AmeriScan: May 25, 2007

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Congress Tries to Clarify Waters Muddied by Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, DC, May 25, 2007 (ENS) - To restore federal protection of waters and wetlands, a bi-partisan bill was introduced in the House on Tuesday that attempts to clarify the original intent of Congress in the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Two Supreme Court decisions that obscured the definition of which water bodies are covered by the 1972 law have made the new measure necessary, its sponsors say.

Democratic Congressmen James Oberstar of Minnesota and John Dingell of Michigan and Republican Vernon Ehlers of Michigan held a news conference Tuesday to introduce the Clean Water Restoration Act, H.R. 2421.

Oberstar, chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Dingell, who chairs the Committee on Energy and Commerce, both worked to achieve passage of the original Clean Water Act.

To achieve clarification, the new bill replaces the term "navigable waters of the United States" with the term "waters of the United States."

This change is intended to reestablish the commonly held understanding of the Clean Water Act prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in two cases - Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. Corps of Engineers (SWANCC) in 2001 and Rapanos et ux., et at. v. United States in 2006.

"Prior to 2001, the scope of the Clean Water Act was commonly recognized to include inter and intra-state waters," said Oberstar. "By focusing on the phrase 'navigable waters' in its SWANCC and Rapanos decisions, the Supreme Court muddied the jurisdictional understanding of the Clean Water Act."

In SWANCC, the Supreme Court ruled that non-navigable, isolated, intrastate waters do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

In Rapanos, five of the nine Supreme Court justices agreed to void lower court rulings against the plaintiffs, who wanted to fill their wetlands to build a shopping mall and condos.

But the court was split over other issues in the case, with the four more conservative justices favoring a more restrictive reading of the term "navigable waters" than the four more liberal justices, and one justice not fully joining either position.

Congressman Dingell said the Rapanos ruling "continued to bungle the clear intent of Congress." "The fact that there was no clear majority upholding current Clean Water Act authorities as they now exist poses a threat to waters across the country," he said.

As a result of these two rulings, said Oberstar, there has been "great uncertainty" for federal, state and local governments, agencies, courts, communities and land owners regarding where federal authority begins and ends under the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Restoration Act has 158 original cosponsors, and the endorsement of more than 300 organizations representing the conservation community, family farmers, fishers, surfers, boaters, faith communities, environmental justice advocates, labor unions, and civic associations.

"Congress is obligated to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act following the regulatory confusion and lawsuits that have arisen out of recent Supreme Court decisions," said Ehlers. "The Clean Water Restoration Act makes clear the environmental protection that Congress intended and will help to eliminate much of that uncertainty and costly litigation."

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Technology to Back Ballast Water Bill Nonexistent

WASHINGTON, DC, May 25, 2007 (ENS) - A bill that aims to protect U.S. lakes, rivers and coastal waters from aquatic invasive species was introduced in the House of Representatives Thursday by Republican members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. But the measure requires treatment of ships' ballast water with technology that does not now exist.

The Ballast Water Management Act of 2007 (H.R. 2423) would incorporate international ballast water management requirements into U.S. law and would establish ballast water discharge standards that are 100 times more stringent than current international standards.

Vessels operating in U.S. waters would be prohibited from discharging ballast water that was not treated with a system designed to remove or kill aquatic organisms that are carried within a vessel's ballast tanks.

The bill's treatment requirements would be phased in for certain new vessels beginning in 2009 and for all vessels by 2016.

But unlike previous measures, this bill allows the U.S. Coast Guard to delay implementation of national standards "if technologies are not available and to accelerate the implementation of standards if systems are certified ahead of schedule." No such technologies are currently available, the bill states.

Ballast water is carried in unladen ships to provide stability. The seawater is taken on board in port before the voyage begins along with any marine organisms that live in that port.

At the ships' destination, the cargo is loaded and the ballast water, with its stowaway organisms, is pumped out.

Hundreds of species of marine organisms have been carried around the globe in ballast water.

While some are benign, others threaten biodiversity, fisheries and aquaculture. Introduced species may prey on native populations or deprive them of food. Others form colonies which can smother existing fauna. Introduced toxic dinoflagellates cause red tides and algal blooms that can sicken or kill shellfish, fish, sea birds and humans.

Today, the National Invasive Species Act requires that all vessels must empty and rinse their ballast tanks on the high seas before entering U.S. waters and U.S. ports.

While this process removes many organisms from ballast water, it may not remove all of them, and it does not eliminate viruses, which are responsible for killing many fish in the Great Lakes.

