AmeriScan: March 14, 2005

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House Greenlights Transportation Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, March 14, 2005 (ENS) - The House passed the $284 billion transportation bill on Thursday, approving guaranteed funding for federal highways and transit programs, highway safety, and motor carrier safety programs over the six year period 2004 to 2009.

The Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, was voted in by an overwhelming 417 to nine. The Senate bill is expected to be drafted this week and will include a similar budget for transportation.

The last six year highway budget, which was funded at $218 billion, expired in September 2003. The latest funding extension is set to expire May 31.

“Compared to the previous six-year bill, H.R. 3 represents a 42 percent increase in investment in highways, transit and safety programs,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young, an Alaska Republican. “And the increased funding levels in H.R. 3 are supported by the administration."

While not as rich a budget was those for highway improvement and maintenance, the congestion mitigation and air quality improvement program was allotted and increasing amount over the six year period covered in the bill - $1.46 billion to cover fiscal year 2004, rising by even steps to $1.66 billion for fiscal year 2009.

The recreational trails program will also receive an increasing amount of funding from $53 million to cover 2004 up to $110 million for fiscal year 2009.

Park roads and parkways roads will get $170 million in the first of the six years, rising to $225 million for 2008 and again in 2009, while refuge roads will get $20 million in each of the six years.

The national scenic byways program was funded to the level of $30 million in the first year, a figure that doubles to $60 million in 2009.

A smaller measure was approved for pedestrian and cyclist equity - $200 million in each of the first five years, increasing to $225 million in 2009.

Dedicated lanes will be set aside for trucks at a cost of $165 million in the years 2004 to 2008, with an increase to $170 million in 2009.

But not everyone was pleased with the measure. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) warned that the bill would weaken a provision under the Clean Air Act that helps reduce air pollution caused by car and truck traffic.

The bill also would undermine public participation in the decision making process by changing requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act, the advocacy group says.

Deron Lovaas, deputy director of smart growth and transportation policy at NRDC, said, "By undermining safeguards we now enjoy under the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, the transportation bill will result in more air pollution from cars, and damage to land, air and water quality from highway construction."

"The House bill also doesn't include an item in the Senate version, which provides modest funding for storm water management," Lovaas said. "This funding is needed to help communities near existing highways maintain clean water quality by reducing storm water runoff from roads, which is a significant source of pollution."

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Pacific Tsunami Warning Center Sued by Survivors

HONOLULU, Hawaii, March 14, 2005 (ENS) - Tsunami survivors and relatives of victims are suing the federal agency that operates the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, claiming the center did not do enough to warn people about the disaster. The center is one of two operated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The lawsuit was filed last week in federal district court in New York by at least 58 European survivors and family members of victims.

The plaintiffs allege the center could have done more to warn 11 Indian Ocean nations hit by the tsunami. The giant wave resulted from a severe undersea earthquake of 9.0 magnitude December 26, 2004 which left nearly 300,000 people dead or missing and presumed dead.

Named as defendants are NOAA, the Government of Thailand, the Thai Meteorological Department and the Accor group, the French owner of the Sofitel hotel chain, which owns a beachfront hotel in Phuket, Thailand.

Attorney Edward Fagan, who represents the plaintiffs, became known as one of the attorneys suing Swiss banks and German corporations for profiting from Holocaust victims' assets and forced labor. The banks and corporations settled the suits for more than $6 billion.

The lawsuit accuses the Thai government of destroying evidence that will prove officials knew of the approaching tsunami but decided not to issue a warning out of fear that the country's tourism industry would be harmed.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center monitors seismic and ocean conditions in the Pacific Basin and issues warnings to member nations around the Pacific Rim.

NOAA officials declined to comment on the complaint. But during a visit to the Pacific Tsunami Center in January, NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher praised the managers of the center for their response to the tsunami and explained that the center is only equipped to warn nations within its group of Pacific rim members.

Australia and Indonesia and the only Indian Ocean nations that are members of the Oahu based warning center. The Indian Ocean has no oceanwide tsunami detection system, and no warning system.

