Federal Energy Commission Accepts $1.5 Billion Enron SettlementWASHINGTON, DC, November 17, 2005 (ENS) - The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has accepted a comprehensive settlement with Enron Corp. agreed to by California parties, attorneys general in Washington and Oregon, and Commission staff.
The settlement resolves claims and matters arising from transactions and allegations of manipulations in the Western energy markets from January 16, 1997, through June 25, 2003.
The settlement, which has a nominal value of $1.5 billion, marks a turning point in the Commissionís efforts to bring closure to the 2000Ė2001 Western energy crisis, said Commission Chairman Joseph Kelliher.
"The parties are to be congratulated for reaching this comprehensive settlement with Enron, which I view as a product of the Commissionís strong enforcement posture. With this settlement, the Commission has accepted or helped facilitate nearly $6 billion in settlements related to the 2000-2001 crisis," Kelliher said on Tuesday, announcing the Commission's acceptance.
The chairman urged parties to resolve remaining disputes stemming from the energy crisis five years ago. "While expediting our pending refund proceeding is a top priority, settlements provide the regulatory certainty that is required to promote the investment in power plants and transmission needed to prevent another energy crisis in California," Kelliher said.
The settlement would allow unsecured claims of $875 million, the amount tied to Enronís bankruptcy proceeding.
It would impose a $600 million civil penalty in favor of the California, Oregon and Washington attorneys general.
And it would provide cash or cash equivalent of approximately $47.4 million.
The California parties include Southern California Edison Co., Pacific Gas and Electric Co., San Diego Gas and Electric Co., the California attorney general, the California Department of Water Resources, the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Electricity Oversight Board.
The Commission has long noted that settlements are often in the best interests of all parties and said that negotiations with other parties are continuing in an attempt to reach agreements with Enron and the Commission staff involving market manipulation and overcharges during the 2000-2001 Western energy crisis.
Acceptance of the settlement will not adversely affect the right of non-settling parties to pursue separate litigation, the Commission said.
The settlement also called for Enron to cooperate with the parties in pursuing claims against other entities relating to the Western energy markets or third party participation in alleged Enron misconduct during the period from January 16, 1997 through June 25, 2003.
Seven-up/RC Bottling Company Pays $1 Million for Polluting RiversLOS ANGELES, California, November 17, 2005 (ENS) - The Seven-Up/RC Bottling Company of Southern California has agreed to pay more than $1 million in criminal and civil fines for industrial storm water and wastewater violations at its soft drink bottling plants in Vernon and Buena Park, California.
In the largest Clean Water Act case ever against a soft drink bottler, the company will pay a $600,000 criminal penalty and a $428,250 civil penalty for 12 counts of violating the Clean Water Act.
The Regional Water Quality Control Boards in Los Angeles and Santa Ana, the Orange County Sanitation District, the city of Vernon, and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works assisted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Attorney's Office in a three year long investigation of the bottling company's practices.
In 2002 and 2003, EPA investigators found that the Vernon facility had been discharging pollutants directly into the Los Angeles River. The grease, petroleum by-products and acid drink product rejects had created a stain on the riverbank.
In 2003, the EPA discovered that the company's Buena Park plant discharged acidic industrial wastewater into the Orange County Sanitation District sewer system. Acidic wastewater can corrode sewer pipes and damage the integrity of wastewater treatment plants.
Inspectors found that both plants failed to follow key Clean Water Act storm water discharge permit requirements, resulting in prolonged discharges of polluted runoff to the San Gabriel River and the Los Angeles River. Both waterways are already contaminated with oil, nutrients, metals, and other substances used by industrial facilities.
And in 2004, the EPA discovered that the Buena Park plant discharged industrial wastewater through a makeshift rooftop pipe into a tributary of the San Gabriel River.
Last week, attorneys for Seven-Up entered guilty pleas in United States District Court in Los Angeles.
