AmeriScan: May 15, 2006

* * *

New England Awash

BOSTON, Massachusetts, May 15, 2006 (ENS) - Three New England governors - in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire - declared states of emergency as flooding rains washed out roads and forced evacuations Sunday.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, monitoring the flooding from a bunker in Framingham, activated the National Guard early Sunday.

Working with the Red Cross and crews from state and local agencies Guard members evacuated people in Peabody and Melrose after sewage overflowed into apartment buildings. Downtown Peabody was awash in five feet of water Sunday afternoon.

Personnel from U.S. Coast Guard Station Gloucester Sunday worked in flooded areas, as part of Mayor John Bell's Emergency Action Plan.

Coast Guard personnel assisted the local fire department and filled over 1,000 sandbags to help control flooding at the Milton L. Fuller Elementary School. The school is being used as an evacuation area for local residents.

Station Gloucester personnel pumped out the Poplar Street retirement home as elderly residents are being evacuated to the Fuller Elementary School.

Across northeastern Massachusetts, heavy rain with severe river and urban flooding is expected to continue all day today, and heavy rain is expected to continue through Thursday.

The National Weather Service (NWS) said this morning that a dangerous and life threatening flood situation is ongoing across northeast Massachusetts. Major flooding, and in some cases record flooding, is forecast to occur in northeast Massachusetts and south central New Hampshire, cresting early this week, weather forecasters said.

"The second worst flooding of record is likely to occur on the Merrimack [River] at Lowell, dating back to an event prior to the hurricane of '38," the NWS said. Along portions of the Merrimack flooding is forecast to continue into early Friday.

Across New Hampshire, rivers are overflowing, roads are impassable, schools are closed and basements flooded. National Weather Service meteorologist John Cannon said rainfall in Concord is expected to beat the May record of 9.52 inches set in 1984.

* * *

Senators Propose to Boost CAFE Standard 10 mpg by 2017

WASHINGTON, DC, May 15, 2006 (ENS) - A bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate this week that would raise the average fuel economy standards for all vehicles, including SUVs and sedans, from 25 miles per gallon (mpg) to 35 mpg by model year 2017.

The bill was proposed by U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe of Maine, a Republican, and Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California and Richard Durbin of Illinois. They said that if enacted the bill would lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, bring down the price of gasoline, and clean up the country's air.

President George W. Bush increased the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards by a small amount in March. The three senators say the United States can, and should, do more.

“The time has come for Congress to take responsible action and do something about our addiction to oil. In March, the President took a small step to increase the fuel economy of our SUVs and light trucks by 1.8 miles per gallon by 2011,” Senator Feinstein said. “We can do better. We have the technology to raise the average fuel efficiency of all vehicles to 35 miles per gallon by model year 2017."

If passed, the Feinstein-Snowe-Durbin bill would save 2.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2025, the same amount of oil the United States currently imports from the Persian Gulf, the senators said.

In addition, they said the measure would save 420 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2025, the equivalent of taking 90 million cars - or 75 million cars and light trucks - off the road in one year.

“When it comes to the fuel economy of America’s cars and trucks, we simply must do better – and this bill puts us on that path," said Senator Snowe. "Improving efficiency by 10 mpg over 10 years is well within our reach without compromising automobile safety or affordability.”

"We also need to act urgently on global warming," said Snowe. "Reducing our carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 420 million metric tons by 2025 – the equivalent of taking 90 million cars off the road in one year – is one of the most important steps we can take to address global warming. We must act now.”

“The fight for CAFE standards legislation has spanned more than a decade. It’s the right thing to do and the momentum for real reform is building,” Senator Durbin said.

Durbin said the sooner higher CAFE standards are enacted, the more oil the U.S. will save. "If the U.S. had increased the fuel economy of all cars sold in America 10 years ago by only five miles per gallon, today we would be using more than 1 million fewer barrels of oil per day," Durbin said.

That would have saved the country $33 billion annually in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, he said.

