AmeriScan: March 7, 2007

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States Letting Air Polluters Off the Hook

WASHINGTON, DC, March 7, 2007 (ENS) - Eighteen or more states are failing to collect a total of $52.8 million in fees from power plants, refineries, chemical plants and other major sources than called for by the minimum standard set by the federal Clean Air Act, according to a new report released today.

The study, by the Environmental Integrity Project, warns that the fees are needed to ensure that states are adequately monitoring pollution, developing air quality plans and enforcing permits for major sources of air pollution.

"States are shortchanging either the public health or the pockets of taxpayers by setting emission fees that are too low to cover the cost of Clean Air Act enforcement programs," said Environmental Integrity Project Director Eric Schaeffer, a former enforcement official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "Only the polluters come out ahead of the game under an arrangement where states let them off the hook rather doing what they are supposed to under federal law that requires the industry to foot the bill for these vital monitoring and enforcement efforts."

The report identified the shortfall in pollution fees over individual years from 2002 to 2005 for the following states:

  • Louisiana ($9.8 million/68 percent below minimum level);
  • Texas ($5.6 million/22 percent below minimum level);
  • North Carolina ($5.4 million/56 percent below minimum level);
  • Florida ($4.8 million/37 percent below minimum level);
  • Michigan ($3.9 million/44 percent below minimum level);
  • Alabama ($3.6 million/40 percent below minimum level);
  • Indiana ($3.6 million/29 percent below minimum level);
  • West Virginia ($3.5 million/45 percent below minimum level);
  • Colorado ($2.8 million/66 percent below minimum level);
  • Oklahoma ($2.7 million/39 percent below minimum level);
  • Kansas ($2.1 million/37 percent below minimum level);
  • North Dakota ($1.7 million/70 percent below minimum level);
  • Kentucky ($1.7 million/19 percent below minimum level);
  • Wyoming ($1.7 million/37 percent below minimum level);
  • Arizona ($1.4 million/66 percent below minimum level);
  • Mississippi ($1.2 million/24 percent below minimum level);
  • Delaware ($762,000/50 percent below minimum level);
  • and South Dakota ($374,000/61 percent below minimum level).
  • The problem may be even bigger, the report concluded, since there is "evidence that … at least 14 other states have fee structures that do not meet federal minimum standards."

    The report calls on EPA to take a more comprehensive evaluation to ensure that low emission fees are not weakening the Clean Air Act permit program or its enforcement.

    It recommends the federal agency determine whether states with low emission fees have adequate resources to issue permits in a timely manner, regularly measure emissions and review compliance data on a regular basis, monitor pollution levels, and develop and implement the plans needed to meet federal deadlines for achieving air quality standards for ozone and fine particles.

    "States that choose to assess emission fees below the minimum established by EPA should be required to demonstrate that the revenues they collect are sufficient to carry out these obligations, as they are required to do under the Clean Air Act," the report said.

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    Bank of America Launches $20 Billon Green Initiative

    CHARLOTTE, North Carolina, March 7, 2007 (ENS) - Financial giant Bank of America on Tuesday announced a plan to spend $20 billion over 10 years on environmentally friendly products, services and initiatives. The nation's second largest bank said the plan aims to support the support the growth of environmentally sustainable business activity to address global climate change.

    "We have a tremendous opportunity to support our customer's efforts to build an environmentally sustainable economy - through innovative home and office construction, new manufacturing technology, changes in transportation, and new ways to supply our energy," said said Kenneth D. Lewis, Bank of America chairman and CEO.

    The company said it plans to emphasize the business opportunities created by "green" economic growth by providing financing to encourage the development of environmentally sustainable products and technology, the acceleration of the deployment of existing technology and the increase of energy efficiency.

    About $18 billion of the $20 billion will be used for products and services that encourage commercial clients to use and develop greener technologies.

    Bank of America will also continue development of products for individuals who consider the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions and want to offset or minimize their carbon emissions. It plans next year to launch an "eco-friendly credit card" which will channel donations to environmental organization to invest in greenhouse gas reduction projects as well as a green mortgage program to reward customers for purchasing more energy efficient appliances.

    Company officials also pledged to spend $1.4 billion to make its buildings and banking centers more environmentally friendly and to donate $50 million to organizations focused on forest preservation and other environmental projects.

