AmeriScan: May 9, 2006

* * *

Wildfires: Florida Governor Declares State of Emergency

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, May 9, 2006 (ENS) - Eight wildfires have broken out across Florida, closing portions of Interstate 95, burning residences and threatening other homes and businesses, and forcing about 1,000 residents to evacuate their homes.

Brevard, Volusia, Hillsborough, and Lee counties are hardest hit, but hot, dry weather puts the entire state at risk, according to the National Weather Service.

Governor Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency Monday night and warned that the wildfire danger is likely to become worse over the next 90 days. The governor called up the Florida National Guard to help fight the fires.

The declaration activates the state's emergency management plan and authorizes Florida to seek assistance from other states and from the federal government.

Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson today toured wildfire sites in Volusia and Brevard counties.

In the Volusia County town of New Smyrna Beach, people began returning home Monday after a wildfire forced them out. Sections of I-95 in Volusia County were closed but was allowed to reopen today. The roadway could be closed again if the fire flares up again.

At least 150 firefighters are battling the blaze that destroyed two homes and damaged another, burning about 13,200 acres fire officials said.

Further south in Brevard County, I-95 and State Road 528 will be closed in the early morning through Wednesday because of a smoky wildfire that is hampering visibility.

In western Brevard County brush fires have burned 3,500 acres near the Miami Canal in the Everglades, but no communities are threatened in this rural area.

Commissioner Bronson has ordered the activation of the Department’s price gouging hotline to assist consumers who may face problems resulting from the wildfires.

Under Florida law, it is illegal to charge exorbitant or excessive prices for essential items including gasoline, shelter, food, water, ice, batteries, generators or lumber during a declared emergency unless the price increases can be attributed to additional costs incurred by the retailer.

“People have been forced to evacuate as a result of these wildfires and may need temporary shelter and gasoline," Bronson said. "The hotline is activated during any declared emergency and I urge people who think they may have been victimized to contact the hotline at 1-800-HELP FLA.”

Individuals or businesses found to have been price gouging face fines of up to $1000 per violation, or up to a maximum of $25,000 a day.

* * *

Nevada Funded for Aircraft Fire Fighting Vehicles

WASHINGTON, DC, May 9, 2006 (ENS) - With another wildfire season approaching, the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded the state of Nevada $2.54 million for equipment that will help protect the hot, dry state against fires.

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas will receive $1,305,000 to buy two 3,000 gallon aircraft rescue and fire fighting vehicles.

Elko Regional Airport will receive $1,235,000 to buy one 1,500 gallon aircraft rescue and fire fighting vehicle and to construct an enclosure to protect the new vehicle.

The vehicles, used to perform rescue and firefighting operations, will primarily be used for supporting airport needs and enhancing the safety of aircraft operations. When necessary, they also will be used to help suppress wildfires.

“Last year Nevada suffered through an especially difficult fire season. In fact, Southern Nevada experienced the most severe fire season ever - half a million acres were burned,” said U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, a Democrat, announcing the funding on Monday.

“As wildfire season heats up, it’s important that our state gets the equipment we need to battle the blazes and keep residents and property safe. These new vehicles will provide support for our airports, and they’ll also provide us with extra equipment to fight wildfires.

“Wildfires pose a serious risk to Nevada, and we have seen the unfortunate devastation they can cause in our great state,” said U.S. Senator John Ensign of Nevada, a Republican. “Keeping Nevada residents and our beautiful landscape safe from these dangers is a priority for me, and this funding will help give first responders the tools they need to combat hazardous wildfires.”

* * *

Mirant Settles Mid-Atlantic Air Violations for $1.5 Million

WASHINGTON, DC, May 9, 2006 (ENS) - In a joint federal-state legal settlement, Mirant Mid-Atlantic has agreed to eliminate nearly 29,000 tons of harmful pollution each year generated by its four electricity generating plants in Maryland and Virginia.

The Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of Maryland worked jointly on this enforcement action, which will reduce the emission of nitrogen oxides throughout the region.

The amended Clean Air Act consent decree, lodged Monday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, resolves federal and state claims that in 2003, Mirant violated the NOx emissions limitation set forth in the operating permit for its Potomac River plant in Alexandria, Virginia.

