AmeriScan: March 9, 2007

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House Passes Water Quality Financing Act With Wage Protection

WASHINGTON, DC, March 9, 2007 (ENS) - Today, in a 303-108 vote, the U.S. House passed the Water Quality Financing Act of 2007. For the first time in 20 years the measure, H.R. 720, will reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Funds.

This $14 billion dollar reauthorization bill will help improve water quality throughout the United States. It is considered a critical part of the 2005 Great Lakes Regional Collaboration agreement designed to end the flow of wastewater from flowing into the lakes by 2020.

The construction industry is pleased because if the legislation is signed into law, federal wage protections will once again apply to infrastructure jobs.

Edward Sullivan, president of the Building and Construction Trades Dept., AFL-CIO, said, "We are grateful to Congress for passing this important legislation which not only creates critical infrastructure jobs, but also reapplies and preserves Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protections for workers on these projects."

During consideration of H.R. 720 on the floor of the House, an amendment was offered that would strip the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage provision from the bill.

The Davis-Bacon Act, passed in 1931 during the Great Depression, sets a minimum pay scale for workers on federal contracts by requiring contractors to pay the prevailing or average pay in the region.

In debate on the House floor, Congressman James Oberstar of Minnesota, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, disputed unfounded claims that paying the prevailing wage will make it too costly to rebuild water and sewer systems on the hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast.

Oberstar indicated that the prevailing wage in that area is already very low. "I donít know how you save money by going any lower than $7.86 an hour," he said.

The amendment to strip the Davis-Bacon provision from the bill was defeated.

The Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund guarantees loans for cities and towns so they can borrow for sewer projects at a lower interest rate, saving local taxpayers billions of dollars nationwide.

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13 Solar Projects Chosen for Federal Funding

LOWELL, Massachusetts, March 9, 2007 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman Thursday announced the selection of 13 industry-led solar technology development projects for negotiation for up to $168 million in funding over three years, subject to appropriation from Congress.

The industry-led teams will contribute more than 50 percent of the funding for these projects for a total value of up to $357 million.

The corporations involved invlude some of the largest in the energy business - General Electric, BP Solar, Dow Chemical, Powerlight, and United Solar Ovonic.

These projects will help reduce the cost of producing and distributing solar energy, Bodman said, while visiting Konarka Global Headquarters in Lowell, one of the selected solar energy project sponsors.

The Konarka project will focus on manufacturing research and product reliability assurance for extremely low-cost photovoltaic cells using organic dyes that convert sunlight to electricity.

Partners for this project include the National Renewable Energy Lab and the University of Delaware. Subject to negotiations, DOE funding for the first year of the project is expected to be $1,200,000, with approximately $3,600,000 available over three years if the team meets its goals.

Other projects include a low-cost, high-concentration photovoltaic system for utility markets; a high-efficiency concentrating photovoltaic power system; and a project reducing silicon wafer thickness while improving yield of multi-crystalline silicon PV for commercial and residential markets.

Another project will develop a high-powered, ultra-high-efficiency solar module that contains an inverter, eliminating the need to install a separate inverter and facilitating installation by homeowners.

Yet another team will develop low-cost thin-film building-integrated photovoltaic systems.

For a complete list of the projects selected, visit: http://www.energy.gov/news/4855.htm

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Uses Sought for Tons of Radioactive Nickel Scrap

WASHINGTON, DC, March 9, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, is seeking input from industry representatives on the safe disposition of about 15,300 tons of radioactive nickel scrap recovered from uranium enrichment process equipment at the Departmentís Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Paducah, Kentucky, facilities.

The Expression of Interest, released today, will assist in DOEís evaluation of restricted uses of its nickel material for controlled radiological applications.

These restricted uses could include use in commercial nuclear power plants, DOE nuclear facilities, or by the U.S. Navy.

The Department will solicit input through May 8, 2007.

All interested parties will be required to demonstrate their ability to obtain all required authorizations, licenses, personnel, and equipment to accept and declassify any classified nickel scrap at a DOE approved facility.

These parties must demonstrate their ability to transport, store, and process radioactively-contaminated nickel at a licensed radioactive materials facility.

To apply, parties must demonstrate their ability to dispose the unclassified and decontaminated nickel scrap into products suitable for use only in controlled government and/or commercial radiological applications; and finally to handle the disposition all byproducts and residual wastes.

DOE says it will determine its future acquisition plans, if any, consistent with the outcome of the appropriate environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

An information meeting in Oak Ridge is tentatively scheduled for April 3, 2007, for registered participants. An information meeting in Paducah is scheduled for April 5, 2007, and includes a short tour to view the inventory.

For more information, visit: www.fedbizopps.gov.

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EPA Issues Clean Water Mercury Listing Guidance

WASHINGTON, DC, March 9, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is providing information on a voluntary approach for listing waters impaired by mercury from atmospheric sources under the Clean Water Act. States are required to list impaired waters at least every two years.

