EPA Distributes $75.9 Million in New Round of Brownfields GrantsWASHINGTON, DC, May 10, 2005 (ENS) - Cities, towns and tribes in 44 states will share more than $75.9 million in brownfields grants distributed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help revitalize former industrial and commercial sites, transforming them from problem properties into community assets.
Brownfields are abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and commercial sites where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by environmental contamination. The brownfields program promotes redevelopment of America's estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated waste sites.
The city of Elizabeth, New Jersey, for example, was selected to receive a $200,000 brownfields assessment grant. The target area is the Elizabethport neighborhood of Elizabeth, which is a federal Enterprise Community.
Elizabethport has a large Hispanic and African-American population, and its per capita income is lower than the city as a whole. The neighborhood is surrounded by industrial facilities and has 22 sites that have been identified as contaminated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The $200,000 grant will be used to perform a site assessment on a Livingston Street site where a former metals treatment plant stands. The site is thought to be contaminated with chromium and other heavy metals. Funds also will be used to conduct community outreach and develop a cleanup plan.
This assessment is part of a larger redevelopment effort underway in the neighborhood that will bring commercial shops, such as a supermarket, pharmacy and other retail establishments, as well as market-rate housing units, to the area. These activities are also expected to contribute to the revitalization of the Elizabethport marina and recreational area.
The Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act of 2002 authorizes up to $250 million in funds annually for brownfields grants. That law broadened the definition of a brownfield to include lands scarred by mines, or sites contaminated by petroleum.
"The brownfields program puts both property and people back to work," EPA Administrator Steve Johnson said. "These grants will help communities across America convert eyesores into engines of economic rebirth."
In addition to the grants announced today, participants in the brownfields program gain access to the expertise and other resources from more than 20 federal agencies.
There are four categories of grants being awarded with 218 applicants, including three tribal nations, selected to receive 302 grants totaling $75.9 million.
Since its inception in 1995, the program has awarded 709 assessment grants totaling over $190 million, 189 revolving loan fund grants worth more than $165 million, and $26.8 million for 150 cleanup grants.
Brownfields projects have converted industrial waterfronts to riverfront parks, landfills to golf courses, rail corridors to recreational trails, and gas station sites to housing.
EPA's brownfields assistance has led to more than $7 billion in public and private investment in cleanup and redevelopment, helped create more than 31,000 jobs, and resulted in the assessment of more than 5,100 properties.
For more information on the grant recipients, go to: http://www.epa.gov/swerosps/bf/archive/pilot_arch.htm. For more information on brownfields in general, go to: http://www.epa.gov/brownfields.
Cash-Strapped Parks Director Says Whole Parks May Be OutsourcedWASHINGTON, DC, May 10, 2005 (ENS) - National Park Service Director Fran Mainella is considering contracting out the entire operations of three national parks, according to an April 15 memo signed by her and released to the public today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national organization of natural resources government employees.
The three parks under review are Boston National Historical Park, San Juan Island National Historic Site in Washington state, and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Altogether, these three parks employ 312 National Park Service employees on a full-time basis.
In the memo headed "Competitive Sourcing Update," Mainella cited these three parks as the subject of ďpreliminary planning efforts for FY 2005."
"We will be reviewing whole parks to achieve the most efficient operations possible," she wrote.
Previously, the National Park Service (NPS) looked to outsource certain types of jobs, such as maintenance, among several parks but is now looking at park units in their entirety for future bids by private firms.
Mainella testified today before the Subcommittee on Parks of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the NPS budget requested by the Bush administration for Fiscal Year 2006. She did not mention the plan to put entire parks up for competitive outsourcing.
The national park system consists of 388 national parks and other units, covering 88 million acres of land throughout the United States and its territories, that attracted 277 million visitors last year, Mainella told the subcommittee.
The FY 2006 budget request totals about $2.2 billion in Department of the Interior appropriations and $320 million in Department of Transportation appropriations, Mainella said. "More than 70 percent of that funding is devoted to managing the National Park System, not including the cost of undertaking major construction or rehabilitation projects or acquiring land," she said.
For FY 2005, Congress provided a net increase of about $64 million for parks operation. The FY 2006 budget request would increase operations funding by $50.5 million above that, allowing for, among other things, increases for pay and benefits, Mainella said.
Other sources of revenue estimated for FY 2006 include about $160 million in revenue from recreation fees, National Park Pass fees, and transportation fees, and about $38 million from concessions fees.
"The FY 2006 budget request meets the Presidentís goal of investing $4.9 billion over five years to address the deferred maintenance backlog in our parks," Mainella testified.