"Bringing this complex case to a conclusion means we will see significant environmental improvements in the region, and millions of people will benefit," said David Paylor, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

NOx contributes to the formation of acid rain and also increases ground level ozone, which causes smog, and contributes to severe respiratory problems and exacerbates cases of childhood asthma.

Under the terms of the settlement, Mirant will cap emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) on a system-wide basis from its Chalk Point Generating Plant, in Prince George's County, Maryland, Dickerson Generating Plant, in Montgomery County, Maryland, Morgantown Generating Plant, in Charles County, Maryland, and its Potomac River Generating Station, in Alexandria.

The amended agreement requires Mirant to reduce emissions of NOx and particulate matter at its Potomac River Generating Station.

To achieve these reductions and meet the declining systemwide NOx caps, Mirant will install and operate NOx pollution control equipment at its Morgantown and Potomac River Plants and will potentially install other controls at its Chalk Point and Dickerson Plants.

In addition, Mirant will pay a $500,000 civil penalty, to be divided between Virginia and the federal government, and will spend at least $1 million on nine projects designed to reduce particulate matter and fugitive dust emissions from the Potomac River plant.

"The Mirant consent decree serves as another example of the state's leadership in working regionally to improve air quality. This consent decree will result in significant year-round air quality benefits for Maryland and the entire Washington metropolitan area starting next year," said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Kendl Philbrick. "This is nearly two years earlier than the nitrogen oxide emission reductions required under Maryland's Healthy Air Act and Clean Power Rule."

The agreement will ensure that the company operates at all times in a manner consistent with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for NO2.

Mirant's impact on the air quality standards for sulfur dioxide and particulate matter are being addressed through a separate proceeding in consultation with the Department of Energy and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The original agreement was filed in September 2004, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. After receiving public comment on the original agreement, the parties negotiated changes to address some of the public comments received.

The amended consent decree will be subject to a 30-day public comment period and is available online at:

* * *

New Orleans Residents Lose Bid to Keep Dump Out

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, May 9, 2006 (ENS) – Thousands of homes damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita last summer still sit moldering in the New Orleans sun. Before the city can be restored, the moldy, shattered remains must be removed and dumped somewhere.

State and federal officials say the situation constitutes an emergency, and a federal judge agreed on April 27.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman ruled that the Chef Menteur landfill can accept millions of tons of of the construction and demolition debris, upholding permits issued to the landfill by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The judge rejected a motion for a temporary restraining order sought by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the residents' advocacy group Citizens for a Strong New Orleans East that would have kept the dump from operating.

The groups argued that the federal and state agencies broke the law earlier in April by issuing a temporary emergency permit to Waste Management Inc. without first giving the public notice and a chance to comment.

The Chef Menteur landfill, named after the road on which it is located, is in east New Orleans about two miles from a community of Vietnamese-American families and also next to Bayou Sauvage, the nation's largest urban wildlife refuge. It is one of three landfills for the city's construction and demolition debris.

The federal and state agencies persuaded the judge that emergency conditions make it urgent to have this dump site begin accepting debris immediately.

“We understand that there are not many people who are going to welcome a disposal facility near them,” said DEQ Assistant Secretary Chuck Carr Brown, who gave the site permission to operate.

“We also understand we are in an emergency situation and there are 18 million cubic yards of debris left to be removed from the New Orleans area," said Brown.

"When demolition starts there will be tons of debris to be disposed of. Because of the emergency situation, we need more sites like Chef Menteur that are environmentally sound, that have been studied and that are strategically located so we can dispose of waste in a timely and safe manner,” he said.

Brown said if Chef Menteur or any of the other sites were closed due to lawsuits it would take considerably longer to dispose of the debris.

“If we have three working C and D landfills and everything goes right, we could have the hurricane-related debris disposed of in less than a year,” Brown said. “If we’re limited to one disposal site, it would take three times as long.”

Meanwhile, preservationists who value historic New Orleans are trying to salvage unique building materials originally installed in homes decades ago from being dumped in the landfill.

