AmeriScan: May 18, 2005

* * *

Oil Spill Cleanup Trust Fund Running Out of Money

WASHINGTON, DC, May 18, 2005 (ENS) - The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF), which helps fund the cleanup of spills nationwide, is expected to be depleted before fiscal year 2009, according to a Coast Guard report provided to Congress on May 12.

"A single major or catastrophic oil spill could have a significant impact on the OSLTF balance and these projections," the Coast Guard warns.

"A stable source of funding for oil spill cleanup costs and damages is vital in protecting the environment and compensating those who have been damaged by spills," said Jan Lane, the director of the National Pollution Funds Center, which administers the fund.

"The trust fund makes it possible for cleanup equipment and personnel to be instantly deployed, provides money to compensate claimants for their costs and damages from oil spills and provides money to restore natural resources. We are working closely with the administration and Congress to ensure the fund’s long-term viability," Lane said.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 established the fund, making it the ultimate insurer for oil spill removal costs and damages when those responsible cannot or do not pay. In many incidents, liable responsible parties cannot be located, do not have the ability to pay or have defenses or limits to their liability. When recoveries from liable parties cannot fully reimburse all removal costs and damages, the fund spends more than it takes in.

By FY 2007, the level of funds in the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund may not be sufficient to cover all anticipated uses "due to conflicts in Congressional earmarks and appropriations precedence for various Fund uses," the Coast Guard report warns.

Among those uses, the actual removal costs and damages the trust fund may have to pay are dependent on the number and severity of oil spills.

There have been 19 oil spill incidents since 1992 that are known to have resulted in removal costs and damages in excess of OPA liability limits. All such incidents involved vessel spills.

Between now and fiscal year 2007, expenditures from the fund are expected to rise as a result of several large spills in the in the past few years.

"Before the creation of the trust fund, various federal funds existed to handle cleanup, but there was no mechanism to pay for the restoration of the environment or compensate claimants for their costs and damages," Lane said. "In addition, the Exxon Valdez incident in 1989 highlighted that there was no fund large enough to handle a spill of that magnitude."

Until 1994, there was a five cent per barrel tax on petroleum produced in or imported to the United States. Between the tax and the consolidation of the other federal funds, the fund at one time held $1 billion.

At the start of fiscal year 2005, the fund held $842 million. Between recurring costs, appropriations for various agencies, and the increasing costs of several major spills, the fund balance will not be sufficient to sustain all of its demands starting around fiscal year 2007.

The complete report to Congress, as well more information on the fund, the Oil Pollution Act and the National Pollution Funds Center is found at:

* * *

Pennsylvania Voters Back $625 Growing Greener Bond Issue

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, May 18, 2005 (ENS) - At the polls Tuesday, Pennsylvania voters showed strong support for a controversial $625 million environmental bond issue known as Growing Greener II.

The bond issue was the only statewide question on the ballot, added in April, after a compromise was worked out between Democratic Governor Ed Rendell, who has lobbied for the measure and the Republican controlled Legislature, which has opposed it.

More than 60 percent of voters favored the bond issue. On the strength of that vote, the Rendell administration hopes to negotiate a bipartisan legislative measure that will allocate and pay for the bond.

The funds would be used for "maintenance and protection of the environment, open space and farmland preservation, watershed protection, abandoned mine reclamation, acid mine drainage remediation and other initiatives," according to the ballot statement.

Republican legislators have fought renewal of the Growing Greener funding initiatve although it was started in 1999 by then Governor Tom Ridge, a Republican who served as the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.

Initially, Rendell had sought to borrow $800 million to proceed with Growing Greener II, but Republicans did not like his proposal to pay for the bond issue by imposing new and increased fees on landfills and polluting industries.

But in coming to agreement with Republican state lawmakers, Rendell joined the leadership in the state Senate and House in early May to pledge that they would not propose new taxes or fees to pay off the Growing Greener bond, if passed.

