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AmeriScan: November 10, 2005

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FEMA Hands Louisiana a Bill Equal to Half Annual State Revenue

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, November 10, 2005 (ENS) - The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is asking that the state of Louisiana pay back 25 percent of what the federal agency will spend on disaster recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Preliminary estimates peg that figure at about $3.7 billion, just under half of the $8 billion state budget.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, asked in September that the federal government cover 100 percent of the recovery cost. But FEMA did not agreed to that request.

FEMA says it has extended the deadline of 100 percent federal reimbursement from the usual 72 hours to more than 60 days after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made landfall to allow Louisiana to continue debris removal and emergency work with no state or local cost share. Since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck, this has meant relief of more than $293 million for Louisiana's state and local governments, the agency said today.

State Representative Hoppy Hopkins said, "What are we going to do if we can't pay them back - give them New Orleans? We don't know how we're going to get through this year's budget, and we're talking about another $3.7 billion on top of that. Surely someone has more sense than that."

State Representative John Alario, a Democrat who chairs the Louisiana House Appropriations Committee, told fellow legislators, "We may have to send them a telegram, 'Don't send us any more help, we can't afford it.' "

Aiming to jump start Louisiana's damaged economy, Governor Blanco urged members of the State Legislature's House Ways and Means Committee to support an array of tax cuts for businesses and individuals.

Addressing members of the committee on Tuesday, Governor Blanco reminded them that hurricanes Katrina and Rita have damaged or closed more than 80,000 businesses, scattered hundreds of thousands of residents across the nation, and left a $1 billion hole in the state's budget.

"Despite that, I know it's important to forgo even more revenue, in the short term, to get our businesses back on their feet, in the long term," Governor Blanco told the committee. "This package of tax cuts is aimed at doing that."

The governor urged the committee to support her tax relief package that includes:

  • A one-day sales tax holiday to help businesses and consumers, at an estimated value for consumers of $3 million
  • Revamping the Louisiana tax structure to avoid state taxes to recipients of federal disaster tax credits.
  • Eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment for impacted businessess, a value estimated at $4 million.
  • Eliminating the corporate franchise tax on business debt for hard-hit businesses in the affected parishes, an estimated value of $12.9 million
  • Cutting industry taxes on electricity and natural gas that would provide economic relief to businesses valued at $21 million.
Governor Blanco told the committee that the tax-relief package will be a strong addition to the self-help measures the state has initiated in the aftermath of the two hurricanes.

"We have done much in the last weeks and months to help ourselves," Governor Blanco said. "These bills are important for our families and our businesses. They also show the critics and our allies in Washington that are taking care of ourselves. Passing this package is another way that Louisianians will rebuild Louisiana."

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Conservationists Sue to Overturn No Surprises Rule

WASHINGTON, DC, November 10, 2005 (ENS) - Conservation groups today filed legal action against the Department of the Interior challenging two related regulations that they claim are devastating to endangered and threatened species.

In a complaint filed in federal district court in Washington, DC, Spirit of the Sage Council, three other groups and one individual take issue with the so-called No Surprises rule.

This rule promises developers, timber companies, and others whose actions are killing and injuring species that they will never have to change their operations even in response to new circumstances like natural disasters such as hurricanes, disease outbreaks such as bird flu, or new data on the needs of imperiled speeches.

The second rule, called the Permit Revocation Rule, provides that when developers and timber companies receive permits to kill or injure wildlife listed under the Endangered Species Act, those permits cannot be revoked even when they are found to be impeding the recovery of the species.

Hundreds of incidental take permits have been issued to developers, logging companies, municipalities, and others, which authorize the "take" of endangered and threatened species on millions of acres of habitat throughout country.

In exchange for these permits, the permit holders are supposed to implement Habitat Conservation Plans that promote the recovery of the species. But the plaintiffs claim that in practice, the vast majority of the permits leave species far worse off, by allowing essential habitat to be destroyed.

Nonetheless, the No Surprises Rule guarantees permit holders that the terms of their permits, which often last 50 years or longer, will never be changed, even when modifications are needed to prevent the extinction of the species.

The Permit Revocation Rule places species at even greater risk, plaintiffs claim, by preventing revocation of the permits even when they are demonstrably impeding the recovery of listed species.

In 2003, a federal judge in Washington found that the Interior Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had adopted the two rules illegally, by committing "flagrant violations" of the publicís right to comment on such controversial rules. As a result, the court ordered the Bush administration to reconsider the rules in light of full public input, and it enjoined implementation of the rules in the meantime.