The company has agreed to pay a $600,000 criminal fine, half of which will be dedicated to supporting environmental projects administered by Channel Islands National Park, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Los Angeles County, and the California Hazardous Materials Association.
For the civil settlement, in addition to paying $428,250 in penalties, the company must designate an environmental director, install a new treatment system at the Buena Park facility, develop a storm water control plan and conduct inspections of both facilities, and submit quarterly compliance reports to the EPA.
Wayne Nastri, regional administrator of the EPA's Pacific Southwest Region, said, "Today's settlement reinforces EPA's commitment to protect public health by holding Seven-Up accountable for their illegal discharges into the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers."
Polluted runoff is the leading cause of water pollution in the Los Angeles area. Storm water runoff can carry pollutants such as metals, oil and grease, acidic wastewater, bacteria, trash and other toxic pollutants into nearby water sources.
The Clean Water Act precludes any company that commits criminal violations from obtaining federal contracts. To avoid being shut out of federal contracts, the Seven-Up/RC Bottling Company of Southern California and its parent company, Dr. Pepper/Seven-Up Bottling Group, have entered into a suspension and debarment agreement with the EPA to develop a corporate-wide environmental program, which will include an environmental inspection program and a "hotline" so employees can anonymously report environmental or safety violations.
Critical Habitat Critic Resigns as Head of Fish, Wildlife, ParksWASHINGTON, DC, November 17, 2005 (ENS) - Craig Manson, assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks, has resigned to accept a teaching position at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. Before becoming assistant secretary in 2001, Manson served as a judge of the Superior Court of California in Sacramento.
Announcing Manson's resignation Wednesday, Interior Secretary Gale Norton praised him for his "powers of persuasion" in the decision by the House of Representatives to pass a comprehensive reform of the Endangered Species Act.
On September 29, the House approved revisions of the 1973 Endangered Species Act that would require the government to compensate property owners if steps to protect species derailed development plans. It would stop the government from designating critical habitat, which limits development.
"Habitat is essential but critical habitat as the Act outlines it presently is not the best way to do that," Manson has said.
He contends the process of designating critical habitat is too time consuming and expensive and said the program is in "chaos." The critical habitat provision provides "a hook for litigation," Manson said. Recovery of listed species, Manson explained, will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat.
During Manson's term of office, these statements have been included routinely on all designations of critical habitat that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been forced by the courts to designate.
House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo, who authored the legislation revising the Endangered Species Act, said Wednesday, "Judge Manson possessed essential qualities for the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks position."
Pombo said he was "saddened" to learn of Manson's resignation. "He understood that we must view endangered wildlife as an asset to private property, rather than a liability, to foster effective environmental stewardship," Pombo said.
In his letter to Secretary Norton, Manson commended her for "a reawakening of the spirit of citizen stewardship that is true to the vision of President Teddy Roosevelt," citing the millions of acres of wildlife habitat that have been conserved in the past five years through cooperative efforts.
"Balance and common sense are returning to the management of our nation's natural resources," Manson wrote. "We have again welcomed back the perspectives of hunters, anglers and private landowners whose participation is vital to conservation in America."
Manson's resignation is effective December 31. At that time, Secretary Norton will name an acting assistant secretary who will serve until President George W. Bush nominates and the Senate confirms a successor.
Small Businesses Hit by Drought to Get Relief From Kerry BillWASHINGTON, DC, November 17, 2005 (ENS) - The Senate has approved the Small Business Drought Relief Act, authored by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, which will ensure all small businesses damaged by drought have access to low interest loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Kerry's bill was included as an amendment to the Department of Defense (DOD) authorization bill, which passed the Senate Tuesday by a vote of 98-0. The legislation would provide emergency aid to non-farm-related small businesses suffering from severe drought conditions.
