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AmeriScan: March 14, 2007 AmeriScan: March 14, 2007

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House Passes Whistleblower Protection Act

WASHINGTON, DC, March 14, 2007 (ENS) - The House of Representatives today passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which would, for the first time, grant federal scientists and contractors the right to expose political interference in their research without fear of retribution.

The bill, H.R. 985, passed by a 331 to 94 vote, with 229 Democrats and 102 Republicans voting in favor.

The measure includes a clarification regarding disclosure of actions that threaten the integrity of federal science.

"Over the last few years, the politicization of science has been rampant," said Congressman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who chairs the Government Oversight Committee. "It is important that employees who see such examples know that they are eligible for whistleblower protection, and that our science-based agencies get the clear message that retaliating against these employees is unacceptable."

The House rejected an amendment from Representative Bill Sali, an Idaho Republican, that would have stripped all protections for scientists from the legislation. Instead, the legislators included an amendment by Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, giving scientists the right to present their research at conferences and in peer-reviewed journals.

Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, "Today, both Republicans and Democrats stood up to protect the brave scientists who expose political interference in their work. The resounding bipartisan support for this bill should embolden the Senate to pass similar legislation and send it quickly to the president's desk."

"Censoring scientists undermines our democracy and threatens public health," said Grifo. "One stunning example - Vioxx. Fifty-five thousand Americans died because scientists at the Food and Drug Administration couldn't speak out. If this law had been in place at the time, those people might still be alive today."

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Federal Court Orders Rewrite of Red Snapper Plan

HOUSTON, Texas, March 14, 2007 (ENS) - A federal court in Houston has struck down the flawed red snapper rebuilding plan approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2005.

The agency had a legal mandate to end overfishing, quickly rebuild red snapper populations, and minimize bycatch, the wasteful catching and killing of undersized red snapper in the targeted red snapper fishery and all snapper caught in the shrimp fishery. Yet, the plan endorsed the status quo and accomplished none of these goals.

The court ruled in favor of The Ocean Conservancy and Gulf Restoration Network, finding that the rebuilding plan for red snapper is inconsistent with the scientific data and has less than a 50 percent chance of successfully rebuilding red snapper within the legally allowable limit.

The court ordered the agency to implement a new, legally sufficient rebuilding plan within nine months.

"We applaud the court's ruling in this case and expect that it will usher in a new era in responsible fisheries management in the Gulf of Mexico," said Chris Dorsett, Gulf of Mexico fish conservation director with The Ocean Conservancy. "The ruling struck down over 20 years of failure that needlessly harmed fish and fishermen."

Red snapper has been managed by state and federal regulators in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1980s. Red snapper was first identified by scientists as severely overfished in 1989. Yet for almost two decades, federal managers failed to set catch levels based on the advice of its scientists and consistently allowed too many fish to be caught and killed as bycatch.

As a result, the red snapper spawning population is now under three percent of its historic abundance.

"For too long federal managers have ignored legal mandates requiring them to end overfishing and rebuild red snapper populations," said Earthjustice attorney Steve Roady, who is representing Gulf Restoration Network along with Biloxi attorney Robert Wiygul. "Red snapper was first identified as depleted back in 1989. The law required the government to end overfishing and start rebuilding red snapper many years ago; the court has now ordered them to do so."

The court also ruled that the management plan failed to address bycatch - the incidental capture and killing of red snapper. "Bycatch of red snapper has been a well known, serious problem," said Marianne Cufone of the Gulf Restoration Network. "The court recognized that every fish counts, and now the government will need to reduce red snapper bycatch through the new plan."

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Memphis Refiner Fined $2.2 Million for Environmental Crimes

WASHINGTON, DC, March 14, 2007 (ENS) - Williams Refining Co., the former owner and operator of a Memphis, Tennessee, petroleum refinery, has agreed to pay $2.2 million in civil penalties to the federal government to resolve allegations that the company violated the Clean Air Act.

The settlement agreement resolves several allegations including failure to comply with regulations intended to prevent emissions of benzene, a carcinogenic chemical that Congress has labeled a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

Williams Refining also has agreed to resolve all allegations that it failed to comply with Clean Air Act standards regarding leak detection and repair regulations on equipment in its refinery.

The agreement also resolves assertions that it failed to properly store hazardous waste as required under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and one violation under the Clean Water Act for an oil pipeline rupture.

The EPA initiated an investigation into the refinery after the company reported less than 10 megagrams of benzene emissions, an assertion that drew suspicion based on the size of the refinery.

The Clean Air Act requires refineries that discharge more than 10 megagrams per year to manage their wastewater in compliance with the Benzene National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants.

In addition, the Clean Air Act requires refineries to monitor valves and pumps for leaks, and to repair any leaks discovered. Further violations were discovered during an inspection on November 5 and 6, 2002 and as the result of a pipeline rupture which occurred on February 3, 2002.

A portion of the penalty will be paid to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for violations of the Clean Water Act.

Williams owned and operated the petroleum refinery located in Memphis, from the mid-1980s until March 2003. The refinery was purchased by Premcor Refining Group Inc. in 2003 and merged with Valero Energy Company in 2005.

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Rocky Flats Nuclear Plant to Become Wildlife Refuge

DENVER, Colorado, March 14, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to delete 25,413 acres of the Rocky Flats Plant Superfund site in Jefferson and Boulder Counties, Colorado, from the Superfund List and designate it as a national wildlife refuge.