Nonetheless, in December 2004, the Bush administration repromulgated the same rules, although they have been criticized by conservation groups and scientists, who predict that they will contribute to the loss of many species over the next several decades.

In the new complaint, the conservation groups highlight Incidental Take Permits that they say are having far more deleterious effects on listed species than was originally anticipated.

They point to a permit allowing the destruction of Northern spotted owl habitat on state and private lands in Washington. It was based on the assumption that owl populations would decline at the modest rate of one percent per year until new federal reserves could be established.

But Northern spotted owl populations have been declining at an annual the rate of 7.5 percent because of logging on state and private lands. Yet, because of the No Surprises Rule, the Incidental Take Permit cannot be modified to take into account this far higher mortality rate and, because of the narrow Permit Revocation Rule, the fact that the permit is now impeding the recovery of the owl is no longer a basis on which the permit can be revoked.

Leeona Klippstein is an individual plaintiff and executive director of the Spirit of the Sage Council which has been leading the campaign against these rules for more than a decade.

"We are now seeing the devastating effects of these misguided policies, as dozens of species spiral towards extinction as a direct result of them," Klippstein said today.

"While large corporations have made the perverse claim that these permits are somehow good for species, the unfortunate reality is that they are blocking the recovery of imperiled species throughout the country," she said.

The other plaintiffs in this lawsuit are The Mountaineers, based in Seattle, the Humane Society of the United States, the Klamath Forest Alliance, and activist Dolores Welty, of San Diego, California.

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Western Shoshone Headed Back to Court to Challenge Yucca Mountain

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, November 10, 2005 (ENS) - Based on an 1863 treaty, the Western Shoshone National Council is going back to court in another attempt to halt the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository in Nevada, a lawyer for the tribe said Wednesday. Its first lawsuit was dismissed November 1.

Located about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Yucca Mountain is sacred to the Western Shoshone people.

The tribe's case is based on the Ruby Valley Treaty, authorized by then Civil War Major General Ulysses S. Grant, who was later elected President. The initial lawsuit, filed in March, claims that agreed uses of Shoshone lands under the treaty do not include a disposal site for radioactive waste or a railroad to trasport waste to Yucca Mountain as the federal government plans to do.

Reno attorney Robert Hager, who represents the Western Shoshone tribes, said the Council received notice this week that U.S. District Judge Philip Pro sitting in Las Vegas had rejected the tribe's argument that it had standing to sue the government because the two parties were equal signatories to the Ruby Valley Treaty.

The treaty recognized lands in what is now Nevada, California, Utah and Idaho as Western Shoshone tribal land. But in 1946, an Indian Claims Commission decided that the tribe lost the land through "gradual encroachment."

Judge Pro also ruled that the Las Vegas federal court lacked jurisdiction, and the case was premature because the Yucca Mountain project has not been built. "The challenged actions in this case are not final because the decision-making process regarding whether Yucca Mountain will become a nuclear repository is not completed," the judge wrote.

s "Additionally, [the Energy Department] has not completed its decision-making process regarding methods for transporting waste to Yucca Mountain, should it be licensed," he wrote.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, which represented the federal government's position, declined to comment on the ruling.

Judge Pro's decision comes two days after Congress agreed to cut the 2006 budget for Yucca Mountain development from $577 million to $450 million. Other setbacks to Yucca Mountain this year include a court ordered revision of radiation safety standards and an investigation into falsification of data by government scientists working on the project.

The date for opening the Yucca Mountain repository to accept the 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel and Defense Department waste now stored at nuclear power plants and on nuclear reservations has been pushed back from 2010 to 2012 or even later now that the Energy Department has postponed submitting its application for an operating license to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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Green Affordable Housing Effort Earns Green Building Council Award

ATLANTA, Georgia, November 10, 2005 (ENS) - Environmentally friendly, energy efficient homes are no longer reserved for the wealthy. Global Green USA has made the greening of affordable housing a priority, and today their efforts are being recognized at the annual U.S. Green Building Council conference in Atlanta with the Leadership Award in the Advocacy and Influence category.

The U.S. arm of Mikhail Gorbachevís organization Green Cross International, the organization is headed by Matt Petersen, who pioneered the idea of green affordable housing.

He was inspired by early experiences as a volunteer with former President Jimmy Carter's Habitat for Humanity, building homes in Winnipeg, Canada, in South Dakota and in Los Angeles. When Petersen joined Global Green USA, he convinced the Los Angeles chapter to take up green affordable housing projects.