"Small businesses devastated by droughts shouldn't have to struggle against an unresponsive SBA bureaucracy," said Kerry, who is the lead Democrat on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
"The SBA has ignored the damage droughts do to fishing guides, marinas, bait and tackle shops, and all kinds of small businesses," said Kerry. "My amendment cuts through the red tape to get these businesses the loans they should already have had access to long ago."
This legislation will assist the small businesses in states with drought declarations that have been denied access to disaster loans through the SBA because the SBA only helps those small businesses whose income is tied to farming and agriculture. The Small Business Drought Relief Act will close this loophole.
The loans will be for business-related purposes, including for paying bills and making payroll until business returns to normal.
Currently, the SBA has made drought declarations in 17 states - Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Montana, Oregon, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Oklahoma, Illinois, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Kansas, and California.
Kerry's legislation was cosponsored by Senator Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, and it has received widespread bipartisan support among governors and small businesses. The DOD authorization bill must now be reconciled in conference with the version passed by the House of Representatives.
Vehicle and Fuel Choices Bill Would Mandate Oil SavingsWASHINGTON, DC, November 17, 2005 (ENS) - The Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act of 2005, introduced Wednesday in the Senate, could reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil - but only if it were fully funded and implemented by Congress and the Bush administration, the Alliance to Save Energy said today.
The bill received bipartisan support. It was cosponsored by Republican Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama as well as Democratic Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, and Ken Salazar of Colorado.
The bill would mandate seven million barrels in oil savings in 20 years and would also encourage the mass production of cars that can burn any combination of gasoline and alternative fuels as well as cars powered by efficient hybrid engines.
"Achieving energy independence is one of the greatest challenges of our generation, one that will impact everything from our national security to our economy," Senator Bayh said.
"It will take an effort on par with the race to put a man on the moon, but we must find a way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil so that America is prepared for the future," Bayh said. "We can't afford to rely on countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela for our energy needs any longer."
The bill calls for specific oil saving targets to reduce U.S. oil dependence - 2.5 million barrels of oil per day within 10 years, increasing to 7.5 million barrels per day by 2026 to ramp up the savings from 10 percent to more than 25 percent of projected U.S. oil demand.
The bill will also encourage the development and mass marketing of hybrid technologies, including hybrids that give drivers the option to plug them in for recharging at night.
It would encourage the construction of more alternative fuel pumps at gas stations; include, for the first time, fuel-efficiency standards for trucks; offer standards to ensure fuel efficient replacement tires are offered for cars and trucks; and provide tax credits for manufacturers to retool facilities for advanced technology and alternative fuel cars and trucks.
Kateri Callahan, who heads the Alliance to Save Energy, said, "Without full funding by Congress and strict enforcement of the oil saving provisions by the Bush administration, it would be like getting a prescription but not taking the medication."
Smog Levels Raise Risk of Underweight Births
LOS ANGELES, California, November 17, 2005 (ENS) - Babies born to women exposed to high ozone levels during pregnancy are at heightened risk for being significantly underweight, according to researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC).
Women who breathe air heavily polluted with ground level ozone, or smog, are at particular risk for having babies afflicted with intra-uterine growth retardation - which means babies only fall within the 15th percentile of their expected size.
The findings were published early online on the website of Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
"These findings add further evidence that our ozone standards are not protecting the most vulnerable members of the population," says Frank Gilliland, M.D., Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School and the study's senior author.
"Fetal growth and birth weight are strongly linked to morbidity and mortality during childhood and adulthood," Gilliland says, "so it's clear that air quality is important to everyone's healthy development."
Gilliland and his colleagues examined birth records from 3,901 children who were born in California between 1975 and 1987 and participated in the Children's Health Study. Researchers with the USC-led Children's Health Study have monitored levels of major pollutants in a dozen Southern California communities since 1993, while following the respiratory health of more than 6,000 students in those communities.
The researchers gathered data such as the children's gestational age and birth weight, as well as their mothers' zip code of residence at birth. Then they determined levels of ozone, carbon monoxide and other pollutants in the air in each zip code of residence during each mother's pregnancy. Researchers only considered full-term births for the study and controlled for factors such as mothers' smoking habits.