"From the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, ballast water has been the incubator of harmful invasive species," said co-sponsor Congressman Richard Baker, a Louisiana Republican. "Our bill is an ambitious approach to combating this environmental disaster to America's water resources."

Just beginning its legislative voyage, the bill has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Sponsors hope technology will catch up with their legislation.

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House OKs Funds to Study Sonar Impact on Whales

WASHINGTON, DC, May 25, 2007 (ENS) - Funding for research into the effects of military sonar systems on whales and dolphins has been authorized by the House of Representatives as part of $72 million in funding for military research and testing in Hawaii. The Hawaii funding is part of the $504 billion 2008 National Defense Authorization Act.

Scientists from the International Whaling Commission and others have linked sonar to a series of whale strandings, and have found that the loud underwater sounds interfere with the ecolocation used by whales and dolphins to interact, mate, and find prey.

Environmental groups have sued and engaged in negotiations to limit the U.S. Navy's use of sonar, with mixed results.

The Hawaii research contracts include the development of electronic systems to detect the presence of marine mammals in naval training areas. Environmentalists hope that the Navy can be persuaded to avoid areas where marine mammals are detected.

"This funding will help maintain Hawaii's high-tech community role as an engine in the growth of our local economy," said Congressman Neil Abercrombie who recommended the appropriation. The Hawaii Democrat chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces.

One of the funded projects studies the effects of military sonar systems on marine mammal hearing. The project is led by Dr. Paul Nachtigall of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology in Kaneohe, on Oahu's Coconut Island.

Nachtigall says Abercrombie's targeting of $2.3 million to the institute will reap benefits far beyond Hawaii.

"The development of more effective submarine detection systems for the Navy, commercial shipments, oceanographic research and energy exploration all utilize the introduction of acoustic energy into the oceans," said Nachtigall. "But, while public concern over the effects of sonar on whales and dolphins is growing, the availability of reliable data from independent, academically sound, and established research on the effects of sound on marine mammals has been lacking."

Abercrombie also recommended $4 million for further research, development and installation of marine mammal detection systems on Navy aircraft, which would survey naval training areas before active sonar is used, to help ships avoid harming dolphins and whales.

BAE Systems in Hawaii is developing an airborne survey system that automatically and harmlessly detects the presence, location, and movement of marine mammals.

"We intend to test this new system capability here in Hawaii within the confines of the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai," said BAE's Galen Ho.

Military active sonar emits loud waves of sound that sweep across hundreds of miles of ocean, revealing objects, such as enemy submarines, in their path.

Low frequency sonar can generate sound as loud as a twin-engine fighter jet at takeoff. Mid-frequency sonar can emit sounds of 235 decibels, as loud as a Saturn V rocket at launch, says the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been leading the fight to limit the use of sonar.

Even 100 miles from a low frequency system, sounds can reach 160 decibels, beyond the Navy's own safety limits for humans.

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Delta Smelt Crash Prompts Legal Action

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 25, 2007 (ENS) - A March 2006 petition by conservation groups seeking a federal Endangered listing for a vanishing California fish now listed as Threatened has not been answered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so the groups have notified the agency that they are taking the matter to court.

The small, nearly translucent delta smelt, Hypomesus transpacificus, is endemic to the west coast's largest estuary, the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The Bay Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, and Natural Resources Defense Council Thursday sent a 60 day notice letter of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to respond to the petition.

The groups also sent an urgent request letter to the California Fish and Game Commission requesting that the agency reconsider an emergency state listing of endangered for the delta smelt under the state Endangered Species Act.

California Department of Fish and Game data released this month on juvenile delta smelt abundance from 2007 indicate a possibly fatal drop in the delta smelt population.

Spring trawl surveys looking for juvenile smelt in the Delta from March through May found just 25 juvenile delta smelt, the smallest number ever recorded, and most trawls caught no smelt at all.

Juvenile smelt numbers are 92 percent lower than in 2006, which was a record low.

On May 15 the Delta Smelt Working Group, comprised of agency biologists, declared that delta smelt are "critically imperiled" and that an "emergency response" is warranted.

"Scientists have been warning that delta smelt was on the brink of collapse for the past three years," said Dr. Tina Swanson, senior scientist with the Bay Institute. "These same scientists have repeatedly recommended specific management actions that would help the fish, virtually none of which have been implemented by the state and federal agencies responsible for protecting this endangered species."