The 1,308 acre Central Operable Unit at the former nuclear weapons production plant is not being considered for deletion and will remain on the Superfund List.

Rocky Flats operated as a nuclear weapons production facility from 1952 to 1988. In 1953, the plant began production of bomb components, manufacturing plutonium triggers, which were used at the Pantex plant in Amarillo, Texas to assemble nuclear weapons.

In 1991, due to the fall of the Soviet Union, production of most of the weapons systems at Rocky Flats was no longer needed. In 1992, production of submarine-based missiles using the W88 trigger was discontinued, ending the need for production at Rocky Flats.

Numerous incidents of radioactive contamination of air, soil and water surrounding the Rocky Flats plant were documented over the years.

In 1989 the FBI raided the facilities and ordered everyone out. They found numerous violations of federal anti-pollution laws including massive plutonium contamination of water and soil.

Long-term cleanup of the facility began in 1994. Throughout the remainder of the 1990s and into the 2000s, cleanup of contaminated sites and dismantling of contaminated buildings continued with the waste materials being shipped to the Nevada Test Site, the Envirocare company in Utah, and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Clean-up was declared complete on October 13, 2005. About 1,000 acres of the new wildlife refuge - the former Industrial Area - will remain under control of the Department of Energy to allow ongoing environmental monitoring and remediation.

The 25,413 acre deletion reflects the completion of all response actions for the offsite and peripheral parcels and will allow the U.S. Department of Energy to transfer the deleted part of the site to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for management as a national wildlife refuge.

Areas affected by the proposed deletion include the 4,933 acre Peripheral Operable Unit and the 20,480 acre Operable Unit 3. These areas consist of open space, residential development and agricultural lands.

A 1997 Record of Decision for Operable Unit 3 and a 2006 Record of Decision for the Peripheral Operable Unit determined that all appropriate response actions under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act have been implemented in these areas, and that no further response action by responsible parties is appropriate.

The state of Colorado, through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, concurs with the proposed deletion. The U.S. Department of Energy will be responsible for all future response actions required at the area deleted if future site conditions warrant such actions.

The EPA requests public comment on this proposed action. Comments must be received on or before April 12, 2007.

To view the Federal Register notice for this proposed action, visit: http://www.regulations.gov and select EPA-HQ-SFUND-1989-0011-0005 in the Keyword/ID search box.

Please submit comments, identified by Docket ID no. EPA-HQ-SFUND-189-0011, to Rob Henneke at the U.S. EPA by email at: henneke.rob@epa.gov.

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TXU Selects Japanese Nuclear Technology for New Generating Units

DALLAS, Texas, March 14, 2007 (ENS) - Pressurized water nuclear reactor technology known as US-APWR developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. of Tokyo has been selected by Texas energy company TXU for its proposed new nuclear power plants.

The US-APWR is a 4451 MWt pressurized water reactor designed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, MHI.

TXU plans to file applications for combined construction and operating licenses using US-APWR technology for 2-6 gigawatts at multiple sites, including the existing Comanche Peak site located in Glen Rose, Texas, which has two units in operation.

The filings would facilitate commercial operation of the new nuclear power generating units starting from 2015 to 2020.

On March 9, TXU formally notified its reactor selection to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and launched the preparation of a Combined License application.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries developed the US-APWR based on technologies for a 1,538 MW APWR planned for use at the Tsuruga Power Station Units 3 and 4 of the Japan Atomic Power Company.

Modifications for U.S. customers include the world's highest level of thermal efficiency, 39 percent, a 20 percent reduction in plant building volume, 24 months fuel cycle length, and greater economy by increasing the power generation capacity to 1,700 MW class which is the world's largest class.

MHI is planning to construct the US-APWR in the United States in cooperation with engineering and construction company, Washington Group International Inc.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is jointly promoting this US-APWR with Mitsubishi Corporation in the U.S. market.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has established MHI Nuclear Energy Systems Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary, in Washington, DC, and has started procedures to submit an application to the NRC for design certification of the US-APWR.

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Tigers Facing Extinction National Traveling Art Show Opens

DENVER, Colorado, March 14, 2007 (ENS) - Tigers Facing Extinction, an art exhibit by Denver artist and environmentalist Francesca Owens, will make its debut at Reed Photo-Art Gallery in Denver, from March 17 through May 19.

In late 2005, Owens learned about Save The Tiger Fundís Campaign Against Tiger Trafficking and created a series of nine mixed medium works of art that draw attention to various aspects of the threat that the illegal trade in wildlife poses to wild tigers.

"Organized poaching is obliterating once promising tiger populations due to the demand for wildlife parts," said Brian Gratwicke, assistant director for the Save the Tiger Fund. "We know exhibits such as Francescaís are key to raising awareness of the issues facing tigers today and helping to place their conservation on the national agenda."

The new exhibition includes the nine original pieces Did I Die in Vain which deal with aspects of the tiger trade ranging from tiger farms to the poaching of wild tigers for use in traditional Chinese Medicines.

Three additional pieces portray the extinct Javan, Bali and Caspian tiger subspecies. Ten colorful watercolor tiger paintings offer some relief.

"This series was an emotional and difficult one for me to create," said Owens. "Most of my art has focused on the beauty and brilliant colors of animals like these. It was devastating to think about the brutal treatment of these beautiful creatures and each piece left me drained but happy to know that I could do some good in raising awareness of the brutality."

The originals will remain with the traveling exhibition but a limited number of giclee prints will be available for purchase.

See the images on www.savethetigerfund.org/owens



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