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AmeriScan: March 18, 2005

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Nevada Senators Ask AG to Investigate Yucca Deception

WASHINGTON, DC, March 18, 2005 (ENS) - Nevada Senators Harry Reid, a Democrat, and John Ensign, a Republican, are jointly calling upon the U.S. Attorney General and the Director of the FBI to investigate falsely documented work at the Yucca Mountain Project (YMP).

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced Thursday that for years, some employees working on the licensing of the only U.S. high-level nuclear waste repository have falsified their work and records.

In a letter sent Thursday, Reid and Ensign asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller to protect any documents, correspondence or other information associated with the DOE’s work and to initiate an independent investigation.

"We respectfully request that you take any actions necessary to preserve and protect any memoranda, reports, analyses, models, documents, correspondence, and other information associated with the Department of Energy’s license application for the YMP," the senators wrote.

"In addition, we request that you seek to protect and preserve any and all archival electronic messages and all records previously and currently being reviewed for placement on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Licensing Support Network."

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said, “During the document review process associated with the Licensing Support Network preparation for the Yucca Mountain project, DOE contractors discovered multiple emails written between May 1998 and March 2000, in which a USGS employee indicated that he had fabricated documentation of his work.

Announcements made Thursday by the Secretary of Energy and the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey "called into question the quality, validity and integrity of the scientific review and quality assurance processes associated with the YMP," the senators said.

"In light of these questions," the Nevada senators wrote, "we also are asking that you initiate an independent investigation of the document review and DOE’s license application" to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the Yucca Mountain Project.

Secretary Bodman has asked the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General to conduct a full investigation.

Yucca Mountain is located in a desert on federal land within the boundaries of the Nevada Test Site in Nye County, Nevada. It is approximately 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Yucca Mountain would accept highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods from the nation's 103 nuclear reactors and radioactive material left from nuclear weapons production.

Plans are to send some 77,000 tons of nuclear waste by road and rail to the facility, which is supposed to safely isolate this waste for at least 10,000 years.

Reid and Ensign propose that the nuclear waste be stabilized where it is at 126 sites in 39 states. Over the past five years, various studies have faulted the Yucca Mountain Project, targeting plans to hold the waste at temperatures above the boiling point of water, and pointing out that the area is geologically unstable, among many other complaints.

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Acid Rain Stunts Eastern Forests

ALBANY, New York, March 18, 2005 (ENS) - A recent international scientific study on Russian soils raises concerns that acid rain may have serious implications for forest growth in the United States, particularly in eastern areas such as the Adirondack and Catskill regions of New York according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

"We've known that acid rain acidifies surface waters, but this is the first time we've been able to compare and track tree growth in forests that include soil changes due to acid rain," said USGS scientist Greg Lawrence, who headed the study.

The team included scientists from Russia, the State University of New York at Albany, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Lawrence said that despite several decades of research, up until now acid rain effects on forests have not been well known, largely because it has not been known how acid rain affects soil.

"Russians invented the study of soil science and through their help, a large step forward has been taken in measuring acid rain effects on soils and trees," he said. "By providing the only preserved soil in the world collected before the acid rain era, the Russians helped our international team track tree growth for the first time with changes in soil from acid rain."

Conducted near St. Petersburg, Russia, the study showed that in about 50 years, acid rain had degraded a previously fertile soil to the point at which spruce trees could no longer maintain healthy growth rates.

"Poor growth rates such as these generally precede high mortality rates in the near future. The declining tree health has occurred despite a warmer and wetter climate in this region that would be expected to improve growth," Lawrence said.

These results have direct relevance to the United States, where large areas of eastern forests, such as the Adirondack and Catskill regions of New York, have soils that are likely to be more sensitive to acid rain than those studied in Russia.

Lawrence said that these findings broaden the question of recovery from acid rain beyond that of just surface waters.

Details of the study have been posted in the March online version of "Environmental Science and Technology Journal."

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Citizen Alternative to Cibola Forest Plan Would Leave Big Trees

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, March 18, 2005 (ENS) - A coalition of homeowners and environmental groups has asked the Cibola National Forest to consider an alternative proposal to restore forests in the Manzano Mountains that would not require logging and road building. The homeowners, each of whom lives on private land within the boundaries of the Cibola National Forest, are opposed to the draft Forest Service plan.

