AmeriScan: March 22, 2006

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71 Congressional Representatives Urge Budget Increase for Renewables

WASHINGTON, DC, March 22, 2006 (ENS) - Seventy-one congressional representatives are urging increased financial support for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) sustainable energy programs in a letter being delivered this week to the members of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations.

The letter, led by Representatives Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, and Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican, was signed by 64 Democrats and seven Republicans.

It stresses the need to restore funding for the geothermal, hydropower, and key energy efficiency accounts targeted for deep cuts or elimination by the White House in its Fiscal Year 2007 budget request.

“At a time when the price of gasoline is exceeding $2 per gallon, a barrel of oil is over $60, and natural gas is more than $6/mmBtu, we believe cutbacks in DOE's core EE/RE [energy efficiency/renewable energy] programs are short-sighted," the letter says.

Several of the DOE's core renewable energy programs have been targeted for elimination, including the geothermal, hydropower, and solar heating and lighting programs, the letter points out.

Some core energy efficiency accounts are also targeted. The Building Codes Training and Assistance program would be eliminated, the weatherization program would be cut 32 percent, the vehicle technologies program would lose nine percent, and the industrial technologies program would be cut by 20 percent, under the Bush budget request.

In their letter to David Hobson, chairman, and Peter Visclosky, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Energy & Water of the House Committee on Appropriations the legislators write, “We therefore strongly urge you to develop an appropriations bill for FY07 that restores funding for those EE/RE programs being recommended for cuts to at least FY2006 levels (with hydropower restored to FY2005 levels), while accepting the President's recommended [increased] funding levels for solar photovoltaics, wind, biofuels, fuel cells, and renewably-based hydrogen.

“We note that even at the levels we are proposing, funding for the nation's renewable energy and energy efficiency programs would still be well below the levels authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. We estimate that funding at these levels would close roughly 5% of the gap between the authorizations in EPAct and the Administration's proposed FY 2007 budget.”

"Further cuts will only increase U.S. vulnerability to energy supply disruptions, worsen fuel price volatility, increase energy imports, and cause higher energy prices overall unnecessarily," the letter points out, "while also ceding lucrative energy efficiency and renewable energy product markets to other countries, such as Japan and Germany."

"The American people have repeatedly signaled their support for renewable energy and energy efficient technologies," the legislators write. "They understand that EE/RE programs can help address the most critical flaw in our nation's security: our economy's perilous reliance on foreign sources of energy."

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Largest U.S. Coal Strip Mine Threatens Tribal Water Source

KAYENTA, Arizona, March 22, 2006 (ENS) - A bid by coal mining giant Peabody Energy to increase by 50 percent its use of water at the Black Mesa mine threatens the main source of drinking water for many Hopi and Navajo in northeastern Arizona, finds a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

NRDC said new data contradict the government’s claims that Peabody’s groundwater pumping is within legal limits established to protect Hopi and Navajo water supplies.

Peabody’s recent petition for “life of mine” access to Navajo Aquifer (N-Aquifer) water should be denied, NRDC said, because the aquifer already has suffered “material damage.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior has claimed that available information shows that there is no evidence the aquifer has suffered “material damage,” a scientific threshold established under federal law.

The NRDC report, entitled "Drawdown: An Update on Groundwater Mining on Black Mesa," says new data show an aquifer in decline and that decades of industrial pumping already have caused the aquifer material harm, according to the U.S. government’s own criteria.

“Government bureaucrats are ignoring clear violations of their own rules to protect the aquifer,” said Timothy Grabiel, principal author of the NRDC report. “They have let Peabody pump billions of gallons of pure drinking water to sustain its antiquated industrial coal slurry operation. The government should deny Peabody’s request, heed its own monitoring results and fix the flaws in its oversight system.”

Peabody has been mining coal on the Hopi and Navajo reservations since the 1960s, following exploration agreements with the Native American Indian Nations. Under the agreements, the tribes receive royalties for coal that is extracted.

Because of concern at the time about possible damage to the aquifer caused by the massive water pumping - on average, 3 million gallons a day - then-Interior Secretary Stewart Udall included an escape clause to the agreement.

Yet despite numerous studies and now-obvious signs of negative impacts, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), an agency within the Department of the Interior, maintains that there has been no material damage, and it has failed to invoke the escape clause.

NRDC works on Black Mesa in conjunction with many local partners, including the Black Mesa Trust.

“The Black Mesa aquifer has been a source of pure drinking water for Native Americans for over a thousand years,” said Vernon Masayesva, former chairman of the Hopi Tribe, and current executive director of the Black Mesa Trust. “Peabody’s continued drawdown of this vital resource is an insult to our cultural and religious heritage.”

Until late last year, Peabody annually withdrew more than a billion gallons of drinking water from the aquifer to produce coal slurry, a pulverized coal and water combination that was transported by pipeline 273 miles to the Mojave Generating Station, a power plant in Nevada.

Although the power plant recently was shut down in a consent decree over air pollution, Peabody is seeking to extend its permit to operate the mine, anticipating that the power plant may be retrofitted, and come back online. Peabody’s mine permit application assumes indefinite access to Navajo water.

