AmeriScan: March 15, 2005

* * *

New Jersey Will Sue EPA Over New Mercury Rule

TRENTON, New Jersey, March 15, 2005 (ENS) - New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell today announced that New Jersey will file suit against the new federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mercury rule unveiled today. "The rule fails to protect the public adequately from harmful mercury emissions," the officials said.

“We will file suit to challenge EPA’s new rule, which fails to protect our citizens from the grave threat posed by mercury emissions,” said Harvey. “Mercury has been linked to neurological disorders and is especially dangerous for young children and pregnant women. By authorizing emissions trading, EPA’s rule will allow some power plants to actually increase mercury emissions, creating hot spots of mercury deposition around those plants.”

“Once again, in the choice between families and polluters, President [George W.] Bush has left every child behind in order to reward industry and campaign contributors,” said Campbell.

“This rule betrays the public’s trust by calling for standards far too weak to protect public health and the environment," Campbell said. "Moreover, the emissions reductions trumpeted by the EPA in this rule are misleading and inaccurate.”

New Jersey is consulting with other northeastern states impacted by mercury emissions and will petition for review of the rule to demand that the EPA implement a strong, protective rule as required by the Clean Air Act.

The EPA mercury rule lets coal-fired power plants trade credits under a cap-and-trade system instead of being required to comply with a strict Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standard, as required by the Clean Air Act.

The MACT standard would reduce mercury emissions to levels approximately three times lower than the cap established in this EPA rule, said Harvey and Campbell.

EPA’s trading rule will ultimately result in 15 tons of emissions; MACT control, reducing emissions at each facility by 90 percent, results in emissions of about five tons per year.

Cap-and-trade emission controls, while sometimes appropriate for general air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, are inappropriate for hazardous air pollutants, the New Jersey officials said, because they can allow localized deposition of mercury to continue unabated, perpetuating hotspots and hot regions that can significantly impact the health of individual communities.

The Bush EPA rule also extends the deadline for full compliance to 2018 from a court approved deadline of 2007.

In contrast, New Jersey adopted last year tough new restrictions on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, iron and steel melters, and municipal solid waste incinerators. The rules will reduce in-state mercury emissions by over 1,500 pounds annually and reduce emissions from New Jersey’s coal-fired power plants by about 90 percent.

Despite New Jersey’s aggressive efforts to protect the public from mercury exposure, stronger federal action than the Bush EPA rule is needed since more than one-third of mercury deposition in New Jersey is from sources in upwind states.

Exposure to the most toxic form of mercury comes primarily from eating contaminated fish and shellfish. Children and pregnant women are especially susceptible to mercury contamination, which can cause permanent brain damage to the fetus, infants, and young children. Mercury exposure has been shown to affect the ability of children to pay attention, remember, talk, draw, run, see, and play.

Even exposure to low levels can permanently damage the brain and nervous system and cause behavioral changes. Scientists estimate up to 60,000 children may be born annually in the United States with neurological problems leading to poor school performance because of mercury exposure while in utero. At least one in 10 pregnant women in New Jersey have concentrations of mercury in their hair samples that exceed safe levels.

Fish from waters in 45 of the 50 states have been declared unsafe to eat as a result of poisoning from mercury. In New Jersey, there are mercury consumption advisories for at least one species of fish in almost every water body of the state.

* * *

Record Snowfall Measured at New York’s Central Park

NEW YORK, New York, March 15, 2005 (ENS) - In an average winter, New York's Central Park accumulates 22.4 inches of snow, but not this year or the two years previous. These have been record years for snow, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, caused by a an unusual variation of the North Atlantic jet stream pattern.

Following the 1.5 inches of snow that fell on the park Friday and Saturday, the snow accumulation reached 40 inches, marking the first time New York has recorded three consecutive snow seasons with 40 inches or more since records began in 1869.

During the 2003/2004 season, 42.6 inches fell and before that, 49.3 inches of snow fell during the 2002-2003 season.

The North Atlantic jet stream patterns have a major influence on winter weather across the eastern United States. These jet stream patterns affect the frequency, severity and duration of cold air outbreaks from Canada. They help to determine when and where winter storms will form and what regions will be affected.

"Winter weather patterns are quite variable in part because the North Atlantic jet stream pattern can take on a variety of configurations from one day to the next, and from one week to the next," said Gerry Bell, meteorologist at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Scientists have long known there are certain preferred configurations of the jet stream over the North Atlantic Ocean, with the two dominant ones referred to as the negative and positive phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO).

"The so-called negative phase of the NAO has prevailed for the past three weeks," said Bell. In this phase, the North Atlantic jet stream is shifted south of normal over the eastern U.S., and the upstream polar jet stream coming southward from Canada is stronger than normal.

These conditions favor more frequent and more intense cold air outbreaks and more frequent winter storms for the eastern United States, a pattern observed in the past few weeks.

The jet stream patterns captured by the two phases of the NAO can dominate the eastern weather for up to 20 years. The negative phase of the NAO controlled the circulation during the 1950s and 1960s, and led to colder and more severe winters during that period. In contrast, the milder than normal winters between 1980 and 2000 were associated with frequent positive phases of the NAO.