They found that each increase of 12 parts per billion (ppb) of average daily ozone levels over a mother's entire pregnancy was associated with a drop of 47.2 grams - about a tenth of a pound - in a baby's birth weight. And the association was even stronger for ozone exposure over the second and third trimesters, Gilliland says.
In addition, for each 17 ppb increase in average daily ozone levels during a mother's third trimester of pregnancy, the risk of intra-uterine growth retardation increased by 20 percent, the scientists report.
The effects were strongest when total average daily ozone exposure rose above 30 ppb. Ozone levels varied from less than 20 ppb in cleaner areas to above 40 ppb in more polluted areas of Southern California.
Carbon monoxide levels affected birth weight as well. They found that each increase of 1.4 parts per million of carbon monoxide concentration during the first trimester was associated with 21.7 grams, or about half a pound, decrease in birth weight and a 20 percent increase in risk of intra uterine growth retardation.
Ozone, or O3, is a gas made up of three oxygen atoms. Although a natural layer of ozone in the stratosphere helps protect life on Earth from the sun's rays, ozone at ground level is harmful to health. It is created through interactions among tailpipe exhaust, gasoline vapors, industrial emissions, chemical solvents and natural sources and is worsened by sunlight and heat.
The study findings echo results from the few, smaller studies examining the relationship between ozone and birth weight. Animal studies support the role of O3 in reduced birth weight: in these models, pregnant rats were particularly vulnerable to lung inflammation from O3. Researchers suspect that inflammation from O3 may prompt the release of certain chemicals into the bloodstream, which may harm the placenta.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that primarily comes from vehicle exhaust. In high concentrations, the gas can harm healthy people; and in lower concentrations, it can hurt those with heart disease and can affect the nervous system.
The research was supported by the NIEHS, the Environmental Protection Agency, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, California Air Resources Board and the Hastings Foundation.
2005 EPA Enforcement By the Numbers
WASHINGTON, DC, November 17, 2005 (ENS) - Enforcement actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in fiscal year 2005 resulted in legal commitments by companies, governments and other regulated entities to reduce a projected 1.1 billion pounds of pollution. Legal settlements require that they spend a record $10 billion to come into compliance with environmental laws, the agency reported Wednesday, an increase of $5 billion over last year.
The agency participated in 372 environmental crime investigations and 320 defendants were charged with environmental crimes.
"EPA's enforcement strategy and accomplishments demonstrate our commitment to achieving cleaner air, cleaner water and healthier communities," said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. "Our enforcement statistics show significant progress in criminal enforcement and securing compliance and environmental benefits."
The EPA estimates that 28.2 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and 1.6 billion cubic yards of contaminated water will be cleaned up as a result of enforcement actions this year, some 1,900 acres of wetlands will be protected; and the drinking water of more than eight million Americans be safer.
Criminal defendants will pay $100 million in criminal fines and restitution and serve more than 186 years in jail.
The agency estimates that its 10 biggest air pollution cases settled in 2005 will reduce more than 620 million pounds of pollutants annually, and that will produce annual human health benefits valued at more than $4.6 billion. The benefits include reductions in premature mortality, bronchitis, hospitalizations and work days lost.
Supplemental Environmental Projects, which are environmentally beneficial projects that a violator agrees to perform as part of an enforcement settlement, increased by 19 percent to be worth $57 million in FY 2005.
A record 627 entities voluntarily disclosed violations to EPA officials, a 28 percent increase over FY 2004. The agency achieved a reduction of 1.9 million pounds of pollutants as a result of audits.
Approximately 612,000 businesses and individuals received assistance from the EPA in FY 2005 to help understand their environmental responsibilities and comply with environmental laws.
More information on EPA's FY 2005 enforcement and compliance program, including details of enforcement and compliance assurance activities and data are available at: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/data/results/annual/fy2005.html