Under the new guidance issued Thursday, states that have in place a comprehensive mercury reduction program may put their waters impaired by mercury from air sources in a subcategory "5m" of their Clean Water Act Section 303(d) lists and defer development of Total Maximum Daily Loads, TMDLs.

"We believe that the 5m approach will help foster state mercury reduction programs that, together with our efforts at the national and international levels, will ultimately restore mercury-impaired waters," said Benjamin Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water.

The EPA, the states, and other stakeholders have been working to determine how best to address waters impaired by mercury, particularly where the primary source of the mercury is atmospheric deposition.

To date, over 8,500 water bodies in 43 states and Puerto Rico are listed under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act as impaired due to mercury.

State water programs have tools for addressing mercury discharges from water sources under the Clean Water Act, but they need to work closely with their air, waste, and toxics programs to address other sources of mercury.

U.S. mercury deposition results from domestic man-made sources and global sources, including natural, re-emitted, and man-made.

EPA has estimated that, on average, 83 percent of the mercury deposited in the U.S. originates from international sources, with the remaining 17 percent coming from U.S. and Canadian sources.

The mix of long-distance and local sources makes it difficult in some waterbodies to achieve water quality standards for mercury.

A number of states have developed or are in the process of developing Total Maximum Daily Loads, and there are currently approved mercury TMDLs for over 300 waterbodies in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

In addition, a number of states are moving ahead to address mercury sources within their control through comprehensive mercury reduction programs.

For more information on the new mercury guidance, visit: http://www.epa.gov/owow/tmdl/mercury5m/http://www.epa.gov/owow/tmdl/mercury5m/

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Bush Administration Limits Free Speech About Polar Bears

WASHINGTON, DC, March 9, 2007 (ENS) Ė The Bush administration has issued an order that would halt free discussion by scientists and other government officials on the role of global warming in threatening the survival of polar bears.

In a memo obtained by groups working on the listing of the polar bear as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the administration requires that all government travel requests "potentially involving climate change, sea ice, and/or polar bears" be accompanied by a memorandum "including a statement of assurance that these individuals understand the administration's position on these issues."

The two examples of such memos provided with the order both include assurances that the employees would "not be speaking or responding to these issues."

The order comes as the Department of Interior held the last of three public hearings on its proposal in Barrow, Alaska on Thursday.

"We need leadership, not censorship on global warming," said Andrew Wetzler, director of the Natural Resources Defense Councilís Endangered Species Project.

"We rely on our government scientists and officials to be honest brokers with the public and on important issues. This directive restricts their ability to do their jobs," Wetzler said.

The proposal to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act was issued in response to a petition and law suit filed by NRDC, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Greenpeace.

Polar bears live only in the Arctic and are totally dependent on sea ice for all of their essential needs, including hunting their prey of ice seals. The rapid warming of the Arctic and melting of sea ice poses a threat to polar bears, which could become the first mammal to lose 100 percent of its habitat to climate change as Arctic sea ice is predicted to disappear by the end of this century if global warming is not reversed.

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Judge Blocks Mt. Hood Old Growth Timber Sale

PORTLAND, Oregon, March 9, 2007 (ENS) - A federal judge has halted the last remaining proposal by the Forest Service to clearcut mature and old-growth forest in Oregon's Mt. Hood National Forest.

On March 3, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman handed down a ruling that killed plans to clearcut 184 acres in the Clackamas River watershed.

Bark, a Portland-based conservation group, had challenged the logging on the grounds that the Forest Service failed to use the best available science to protect old growth wildlife species in developing the timber sale.

Judge Mosman agreed with Bark, cancelling the sale until the Forest Service complies with the law. Judge Mosmanís ruling relied on a basic provision of the National Forest Management Act that requires the Forest Service to use the "best available science" in making management decisions, like authorizing timber sales.

"The Forest Service ignored its obligation to use the best available science before clearcutting old-growth forests. Judge Mosmanís ruling simply holds the agency accountable to its own requirements." says Erin Madden, an attorney for Bark in this case.

Co-counsel for Bark, Scott Jerger said, "The law was black and white. The Forest Service violated their responsibility to use the best available science and they are being held accountable."

The Slinky Timber Sale was proposed in 1999, when opposition to the Eagle Creek timber sale was at its height. At the same time that thousands of Oregonians were calling for an end to old growth logging at Eagle Creek, the Forest Service was moving ahead with the Slinky Timber Sale 30 miles up the Clackamas River.

Ultimately the Eagle Creek sale was canceled due to local government concerns over damage to the Clackamas River, which provides drinking water to municipalities including Oregon City, Lake Oswego, and West Linn.

Now the Slinky Timber Sale has been halted too.

"While this is the last of the old-growth clearcuts planned in Mt. Hood National Forest, the Forest Serviceís timber budget increased by $1 million this year, and is proposed to increase another 10 percent next year," said Bark Executive Director Alex Brown.

"Commercial logging on Mt. Hood continues to do extensive damage to sensitive ecosystems, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill," said Brown. "Approximately 10,000 acres of forest still remains on the chopping block on Mt. Hood."