would lift the current prohibition on bypassing the biological treatment of sewage to remove most of the pathogens from wastewater, which the Representatives called "a crucial second treatment step used during periods of wet weather."

"We understand the nature of the problem of excessive solids losses and disruption of the biological treatment stage during periods of heavy inflow of water into the collection system," the Representatives wrote. But they called it "unacceptable" to use sewage blending during rainstorms "as a bandage to cover these infrastructure shortfalls."

They wrote that the EPA should enforce the Clean Water Act "instead of attempting to change the law so that more sewage would enter the environment where it will make people ill, sicken our wildlife and contaminate our waters."

The Save Our Waters from Sewage Act would prohibit EPA from finalizing the draft guidance.

Republican Congressmen Mark Kirk of Illinois and Clay Shaw of Florida together with Democrats Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Bart Stupak of Michigan introduced the legisation.

Conservation groups call the bill an important step in reinvigorating the federal commitment to partner with state and local governments and ensure that rivers, streams, and lakes are safe for fishing, swimming, and drinking.

"Congress and the President cannot afford to whistle past the graveyard while sewage fills our public waters," said Betsy Otto, senior policy director at American Rivers. "The Save Our Waters from Sewage Act is a reminder that our government's responsibility is to make our water safer and cleaner. This bill reaffirms our commitment to protect drinking water sources, human health, and all of the life that depends on healthy water."

Partially treated sewage contains viruses and bacteria that cause serious and potentially deadly diseases - cryptosporidium, hepatitis, dysentery, and others, Otto points out. The young, old, and sick are at greatest risk, she says.

"The chemicals, such as chlorine, used by some drinking water utilities to try to kill disease-causing germs, when normal treatment is bypassed, have been linked to cancer and other health problems. In many areas of the country, drinking water intakes can be found downstream of sewer outfalls, increasing the health risks of relaxed sewage treatment," Otto said today.

American Rivers and other conservation groups strongly oppose the practice of partially treating sewage and support giving the public the right to know if these releases do occur.

Nancy Stoner of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said at a news conference in Washington today, "The Save our Waters from Sewage Act provides the right answer for the American people. This bill would prevent sewage dumping from becoming the standard method of disposal for industrial, commercial and human waste across the country. In effect, this legislation would force EPA to dump its reckless sewage dumping policy."

Conservation and, city, county, and industry groups continue to request that the federal government increase the amount of assistance it provides to states, cities, and towns to improve their sewage treatment infrastructure to prevent dangerous releases from happening in the first place.

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Supreme Court to Hear Tenants' Mold Case

WASHINGTON, DC, March 3, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will hear a case brought by renters who claim they were injured by toxic mold in their Virginia apartment. The high court intends to use the case to clarify whether plaintiffs can sue in federal or state court.

In February, President George W. Bush signed legislation that keeps class-action lawsuits seeking $5 million or more out of state courts unless the primary defendant and more than one-third of the plaintiffs are from the same state.

If fewer than one-third of the plaintiffs are from the same state as the primary defendant, and more than $5 million is at stake, the case would go to federal court.

At issue in the case the Supreme Court will hear is whether Virginia renters Christophe and Juanita Roche can sue their landlord, Lincoln Property Co., in Virginia state court over exposure to toxic mold in their apartment. The Dallas, Texas company has a subsidiary in Virginia.

The Roches allege they suffered chronic headaches, memory loss and respiratory trouble due to the mold. They complain that when their apartment was being treated to remove the mold, some of their belongings disappeared.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Virginia ruled the Roches could sue in Virginia, on grounds that Lincoln was a "citizen" of the state because its subsidiary conducted business there.

Lincoln's appeal of that ruling is supported by business groups, who argue that the 4th Circuit's ruling would unfairly expose them to litigation in state court.

"The decision will have a disproportionate and recurring impact on an important sector of the American business community - enterprises, like most real estate businesses, that operate in multiple states through affiliated entities," the groups wrote in a joint friend-of-the-court filing.

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In Mad Cow Case, U.S. Cattlemen Keep Canadian Border Closed

BILLINGS, Montana, March 3, 2005 (ENS) - A federal district judge in Montana has granted a cattlemen's association a preliminary injunction that will prevent the Canadian border from reopening to live cattle and additional beef products on March 7. The border opening was scheduled by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its Final Rule classifying Canada as a "minimal risk" country for mad cow disease, issued on December 29, 2004.

On Wednesday, District Judge Richard Cebull ruled in favor or Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America), known as R-CALF USA, in its request for a preliminary injunction that will keep the border closed until the issue can be decided at trial.

The USDA closed the border to Canadian beef and cattle in May 2003 after the first case of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), was discovered in an Alberta animal.

The Final Rule identifies Canada as a "minimal risk" country because it is supposed to keep nervous system tissue, where the prions that cause BSE grow, out of cattle feed, among several preventive measures.