“The use of over one billion gallons of precious, clean water in one of our nation’s most arid regions to slurry coal is a colossal waste,” said David Beckman, co-author of the original Drawdown report and project director of the Drawdown update. “There are alternatives to this wasteful practice, such as using methanol-based slurry, substituting low-grade water, re-circulating the same water through the system more than once, or other forms of transport that do not rely on slurry.”

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Oroville Dam Agreement Benefits Feather River, Fish, Local Community

OROVILLE, California, March 22, 2006 (ENS) - Salmon and steelhead of the Feather River, along with the many people who fish and boat there, will benefit from an agreement covering operations of the Oroville hydroelectric project, that was signed Tuesday in Oroville. The agreement forms the basis of a new 50 year operating license for the project.

The agreement is the result of two years of negotiations among over 40 parties including American Rivers, federal and state agencies, local governments, water providers and Native American tribes. It will now be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval.

At 770 feet high, Oroville Dam is the tallest in the United States. It is the main water storage facility for California’s State Water Project, which supplies water to some 23 million municipal and agricultural customers from San Diego to Redding.

Owned by the state and operated by the Department of Water Resources (DWR), the project has a electricity generating capacity of 750MW.

The agreement will remedy some of the impacts caused by the project’s operations.

To restore salmon and steelhead habitat, downstream of the dam, DWR will improve flows and water temperatures, add spawning gravels and large woody debris, and restore floodplain and side-channel habitat.

The DWR will add river access points and campsites to create a 15 mile long Feather River bluewater trail. A new park with trails, picnic areas, an interpretive center and boat launching areas will be constructed. DWR will also fund a study to determine the feasibility of constructing whitewater recreation facilities in Oroville.

Community benefits include $50 million that DWR will allocate to river-related projects to stimulate economic activity in the area and reconnect the community with the river.

To mitigate for the loss of upstream spawning habitat, DWR and Pacific Gas & Electric, which operates dams upstream on the Feather and in other river basins, will work with agencies and other stakeholders to evaluate fish passage opportunities in the Feather and surrounding river basins and implement the most promising project.

“For years the Oroville project has harmed salmon and steelhead habitat and has limited opportunities for fishing, boating and other recreation,” said Steve Rothert of American Rivers. “This agreement restores some balance to the river, and includes many benefits for clean water, fish and wildlife and local communities.”

“We have a responsibility to fix some of the damage dams cause to our rivers,” Rothert said. “It is simple common sense to bring these old dams up to date with today’s science, technology, and laws. This agreement for Oroville Dam makes both environmental and economic sense.”

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Hawaiian Electric Company Jumpstarts State Ethanol Industry

HONOLULU, Hawaii, March 21, 2006 (ENS) - The Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) moved the home-grown ethanol industry a big step forward on Tuesday. HECO President Mike May announced that the company intends to burn a mixture of plant-based ethanol and naptha to fuel its new Campbell Industrial Park Generating Station, set to open in 2009.

Ethanol can be produced from plants grown specifically for fuel like switchgrass and by waste plant materials like sugar cane bagasse and yard waste.

Naptha is currently refined in excess in Hawaii, so no new crude oil would have to be imported to meet the needs of the new power plant.

With this long term commitment from HECO to purchase their product, May said, local ethanol producers can go to the banks to get financing for land and production facililties.

The use of an ethanol blend will depend on the level of interest generated and resolving the environmental, logistical and operational impacts of receiving, storing, blending and burning ethanol at the proposed new unit site.

May said HECO also is considering blending ethanol with diesel in existing diesel-fired generating units on Maui, Oahu and Hawaii Island.

He said HECO wants to encourage a local ethanol energy future for the state, to replace some of the imported fossil fuels that now supply 90 percent of Hawaii's energy needs.

Ethanol development will help keep Hawaii green by using agricultural lands no longer needed for sugar and pineapple, said May, and will help to meet the state's commitment to obtain 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2020.

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Arizona Developer Sentenced for Exposing Workers to Asbestos

PHOENIX, Arizona, March 22, 2006 (ENS) - Jeffery L. Springer of Phoenix, Arizona was sentenced Monday to three years of probation, $2,000 in fines, and $75,000 in restitution to victims for violating the Clean Air Act, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Previously, Springer pleaded guilty in the Arizona Federal District Court for failing to comply with work practice standards required for the safe removal and packaging of asbestos during the demolition of a commercial building.

“This prosecution for illegal asbestos removal demonstrates, once again, that environmental crimes endanger workers,” said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Springer has also been sentenced to a period of up to 90 days of home confinement, contingent upon the recommendation of the probation officer.

Springer is the former owner of Oljato Industries and its industrial facility, which consisted of several buildings in Phoenix. Between July and September of 2000, Springer hired workers to demolish the buildings at the site but failed to perform the required site survey prior to the demolition.

During a separate assessment by local environmental inspectors, it was determined that about 2,550 square feet of asbestos existed at the site. Inspectors conducted inspections during the demolition and found that Springer was not following several requirements for asbestos removal, including wetting the material or providing workers with the appropriate protective equipment.