Pacific Tsunami Warning Center chief Charles McCreery told reporters that by the time his staff learned that the earthquake has generated a tsunami, it was already on the news.

"We talked to the State Department Operations Center and to the military. We called embassies. We talked to the navy in Sri Lanka, any local government official we could get hold of," Barry Hirshorn, one of the geophysicists, said in December.

The Bush administration's $37.5 million plan for a global tsunami monitoring system announced in January would increase the number of scientists keeping watch at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The center also would be able to assess more quickly whether a tsunami warning is necessary, said Robert Cessaro, a geophysicist at the center. Currently, five scientists are on call.

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Fish and Wildlife Service Director Resigns

WASHINGTON, DC, March 14, 2005 (ENS) - Steve Williams has resigned as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, effective March 20, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced Friday.

In a letter to Williams, Norton said he had conserved wildlife habitats, expanded opportunities for fishing and hunting, and advanced cooperative conservation partnerships.

"As I have traveled the country, I heard over and over how you were rekindling the spirit of cooperation among state and federal agencies and private partners," Norton wrote. "Countless refuge managers, biologists, sportsmen, and landowners complimented your leadership, management style, effectiveness and great humor."

Williams said his three years at the Service were the "most rewarding" of his 20 years in fish and wildlife conservation. Previously, Williams was director of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, and held positions in the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

"I leave the Department of Interior with hesitation about leaving behind the many dedicated and skilled Fish and Wildlife Service employees and the administration, but I believe it is in my best interest both personally and professionally," he said.

Williams will become president of the Wildlife Management Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific wildlife management. By hiring Williams, the Institute has already accomplished the goal of its 70th annual North American conference opening in Washington, DC later this week, "Elevating the Priority of Natural Resource Conservation."

Richard McCabe, executive vice president of the Wildlife Management Institute said his organization would benefit from Williams' expertise. "The Wildlife Management Institute is delighted that Steve Williams will take the helm of this organization and bring to it his considerable administrative experience and talent, as well as his proven dedication to the conservation and professional management of wildlife resources."

The Norton will name an acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when Williams departs at the end of next week. A permanent replacement must be nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

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City Elected Officials Pessimistic, Fear Funding Loss

WASHINGTON, DC, March 14, 2005 (ENS) - Transportation congestion, rising health care costs, uncertain economic development programs, inadequate housing and growing unemployment are at the top of the list of issues facing America’s city officials, according to a new survey released Sunday by the National League of Cities (NLC).

The State of America’s Cities Survey found that half of city officials are pessimistic about the direction the country is heading, up from 45 percent in 1995. Not since 1995 have 50 percent of city officials held this view, according to the NLC.

NLC President Washington DC Mayor Anthony Williams released the report at the opening press conference for the NLC Congressional City Conference, where he emphasized the importance of partnering with the federal government to reverse these growing trends.

Williams urged the 2,400 conference delegates not to allow Congress to cut the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) as proposed in President George W. Bush's fiscal year 2006 budget.

Congress and the administration are proposing to consolidate CDBG with 17 other programs, reduce total funding to $3.7 billion, and move it from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Department of Commerce.

“Congress must understand that we simply won’t put up with the elimination of the CDBG program without a fight,” said Williams. “It is probably the single most important federal program we have to help us support small business, build and revitalize affordable housing, provide recreational facilities in poor neighborhoods, and help with child care for mothers reentering the workforce.”

On Tuesday, elected officials from across the country will go to Capitol Hill with a massive City Lobby Day to discuss city priorities.

City Lobby Day "will be a critical battle in this fight," said Williams. The House is expected to consider the budget next week.

Williams joined the voice of the National League of Cities with the swelling chorus of voices demanding that the Transportation Bill before Congress be approved.

"Congress must adopt - and quickly - a fully funded transportation bill that will reduce the congestion on our highways, shorten commuting times for our residents, help boost economic development," said Williams.

In his opening remarks, Williams asked all city representatives attending the conference to adopt a resolution at home that supports one vote in the House of Representatives for the District of Columbia.