Still not all opposition was silenced. One newspaper editorial stated the views of some opposed to Growing Greener II this way, "Environmentalism - just one species of the tax-and-spend socialism that has wounded Pennsylvania's economy - turns the government into private-sector job killer..."

The Green Party did not support Growing Greener II, saying the measure places the cost of cleaning up the environment on taxpayers instead of on polluters.

But most Pennsylvania conservationists did back the bond issue. In his statement of support Pennsylvania Environmental Council President Andrew McElwaine said, "We need to act now to protect Pennsylvania's quality of life. The longer we wait, the more clean streams, natural areas, working farms and wildlife will disappear and be lost forever, and the more expensive it gets to clean up."

* * *

Abandoned Pennsylvania Mines Prove Deadly

LEBANON, Pennsylvania, May 18, 2005 (ENS) - Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty today warned Pennsylvanians about the dangers of trespassing in mines and quarries, issuing a warning to “stay out and stay alive” in response to three fatalities at abandoned mine lands in Pennsylvania this year.

Two riders on all-terrain-vehicles were killed last week in southwest Pennsylvania near Bentleyville at an area adjacent to Mittal Steel's former Ellsworth Mine coal refuse site. when they hit a vertical drop.

Mittal Steel has now erected a bright orange fence on its property near the vertical slope to Pigeon Creek in an effort to keep potential trespassers from going over the edge of the cliff. Mittal Steel said the company has had problems keeping people off the old refuse site and has taken repeated action to keep trespassers away.

“Each year, there are dozens of fatalities and injuries at abandoned and active mines across the country, and already this year there have been three fatalities in Pennsylvania,” McGinty said. “With summer fast approaching, we need to warn people that mines and quarries are not playgrounds, and that the hidden dangers at these sites can kill you.”

Secretary McGinty was joined for the announcement by local emergency responders and officials from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) at a quarry in West Lebanon Township, Lebanon County. The quarry was the site of a fatality in 2003 when a 13 year old boy drowned after he fell while climbing. Due to the steep cliffs and dense vegetation at the site, emergency responders had to lower their boat into the quarry by ropes before attempting to rescue the boy.

Pennsylvania officials say that since 1989 there have been 40 fatalities at mines and quarries in 15 counties in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania and other mining states have partnered with MSHA to promote the Stay Out/Stay Alive program to inform the public about the dangers of these sites.

DEP, in cooperation with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), has included Stay Out/Stay Alive materials with every all-terrain vehicle (ATV) registration and is working to inform hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts about the dangers of mines and quarries. In addition, DEP is working with state and local police, local emergency responders and property owners to post warning signs and restrict access to these sites.

Congress recently extended the federal Abandoned Mine Lands fund, which provides money to states to reclaim mines that were abandoned prior to passage of modern mining laws. The fund expires at the end of September.

Governor Edward Rendell is lobbying Congress to reauthorize a federal mine reclamation fund and is attempting to direct some of that money to Pennsylvania.

The fund is supported by a tax on all coal mined in the United States and must be spent to reclaim coal mines before it can be used to reclaim abandoned quarries and other non-coal sites. The total cost to reclaim all abandoned mine sites in Pennsylvania is estimated at $15 billion.

“Pennsylvania has been blessed with great mineral riches, but the unregulated mining practices of the past have left us with some 250,000 acres of abandoned mine lands with unstable cliffs and spoil piles, water-filled pits, unmarked mine openings and dangerous, abandoned equipment and buildings,” McGinty said. “Although these places may look inviting, they can kill you. Don’t become another tragic statistic: stay out and stay alive.”

* * *

Under Court Order, EPA Approves Air Cleanup for Capital District

WASHINGTON, DC, May 18, 2005 (ENS) - In response to a federal court order, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Friday approved air cleanup plans for the Washington, DC metro area proposed by the District of Columbia and Virginia.

The agency also approved parts of Maryland’s plan, but disapproved the Maryland plan overall because it lacks pollution fees for large industries as required by the Clean Air Act.