None of the workers was trained in the handling of asbestos.

“Asbestos is a known carcinogen. Exposing untrained workers to asbestos is inexcusable," said Paul Charlton, U.S. Attorney for Arizona.

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Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Reserve Poised for Designation

WASHINGTON, DC, March 22, 2006 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Estuarine Research Reserve System has released the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Management Plan for the proposed Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) in Texas.

Mission-Aransas includes 185,708 acres and would be the third largest reserve in the system. The reserve includes wetland, upland and marine environments typically found in the western Gulf of Mexico.

Publication of the EIS sets in motion the final steps for official designation of the 27th member of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System.

The new Mission-Aransas NERR will be located in Aransas and Refugio counties about 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi on the Texas coast. A designation ceremony is scheduled for May 6 in Port Aransas, Texas.

“Estuarine Reserves are living laboratories,” said John Dunnigan, NOAA assistant administrator for National Ocean Service. “They provide essential wildlife habitat and great opportunities for discovery and research for the public, teachers and students and scientists.”

The Mission-Aransas site was proposed as a National Estuarine Research Reserve by Texas Governor Rick Perry in March 2004, after a two year site selection process. The reserve will be managed by the University of Texas at Austin's Marine Science Institute.

“The western Gulf of Mexico has a number of unique features, including coastal prairies, oak mottes and extensive black mangrove communities that will help broaden the understanding of estuarine ecosystems nationwide, said site manager Paul Montagna.

“Research and monitoring here will help coastal decision makers manage these vital resources on a foundation of sound science, and it will help to educate the next generation of marine scientists and decision makers. This is good for Texas and good for the nation," he said.

Laurie McGilvray, chief of NOAA’s Estuarine Reserves Division, said, “The Texas reserve will expand our national reach into an unrepresented biogeographic area. It offers the local community an incredible resource to help them monitor their estuary, provide educational programs and advance the state of knowledge around this important natural resource.”

The reserve will attract scientists and students from all over the nation to study at the site, including up to two national graduate research fellows funded annually by NOAA.

NERR designation ensures access to funding for research and education programs, environmental monitoring and science-based training programs for coastal managers and decisionmakers.

View the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve EIS and Management Plan at: http://www.utmsi.utexas.edu/nerr/

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Orangutans Literally Dying for Cookies

NEW YORK, New York, March 22, 2006 (ENS) - In a full-page ad in "The New York Times," the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says orangutans are literally dying for cookies, as food manufacturers are replacing artery clogging partially hydrogenated oils with palm oil in cookies, crackers, cereals, and microwave popcorn.

CSPI's ad shows a baby orangutan sitting amidst skulls of adult orangutans with the headline "Dying for a Cookie?"

Increased demand for palm oil is fueling destruction of the rainforest habitats of Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, pushing those and other already endangered species even closer to extinction, according to CSPI and other conservation organizations.

The ad urges consumers to read labels and to select products with non-hydrogenated soybean, corn, canola, or peanut oils, all of which are more environmentally friendly and better for human hearts and arteries than palm oil.

"We can find other ways of making cookies," the ad reads. "We can't find other ways of making orangutans."

CSPI, based in Washington, DC, has led efforts to get trans fats out of foods, calling on food manufacturers to use as little palm oil as possible and to seek it out from environmentally sustainable sources.

"As it happens, palm oil is almost as conducive to heart disease as the partially hydrogenated oil it is frequently replacing," said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson. "But much of the increased demand for palm oil is being satisfied by growers in Malaysia and Indonesia, whose authoritarian regimes turn a blind eye to the environmental destruction."

Palm oil is forecast to overtake soybean oil as the world's most produced and traded edible oil by 2012.

Malaysia and Indonesia account for 83 percent of palm oil production, according to Cruel Oil, a 2005 CSPI report on the health and environmental consequences of palm oil.

Since the 1970s, the area planted with oil palm in Indonesia has grown more than 30-fold to almost 12,000 square miles. In Malaysia, the area devoted to oil palm has increased 12-fold to 13,500 square miles.

As rainforest is cleared for oil palm plantations, orangutans and other species have less room to roam and reproduce and become easier targets for poachers.

Borneo's orangutan population was reduced by a third in just one year, 1997, when almost 8,000 were either burned to death or massacred as they tried to flee fires set to clear rainforest for new plantations.

In an alert posted on its web site CSPI calls on H. Lee Scott, Jr., president and CEO of Wal-Mart, to adopt a corporate policy on sustainable palm oil. CSPI says that as the nation's biggest grocery retailer, Wal-Mart should reformulate its house brands to use as little of the ingredient as possible, to seek out sustainable sources for the palm oil it does use, and to insist that its suppliers to do the same.

"Fortunately, many companies that have reformulated their products to remove partially hydrogenated oils have been able to do so by using healthier oils," Jacobson said. "Palm oil should be treated as an ingredient of last resort by consumers and corporations alike."

See CSPI's ad at: http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/cspi_palm_fnl2.pdf

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