At present, the 575,000 residents of the Capital District do not have Congressional representation although they pay some of the highest taxes in the nation and send their residents to war.

Williams argued, "There are those who think the federal government owns most of the land in the District and pays all its bills. The area known as the National Capital Service Area includes the White House, the Supreme Court, Capitol Hill, our parks, and the many wonderful Smithsonian museums - about 40 percent of the city.

"But we’ve got 120 other neighborhoods that belong to the people who live there and care about their homes," Williams said.

"By comparison, the federal government owns 88 percent of Nevada, 67 percent of Arkansas and 50 percent of California," Williams said. "Despite this significant federal ownership, the people who live in those states retain their fundamental voting rights in Congress."

Chris Matthews of the TV show "Hardball" warned the delegates about the current climate on Capitol Hill. “The climate has changed," he said. "You in this room, you’re the country. They need to remember that all politics is local. If you want to own Congress, tell them what’s going on at home,” Matthews said. “You need to educate them. People count on local officials not just to be the first responders, but to be the first politician on the scene. Let Congress know what you deal with.”

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Wanted: Organization to Give Out $8 Million in EPA Grants

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, March 14, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program is looking to partner with an organization to help award and administer nearly $8 million in watershed grants to reduce nonpoint source nutrient pollution in the bay watershed.

“These regional watershed efforts can yield dual benefits, both for the local watershed and for the Chesapeake Bay as a whole,” said Chesapeake Bay Program Office Director Rebecca Hanmer.

“EPA is seeking an organization that will help us maximize the nutrient and sediment reductions that these important efforts can achieve,” Hanmer said.

The request for proposals published Thursday outlines a cooperative agreement EPA will award to an organization whose mission is to support bay watersheds in reducing excessive nutrients through cost effective approaches.

Public-private partnerships and market-based approaches, including nutrient trading, are two effective methods, the agency suggests.

The cooperative agreement will allow the organization selected to serve as an intermediary to advertise, select, and manage a competitive watershed grants program with $7,936,000 in grant funds for 2005.

The organization selected will also provide technical support to sub-grantees, monitor their progress, and report on results and lessons learned.

The targeted watersheds grant program is a competitive grant program designed to protect and restore water resources through a holistic watershed approach to water quality management.

The intermediary organization can award sub-grants to states, watershed organizations and nonprofit organizations to improve water quality through a sustainable watershed approach.

Applications must be received by April 25, 2005. The EPA plans to award the cooperative agreement by July 1, 2005. The announcement and frequently asked questions are available at http://www.epa.gov/region3/chesapeake/grants.htm. Any further questions can be addressed to Martella.Theresa@epa.gov.

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Court Orders Yonkers to Stop Sewage Flow into Bronx River

ALBANY, New York, March 14, 2005 (ENS) - A New York State Supreme Court judge has ordered the city of Yonkers to make repairs to its sewer systems to stop the discharge of raw sewage into the Bronx River.

Since 1999 the Yonkers has been illegally discharging thousands of gallons of untreated raw sewage into the Bronx River each day an investigation by the Office of Attorney General Eliot Spitzer found with technical assistance from the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Laboratory tests showed that discharges from Yonkers stormwater pipes contains the bacteria fecal coliform, an indicator of raw sewage, in concentrations as high as 25,000 times the level allowed by state water quality standards.

Sewage contamination can cause gastrointestinal illnesses, hepatitis, skin irritation, eye infections and other problems, the AG's Office said. Sewage also damages the river's habitat for fish and other organisms and diminishes public use of the Bronx River.

In its lawsuit, the AG's Office documented that Yonkers' sewage discharges contributed to high levels of bacterial contamination in southern stretches of the Bronx River, where people swim, wade and boat.

The court directed the city of Yonkers to stop the discharge of raw sewage into the Bronx River at the city's major discharge pipes within eight months.

The city will submit quarterly reports to the court demonstrating progress on repairs to its sewage system. Yonkers also will videotape the inside of other sewer lines and conduct dye tests to identify possible other sources of sewage discharged by the city into the Bronx River.