"The FY 2006 amount toward this goal is $1.1 billion. It includes $717 million for facility maintenance and construction in NPS appropriations, $320 million for park roads within the Department of Transportationís Federal Lands Highway Program, and an estimated $108 million in funding dedicated to maintenance from recreational fees."
"Park roads funding, which would bring 80 percent of park roads into good or excellent condition, depends upon full funding of the Presidentís request and enactment of the Administrationís proposed reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21)," said Mainella.
Still, it is clear that the National Park Service is struggling to meet the needs of the parks. This struggle was recognized Monday by a bi-partisan group of 36 U.S. Senators who sent a letter to the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee requesting an additional $150 million for the national parks in FY 2006 over and above the Bush administration's budget request.
"The public expects America's national parks - our nation's heritage - be adequately protected and visitors educated and inspired about these natural and cultural wonders. We urge you to do all you can to provide this modest but important increase to the operating budget of the National Park System in FY 2006 to meet this need," the senators wrote.
In addition, a bipartisan group of 78 Members of the House sent a similar letter requesting an additional $100 million over the president's request for the fiscal year 2006 operations of the national parks.
"As the committee knows, this request is extremely modest compared to the need. While the National Park Service's operating budget has increased in recent years, it has failed to keep pace with the increasing demands placed on our parks," the congressmen wrote.
New York City Cuts Black Diesel Smoke Plumes from Buses, TrucksNEW YORK, New York, May 10, 2005 (ENS) - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Monday signed five laws to reduce air pollution in the city, including a measure to sharply reduce smoky diesel exhaust from school buses, tour buses and sanitation trucks.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) calls the new measures "the most significant overhaul of the city's vehicle pollution laws in 15 years."
One new law requires the City to purchase the lowest emitting light or medium duty vehicles available that meet its needs. The bill also calls for a 20 percent increase in fuel economy for all new vehicles purchased over the next 10 years, and requires the Department of Sanitation to assess the feasibility of incorporating new alternative fuel sanitation vehicles and technology into its fleet oif garbage trucks.
Another law requires the City's on-road diesel vehicles to use ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and either retrofit with the best available emission control technology or replace these vehicles with newer, cleaner burning models that meet EPA emission standards.
The third law extends the ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and emission control requirements to vehicles used in fulfilling city solid waste and recycling contracts.
The fourth law requires licensed sight-seeing companies to control emissions from their buses by installing the best available emission control technology or replacing existing buses with newer, cleaner burning vehicles.
The final law requires school buses to require the use of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and the best available emission control technology.
"While addressing New York City's overall air quality requires regional and national solutions, this package of legislation will go a long way toward improving the environmental health of our city and ensuring clean air for all," said Mayor Bloomberg.
New York City already has the largest hybrid fleet in the nation, and alternative fuel vehicles made up almost 90 percent of the light-duty vehicles purchased by the city in 2004. In addition, many of the city's diesel fleets have moved to the exclusive use of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel-well ahead of federal requirements to do so," the mayor said.
"Diesel vehicles are one of the most dangerous air pollution sources left in the city. Cleaning them up will bring a huge improvement in the quality of life for all New Yorkers," said Richard Kassel, NRDC Senior Attorney and director of its Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project. "Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council are doing a great thing for everybody who breathes New York City air."
Diesel soot triggers asthma attacks and other emergencies, bronchitis, cancer, emphysema and as many as 1,800 premature deaths in the City every year. It also contributes to the region's summertime smog. New York City fails to meet the federal health standards for both smog and soot that have been set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"Diesel pollution is a fixable problem," said Kassel. "These new laws will help make the plume of black smoke that follows many school buses and garbage trucks a thing of the past."
Court Upholds Los Angeles Clean Vehicle Fleet RulesLOS ANGELES, California, May 10, 2005 (ENS) - The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) may enforce its seven Clean Fleet Rules, a federal judge ruled Friday. The AQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and large parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, identified this week as the worst urban area for traffic congestion in the nation.
U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled on a motion filed in January by the Engine Manufacturers Association and Western States Petroleum Association seeking to invalidate Air Quality Management District rules that require state and local government fleet operators to purchase the cleanest available vehicles.
The Clean Fleet Rules target diesel vehicles, including transit buses, school buses, trash trucks, airport shuttles and taxis, street sweepers and heavy-duty utility trucks.
Judge Cooper ruled that in imposing these requirements, the AQMD was acting as a market participant, not a regulator.