* * *

Severe Fire Risk Forecast for Western States

CORVALLIS, Oregon, March 15, 2005 (ENS) - It does not appear there will be any relief this spring or summer from the unusually dry weather that has gripped the Pacific Northwest, according to new projections of drought severity and fire risk that are based on "general circulation" models forecasting global climate.

The analysis, developed by researchers at the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State University, shows that the northwestern part of the country will face forest and rangeland fires this year that could be unusually severe - the worst of any area in the nation.

Wet weather has covered the Southwest, Central and Atlantic coast regions of the United States, and for these areas 2005 is projected to be a fairly mild fire season.

But the same forecasts for a period from now to August show some pockets of drought severity and associated fire risks in southern Florida, Maine and southeastern Arizona.

There is a fire risk problem of historic proportions developing in a six state region that includes Oregon, Washington, northern California, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, the scientists said.

"We project that the drought severity the northwestern states are now experiencing will only get worse in coming months, and reach levels that were generally seen during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s," said Ronald Neilson, a bioclimatologist with the U.S. Forest Service and professor of botany at OSU.

Severe drought does not automatically translate into major fires, said Neilson and colleague James Lenihan, a fire and ecosystem modeler.

"It takes ignition sources such as lightning storms to trigger multiple fires, and that doesn't always happen," Lenihan said. "But those events are fairly common and, because of that, fires will often occur if vegetation, moisture and climatic conditions are right, which it appears they will be this year."

The latest consensus forecast for fire risk this spring and summer indicate huge forest and rangeland fire outbreaks in northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington, and more isolated but severe fire potential in forests near Eugene, Roseburg, Bend and the Portland area in Oregon.

Other severe fires are forecast for parts of southwestern Idaho and parts of Montana.

Unlike short-term weather forecasts, these projections are ultimately based on long-term, global climate models and a "general vegetation model" created by researchers from the Forest Service and OSU, including the work of associate professor of geosciences Chris Daly and the OSU Spatial Climate Analysis Service.

"Last year was a pretty severe drought over quite a bit of the nation, but for various reasons our model didn't really suggest a bad fire year for 2004, and in fact it was a pretty mild year," Lenihan said.

"That was fortunate, because there's some evidence that the low-risk fire years are more difficult to predict than those with higher risk," he said. "When our models show a very high level of fire, as they do now, they are usually pretty accurate."

* * *

Building Owners Challenged to Become Energy Stars

WASHINGTON, DC, March 15, 2005 (ENS) - Commercial and institutional buildings use about $80 billion worth of energy each year and contribute about 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to figures released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

On Monday, the agency joined with a dozen large national organizations and seven states to challenge the owners of commercial and institutional buildings to improve their energy efficiency by 10 percent or more using Energy Star solutions. Energy Star is the federal certification system for energy efficient products and building operations.

The EPA offers its national building energy performance rating system to support this challenge. This rating system has already been used to assess the energy efficiency of almost 20,000 buildings across the country.

The agency estimates that if each building owner met the challenge, in 10 years they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions from 15 million cars while saving about $10 billion each year.

Some of the large organizations challenging owners are active in their own field, such as the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the Building Owners and Managers Association International, and the Real Estate Roundtable.

"Improved energy efficiency provides one of the greatest opportunities for cost-effective reduction in pollution and greenhouse gases and improvement in energy security," said Jeff Holmstead, EPA assistant administrator of Air and Radiation.

The EPA recognized 13 Energy Star "Leaders," Monday, businesses and institutions that are demonstrating that 10 percent improvement and more is within reach for organizations of all types and sizes.

The Energy Star Leaders include: Cambridge Savings Bank; Colorado Springs School District 11; Columbus Hospitality; Douglas, Emmett & Company; Food Lion, LLC; Giant Eagle, Inc.; Granite Properties; H-E-B Grocery Company; New York-Presbyterian Hospital; Rochester City School District (NY); South Colonie Central School District (NY); USAA Real Estate Company and The Vanguard Group.

These companies, school districts and healthcare organizations have measured the energy efficiency of all their buildings and achieved energy efficiency improvements of approximately 10 or 20 percent, or achieved overall top performance.

"Our Energy Star Leaders show that we're up to the challenge," said Holmstead. "With the Energy Star Challenge, we want to repeat and increase these successes at thousands of businesses and institutions across the country."

* * *

Lead Dust a Worry as EPA Stalls Remodeling Regulations

WASHINGTON, DC, March 15, 2005 (ENS) - The top official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has allegedly rejected regulation in favor of a voluntary approach to governing contractors who renovate or remodel older buildings that are most likely to be coated with lead based paint.

By law, EPA is supposed to require that certified contractors using workers trained in lead-safe practices do all remodeling in building constructed before 1978. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the deadline for EPA to adopt these “regulations to renovation or remodeling activities” was October 28, 1996. Although behind schedule, EPA continued to develop regulations through 2003.

But documents released on Monday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which represents government workers in natural resource agencies, show that in 2004, then-Deputy and now-Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson moved to scrap plans for renovation regulations.