The EPA's decision is in response to a federal court order issued in April setting a deadline for EPA action on the metro area's polluted air.

The approvals mean that stronger anti-smog requirements will now be enforceable in federal court in the Washington area. Disapproval of the Maryland plan starts a clock for imposition of sanctions on the state if the plan is not corrected.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson ordered the EPA to approve or disapprove regional air cleanup plans by May 3. Judge Robertson wrote in his decision that the order and deadline were warranted because of, "EPA's unblemished record of nonperformance" under the Clean Air Act.

The judge's decision on April 7 decision marked the fourth time in three years that litigation brought by the nonprofit public interest law firm Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club resulted in court findings that the EPA had illegally delayed air cleanup requirements.

"The DC area sometimes has air that is so dirty that children are warned to limit outdoor play," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. "The law requires EPA to protect public health and the environment, and today's action is long overdue."

"This is a move that residents of the Washington DC metro area have been needing for quite some time," said Chris Carney, spokesperson for Sierra Club’s Metro D.C. Office. "The DC area is being choked with polluted air. Although it doesn't go far enough, EPA's action requires the region to implement stronger measures to clean the air."

The 1990 Clean Air Act required the District, Virginia and Maryland to develop plans to clean up dangerous amounts of ozone, or smog, in the region. The law also required EPA to approve or disapprove these cleanup plans by specific deadlines, which expired years ago.

Disapproval of the Maryland plan stems from a legal requirement that states promise to impose emission fees on large industries in areas that fail to meet the 1-hour ozone standard by November 15, 2005. Maryland refused to make that commitment.

But the EPA has taken the position that the fee requirement will no longer apply to areas like Washington after June 15 due to EPA's replacement of the 1-hour ozone standard with an 8-hour standard.

Environmental groups disagree with EPA's position, and the issue is currently in litigation.

The plans approved Friday require stronger anti-smog measures in Washington, DC; Stafford, Prince William, Fairfax, Arlington and Loudon counties in Virginia; and Montgomery, Prince Georges, Frederick, Calvert and Charles counties in Maryland.

Ground level ozone, or smog, is associated with asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing and other respiratory illnesses, and is linked to increased use of medications, hospitalizations, and emergency room visits.

Exposure to unsafe levels of smog can reduce lung function and development in children, and permanently damage lung tissue. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, a nonprofit patient organization for people with asthma and allergies, has ranked Washington, D.C. as the fifth worst place in the country for people with asthma.

* * *

Minnesota Aims to Be Saudi Arabia of Renewable Fuels

ST. PAUL, Minnesota, May 18, 2005 (ENS) - Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has signed into law a measure that will double the amount of ethanol in gasoline in Minnesota. "This bill strengthens our rural economy, improves our air quality and reduces our unhealthy dependence on foreign oil," said Governor Pawlenty, a Republican. "It also puts our state at the leading edge of a very promising industry. We truly are on our way to becoming the Saudi Arabia of renewable fuels."

Currently, a Minnesota law enacted in 1997 requires all gasoline sold within the state to include 10 percent ethanol (E-10).

Under the legislation signed by the Governor last week, a new E-20 mandate would take effect in 2013 unless ethanol has already replaced 20 percent of the state's motor vehicle fuel by 2010.

Increasing to a 20 percent blend could mean an economic impact of $1.58 billion and 6,157 jobs, Minnesota officials said.

"Utilizing homegrown renewable fuels is good for our farmers, it's good for rural economic development, it's good for national security, and it's good for the environment," said Pawlenty. "I would much rather have the fuel in our cars come from the Midwest than from the Middle East."

Pawlenty points out that in Brazil, about 15 percent vehicles use a blend of gasoline that contains nearly 100 percent ethanol. The remaining vehicles use blends of 24 percent ethanol with 76 percent gasoline. "These cars are manufactured by many of the same major automobile companies who manufacture cars for use in the United States," he said.