The Forest Service is proposing to commercially log and burn 17,500 acres of public forestlands along Tajique Creek on the Cibola National Forest over seven to 10 years. The Service says the proposed actions will reduce fire hazard and return the planning area to within its natural range of variability.

The Tajique project is the first in New Mexico under the Bush administration's controversial "Healthy Forests Restoration Act" (HFRA).

The Forest Service proposal includes clearcutting of 605 acres and construction or reconstruction of 28 miles of roads in a forest that currently has three times the number of legal roads.

The conservation group Forest Guardians says, "This action would permanently scar the landscape, pollute water, and increase fire danger. Furthermore, fire danger would be increased instead of reduced by removing the large fire resistant trees, leaving behind mountains of flammable logging debris, and significantly increasing ignitions via road construction and the inevitable rise in access."

The Tajique Watershed Citizen's Alternative asks that there be no new road construction; closure and decommissioning of at least enough road miles to bring the planning area into compliance with the Cibola Management Plan; and no landscape level logging or thinning.

The citizens and environmental groups are concerned that the logging and burning planned by the Service will impact Mexican spotted owl and northern goshawk territories and they ask that no logging of trees greater than nine inches in diameter be conducted in bird habitat areas.

They ask for an increased law enforcement presence, especially after business hours "to prevent tree and animal poaching, human fire starts, and illegal off-road vehicle use," and they ask for increased fire patrols and Capilla Peak Fire Tower observation days.

They ask that the area be closed during extreme fire danger periods, and that whatever wildland fires occur naturally be managed, but that no new fires be set.

Finally, they request that a citizen oversight committee be created to work with the Service in integrating monitoring information into an adaptive management plan.

Located in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma, the mountainous 1,949,637 acre Cibola National Forest ranges in elevation from 5,000-11,301 feet. There are four wildernesses contained within the forest - the Sandia Mountain, Manzano Mountain, Withington, and Apache Kid.

The project area is located in the Tajique watershed, which is on the east side of the Manzano Mountains, about 60 miles southwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico and west of the communities of Tajique and Torreon.

The Forest Service says the project would begin in the summer of 2005 and would take seven to 10 years to complete.

"The Tajique watershed is considered to be in poor health and habitats are impaired from decades of fire suppression and past livestock management practices," the Service says in its proposal.

"The purpose of this project is to create a more structurally diverse forest by increasing stand and age class diversity, maintaining the health of legacy trees, and reducing the potential for loss of diversity due to destructive wildfire."

The Tajique proposal is not visible on the front page of the Cibola National Forest website. Click here to see the original proposal.

Email your comments to the Cibola National Forest by Monday, March 21. Contact: Deborah Walker, NEPA Coordinator; Cibola National Forest; Email: [email protected], Phone: 505-346-3888 or 505-346-3900.

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Environmental Mercury, Autism Linked by New Research

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, March 18, 2005 (ENS) - For every 1,000 pounds of mercury released into the environment in Texas counties there is a multiple-digit increase in the rate of autism, a study by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has found.

The study compared mercury totals reported for 2001 in the 254 Texas counties to the rate of autism and special education services in nearly 1,200 Texas school districts. The districts, which range from urban to small metro to rural, enroll four million Texas children.

"The main finding is that for every 1,000 pounds of environmentally released mercury, we saw a 17 percent increase in autism rates," said lead author Raymond Palmer, Ph.D., associate professor in the Health Science Center's department of family and community medicine.

Autism is a developmental disorder that varies in severity in individuals and is characterized by impaired ability to engage in normal social behavior and by behavior patterns such as repetitive motions and sounds. Autism is estimated to occur in as many as one in 200 children and is reported to be rising in prevalence, although statistics vary.

Palmer and his team note that the new research "has implications for toxic substance regulation and prevention policies. The effects of differing state policies regarding toxic release of mercury on the incidence of developmental disorders should be investigated."

Large scale mercury exposures such as accidental spills long have been implicated with developmental disabilities, but this study is among the first to examine the relationship between potentially chronic, low-dose mercury exposure and a developmental disorder such as autism, Palmer said.