The Feinstein-Snowe-Durbin legislation would establish a credit trading program for the auto manufacturers so that if one manufacturer could not meet the 35 mpg standard by model year 2017, it could buy credits from other auto manufacturers that are able to meet that standard.

The measure would provide the Secretary of Transportation the authority to establish separate standards for different classes of vehicles according to size, as long as the overall fleet average meets the 35 mpg standard.

The United States consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil but only has three percent of the world’s reserves.

* * *

Fined $850,000, Hartford Agrees to Reduce Sewage Discharges

HARTFORD, Connecticut, May 15, 2006 (ENS) – The Hartford Metropolitan District (MDC) has been fined $850,000 for illegal sewage discharges that occurred when stormwater caused the antiquated system to overflow.

The MDC is a non-profit municipal corporation that provides water supply, water treatment and water pollution control to eight Hartford-area communities. The EPA’s investigators found that the MDC had discharged over 120 million gallons of untreated sewage from eight unpermitted sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) locations over the past five years.

Most of the discharges occurred during storms when the capacity of the separate collection systems was exceeded by groundwater and rainwater that were discharged to these separate systems by individual residences through the connection of sump pumps, roof leaders, foundation, yard and area drains.

Blockages in the collection systems have also resulted in dry-weather raw sewage overflows in all of the MDC’s member communities.

Under terms of the settlement, announced Thursday by state and federal agencies, the MDC will reduce illegal raw sewage overflows from the sanitary portions of their wastewater collection system, which previously have been discharged to area waterways including the Connecticut River, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The MDC will also pay a fine of $850,000.

The MDC has agreed to implement a comprehensive, systemwide plan to ensure that all sanitary sewer overflows that are associated with insufficient capacity of the MDC's separate wastewater collection system are eliminated within seven to 12 years.

The settlement agreement is between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office, and Hartford’s Metropolitan District.

The fine will be split equally between the United States and the state of Connecticut.

“By taking strong steps to eliminate raw sewage that is being discharged into the Connecticut River and its tributaries, we are both cleaning the environment and enhancing the recreation opportunities in the rivers,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office.

“It is encouraging that the MDC agreed to quickly settle this case and move ahead with the important work of remedying the problems in the separate portions of their wastewater collection system that have contributed to these untreated discharges,” Varney said.

"This resolution reflects the federal government's latest efforts to protect Connecticut's waterways,” said Kevin O'Connor, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut. “It's unacceptable that so many millions of gallons of wastewater flowed untreated into our rivers and streams. This stiff fine and required remedial measures sends the right message that pollution or lax environmental compliance efforts will not be tolerated."

Because Connecticut law allows for penalties to be used to fund environmental projects, the state’s half of the penalty, $425,000, will be paid into a fund to be used to pay for projects in the greater Hartford area such as water quality planning, assessment and restoration, and greenway enhancements.

"The settlement is a significant step forward to improving water quality in the greater Hartford area, said Connecticut Dept. of Environmental Protection Commissioner Gina McCarthy. 'DEP appreciates the effort and good faith all parties have displayed to reach this settlement."

* * *

Dupont Tops List of 100 Most Toxic Air Polluters

AMHERST, Massachusetts, May 15, 2006 (ENS) - Which are the most toxic air polluters in the United States? The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts has answered that question with the Toxic 100, an updated list of the top corporate air polluters issued Thursday.

The Toxic 100's top five companies are E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., US Steel, ConocoPhillips, General Electric, and Eastman Kodak.

"The Toxic 100 informs consumers and shareholders which large corporations release the most toxic pollutants into our air," says James Boyce, director of PERI's environment program.

"We measure not just how many pounds of pollutants are released, but which are the most toxic and how many people are at risk," Boyce said. "People have a right to know about toxic hazards to which they are exposed. Legislators need to understand the effects of pollution on their constituents."

The Toxic 100 index is based on air releases of hundreds of chemicals from industrial facilities across the United States. The rankings take into account not only the quantity of releases, but the relative toxicity of chemicals, nearby populations, and factors such as prevailing winds and height of smokestacks.