In the case of state and local government agencies, the fleet rules are not preempted by the federal Clean Air Act, Cooper ruled. "The Fleet Rules, as applied to state and local governments, fall within the market participant doctrine," Cooper said in her opinion. "They are not preempted. Plaintiff's challenge fails. Plaintiff's motion is denied."
"This lifts a legal cloud cast by the U.S. Supreme Court over a large portion of our fleet rules," said Dr. William Burke, Governing Board chairman of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. "We can now continue to implement major portions of our fleet rules, which are essential to our strategy for reducing both smog-forming and toxic emissions in the Southland."
In August 2000, following the AQMD's adoption of the first six fleet rules, the Engine Manufacturers Association filed suit in federal District Court, claiming the rules were preempted because they violated a section of the federal Clean Air Act.
The section states that "No state or any political subdivision thereof shall adopt or attempt to enforce any standard relating to control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines subject to this part."
The AQMD argued that its fleet rules did not set emission standards for new vehicles or engines, but instead placed purchase requirements on fleet operators. Judge Cooper agreed, and ruled against the Engine Manufacturers Association in August 2001.
The association appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case in June 2003.
The Bush administration argued in favor of the engine manufacturers and oil companies and against AQMD in oral arguments before the court in January 2004.
In April 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that in the case of privately owned fleets, the Clean Air Act prohibited AQMD from imposing the fleet rules on purchasers or sellers.
In its decision, the Supreme Court remanded the case to Judge Cooper's court to consider several issues, including "whether some of the fleet rules can be characterized as internal state purchase decisions (and, if so, whether a different standard for pre-emption applies.)"
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the environmental organizations Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for a Better Environment, the Planning and Conservation League, and the Sierra Club were AQMD's co-defendants in the lawsuit.
Attorneys for AQMD and the environmental groups, supported by a friend-of-the-court brief from the State of California, argued that most applications of the fleet rules fall under a so-called market participant exemption and are not preempted by the federal Clean Air Act.
Judge Cooper agreed and said that the fleet rules, as applied to state and local governments, are procurement requirements, not emission regulations.
AQMD's Governing Board adopted its fleet rules in 2000 and 2001 following a AQMD study showing that about 70 percent of the total cancer risk from air pollution was due to diesel exhaust.
The rules require fleet operators to buy clean-fueled models when they replace vehicles or add to their fleets of 15 or more vehicles. As a result of the rules, more than 5,500 heavy-duty vehicles powered by natural gas and other clean fuels, have been added to the region's fleets.
Extreme Weather Events Affected by Changes in VegetationWEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana, May 10, 2005 (ENS) - A climatologist with the Purdue Climate Change Research Center has found that vegetation can affect extreme weather, a discovery that could add a new piece to the global warming puzzle.
In the first study to indicate that as vegetation responds to climate change, those responses affect extreme weather events, Noah Diffenbaugh has found that storms and heat waves can vary in frequency and severity depending on how vegetation responds to global warming.
While climate scientists have theorized that this relationship exists, Diffenbaugh said, this study gives credence to the idea that interactions among land, air and sunlight are more complex than previously thought.
"Earth's climate is all about relationships, and this study shows that ground cover plays a significant part in determining changes in climate extremes," said Diffenbaugh, who is an assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences in Purdue's College of Science.
"We are accustomed to hearing that greenhouse gases affect climate, but they are not the only factor we should consider. Our climate models also must incorporate the effect of vegetation if they are to capture the full scope of reality," he said.
Diffenbaugh said he conducted the research, which appears in this week's issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters, because extreme climate events are one of the most important variables in human interaction with the environment.
Using a climate model at the University of California-Santa Cruz, where he was previously a postdoctoral researcher, Diffenbaugh conducted a study on California, Oregon, Nevada and parts of the surrounding region.
Diffenbaugh said that whether vegetation feedbacks make for more or fewer extreme events depends on the region.
"Changes in vegetation cover can push the region toward more or fewer extreme events - it depends on where you look," he said. "In the high Sierra Nevada, for example, people have often theorized that as the globe warms, evergreen forests will migrate to higher altitudes and be lost as they hit the mountaintops. We certainly see this warming and the predicted forest loss."
"But we also see that as the forests disappear, the higher elevations may not experience as much extreme warmth as expected because environmental feedbacks the new vegetation generates may mitigate this net warming."
In other more populous places, the effect could be the opposite.
"In central California, vegetation changes could even further increase the maximum temperatures over and above what the carbon dioxide will do on its own," Diffenbaugh said. "The model suggests that as the vegetation there responds to the greenhouse effect, heat waves will be longer, more frequent and more intense."
