AmeriScan: March 17, 2005

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Motiva Fined $10 Million for Deadly Explosion

WASHINGTON, DC, March 17, 2005 (ENS) - Motiva Enterprises LLC pleaded guilty to negligently endangering workers at its former refinery in Delaware City, Delaware, discharging pollutants into the Delaware River and negligently releasing sulfuric acid into the air, both in violation of the Clean Air Act.

Pursuant to a plea agreement, Chief U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson sentenced Motiva to pay a fine of $10 million and to serve a three year term of probation.

On July 17, 2001, Tank 393, a 415,000 gallon capacity tank at Motiva's Delaware City Refinery, exploded while containing spent sulfuric acid, which is a mixture of sulfuric acid, water, and hydrocarbons.

The explosion killed one worker, Jeffrey Davis, and injured numerous others. Davis's body was never recovered.

Approximately 99,000 gallons of sulfuric acid drained into the Delaware River for days after the explosion, resulting in thousands of dead fish and crabs.

In announcing today's guilty plea, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Sansonetti and First Assistant U.S. Attorney for Delaware Richard Andrews credited the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control, the Delaware State Police, and the Delaware State Fire Marshal's Office.

Following the explosion, EPA criminal investigators gathered evidence which indicated that Tank 393 had a long history of problems including corrosion and leaks over the previous eight years, and six leaks from June 1998 to May 2001.

Company inspectors had repeatedly recommended that Tank 393 should be taken out of service as soon as possible for an internal inspection, but no internal inspection was conducted after 1994.

Motiva also switched Tank 393 from storing fresh sulfuric acid to spent sulfuric acid without conducting a full engineering review that would have required technical experts to analyze the changes to account for the flammable hydrocarbons in spent sulfuric acid.

Shortly before the explosion, according to the statement of facts presented in court, Motiva had several warnings from its own employees about Tank 393's problems.

Nevertheless, workers were sent to acid tank farm to repair the catwalk connecting the tanks on July 17, 2001, and a hot works permit was issued for the job. During the afternoon of that day, flammable vapors from Tank 393 reached a heat source, and the resulting explosion caused the Tank 393 to separate from its foundation pad.

Motiva, an oil refining and retail business owned by Shell Oil Company and Saudi Refining, Inc., refines and markets gasoline to some 9,400 Shell branded and Texaco branded gasoline stations.

Together with Shell Oil Company, Motiva ranks as a leading refiner in the United States. They collectively account for about 10 percent of the total U.S. refining capacity and a 13 percent share of U.S. gasoline sales.

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Tsunami Could Affect 35 Million on Atlantic, Gulf Coasts

WASHINGTON, DC, March 17, 2005 (ENS) - The potential for devastating tsunamis in the northern Caribbean is high, based on an analysis of historical data since 1492, according to new research by marine scientists supported by the National Science Foundation and the University of Puerto Rico SeaGrant program.

Several natural phenomena could trigger giant tsunamis, they say, with effects felt in the islands of the Greater and Lesser Antilles and along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States.

Nancy Grindlay and Meghan Hearne of the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Paul Mann of the University of Texas at Austin focus on one major source of past tsunamis in the region - movement along the boundary between the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates.

Writing in the March 22 issue of "Eos," a publication of the American Geophysical Union, they say that at least 10 significant tsunamis have been documented in the northern Caribbean since 1492, six of which are known to have resulted in loss of life.

All 10 were triggered by movement along this plate boundary, which lies along the north coast of Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The boundary extends some 2,000 miles from Central America to the Lesser Antilles.

The most recent of the destructive northern Caribbean tsunami occurred in 1946 and was triggered by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in the Dominican Republic. It killed some 1,800 people.

The researchers estimate that with increased populations, especially in coastal areas, some 35.5 million people are now at risk should another strong tsunami hit the northern Caribbean.

Previous tsunamis destroyed Port Royal, Jamaica, in 1692, killed at least 10 Jamaicans on the island's south coast in 1780, and ravaged the north coast of Hispaniola and the Virgin Islands in 1842.

In the pre-1492 period, tsunamis greater than any in the past 500 years may have occurred, the scientists say, based on their study of underwater landslides off the north coast of Puerto Rico.

Grindlay and her team will visit the region later this month to investigate possible linkages between groundwater flow from Puerto Rico and underwater seeps in areas where land has subsided. Such flows, or fluxes, could contribute to small landslides that might trigger tsunamis.

In the future, they hope to drill into the ocean bed to determine when and how often land had collapsed in the prehistoric era.

"The recent devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean has raised public awareness of tsunami hazard and the need for early warning systems in high-risk areas such as the Caribbean," Grindlay said.

An Intra-Americas Sea Tsunami Warning Project proposal has been approved by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, and meetings to plan implementation are scheduled for this spring and summer.

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Forest Service Issues Corporate Style Planning Directives

WASHINGTON, DC, March 17, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service today issued the proposed administrative policy for implementing its new planning regulation, which governs the 155 national forests and 20 grasslands. The public will have 90 days to comment on the policy, which replaces the National Forest Management Act of 1976.