In response to the new data, the Working Group urgently recommended that the state and federal water project change their operations to eliminate reverse flows in Delta channels, prevent further losses of the fish to the pumps and allow the remaining population to move safely downstream.

To date, state and federal fisheries agencies have failed to require compliance with the Group's recommendations.

In June 2006 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a determination that emergency reclassification to Endangered was not warranted, but that if conditions changed, the Service could develop an emergency rule. The Service has since failed to respond to the petition, though a 90 day finding was due in June 2006 and a 12 month finding was due on March 9, 2007.

For more information on the delta smelt decline and the ecosystem collapse in the Delta click here.

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California Utilities Must Buy Cleaner Power

SACRAMENTO, California, May 25, 2007 (ENS) Municipal utilities in California must make long-term investments in clean electricity generation under new regulations adopted Wednesday by the California Energy Commission, CEC.

The CEC approved regulations that limit the purchase of electricity from power plants that fail to meet strict greenhouse gas emissions standards. The new rules prohibit the state's publicly owned utilities from entering into long-term financial commitments with plants that exceed 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide, CO2, per megawatt hour.

The rules are required under the state's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Performance Standard Act passed last year and will help California achieve its goal of reducing these emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

"Working with the Legislature, the governor has demonstrated a clear vision with this first-in-the-nation legislation to reduce emissions," said Energy Commission Chairman Jackalyne Pfannenstiel. "His bold leadership is helping to reduce California's carbon footprint by ensuring a clean supply of electricity."

The act directs the Energy Commission, in collaboration with the California Public Utilities Commission, CPUC, and the California Air Resources Board, to establish a greenhouse gas emission performance standard for power plants.

Pfannenstiel says this standard was reached by evaluating existing combined-cycle natural gas baseload power plants across the west and is the same CO2 measurement approved by the CPUC.

Dozens of new coal-fired power plants are in the planning and development stage throughout the West, with their eyes on the California market. Burning coal to produce power with conventional technology emits about twice the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, as a typical combined cycle natural gas power plant.

According to the CEC, about 21 percent of all electricity consumed in California comes from coal.

The new regulations do not rule out electricity from coal, but they signal the industry to employ cleaner and more efficient technologies if they want California financing.

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Indy 500 Race Cars to Run on 100% Ethanol

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, May 25, 2007 (ENS) - On Sunday for the first time, all cars competing in the Indianapolis 500-Mile Car Race, better known as the Indy 500, will run on a renewable fuel.

Racing champion Bobby Rahal announced the change earlier this month, calling it "a tribute to the spirit of American ingenuity and innovation."

"The use of 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol makes the Indy Car Series the first in motor sports anywhere in the world to embrace a renewable and environmentally friendly fuel source," he said at the National Press Club on May 4.

The Indy series, made up of more a dozen races, is one of the prime automobile racing events in the United States.

It entered into a partnership with the ethanol industry in 2006 when Indy cars ran for the first time on a blend of ethanol and methanol.

That blend replaced pure methanol, which had been the preferred fuel in Indy racing for 40 years.

Rahal, who has won the Indy 500 and other major races, said that watching high-tech vehicles racing inches apart at 220 miles per hour excites him no matter what fuel cars burn. But the switch to corn-based ethanol is not only about entertainment, he said.

"Motor racing has to provide value ... based on responsibility," Rahal said.

John Griffin, vice-president of public relations for the Indy Car Series, says the performance qualities of ethanol fuel caused "trepidation" even among Indy drivers, engineers and mechanics.

"When you get comfortable with something for so long as they did with methanol, it is not easy to move away from it," he said.

But after five races this year with no signs of inferior engine performance, drivers have accepted ethanol, Griffin said. "At the end of the day, they see that we are doing something good for the environment without losing anything."

Rahal is co-owner of Rahal Letterman Racing, an Indy racing team sponsored by the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, EPIC, a business association.

Based in Hilliard, Ohio, Rahal Letterman Racing is co-owned by Rahal and CBS Late Show host David Letterman.

If a 675 horsepower Indy car can run safely and effectively on ethanol, Rahal says, then ethanol fuel mixes could perform well in a minivan or sport utility vehicle.

In addition, the American Le Mans Series has decided to use ethanol-enriched fuel for its 2007 racing season. The organization has partnered with EPIC to make a 10 percent ethanol blend, E10, "the official ethanol-enriched fuel" of the Series.

The American Le Mans competition is held at road racing venues across North America, as well as selected temporary street circuits in major cities. All cars in each of the four classes will be using E10 for the entire season.