The R-CALF USA's CEO Bill Bullard saidthe organization "will continue to ask Congress to pass a Joint Resolution of Disapproval to make USDA’s Final Rule null and void, and we hope that Congress will step to the plate to make this happen so the hard-earned money of grassroots cattle producers won’t have to be used to foot the legal bills we’re going to face as this case moves forward," said Bullard.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns Wednesday expressed disappointment in the ruling. "USDA remains confident that the requirements of the minimal-risk rule, in combination with the animal and public health measures already in place in the United States and Canada, provide the utmost protection to both U.S. consumers and livestock."

"We also remain fully confident in the underlying risk assessment, developed in accordance with the OIE guidelines, which determined Canada to be a minimal risk region," Johanns said. The OIE stands for the French name of the World Animal Health Organization.

"Today's ruling is not a reflection on the substance of the minimal-risk rule, but rather a procedural delay while the judge considers the merits of the case," said Johanns. "We continue to believe that international trade in beef, founded on science-based regulations, should be re-established in an expeditious manner."

Within a week after the USDA issued its Final Rule, Canadian agricultural authorities announced that they had found two more cases of mad cow disease, shaking confidence in Canada's BSE prevention capabilities.

"Judge Cebull realized we had legitimate concerns based on the key scientific evidence we presented that demonstrates USDA’s effort to reopen the border on March 7 is premature," Bullard said. "It was good today to be able to state our position in a forum insulated from the political overtones that have been driving this issue for the past two years.

The United States is still battling to reverse bans on American beef imposed after the discovery of a BSE-infected cow of Canadian origin in Washington state on December 23, 2003.

"R-CALF extends its sincere gratitude to the U.S. cattle industry because it was the overwhelming support and donations from ranchers across the country that enabled us to bring home an initial victory," said Bullard.

Judge Cebull said the upcoming hearing in the case would allow testimony from experts on BSE, including statisticians and scientists, and more exploration of the issues could take place then. The date for trial has not yet been set.

The USDA can appeal Judge Cebull’s decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Commercial Satellite Images of Tsunami Area Made Public

COLLEGE PARK, Maryland, March 3, 2005 (ENS) - The restoration of protected areas swept by the Indian Ocean tsunami December 26, 2004 will benefit from satellite imagery donated to the conservation community by DigitalGlobe, a commercial satellite company.

The donation is being made through Global Land Cover Facility at the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, a member of the IUCN-World Conservation Union. The Facility is sponsored by NASA's Office of Earth Science Applications Division.

The image collection of more than 100 scenes of parks and protected areas in the region covers some of the most biologically diverse protected areas in the Indian Ocean region.

IUCN says the images will aid the organization and its members to assess the environmental impacts of the tsunami and implement and support rehabilitation plans.

"Protected areas are an integral part of the reconstruction effort and are tied to a variety of humanitarian concerns," the IUCN said Monday.

The images are exptect to help conservationists understand both the short-term implications of the tsunami for these areas, and also the long-term natural regeneration process and "the role of protected areas in rebuilding dependent communities," the IUCN said.

To assist with restoration of tsunami affected areas, the IUCN is providing a clearing house of information linking field workers, international experts, policy makers, resource allocation managers, and disaster recovery experts.

The conservation organization is providing practical guides in key areas, and enhancing technical capacity in affected countries.

In addition, the IUCN is globally coordinating assessments and long-term monitoring from corporate and NGO sectors and working in conjunction with the UN agencies.

The organization says that imagery from DigitalGlobe’s satellite, QuickBird II, will be useful in determining tsunami impacts in inaccessible regions.

The entire collection may be downloaded free of charge from www.landcover.org. Online documentation has been provided explaining the transformation process and crediting the source materials made available through DigitalGlobe. Further details and imagery are available at http://digitalglobe.com.

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EPA Neutralizes Toxics at Massachusetts' Fisherville Mill

GRAFTON, Massachusetts, May 3, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has completed its $1.98 million program to clean up contaminated ground water emanating from the Fisherville Mill site in Grafton.

The 16 acre former mill site now has been turned over to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the owner, Fisherville Redevelopment Corporation for further cleanup.

Between 1882 and 1986, Fisherville Mill manufactured a variety of products, including textiles, machine parts, stamps and lawn furniture.

In August 1999, a multi-alarm fire at Fisherville Mill destroyed the 19th century facility, including 330,000 square feet of building space and a ground water pump-and-treat system that had been used to treat contaminated ground water under the mill.

The ground water was contaminated by petroleum and toxic chemicals that were released during manufacturing operations, including trichloroethylene (TCE), which posed a threat to the nearby Grafton public water supply.

TCE is a solvent used for cleaning metal parts. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says that, "Drinking or breathing high levels of trichloroethylene may cause nervous system effects, liver and lung damage, abnormal heartbeat, coma, and possibly death."