A research report from the Minnesota Center for Automotive Research at Minnesota State University-Mankato showed that there were no drivability or material compatibility problems experienced by 15 vehicles of various years, makes and models using E-30.

Minnesota has North America's largest network of E-85 gas stations with about 130 stations now online. Some 120,000 Minnesotans now drive flexible fuel cars designed to burn either gasoline or E-85, a blend of 85 percent ethyl alcohol and 15 percent gasoline.

E-85 is produced from the starch in agricultural products, primarily domestically produced corn. Growing corn removes CO2 from the atmosphere so that the total effect of using ethanol made from corn is a reduction in greenhouse emissions when compared to the use of petroleum fuels.

Minnesota already has the highest renewable fuel use per capita in the nation. Minnesota was the first state to require the use of ethanol in gasoline. Other states are beginning to follow suit.

Last year Hawaii enacted a measure similar to Minnesota's mandate. The Governor of Montana signed their new E-10 requirement into law last Friday. Through his leadership as chairman of the Governors' Ethanol Coalition, Pawlenty is encouraging other states to join the movement.

"This legislation is a win for everybody," Minnesota Corn Growers Association President Gene Sandager said. "By increasing demand for ethanol, local farmers now have a larger market for what they produce right here in Minnesota. That's good for the entire state."

The ethanol industry provides jobs for more than 5,300 Minnesotans and pumps $1.3 billion dollars into Minnesota's economy. There are 14 ethanol plants in Minnesota that produce more than 450 million gallons of ethanol every year, with two more plants currently under construction. Minnesota ranks fourth in the nation in production of fuel-grade ethanol, after Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska. Minnesota corn growers send approximately 15 percent of their crop to ethanol plants.

* * *

Seven Student Teams Honored for Sustainable Solutions

WASHINGTON, DC, May 18, 2005 (ENS) - Seven college and university student teams were honored Monday evening at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington for their outstanding entries in the first annual P3 competition – People, Prosperity, and the Planet - organized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The P3 competition brings together 65 teams from around the country to exhibit their designs for sustainability. On May 16 and 17, more than 400 of the country’s most innovative college students exhibited their designs on the National Mall in Washington.

The winning teams are from Oberlin College, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Colorado at Denver, the University of California-Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan.

MIT: Encouraging Toxic Use Reduction in Academic Laboratories
This project seeks to balance essential research with its associated environmental burdens by promoting the use of less toxic and less polluting alternatives to commonly used toxic chemicals. Researchers have the option of selecting such alternatives, reducing the use of toxic chemicals in research and operations.

The innovative improved purchasing process will be included in a comprehensive Environmental, Health, and Safety Management System intended to be a model for academic research institutions.

Oberlin College: A Socio-Technological Resource-Use Feedback System for Improving the Environmental Performance of Buildings and Institutions This prototype system combines off-the-shelf water and energy flow sensors; newly available and inexpensive wireless datalogging and networking hardware; and networking, database management and display software that the project team custom developed for this project.

The goal is to use these technologies to generate easily interpretable real-time data on energy and water use on individual floors in two Oberlin College dormitories and then to deliver this information in the form of easily interpretable graphs and gauges to students, faculty, and facilities managers through a web site and on public display monitors in the lobbies of these dorms

Rochester Institute of Technology: Design and Development of a Low Cost, Multifunction, Regionally Appropriate Solar Oven for Developing Countries in Latin America
The project is to design and develop a series of effective multifunctional solar ovens that can be mass produced at low cost using the capital, labor and materials that are typically available in Latin American nations.

University of California-Berkeley: Using Ultraviolet Light to Disinfect Drinking Water at the Tap or Neighborhood Well
The UV-Tube is a design concept for disinfecting drinking water at the point of use - the household tap or neighborhood well. UV-Tube designs use ultraviolet (UV) light to inactivate harmful microorganisms that may be present in water. This project is testing two designs in the field using ultraviolet tubes. The researchers are performing monthly biological tests; conducting user preference, health, and willingness to pay surveys; and collecting user feedback on the designs.