Instead, agency records show, Johnson has opted for a yet to be developed voluntary approach. Earlier this month, President Bush nominated Johnson to become EPA administrator.

The main source of lead dust exposure to U.S. children is renovation and repair of older residences, PEER points out. Federal studies indicate that the majority of an estimated 20 to 30 million older home repair projects each year are done without lead safe cleanup and contamination practices. These renovations release lead laden dust that permeates carpets, ductwork and soil, exposing residents to the toxic, both immediately and in the longer term.

PEER claims, "Johnson made his decision despite EPA’s own analyses showing the renovation regulations had a net economic benefit of at least $2.73 billion per year."

The EPA has not replied to repeated ENS requests for comment.

EPA internal analyses obtained by PEER show that an estimated 1.4 million children under age seven residing in some 4.9 million households are at risk of lead exposure due to unsafe repair and renovations.

The renovation regulations could be expected to prevent at least 28,000 lead-related illnesses each year, thereby preventing $1.6 billion in medical costs and economic losses annually, the internal analyses show.

The additional cost to homeowners is estimated at an average of $116 per interior renovation and $42 for exterior work.

“The Bush Administration has walked away from the national goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning by 2010, in the process leaving 1.4 million children behind,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.

PEER is seeking to create a coalition "to push, and if need be, litigate" for the adoption of the repair and renovation regulations.

* * *

Hawaiian County Votes to Block Arctic Drilling

KAHALUI, Maui, Hawaii, March 15, 2005 (ENS) - On Friday, the Maui County Council unanimously passed a resolution to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas drilling.

The lawmakers were persuaded as the result of compelling testimony from wildlife photographer Masako Cordray, and her stories from four photographic journeys to the Arctic Coastal Plain.

The Maui County Council asked that the resolution be transmitted to Hawaii Senators Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye in advance of the pending budget debate that began Monday.

The U.S. Senate has included estimated fees from selling leases to drill for oil and gas in the refuge in its budget for fiscal year 2006.

Indigenous Inupiat people from the Arctic Coastal Plain have visited Hawaii twice - in 2004 and 2005 - to plead their case that drilling not be allowed in the refuge.

They explain that the refuge is the home and birthplace for rare and unique wildlife such as polar bears and musk oxen, and is the annual calving ground for 130,000 caribou which migrate 1,200 miles each year to the refuge from the Yukon River of Alaska and Canada.

It is also the birthplace for migratory birds which each year fly to the refuge to nest for the short summer from as far away as Antarctica, Egypt’s Nile River and the sub-continent of India.

Some Inupiat support the drilling for the economic benefits they say it will bring, but others say their ancient way of life will be destroyed if drilling is permitted in the refuge.

The Bush administration is pressing for the drilling, saying that the nation needs to produce more of its own oil rather than relying on foreign supplies. There is debate ove how much oil exists in the refuge, but most experts agree that whatever amount is there, it will not be available for at least 10 years.

The Maui County Council Resolution was introduced by Councilmember Michelle Anderson, who stressed that America should use fuel efficiency, conservation measures and renewable energy as a solution to America’s dependency upon foreign oil.

* * *

Toxics Action Center Exposes Lawn Care Pesticides

BOSTON, Massachusetts, March 15, 2005 (ENS) - Citing the public health and environmental dangers of lawn pesticides used by TruGreen ChemLawn (ChemLawn), Toxics Action Center today kicked off a campaign to urge homeowners to “Refuse to Use ChemLawn,” the largest lawn care service in the nation.

The Massachusetts advocacy group released a report, "Be Truly Green. Refuse to Use ChemLawn - Why Lawn Care Pesticides are Dangerous to Your Children, Pets and the Environment," which documents the dangerous impacts of ChemLawn‘s services.

“When customers contract with ChemLawn, they believe they are signing up for a green plush lawn. What many customers do not know is that they are signing up for a program that exposes their children, pets and water supplies to an arsenal of toxic pesticides,” said Jay Rasku, Massachusetts State Director of Toxics Action Center.

TruGreen is the world’s largest lawn care and landscaping company, providing services to more than 3.4 million residential and commercial customers. The comapny advertises a greener, weed free lawn and does not mention chemicals on its website.

Toxics Action Center analyzed the pesticides listed on a ChemLawn receipt and found that 17 of 32 of ChemLawn’s pesticide products include ingredients that are possible carcinogens, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The analysis found that all 32 of ChemLawn’s pesticide products include ingredients that pose threats to the environment, including threats to water supplies, aquatic organisms, and non-targeted insects.

The analysis also found that 13 of 32 of ChemLawn’s pesticide products include ingredients that are banned or restricted in other countries.

“These pesticides pose a significant threat to children and pets. As a doctor, I believe we should minimize our exposure to dangerous pesticides and I urge residents and industries to look for and use all possible healthy alternatives,” said Sean Palfrey, M.D. President, Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The report also shows the difficulty that customers may have finding out information about TruGreen ChemLawn pesticide products. The company’s website lists none of the pesticides used in its program and anecdotal evidence shows that ChemLawn’s telemarketers do not readily release information about the pesticides or their public health and environmental impacts.

To see the report, visit www.RefuseToUseChemLawn.org

* * *