In May 2002 the EPA began to address the TCE contaminated ground water at the site. In the remediation effort that ended in December 2004, the EPA placed more than 100 wells in the source area of the TCE contamination and injected sodium permanganate, a chemical oxidant used to break down the TCE to inert compounds such as oxygen, water and inorganic salts.

Over the course of two and a half years, EPA conducted three similar injections of the chemical oxidant, permanganate, and monitored the ground water every three months for a year.

In addition, EPA installed a temporary dam at one section of the Blackstone Canal to prevent the TCE plume from migrating off-site.

Immediately following the fire, the EPA removed construction debris contaminated with asbestos that had been spread across Grafton and downwind 12 miles into five other towns. After more than a century of use, the site was contaminated with petroleum, chlorinated volatile organic compounds, asbestos and heavy metals. As part of a second action at the site, EPA addressed asbestos contaminated construction debris in the foundation of the building.

The Fisherville Redevelopment Corporation bought the property in July 2004 and plans to finish the cleanup of the property, restore it for potential residential and business uses and re-establist public access to the Blackstone River which borders the site.

For more details visit: http://www.epaosc.net/site_profile.asp?site_id=017B

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New York Selects First Power Generators for Renewable Portfolio

ALBANY New York, March 3, 2005 (ENS) - The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has chosen five power generation producers to provide renewable energy in the first phase of the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard program (RPS).

Approved in Sepember 2004 by the New York Public Service Commission, the program is designed to increase the amount of electricity sold to consumers in New York State that is generated from renewable resources to at least 25 percent by 2013.

Two wind facilities and three small hydroelectric projects were chosen in the first phase, and they will receive a total amount of funding of $15.7 million in the first year.

The wind projects selected include Flat Rock in Lewis County, and Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm, in New Jersey.

The small hydroelectric projects selected include Browns Falls Hydro and Higley Hydro in St. Lawrence County, and Spier Falls Hydro in Saratoga County.

The five power producers are expected to provide a total of 697,832 megawatts of eligible renewable electricity production in the first year.

"Increased use of renewable resources will produce greater fuel diversity for New York State, which will ultimately work to reduce energy price volatility and shield ratepayers from the impacts of price spikes for oil, natural gas, and coal," said William Flynn, Chairman of the Public Service Commission.

"New York’s RPS is a smart energy initiative that will stimulate economic development in the fast-growing area of clean energy technologies while also producing environmental benefits as we tap into cleaner energy resources," Flynn said.

When fully implemented in 2013, the RPS is expected to reduce air emissions of nitrogen oxide by 6.8 percent, sulfur dioxide by 5.9 percent, and carbon dioxide by 7.7 percent throughout the state. The state also projects a boost in economic development activity from the growth of the renewable energy industry.

"We were extremely pleased with the response and the mix of renewable energy projects that were proposed in this first round solicitation," said NYSERDA President Peter Smith. "Not only will these projects begin helping us reduce our dependence on fossil fuel, but New Yorkers will reap the environmental and economic benefits that we had envisioned."

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Marine Art Prizes Highlight Savannah Sidewalk Chalk Show

SAVANNAH, Georgia, March 3, 2005 (ENS) - Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary will offer three special awards for the best underwater marine environment scene drawn for Savannah, Georgia’s popular Sidewalk Arts Festival April 30.

Each year, hundreds of students, alumni and prospective students of the famous Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) create chalk drawings on the sidewalks around historic Forsyth Park during the one-day festival. The colorful event draws thousands of visitors to the park to view the chalk scenes.

This year, the sanctuary is asking that artists portray ways of keeping debris out of the marine environment. Sanctuary Superintendent Reed Bohne will judge the underwater scenes and award three "Gray’s Reef Fantastic Fishes Award" for the most imaginative chalk interpretation of the marine environment.

The winning images, along with the other Fantastic Fishes Award entries, will be posted on the sanctuary’s Web site and may be used to create a poster following the festival.

"The Sidewalk Arts Festival is one of the most popular and creative events in Savannah," Bohne said. "The SCAD students are endlessly imaginative in their use of color and chalk on concrete. We look forward to another year’s artistic exploration of ocean conservation and protection for our community."

For more information on the SCAD Sidewalks Art Festival, see the college’s Web site at http://www.scad.edu/saf. Gray’s Reef is not accepting entries for the chalk art contest.

Designated in 1981, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary is one of the largest near shore live-bottom reefs off the southeastern United States, encompassing 17 square nautical miles. The sanctuary consists of a series of sandstone outcroppings and ledges up to 10 feet in height, in a sandy, flat-bottomed sea floor.

Loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species, use Gray’s Reef year-round for foraging and resting, and the reef is within the known winter calving ground for the highly endangered Northern right whale.

Gray’s Reef is one of 13 NOAA national marine sanctuaries that protect some 18,000 square miles of the nation’s oceans, Great Lakes and coasts.