This case is the third enforcement action brought as part of the Attorney General's Bronx River Watershed enforcement initiative.

The Bronx River begins at Davis Point in Valhalla and runs 24 miles before flowing into the East River at Hunt's Point in the Bronx.

Yonkers has 400 miles of combined sanitary and storm sewers constructed in the early 1900s. The old system constantly requires a high level of quality maintenance, says Yonkers Commissioner John Liszewski.

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National Homebuilders Association Integrates Green Practices

ATLANTA, Georgia, March 14, 2005 (ENS) - The three day 2005 National Green Building Conference that opened Sunday in downtown Atlanta is the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) showcase for resource efficient, environmentally sensitive and cost-effective new homes.

Called “Greening the American Dream,” the conference offers educational sessions such as “Building America’s Houses that Work,” “Why Green Development Makes Cents” and “New Approaches to Great Communities.”

“This conference is really about two things – highlighting current green building successes, like the properties featured on the tour, and bringing green building to more builders and consumers,” said Ray Tonjes, chairman of NAHB’s Green Building Subcommittee and a home builder from Austin, Texas.

“If homes built today are 100 percent more energy efficient than those built 30 years ago, then continued advances in energy and resource efficiency will help make homes of the future even more efficient and more affordable for Americans," Tonjes said.

On Sunday, a bus tour of green building success stories took conference participants to nearby Brookhaven Solar EarthCraft House, an energy efficient home that is strong on water conservation methods. EarthCraft House™ is a program developed by the Southface Energy Institute and the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association to encourage environmentally sound and energy efficient construction. Each house is inspected by trained Earthcraft Inspectors to ensure it meets the program's strict guidelines.

“To thrive as a green builder, you have got to be environmentally friendly while keeping in mind your customers’ pocketbooks,” said Tonjes. “This conference shines a spotlight on successful green building techniques and concepts as they move further into mainstream home building.”

One learning track at the conference provides information on NAHB’s voluntary Model Green Home Building Guidelines, recently developed to help builders incorporate affordable environmental practices into every phase of the home building process.

The Guidelines take in lot preparation and design, environmentally sensible construction practices, and planning to reduce the home’s impact on vegetation, soil, water, and enhance the home’s long-term performance. They touch on framing techniques and home designs that can optimize the use of building materials, energy efficiency, water efficiency and conservation, as well as managing moisture and ventilation to create comfort for the residents.

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Business Furniture Makers Issue Sustainability Guidelines

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan, March 14, 2005 - How often do office workers consider whether the steel desk that provides their work surface was created in an environmentally sustainable manner? Whether or not it is a topic of water cooler conversation, the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) International has been focused on this issue.

The BIFMA has created a set of guidelines to serve as a roadmap for any office furniture manufacturer or supplier desiring to become a more sustainable company.

The work of many association volunteers and industry partners over several years of study, the Sustainability Guidelines issued Friday are intended to be used as an add-on to a company's existing environmental management system.

Companies involved in published in guidelines are some of the largest in the business furniture field - Allsteel, Interface, Haworth, Herman Miller, and Steelcase - but they are aimed at of companies all sizes beginning their journey to establish and/or expand their environmental management system, such as IS014001, to include sustainable business practices.

Under the guidelines the company's top executive signs a written commitment "to promoting sustainable work environments and business practices based on sound economics, environmental protection, social responsibility and incorporating the BIFMA Sustainability Guidelines into our practices."

The suggested policy statement says, "We define sustainability as simultaneously improving the vitality of the economy, the integrity of ecological systems and the advancement of social equity. We are committed to pursuing the goal of sustainability and will weigh the impacts of our business decisions against the costs to the ecological, social and economic systems they affect."

The BIFMA guidelines cover pollution prevention opportunities, energy conservation, water conservation, greenhouse gas reductions, disposal of solid and/or hazardous waste, recycling of scrap, health and safety issues, and community involvement.

The new guidelines are online at: http://www.bifma.org/news/050310_susgdlines.html