The Toxic 100 index identifies the top air polluters among corporations that appear in the "Fortune 500," "Forbes 500," and "Standard & Poor's 500" lists of the country's largest firms.

A new feature of the online list is that readers can see the details behind each company, such as individual facilities owned by the corporation, specific chemicals they emit, their toxicities, and their contributions to the company's overall Toxic Score.

The data on chemical releases come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). But PERI says that reports based on these data alone have three limitations:

The Toxic 100 index tackles all three problems. It includes toxicity weights and the number of people at risk using 2002 data, the most recent available from the EPA's Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators project. PERI researchers added up facility-by-facility data from the EPA to get corporate rankings.

"In making this information available, we are building on the achievements of the right-to-know movement," Boyce explains. "Our goal is to engender public participation in environmental decision-making, and to help residents translate the right to know into the right to clean air."

For further information, contact Professor Michael Ash at 413-545-6329 or visit PERI's Corporate Toxics Information Project.

* * *

Minnesota Enacts Mercury Reductions Law

ST. PAUL, Minnesota, May 15, 2006 (ENS) - After years of public pressure, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, Thursday signed a new law that will reduce the mercury pollution coming from Minnesota's largest coal-fired power plants, lowering their mercury emissions by 90 percent.

“This legislation is likely the most aggressive mercury reduction initiative in the country. Our lakes, our environment, and our health will benefit immeasurably. I am proud of the work of our Administration and all of the stakeholders in getting this legislation passed,” the governor said.

Minnesota joins nine other states that are moving forward with mercury protections, including Maine, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York.

"Unlike the federal government, state leaders are doing the right thing for families by reducing mercury pollution," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "Now, it’s up to other governors and state leaders to take similar action."

Governor Pawlenty's actions come after recent announcements by Governor Blagojevich of Illinois and Governor Granholm of Michigan of initiatives that will reduce mercury pollution in their states by 90 percent.

Most mercury comes from coal-fired power plants, where it falls into rivers and streams and then finds its way into our bodies via contaminated fish.

Mercury poisoning can cause severe learning disabilities and developmental problems, especially in babies and small children. In response to growing awareness about the dangers that mercury poses, and concern that the Bush administration plan does not do enough to protect women and children from this toxic pollution, Midwest governors are passing laws to protect residents in their states.

Minnesota’s total mercury emissions are estimated at 3,340 pounds a year, with some 1,650 of these pounds from utility coal plants. Coal-burning power plants are the largest source of uncontrolled mercury emissions, both in Minnesota and nation-wide.

The mercury issue created headlines earlier this year when a recent study by the University of North Carolina in Asheville showed that one in five American women of childbearing age who were tested had unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies.

"The good news is that we already have the technology to clean up mercury pollution by 90 percent," said Pope. "These governors and state leaders are showing us that states can take the lead and solve these problems."

Mothers who are concerned about mercury can order a hair-testing kit to find out how much mercury is in their bodies, and download a list of which fish are safe to eat.

An online calculator at Gotmercury.org shows how the fish one is already eating stacks up against a safe level of mercury as determined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

* * *

Newly Approved Bird Repellant Saves Corn and Cranes

BARABOO, Wisconsin, May 15, 2006 (ENS) - The International Crane Foundation has been notified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that temporary approval has been given for the use of the non-lethal bird repellant, Avitec.

In 2006, this repellant can be used as a seed treatment by farmers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota in areas where sandhill cranes have been damaging corn fields by eating corn seeds shortly after planting.

This approval advances the International Crane Foundation’s (ICF) goal to reduce conflicts arising between farmers and the increasing population of Sandhill Cranes in the Midwest.

Avitec has an active ingredient of 9,10 anthraquinone, a naturally occurring substance used by plants to repel birds. The use of Avitec represents a decade of effort by ICF and collaborators to prevent damage that cranes cause.

Cranes eat newly planted corn seeds that occur in straight rows at predictable intervals. Planted kernels are most vulnerable for about two weeks after the corn seedlings emerge. Cranes detect Avitec at very low levels and avoid it.