    "We have the opportunity to do more than address our own internal business practices," said Anne Finucane, chief marketing officer and chair of the company's environmental council. "As one of the world's leading financial institutions, we can and will work directly with individual and business customers to address the pressing issue of global climate change."

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    Court Upholds Texas Horse Slaughter Ban

    NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, March 7, 2007 (ENS) - A federal court has upheld a Texas state law banning the sale of horsemeat for human consumption. The decision by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a petition for review filed by two Texas-based slaughterhouses keen to block the law.

    The slaughter plants had claimed the Texas law at issue was unconstitutional, an argument that was sound rejected by the court in its January opinion and again in the decision to deny the petition.

    The Texas horse slaughter plants have no further options other than to take their argument to the U.S. Supreme Court. They have 90 days from yesterday's ruling to file a petition for a writ of certiorari.

    "This is the end of the line for the horse slaughter industry in Texas," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO for The Humane Society of the United States. "The kill floors should be still and quiet in Texas if the owners of these foreign-owned plants obey the law."

    Only one slaughterhouse continues to operate in the United States - in Illinois, Pacellle added, "and it is time for Congress to step in and halt this grisly business once and for all."

    Although few Americans consume horsemeat, there are several foreign nations - including France, Italy, Belgium and Japan - where it is popular and considered a ready alternative to beef.

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100,800 American horses were slaughtered in three foreign-owned slaughter houses in 2006. Another 30,000 were sent to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.

    Legislation that aimed to ban the slaughter of American horses passed the House last fall, but stalled in the Senate and was not brought up for a vote before Congress adjourned.

    Critics of the bill say it ignores the realities facing farmers and horse owners across the nation.

    The slaughter of unwanted horses is a necessary aspect of the horse industry and provides a humane alternative to suffering, abuse or abandonment, according to a coalition of more than 140 farm and veterinary groups who opposed the legislation.

    Proponents contend horses must be shipped long distances to slaughter and are often mistreated, noting that USDA statistics show that more than 92 percent of horses slaughtered in the U.S. are not old and infirm but in good condition.

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    EPA Document Shows Cancer Risk From Coal Ash

    WASHINGTON, DC, March 7, 2007 (ENS) - The risk of getting cancer from coal ash lagoons is 10,000 times greater than government safety standards allow, according to a draft report from the Environmental Protection Agency obtained by Earthjustice.

    The revised risk assessment has not been formally released by EPA, but environmental groups received a summary of the draft.

    It indicates that the cancer risk for adults and children drinking groundwater contaminated with arsenic from coal combustion waste dumps can be as high as 1 in 100 - 10,000 times higher than EPA's regulatory goals for reducing cancer risks.

    U.S. coal fired power plants annually produce more than 130 million tons of waste - comprised of fly ash, bottom ash, and air emission scrubber sludge, as well as boiler cleaning wastes, waste coal and coal pile runoff.

    These wastes contain a slew of toxic contaminants, including arsenic, mercury, chromium VI, lead, selenium and boron.

    But the federal government does not consider the waste hazardous and leaves regulation up to the states. There are currently about 600 existing coal ash landfills and surface impoundments in the United States.

    Although some of the material is recycled for other use, the EPA estimates that about half the coal burning power plants in the United States dump their wastes in surface impoundments or ponds, many of which are not lined to keep pollution from flowing into groundwater or into rivers and ponds.

    In May 2000 the EPA acknowledged risks from the waste to human health and the environment and committed to developing federal regulations for the waste.

    But the federal agency has yet to propose draft rules and the petitioners say this has left management of the waste covered by a patchwork of inconsistent, inadequate and often poorly enforced state regulations.

    A broad coalition of 27 environmental and public health groups, led by Earthjustice, Clean Air Task Force and the Environmental Integrity Project, recently submitted a proposal to EPA detailing ways to protect against pollution from the millions of tons of coal ash disposed annually by U.S. coal-fired power plants. The groups also requested that EPA take immediate action to investigate and abate pollution at coal ash dump sites.

    "It's very simple," said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. "Coal combustion waste currently disposed without adequate safeguards poses an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment in dozens of communities throughout the country. EPA has made no effort to protect the public against these pollution sources for over seven years. We believe it is time to act."