"This is the first time anyone has tried to understand these particular relationships, and though we can see they exist, our vision is still blurry," he said. "I put together the experiment in order to better understand how the Earth works, and it has been successful on that level. But the results should not be taken as a prediction of the future. I would characterize them as a first approximation of how two important components of the climate system can interact."
In future research Diffenbaugh would like to devote enough computer time to determine how extreme climate events respond to vegetation changes on the scale of decades or centuries.
This research was sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
Delaware Bay Beaches Closed to Protect Migratory Shorebirds
TRENTON, New Jersey, May 10, 2005 (ENS) - The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Monday announced that more than a dozen Delaware Bay beaches will be closed from May 14 to June 7 to protect a rapidly declining population of migrating shorebirds. These birds stop over each spring to feed on the fat-rich eggs of the horseshoe crab.
To protect the migratory shorebirds, DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell issued an emergency order in April 2003, which restricted the horseshoe crab harvest.
Beach closures were also implemented to reduce disturbance to feeding shorebirds allowing them ample feeding time to gain the weight they need for a successful flight to their breeding ground in the Arctic.
"We are taking action now, like limiting disturbance to feeding shorebirds, to help prevent birds such as the state threatened red knot from becoming a federally endangered species in the future," said Martin McHugh, director of the DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife.
DEP staff will limit access at portions of specific beaches in the Villas, Stone Harbor Point and Champagne Island, as well as portions of Fortescue Beach, Gandys Beach, High's Beach, Moores Beach, Reeds Beach, Cook's Beach, Kimbles Beach, Norbury's Landing/Sunray Beach, Pierces Point, High's Beach, Raybins Beach and Rutgers Cape Shore Lab beach.
These are important shorebird feeding areas and limiting access will minimize human disturbance of the shorebirds while they feed, said McHugh.
The affected sections of beach in Lower, Middle and Downe townships will be closed for 25 days. The beach restrictions coincide with the new and full moons, when horseshoe crab spawning and shorebird feeding are at their peak.
The closed areas will be marked with printed signs and rope fencing from the street end to the water's edge. DEP staff and volunteers will be present at most beaches to educate the public about the interaction between the shorebirds and horseshoe crabs and the need to let the birds feed undisturbed.
Maps indicating the closed areas are available on DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife website at: http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/ensp/beachcloz05map.htm
Southeast Asian Turtle Survival Work Funded
FORT WORTH, Texas, May 10, 2005 (ENS) - The Turtle Survival Alliance is expanding its efforts to prevent the extinction of some of the most critically endangered turtles in Southeast Asia.
Inhabited by more than 90 species of tortoises, turtles and terrapins, Southeast Asia supports more turtle species than anywhere else in the world.
But 45 of these species, about half the species known to exist in the region, are now ranked either endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union in its Red List of Threatened Species.
The threat to their existence is demand from the Chinese food market, which causes uncontrolled harvesting pressures, the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) says.
"Several species are dangerously close to extinction and may fade from the Earth unless urgent intervention measures are effectively taken," said Rick Hudson, co-chiar of the Alliance.
The nonprofit organization is an IUCN partnership network for sustainable captive management of freshwater turtles and tortoises with the mission of "preserving options for the recovery of wild populations."
Recognized as a task force of the IUCN's Species Survival Commission, the Alliance is a global organization based in Fort Worth, Texas, with major supporting chapters in the U.S. and Europe. Organized in 2001 in response to the Asian turtle crisis, the Turtle Survival Alliance emphasizes conservation work in the turtles' range countries as the most effective method of saving turtles.
The organization's new outreach is funded by a $100,000 grant from The Batchelor Foundation, established by the late Miami aviation pioneer and environmental philanthropist George Batchelor.
"The grant will fund conservation action for 10 of the 18 species ranked critically endangered and continue TSA's involvement in four of the world's major turtle diversity hotspots including Myanmar, India, Vietnam and Indonesia."
"We identify existing facilities and programs that already have some infrastructure for turtle conservation and work to strengthen them," Hudson said.
"Through husbandry and veterinary training workshops, facility improvements, and providing technical and logistical support, the TSA is well-positioned to make a serious impact on turtle conservation in the countries where they occur," he said.
The Turtle Survival Alliance is best known for staging the largest turtle rescue event in history after nearly 7,500 sick and injured tortoises, turtles and terrapins were confiscated in Hong Kong in December 2001. The group rehabilitated and placed more than 4,000 of these in assurance colony collections in the U.S. and Europe.