Though treated, planted kernels are not consumed by cranes, the birds continue to forage on waste grains and other foods in those same fields. This benefits the farmer because waste corn and many types of beetle larvae can later cause problems as the crop matures, the International Crane Foundation (ICF) explains.

The restoration of Wisconsin’s Sandhill Crane population is a conservation success story, the Foundation points out. From the 1930s, the state’s crane population was estimated at 26 nesting pairs. Over the last 23 years, the ICF-sponsored Annual Midwest Crane Count has documented a three-fold increase in the Wisconsin’s crane population.

This first agricultural application of 9,10 Anthraquinone, approved within the United States as a bird repellent, is the result of collaboration among many organizations and agencies.

ICF has worked with the U.S. EPA; the University of Wisconsin-Madison; state departments of agriculture, trade and consumer protection in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin; four farming organizations in the three states; the Department of Wildlife Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; many individual farmers; U.S. Senator Herb Kohl’s Office; the IR-4 Project of Rutgers University; three local chapters of the Audubon Society; and Arkion, the manufacturer of Avitec.

Applications for longer term use of Avitec™ are being pursued for the 2007 planting season.

For technical information about Avitec view the Q&A document on the Arkion website, www.arkionls.com.

* * *

Painted Bunting Observers Seek Help From Citizen Scientists

WILMINGTON, North Carolina, May 15, 2006 (ENS) - A team at the University of North Carolina Wilmington is seeking help from volunteers to support a research study in South Carolina and North Carolina to sustain and increase the numbers painted buntings - a species of migratory bird.

The exact causes for the decline of painted buntings over the past 35 years are not known, but they are believed to include habitat loss, cowbird parasitism, and trapping for the pet trade on the species' wintering grounds in southern Mexico.

The Painted Bunting Observer Team is led by ornithologist Dr. Jamie Rotenberg, who is organizing the four state study. "Volunteer Painted Bunting Observer Teams are a crucial part of the study as citizen scientists can help us monitor and collect behavioral data in the field," said Rotenberg. "Our goal is to have hundreds of Painted Bunting Observer Teams throughout the painted bunting breeding grounds in North and South Carolina."

Breeding Bird Survey data reveal that Eastern painted bunting populations declined at least 3.5 percent annually over a 30 year period from 1966 to 1995. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently raised the painted bunting to "Focal Species" status. The new status allows funding to develop means of bringing painted bunting populations back up to healthy and sustainable levels.

Painted buntings usually arrive in the Carolinas in April and stay throughout the summer, migrating south during August to wintering grounds in southern Mexico.

In South Carolina, as coastal habitats are developed at unprecedented levels, and as more inland shrub is cleared, these spectacular birds are losing their homes.

Using the data collected by the Painted Bunting Observer Teams, Rotenberg and colleagues will evaluate whether backyard bird feeders help breeding buntings as compared to their cousins that only use natural areas, such as state parks and reserves, for their food supply.

Last spring, Rotenberg began a small, grassroots citizen-science project to examine distribution and feeding habits of painted buntings in North Carolina. Since painted buntings readily visit backyard bird feeders, citizens, acting as scientists, assisted Rotenberg in the collection of vital data.

These volunteers recorded bunting locations and monitored the birds' use of backyard feeders. The small pilot project grew to include more than 65 volunteers from New Bern and Sneed's Ferry in the north to Supply and Oak and Bald Head islands in the south.

Building on last year's work, the University of North Carolina Wilmington will receive a $20,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct a pilot study to develop strategies for sustaining the painted bunting populations in these areas.

This year, Rotenberg would like to recruit volunteers covering an area as far north as Morehead City, North Carolina, the northern-most breeding area for painted buntings, and south throughout the coastal plain of South Carolina.

To become a Painted Bunting Observer Team volunteer member or to learn more about the project, contact: Dr. Jamie Rotenberg, University of North Carolina Wilmington ornithologist, at pbot@uncw.edu or 910-962-7675.

* * *