"We wanted to help low income families for whom reducing costs through energy efficiency and smart growth measures, also reduces air quality problems," Petersen said. "We want to transform communities from within, not just reserve it for the rich."

They started with the most comprehensive recycling project in East LA in December 1995.

Ten years later, Global Green USA has made progress in greening the affordable housing movement in this country, Petersen says, by building houses that include solar panels and energy efficient appliances, and then using those experiences to shape policies.

Petersen says the group is inspired by former Russian President Gorbachev, who founded their parent organization. "He often says, you can't deal with the environment unless you deal with poverty. He talks about the need for a value shift to reconnect humanity with the environment."

"Dealing with human needs is critical for doing this," says Petersen. "We have our own developing world in our own backyard, communities that don't have the resouces, the institutional support they need."

We can reduce health care costs by improving indoor air quality in homes and schools, and children learn better in healthier schools, Petersen said.

Global Green USA has developed and advocated policy initiatives, such as the inclusion of green criteria in the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee Guidelines and the Los Angeles Housing Trust Fund.

The group has assisted in policy development at the national level for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and in the states of Georgia and New Jersey.

And Petersen is still working with Habitat for Humanity, and bringing his organization with him. In New York City, they worked to take a 48 unit multi-family condo complex through the U.S. Green Building Council's rigorous Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system.

Petersen is now collaborating with Habitat for Humanity International on the development of its internal Green Team to promote energy and resource efficiency in Habitat houses around the world.

The group has created "A Blueprint for Green Affordable Housing," a developer's guide for resource efficiency and sustainable communities that contains recommendations for design, construction and operation.

Now the concept has been extended to public house with the "Public Housing Authority Toolbox," an Internet resource for public housing managers online at:http://www.globalgreen.org/pha-energytoolbox/

"The recipients of the 2005 Leadership Awards are to be congratulated," said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair, of the U.S. Green Building Council. "The organizations and individuals represented are among the most influential green building leaders and their achievements are bedrock to our mission of transforming the built environment."

The U.S. Green Building Council handed out 12 Leadership Awards today. In the Community category, the Kresge Foundation, one of the largest foundations in the United States, was recognized for their green building leadership and program initiatives including a national program which provides educational materials and funding for nonprofit organizations to plan and design green buildings.

The LEED award went to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. With leadership from project manager Craig Kneeland, the organization has become a critical force for green building in New York. Kneeland initiated the first green building program based on the principles of the LEED green building rating system in the state of New York. He led the effort to craft New York State Green Building tax credit legislation.

For a complete list of awardees, click here.

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EPA Assists in Clean Diesel Retrofit of 30 Chinese Buses

BEIJING, China, November 10, 2005 (ENS) - Work began today on retrofitting 30 buses in Beijing with clean diesel technology, under a collaboration between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), China's State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and industry partners.

Officials from the EPA, SEPA, and the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau held a ceremony in Beijing to mark the start of demonstration project.

Last year, EPA and SEPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on an integrated set of clean fuels and vehicles projects. EPA committed to providing technical expertise and more than $200,000 toward diesel retrofit demonstrations.

The retrofit project will demonstrate reductions in emissions of particulates and other pollutants, through the introduction of cleaner emissions control technologies and cleaner fuel.

At least two technologies will be deployed, one that can reduce particulates by as much as 30 percent, and another that when used with low-sulfur fuel, can reduce particulates by more than 90 percent.

The Southwest Research Institute will manage the Beijing bus retrofits, in cooperation with the EPA, the Chinese government, the bus company, and emissions control vendors. The institute, a Texas-based nonprofit specializing in technology transfer, is contributing matching funds to the project.

Fine particulate matter and other emissions from older diesel trucks and buses contribute to air pollution in Beijing and throughout China and pose serious public health concerns, the EPA says.

Environmental impacts of diesel exhaust emissions include its contribution to ozone formation and acid rain. Retrofits are a quick and cost-effective strategy for reducing missions from existing diesel vehicles. In Beijing alone, close to 1,000 vehicles are added to the roads each day.

As a member of the UN Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, the United States has established similar collaborations in countries such as Chile, India, Thailand and Mexico.

Other projects planned between EPA and SEPA include a work-study program for Chinese officials at EPA's National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and compliance management demonstrations, including recall, on-board diagnostics, in-use testing, and certification.

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Critical Habitat Proposed for Threatened Lynx

HELENA, Montana, November 10, 2005 (ENS) - In obedience to a court order in a lawsuit filed by the Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wednesday proposed critical habitat for the threatened Canada lynx.