Mercury is the third-most frequently found toxic substance nationwide, after arsenic and lead.

Coal-burning power plants, which supply energy to cities and generally are in close proximity to population centers, release more mercury than any other source in the United States. Texas is fourth among the states in reported mercury releases, after California, Oregon and West Virginia.

Using statistical modeling, the researchers showed that increases in the rate of special education services were associated with higher mercury release levels. However, "it is the increase in autism that explains this relationship" in Texas, Palmer said.

The authors cautioned that the study is an ecological investigation based on county level and school district data. This type of study does not lend itself to interpretation at the level of the individual.

More investigation is needed, the researchers say as this study does not assess changes in mercury levels over time as a predictor of rates of change in developmental disorders.

The Bush administration on Tuesday finalized regulations ordering coal-fired power plants to cut mercury pollution under acontroversial emissions trading plan rather than by installing the maximum available control technology.

The states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania have already announced that they will challenge the rule in court and other states, along with several environmental groups, are likely to sue as well.

Mercury emissions from the nation's 1,300 power plants are currently unregulated. These facilities emit some 48 tons of mercury each year, accounting for about 40 percent of the nation's mercury pollution.

Exposure to mercury, usually through eating contaminated fish, can cause permanent neurological damage in humans and reproductive harm in wildlife.

Young children whose brains are still developing, and women of childbearing age are most at risk from the toxic metal.

The study is published in the peer-reviewed journal "Health & Place," an Elsevier Ltd. publication. Co-authors are Claudia S. Miller, M.D., from the department of family and community medicine at the Health Science Center; Zachary Stein from San Antonio; Stephen Blanchard, Ph.D., of the department of sociology at Our Lady of the Lake University; and David Mandell, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research.

The team is working on a second report that will investigate the association between mercury and autism rates over time.

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San Jose Ordered to Clean Wastewater Mess

SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 18, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered the city of San Jose, California to strengthen its program that regulates wastewater from industrial facilities, as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

The center of Silicon Valley, San Jose treats wastewater containing chemicals and toxics from 349 facilities and discharges the wastewater into a waterway that flows into the San Francisco Bay.

On Thursday, the EPA ordered San Jose to correct serious deficiencies in the program that regulates industrial facilities discharging toxic pollutants to the city's sewers and wastewater treatment plant. The EPA had ordered San Jose to correct similar violations in 1991.

The city must comply with the requirements in the EPA's order in several stages over the next two years, or face fines of up to $32,500 per day.

"Municipalities such as San Jose must ensure that all industrial dischargers comply with permit limits for toxic pollutants," said Alexis Strauss, the director of the EPA's water division for the Pacific Southwest region. "San Jose's inadequate control over these facilities jeopardizes the sewer system and has led to increases in discharges of toxic pollutants to San Francisco Bay."

The EPA discovered the violations during an audit of San Jose's program conducted between January and August 2004.

EPA inspectors found errors in industrial permits, inadequate inspections of facilities, and the failure to ensure facilities were not illegally discharging untreated wastewater to the treatment plant.

The EPA inspected 13 facilities and found significant errors in 12 of the permits, including incorrect pollutant limits.

San Jose must reissue permits to 170 industrial facilities and establish a more effective program to assess the compliance of each facility with environmental requirements.

Last fall, the EPA ordered four of the industries that were inspected - Son Manufacturing, P.K. Selective Metal Plating, Inc., APTOS Corporation, and Pacific Aerospace, Inc. - to correct deficiencies in how they treat and monitor toxic pollutants.

Three of the facilities have corrected the violations. The EPA is working with the last facility, Pacific Aerospace, to resolve the remaining violations.

The EPA's order to San Jose and general information on EPA's pretreatment program are available here.

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Developer Fined for Discharge on Nevada Tribal Lands

SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 18, 2005 (ENS) - A fine of $76,800 has been proposed against a Minden, Nevada developer to resolve violations of the federal Clean Water Act observed during construction of a 63 acre housing development on tribal lands in Douglas County.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to levy the penalty against PTP, Inc. to correct violations of federal storm water requirements. The proposal is open for public comment until April 8.