The interim "National Forest System Land Management Planning Directives," a summary of which will be published in the Federal Register in the next several days, can be found in the Forest Service Manual and the Forest Service Handbook, essentially internal "how to" guidebooks.

The directives detail procedural requirements and responsibilities for forest and grassland managers to implement the new planning rule, which became effective January 5.

Forty-two forests will revise their forest plans in the next several years; several units are slated to begin this year.

"This policy direction will provide consistent overall guidance to our line officers as they begin to revise their forest plans using the new planning rule," said Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins. "These instructions are essential for realizing the vision outlined in the new rule-to provide future generations with healthier forests, cleaner air and water, and more abundant wildlife while sustaining a variety of forest uses."

An analysis of the new planning regulation by the law firm WildLaw is critical of the new system. "The new regulations treat the National Forests like a corporation. "These new regulations give economic considerations weight equal to that of ecosystem health," WildLaw writes in its report. "This is circular reasoning because in order for this equation to result in sustained productivity, obviously, the ecosystem must be functional."

WildLaw states that the analysis was written for use by the Forest Service "as a guide on how to implement these new rules effectively and properly so as to avoid any legal problems."

Among many problems that WildLaw cites, one of the most serious is the one dealing with species at risk. "In the section on sustainability, § 219.10, there is no assurance that the interests of endangered species, species of concern and species of special interest will be taken into account," WildLaw writes. "Section 219.10(b)(2) requires the Responsible Official to make provisions for them, but only if he or she determines that necessary; nothing requires consideration of these vulnerable species."

WildLaw points out that the National Forest Management Act requires the Forest Service to develop regulations that, among other things, limit the size of clearcuts, protect streams from logging, ensure prompt reforestation, restrict the annual rate of cutting, as well as determining which land is economically unsuitable for timber production. "These new regulations defer to the Forest Service Directives System in § 219.12(b) for all those requirements."

WildLaw sees this as a possible route for litigation, writing, "This is an attempt to slip out from under specific direction from Congress that could be challenged since the Directives did not in the past have the same legal force as regulations. This areas has great potential for abuse without the public oversight that accompanies regulation."

The directives are effective immediately, but may only be in effect for up to 18 months. Written comments on the directives may be sent to: USDA Forest Service Content Analysis Team, ATTN: Planning Directives, P.O. Box 22777, Salt Lake City, UT 84122. Send faxed comments to 801-517-1015 or e-mailed comments to planningdirectives@fs.fed.us or through www.regulations.gov.

Collins says the final planning directives, which will take into account public comments received during the 90-day comment period, will be released within 18 months.

The new rule and the proposed directives are available at www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma.

The WildLaw analysis is online here.

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Climate Change Impacts Great Lakes Agriculture

URBANA, Illinois, March 17, 2005 (ENS) - Agriculture in Illinois and the entire Great Lakes region will be harmed by a warming climate, warns a new report from the University of Illinois and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

"Farmers in the region are already suffering from wetter spring and fall weather, and the intensity of rainstorms has also increased," says Michelle Wander, University of Illinois Associate Professor of soil fertility and co-author of "Impacts on Agriculture: Our Region's Vital Economic Sector."

Changing precipitation patterns, more extreme rainfall events, rising ozone concentrations, and an increase in pests and pathogens will disrupt current farming practices throughout the region, the scientists say in the document issued March 8

"For farmers, these changes mean crop losses and higher costs," Wander said.

Wander and co-author Steve Clemmer of UCS agree that agriculture is an important part of the solution to global warming and individual farmers can contribute to limiting climate change.

"Practical solutions exist today for farmers to reduce heat-trapping gas emissions from their operations," says Clemmer, research director for the Clean Energy Program at UCS.

"Along with addressing climate change, many of the available solutions also reduce soil erosion, improve air and water quality, and bring additional revenue to farmers and rural communities."

The report shows that by 2030, Illinois summers may resemble those of Oklahoma or Arkansas in terms of average temperature and rainfall. By the end of the century, the researchers say, the Illinois summer climate will generally resemble the arid conditions of east Texas.

Maximum daily temperatures could rise by 5 to 12 degrees in winter and 5 to 20 degrees in summer in the Great Lakes region.

Drought frequency will likely increase due to the combination of higher summer temperatures, evaporation, runoff from intense rainfall events and decline in summer precipitation.

"Ozone is particularly damaging to soybeans and horticultural crops, and soybean yields in the region are already reduced approximately 25 percent by ozone damage. But high heat and associated heat stress will also reduce corn yields in the south and western parts of the region," said Wander.

Ranges for damaging crop pests are expanding northward as the climate warms, bean leaf beetles and corn borers are already on the move. "Hot, dry summers may worsen yield losses due to corn rootworm larvae. Excess moisture and humidity can increase the frequency of gray leaf spot, crazy top, andsmut in corn. Later in the century, drought will likely increase the damage inflicted by soybean cyst nematodes, the scientists predict.

Wander and Clemmer recommend incentives to sequester carbon on marginal lands and renewable energy standards for electricity and transportation. Clemmer says competition from renewable energy would lower natural gas and fertilizer prices.