The Service is required to issue a final critical habitat determination for the lynx by November 1, 2006.

In total, 26,935 square miles of land fall within the boundaries of the proposed critical habitat designation in portions of northern Maine, northeastern Minnesota, the northern Rocky Mountains of northwestern Montana and northern Idaho, and the Okanogan area of the northern Cascades in northcentral Washington.

The Canada lynx was listed in 2000 as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act throughout its range in the Lower 48 United States.

Lynx are medium-sized cats, about 30 to 35 inches long, weighing 18 to 23 pounds. They have tufted ears, short, black-tipped tails, and large, well-furred feet and long legs for traversing snow.

Lynx are specialized predators of snowshoe hare and are strongly associated with boreal forest habitat. Areas proposed as critical habitat include boreal forest where snowshoe hares live containing large, woody debris piles that are used as dens.

All proposed areas have recent verified records of lynx occurrence and reproduction. The areas proposed for designation include:

"The Service is proposing only those areas considered to contribute to the conservation of the Canada lynx," said Ralph Morgenweck, the Service's director of the Mountain-Prairie region.

"To ensure that the final critical habitat designation is as accurate as possible, we encourage people to review our proposal and provide comments and any additional information they believe relevant," said Morgenweck. "The Service will consider all available information before making a final decision."

Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until February 7, 2006. The Service is particularly seeking input on whether lands in three additional areas, - the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho; the Kettle Range in Ferry County, Washington; and the Southern Rocky Mountains, are essential for the conservation of the species and the basis for why they might be essential.

Written comments can be submitted via e-mail to [email protected] or mailed to Montana Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 100 N. Park Avenue, Suite 320, Helena, Montana 59601.

Oral and written comments also will be accepted at the following scheduled public hearings:

  • Minnesota: Wednesday, December 7, 2005, from 7:30 to 9:00 PM at The Inn on Lake Superior, 350 Canal Park Drive, Duluth, Minnesota.

  • Maine: Wednesday, December 14, 2005, from 8:00 to 9:00 PM at the Black Bear Inn and Conference Center, 4 Godfrey Drive, Orono, Maine.

  • Montana: Tuesday, January 10, 2006, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at Westcoast Kalispell Center, 20 North Main Street, Kalispell, Montana.

  • Washington: Wednesday, January 18, 2006, from 7:00 to 8:30 PM at Methow Valley Community Center, 201 South Methow Valley, Hwy 20, Twisp, Washington.

    Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act. The Service explains that it identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management or protection. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands. Federal agencies are required to consult with the Service on actions they carry out, fund or authorize that might affect critical habitat.

    A copy of the proposed rule and other information about the Canada lynx is available at: http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/species/mammals/lynx

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    Pennsylvania Invests $28 Million in Clean Water Projects

    HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, November 10, 2005 (ENS) - Fourteen Pennsylvania communities will be getting cleaner drinking water and more efficient wastewater and storm water systems with approval today of $25 million worth of low-interest loans and almost $3 million in grants.

    The financial packages were authorized by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, PENNVEST. This new round of loans and grants brings PENNVEST's total funding for community water, sewer and storm water projects to more than $3.9 billion since the program's inception in 1988.

    Projects funded Wednesday range from the smallest grant of $62,500 to upgrade an antiquated water system in Somerset County to the largest loan of $6.5 million to rehabilitate a water system in Schuylkill County, where the drinking water is discolored and contaminated by both iron and manganese.

    The Sewickley Borough Water Authority in Allegheny County will have better drinking water after using a newly approved $4.6 million loan to construct a pump station, water storage tank and almost two miles of distribution lines in order to improve water flow and pressure and to preclude contamination of finished water currently in deteriorated reservoirs.

    Under a new wastewater loan, Bern Township Municipal Authority in Berks County will receive $4.8 million to eliminate the use of malfunctioning septic systems that are contaminating local drinking water wells by constructing over five miles of collection lines and financing the purchase of treatment capacity at the Berks County wastewater treatment plant.

    The only storm water project approved is in Dauphin County's Steelton Borough. A $1.3 million loan will be used to replace deteriorated storm water piping and install manholes and other facilities that will eliminate street and sidewalk cave-ins that can occur during heavy rains.

    "Providing clean drinking water and improved wastewater and storm systems is vital to the revitalization of our communities and to the health and well-being of our citizens," Governor Edward Rendell said.

    "These projects, coupled with other investments we are making in the environment, will make Pennsylvania a better place to live and more competitive Ė attracting and supporting business growth," the governor said.

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