* * *

States, Cities Sue Bush For Better Fuel Efficiency Standards

ALBANY, New York, May 9, 2006 (ENS) - Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo have filed a lawsuit challenging the Bush administration for failing to address the impacts of its new federal fuel economy standards for SUVs and light trucks on air quality, fuel conservation and global climate change.

Spitzer and Cardozo were joined in the filing by eight other state attorneys general and the District of Columbia. The lawsuit, filed May 2 in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, alleges the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) failed to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), which require the government to determine the impacts of the new regulations on both fuel conservation and the environment.

"At a time when consumers are struggling to pay surging gas prices and the challenge of global climate change has become even more clear, it is unconscionable that the Bush Administration is not requiring greater mileage efficiency for light trucks," said Spitzer. "The failure of this administration to lead on vital environmental issues like this will burden our nation for generations to come."

The basis for the lawsuit is set forth in a comment letter by the plaintiffs submitted to NHTSA on November 22, 2005. The letter states that the NHTSA "failed to consider alternative approaches that would have promoted energy conservation, made meaningful contributions to increased fuel economy and encouraged technological innovation."

"Given the number of light trucks that travel daily around New York City, the NHTSA should not have ignored, among other things, the significant environmental effects of the carbon dioxide emitted from such vehicles that contribute to climate change," said Cardozo. "The City remains concerned about the adverse impacts from global warming that our residents, infrastructure, and resources have and will continue to experience in light of the City’s coastal, island geography and extremely dense urban population."

In addition, the letter states, the NHTSA has failed to consider the environmental consequences of its proposed overhaul of light truck standards, failed to consider the changes in the environment since its last Environmental Impact Statement in the 1980s, and failed to evaluate the impact of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions despite identifying the threat of CO2 and global climate change as new information concerning the environment.

The standards, which shift the mile-per-gallon requirements from a fleet-wide basis to a new structure based on weight categories, "create incentives to build larger, less fuel-efficient models, which will jeopardize air quality and the climate," the letter states.

The final standards, issued in March, also contain an attempt by the administration to argue for preemption of California’s landmark law, also adopted by New York, requiring reductions in vehicle emissions that contribute to global warming. The published document included a 52-page discussion asserting that only the federal government can regulate motor vehicle carbon dioxide emissions.

In addition to Attorney General Spitzer and Corporation Counsel Cardozo, the following Attorneys General are participating in the lawsuit: Bill Lockyer, California, Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut, G. Steven Rowe, Maine, Thomas. P Reilly, Massachusetts, Patricia Madrid, New Mexico, Hardy Myers, Oregon, Patrick Lynch, Rhode Island, William H. Sorrell, Vermont, and Robert Spagnoletti, District of Columbia.

* * *

Pennsylvania Invests $10 Million in New Clean Energy Projects

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, May 9, 2006 (ENS) - Coal-rich Pennsylvania is adding renewable energy sources to its portfolio. The state is investing $10 million in clean energy projects to attract private investments in the state's burgeoning renewable energy sector, Governor Ed Rendell announced Monday.

“Pennsylvania is changing the way clean energy is produced and distributed,” said Governor Rendell. “These grants will leverage private investments to deploy the next generation of clean, renewable energy sources made in Pennsylvania. We are putting Pennsylvania at the front of the line in one of the most dynamic industry sectors in the world and creating jobs that lift up commonwealth families and help our businesses grow.”

The governor made $5 million in grants available for Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority (PEDA) funding.

Applicants for PEDA financing can seek grant assistance for capital costs for innovative, advanced energy projects and for businesses interested in locating their advanced energy operations in the state.

Eligible PEDA projects may include solar energy, wind, low-impact hydropower, geothermal, biologically derived methane gas, including landfill gas, biomass, fuel cells, coal-mine methane, waste coal, integrated gasification combined cycle, and clean, alternative fuels for transportation.

In addition PEDA applications will be considered for demand management measures, including recycled energy and energy recovery, energy efficiency and load management.

In addition, $5 million was made available for the fourth round of funding under the Pennsylvania Energy Harvest Grant Program.

Energy Harvest grants will fund innovative energy deployment projects that emphasize protecting Pennsylvania’s air or water quality while supporting economic development and enhancing the quality of life.