"Over the past two years, the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] has provided $44 million from the Farm Bill to support 280 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects on American farms," said Clemmer. "Projects funded in the first year alone will produce enough electricity to supply the annual needs of 30,000 households while creating 1,300 new jobs and greatly reducing carbon dioxide emissions."

Best practices in soil management such as no-till, reduced tillage, and crop diversification including the use of cover crops could enhance short-term soil carbon storage.

Impacts on Agriculture report can be found at: www.ucsusa.org/greatlakes/glchallengereport.html at the bottom of the page.

The comprehensive report on which the agriculture report is based "Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region" is found at: www.ucsusa.org/greatlakes/.

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Unpermitted Off-Road Race Risk to California Desert Wildlife

CALIFORNIA CITY, California, March 17, 2005 (ENS) - Off-road vehicle racing promoters and California City are planning an unpermitted off-road race within important habitat area for endangered species, including the desert tortoise, conservationists say.

The BP Motorsports SuperCourse Desert Gran Prix is a two hour event on a 10 to 12 mile racecourse. Saturday's Gran Prix is the first event, of an eight event, 2005 Hi-Dez SuperCourse Desert Gran Prix Series in California City.

Daniel Patterson of the Center for Biological Diversity says that in addition to the endangered tortoise, species at risk during these races are the Mojave ground squirrel, Barstow wooly sunflower, and desert cymopterus.

The California Department of Fish and Game has informed California City officials that such racing would be illegal without biological and public review under the California Environmental Quality Act," Patterson says.

No such review has been undertaken by the city, and proper state and/or federal permits have not been obtained for the race through fragile desert habitat, he says.

"Tortoises, ground squirrels, and other wildlife are very active this time of year, placing them at high risk of death, injury, or stress from off-road vehicles," Patterson says. Off-road racing also creates air pollution harmful to human and wildlife health.

When questioned by the Center, a California City official said he was not aware of any mitigation plans, or that any biologists would be present to sweep the race course for animals.

BP Motorsports says it is running the race in an environmentally responsible manner. "We encourage everyone to bring plenty of trash bags and receptacles in order to keep the California City desert clean. As promoters, we will also make sure that when the race is over everything will be removed and clean, including watering necessary areas and grading damaged spots. We ask everyone’s help in maintaining these areas clean."

BP Motorsports says part of each participant's entry fee will go to the city of California City.

The Center for Biological Diversity is asking California City and race promoters to halt this Saturday’s race until proper review and permitting can ensure no threat to endangered wildlife, and is asking the state and federal wildlife agencies to enforce conservation law.

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Bill Introduced to Designate New Jersey Wild and Scenic River

WASHINGTON, DC, March 17, 2005 (ENS) - Congressman Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican, has reintroduced a bill to include the Musconetcong River in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. A major tributary of the Delaware River, the Musconetcong flows through northern New Jersey.

The conservation group American Rivers says that in addition to excellent recreational opportunities, the Musconetcong watershed provides critical habitat for state listed endangered species and lies within one of four major migratory bird routes in North America.

“We commend Congressman Garrett for his strong commitment to protecting New Jersey’s wild river heritage and we hope to see the House pass the bill before Congress adjourns this year,” said Quinn McKew of American Rivers. “This bill would be a win for local communities and the people of New Jersey who have worked for years to protect the Musconetcong.”

The Musconetcong Wild and Scenic River Act would protect nearly 25 miles as a scenic or recreational river. The conservation group views designation as a Wild and Scenic River as a way of preserving farmland and open space within the river corridor.

If the current legislation passes, the Musconetcong will become New Jersey’s third wild and scenic river joining the lower and middle Delaware rivers.

Currently, there are 163 wild and scenic rivers in the United States, totaling 11,302.9 miles.

“The Musconetcong is an excellent example of how people can make a difference for their river,” McKew said. “Congress should heed the wishes of the local communities along the river and pass Representative Garrett’s bill to name the Musconetcong a Wild and Scenic River.”

The 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act requires that for designation a river must be free-flowing and must be deemed to have one or more "outstandingly remarkable" scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values.

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Florida to Buy First Land for St. Johns River Blueway

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, March 17, 2005 (ENS) - Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet today voted to acquire 731 acres in St. Johns County for the St. Johns River Blueway conservation project. The Northeast Florida land, one mile east of the banks of the state’s longest river, is the first to be conserved as part of the 27,997 acre project.

“This acquisition is the first of a Florida Forever project that will protect land along the St. Johns River,” said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Colleen Castille.

“When complete, the project will conserve undeveloped shoreline, enhance water quality and protect archaeological and historical resources along the 310-mile waterway," she said.

The St. Johns River Blueway Florida Forever project contains close to 28,000 acres of floodplain swamp and forested lands, and bounds the Watson Island State Forest and the west bank of the St. Johns River.

The project will conserve habitat for threatened Florida wildlife including the bald eagle.

The 731 acres will be purchased for $2 million, or 91 percent of the approved value. The St. Johns River Water Management District will manage the new acquisition as an addition to the Deep Creek Conservation Area.

The 10 year, $3 billion Florida Forever program conserves environmentally sensitive land, restores waterways and preserves important cultural and historical resources. Visit www.floridaforever.org.

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