University of Colorado at Denver: Sustainable Energy Systems Design for a Tribal Village in India
The project is to design low cost wind turbines made from locally available materials, and to design environmentally-benign energy storage systems suitable for rural areas lacking capabilities to recycle lead acid batteries. The group seeks to integrate a variety of sustainable energy technologies and storage options in order to meet the energy needs of the tribal village, and to develop designs that will work in a decentralized village of nine communities and can be adapted to other Indian tribal villages.

University of Michigan: AWARE@home: Profitably Integrating Conservation into the American Home
This project will develop an information gathering and reporting tool that will allow households to monitor their own resource consumption patterns in real time and on-demand. It seeks to quantify in terms of cost and environmental emissions the impact of specific energy conservation actions taken at home without more effort than clicking a single icon on a computer screen.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Comparative Analysis of Three Sustainable Point of Use Drinking Water Treatment Technologies for Developing Nations
The purpose of this research project is to determine and compare the costs, health and economic benefits, and performance effectiveness in improving water quality of three point of use drinking water treatment technologies intended for the developing world. The goal of point of use (POU) technology is to allow people who only have access to unsafe water sources to improve the quality of their water by treating it in the home. The concept and validation of POU household drinking water treatment as appropriate, effective, affordable and sustainable technology for the developing world is relatively new, and attempts to promote and distribute these technologies on a large scale have just begun.

* * *

Poll: Arizonans Want More Wolves Roaming the State

FLAGSTAFF, Arizona, May 18, 2005 (ENS) - Four out of five Arizona residents support letting critically endangered wolves roam over a wider area of the Southwest and return to northern Arizona forests and mountains, according to a new public opinion poll conducted by Northern Arizona University.

The poll of 695 randomly selected Arizonans found that four out of five are in favor of letting Mexican gray wolves naturally migrate from southeastern Arizona to suitable habitat in northern Arizona. This opinion parallels the recommendations of biologists.

Eight-six percent of those polled said wolves bring a natural balance to the Southwest landscape.

“This shows how much the people of Arizona value a magnificent wild creature like the gray wolf,” said Kim Crumbo, wildlands director for the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. “Arizonans want to see the wolf returned throughout its natural home.”

People favoring the widespread return of the wolf outnumbered opponents seven to one. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said public land managers should give gray wolves at least as high a priority as livestock grazing and other uses.

The poll was conducted in March by Northern Arizona University’s Social Research Laboratory as part of its bi-annual Grand Canyon State Poll. The poll, which included both urban and rural residents, had a sampling error of 3.7 percent.

“Arizonans have consistently supported wolves in the Southwest and this is their strongest statement yet,” said Bobbie Holaday, founder of Preserve Arizona’s Wolves. “The public clearly believes our lands are better off with wolves roaming free on them. As politicians and policy-makers work on wolf recovery over the coming years, they will do well to appreciate the support this poll shows.”

The poll comes at one of the most critical junctures since Southwest wolf reintroduction began seven years ago.

The Mexican gray wolf was reduced by poisons and traps to just five animals captured alive in Mexico between 1977 and 1980. No more Mexican wolves have since been confirmed alive in Mexico. The wild population in the American Southwest stems from those bred in captivity and reintroduced to southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico beginning in 1998.

The number of Mexican wolves that could be confirmed in the wild declined from 55 to 44 animals during 2004, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s draft 2004 annual report on the wolf reintroduction.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has suspended its development of an updated wolf recovery plan for the Southwest and has not fulfilled its promise to follow the recommendations of biologists and field team personnel to change its rules and allow Mexican gray wolves to roam.

The conservationists point out that the agency has proposed killing more Mexican wolves and releasing fewer of them to the wild after Congressman Stevan Pearce, a New Mexico Republican, convened two invitation only meetings where ranchers were given special access to senior regional Fish and Wildlife Service officials to argue against wolf recovery.

* * *