Eligible proposals include renewable energy deployment, including biomass energy, waste coal reclamation for energy, deployment of innovative energy efficiency technologies, and distributed generation projects.

Both programs began accepting applications Monday. The deadline for receipt of applications for both programs is July 14.

Pennsylvania's alternative energy portfolio standard requires that 18 percent of all energy generation comes from clean, efficient sources by 2020.

Benefits of the policy include $10 billion in increased output for the commonwealth, $3 billion in additional earnings and as many as 4,000 new jobs for residents over the next 20 years, say state officials.

Today Pennsylvania produces enough clean energy to power some 70,000 homes and clean energy is a growing industry in the state. Gamesa, the second largest wind energy company in the world, is investing $84 million in Pennsylvania for four manufacturing facilities and its North American headquarters, creating some 1,000 jobs.

The nation’s first coal gasification-liquefaction plant is proposed for Schuylkill County. Waste Management and Processors Inc. plans to build a waste-coal-to-diesel plant. Construction would create as many as 1,000 jobs, and operating the plant would produce another 600 permanent, high-paying positions, according to state estimates.

The proposed plant would clean up tens of millions of tons of waste coal while giving the state and consumers clean diesel at a fraction of the market price.

The East Coast’s first commercially biofuels storage and blending system in is planned for Middletown, in Dauphin County. The plant will replace 3.2 million gallons of foreign oil with domestically produced biodiesel and will keep about $6 million worth of energy dollars in Pennsylvania by reducing the state’s need to purchase imported fuels.

* * *

California Solar Boat Race Sparks Similar Race Down Under

LOS ANGELES, California, May 9, 2006 (ENS) - Southern California high school teams are readying their solar boats for this year's Metropolitan Water District Solar Cup program - now the largest solar boat competition in the nation.

In its fourth year, Solar Cup has a record 37 teams preparing their boats for the May 19-21 competition at Metropolitan’s Lake Skinner near Temecula. The teams are sponsored and financed by local water agencies and other non-profit organizations.

The Solar Cup is a six month program for hundreds of Southern California high school students - they build, equip and race solar-powered boats and learn more about mathematics, physics, engineering, alternative energy sources, resource management, and teamwork.

Metropolitan’s event will be held over three days and is open to the public free of charge. Friday, May 19 will be qualifying events. Saturday, May 20 will be sprint races using solar power stored in batteries. Sunday, May 21, will feature endurance races using solar-collection panels, and will conclude with an awards ceremony.

This year, the Solar Cup has an offshoot in Australia. The Australian subsidiary of electronics firm Roland DG Corp. is planning a similar program and is inviting Metropolitan’s Solar Cup manager to Sydney for expertise.

Julie Miller, a credentialed California teacher who works in Metropolitan’s Education Programs unit, flew to Australia in April courtesy of Roland DG. She is helping to organize the November 2006 Australian International Solar Boat Challenge event at the Sydney Olympic Regatta Centre in Penrith.

Miller said, “The real thrill is that this recognizes all of the effort that Metropolitan, the sponsoring water agencies, the teachers and students have put into Solar Cup over the past four years. And it’s great to see that our commitment to educating young people to environmental issues is shared on the other side of the globe.”

“They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, so this is high praise,” said Metropolitan General Manager Jeff Kightlinger. “We’re pleased to share our experience.”

Tim Levy, the Australian program director, said he discovered Metropolitan’s Solar Cup program on the Internet, where he viewed video, photos, rules and other materials at Metropolitan’s Web site,

“We certainly share a passion for children, for education, and for an alternative energy agenda,” Levy said. “I was sold!”

There will be slight differences between Metropolitan’s and Australia’s programs.

Metropolitan’s competition is open only to Southern California high school teams racing identical 16 foot long hulls individually equipped with steering and solar collection and storage systems.

The Australian event proposes a radio-controlled model boat category for primary school students, and full sized, piloted craft categories for secondary students and others.

The Australian event will be held in conjunction with a Penrith festival that attracts 10,000 people, and will present several thousand dollars worth of prizes to the winners.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies serving 18 million people in six counties. The district imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies, and helps its members to develop increased water conservation, recycling, storage, and other resource-management programs.

* * *