The violations were discovered during a November 2003 inspection of the Pine View Estates, a 240 single-family home subdivision located about seven miles southeast of Gardnerville.

EPA inspectors determined that PTP had been discharging polluted storm water into the nearby East Fork Carson River without a permit since 1999.

The inspectors found that PTP had not installed any required control measures to stop pollutants from flowing into the river during construction. The river is located approximately three miles from the site.

EPA inspectors also noted that the developer had not stabilized several acres of soil, which is required to prevent erosion and is particularly critical during the rainy season.

In December 2003, the EPA ordered PTP, Inc. to correct violations of federal stormwater requirements

In addition to the penalty, the EPA has ordered PTP to correct the violations, submit a revised pollution prevention plan, and provide documentation indicating that the violations had been corrected. PTP has complied with that order.

The civil penalty also resolves PTP Inc.’s alleged violation of the Construction General Permit that occurred after PTP Inc. obtained authorization to discharge storm water under this permit in February 2004.

"Runoff from construction projects can pose a serious threat to water quality," said Alexis Strauss, the director of the EPA's water division for the Pacific Southwest region. "The Clean Water Act requires developers to comply with permit requirements and take simple, basic steps to prevent pollutants from contaminating storm water."

When it rains, the water that flows through streets, lawns and parks - storm water - runs untreated directly into the nearest lake or river. At construction sites, said Strauss, storm water can pick up pollutants such as sediment and debris and carry these pollutants directly into the nearest body of water. Large amounts of sediment flowing into waterways can destroy aquatic habitats, and high volumes of storm water can erode stream banks.

On Nevada tribal lands, the EPA is responsible for administering the storm water program. On non-tribal lands, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection administers the program. Both agencies require that all construction projects larger than one acre obtain a discharge permit by applying for coverage under the general construction permit.

The public can review and comment on the EPA's proposed settlement with PTP here.

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Pennsylvania Public Meetings on Chesapeake Tributary Strategy

WILLIAMSPORT, Pennsylvania, March 18, 2005 (ENS) - Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay tributary strategy to reduce storm water runoff, and other pollutants, is new and needs public explanation, state environmental officials have determined. A series of public meetings will take place this month in an outreach effort to gain public understanding and cooperation.

The strategy calls for reducing nutrient and sediment loads to Pennsylvania streams and the Chesapeake Bay from urban storm water runoff and septic systems, agriculture, and wastewater treatment plants.

The Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategy identifies a number of nonpoint source best management practices as well as point source management approaches that will be necessary to meet new Chesapeake Bay water quality goals adopted by Pennsylvania in 2004.

For the first time, Pennsylvania’s tributary strategy is built upon 13 individual strategies for watersheds in the Susquehanna and Potomac basins, says Robert Yowell, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Protection's Northcentral District.

“During the meeting, DEP staff will review the recently published tributary strategy, answer questions on its development and ask for input from various stakeholders on its implementation,” Yowell said.

The strategy identifies the full range of activities needed, regardless of their cost, so planning can begin for the new initiatives that will be needed to support tributary strategy implementation.

The new nutrient and sediment reduction goals for Pennsylvania include reduction of nitrogen discharges to the Bay to 71.9 million pounds. This is about two and a half times the previous 1987 goal of 15.5 million pounds.

Phosphorus discharges to the Bay must be reduced to no more than 2.47 million pounds, and sediment discharges to the Bay must be reduced to no more than 0.995 million tons.

The public meetings will be held at 7 pm March 22 in Lebanon in Lebanon County; and March 23 in Gettysburg in Adams County. The final meeting will take place Wednesday, March 30 in the Williamsport regional office of the Department of Environmental Protection.

The Bay tidal states - Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia - are scheduled to adopt new water quality standards sometime this year. These standards will implement the water quality criteria published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and be sufficient to support the living resources of the Bay.

The Clean Water Act establishes an obligation on an “upstream” state to ensure that the standards of a “downstream” state can be met, so the Pennsylvania DEP says its staff will develop an implementation strategy for point source permitting to address how downstream water quality standards for the Chesapeake Bay will be met.

For more information on the Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategy, visit www.dep.state.pa.us, Keyword “Chesapeake Bay.”

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