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    New Jersey Identifies Day-Care Centers With Toxic Concerns

    TRENTON, New Jersey , March 7, 2007 (ENS) - The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has identified 60 day-care centers where drinking water wells and indoor air may have high levels of toxic volatile organic chemicals, according to agency documents released today by a government watchdog group.

    The identities of the day-care centers are contained in DEP notices to the corporations, such as Exxon-Mobil, Getty, Hess, Motiva, Shell, and Sunoco, responsible for groundwater contamination in the areas where the day-care centers are located.

    These 60 day-care centers are among the estimated 1,400 day-care centers in New Jersey located on or within 400 feet of a known toxic hazard.

    The notice was released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

    DEP sent notices to the companies in January, asking them to "immediately verify that indoor air and drinking water are within acceptable limits."

    "A review of DEP files indicates that your facility has established a classification exception area (CEA) for the groundwater contaminated with volatile organics [which] may, in fact, have the potential to impact the childcare facility," the notices said. "…At the time the CEA was established, impacts to this receptor were not fully evaluated … We encourage you to participate in the protection of our children. A response is needed within seven days of receipt."

    According to PEER, a DEP official told the watchdog group that as of March 1 - one month after the deadline in the DEP notice - the agency had yet to receive any responses let alone requested drinking water or indoor air sampling data.

    "In New Jersey, the state protects public health only with the permission of the polluter," said New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, questioning why the state is relying on voluntary corporate testing. "Why is DEP not also giving warning notices directly to parents, teachers and neighboring residents?"

    DEP sent out the notices as part of a larger review in the wake of last year's infamous "Kiddie Kollege" case, where dozens of children were exposed to mercury vapors at a day-care center inside a thermometer factory that DEP was supposed to be overseeing.

    PEER contends many more such cases will be found, noting that a 2002 internal DEP audit indicated that of the more than 6,400 groundwater pollution sites only 1,412 have CEA's - the legal notification for the presence of toxic groundwater.

    Even where there is a CEA, more than 90 percent are issued for "passive remediation/natural attenuation," meaning that groundwater is not actively being cleaned up.

    Other day-care centers, schools and homes already affected by toxic volatile organics from groundwater pollution are not identified in the most recent DEP "precautionary" screening list.

    "What is being found at day-care centers is just the tip of a much bigger chemical pollution problem that New Jersey is not ready to acknowledge," Wolfe said.

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    Bacterium May Have Appetite for PCBs

    TROY, New York , March 7, 2007 (ENS) - A tiny bacterium could transform efforts to remove polychlorinated biphenyls from the environment, researchers said Wednesday. The organism could be critical to developing methods to detoxify commercial PCB compounds on site, without the need for dredging, according to researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

    The results will appear in the April 15 issue of "Applied and Environmental Microbiology."

    Banned in the United States for 30 years, commercial PCBs were once Commercial PCBs, which were banned from production in the United States in 1977, were once commonly used by industry and contaminate a slew of industrial sites across the nation.

    PCBs are mixtures of 70-90 different molecular forms that vary in the number and positions of chlorine atoms, making them difficult to degrade. Dredging PCB-contaminated sediment is the most commonly used remediation method - the sediment is then deposited in a landfill.

    Detoxification of PCBs requires breaking of the strong bonds between the chlorine atoms and the biphenyl compounds that make up the PCB atomic structure, a process known as dechlorination.

    More than two decades ago, scientists discovered that PCBs were slowly being dechlorinated by naturally occurring microbes, but despite years of research, the exact microbes responsible have remained elusive - until now.

    "For the first time we have been able to cultivate in defined media naturally occurring bacteria that can extensively dechlorinate PCBs right at the site of the contamination," said Donna Bedard, professor of biology at Rensselaer and lead author of the paper. "This is a major step toward the development of cost-effective methods for on-site PCB remediation."

    Bedard used PCB-contaminated sediments from the Housatonic River in Massachusetts to develop sediment-free cultures and to identify the bacteria that were breaking down the PCBs.

    The research team determined that the microbes that are dechlorinating the PCBs belong to a group of bacteria known as Dehalococcoides (Dhc).

    "Now that we have identified the PCB-dechlorinating bacteria and learned how to cultivate them in the laboratory," Bedard said, "we can begin to understand the processes that they use to dechlorinate PCBs and tap their unique abilities to create new technologies that efficiently and safely remove commercial PCBs from our environment."