AmeriScan: November 17, 2006

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Senate Backs Civilian Nuclear Trade With India

WASHINGTON, DC, November 17, 2006 (ENS) - The Senate has approved a plan allowing the United States to ship civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India, supporting President George W. Bush in his unprecedented move to engage in trade with a nuclear state that has not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

The bipartisan vote of 85-12 on Thursday contravenes decades of U.S. anti-proliferation policy, but India is seen as a friendly nation that is expected to react to the civilian nuclear trade as an incentive not to engage in nuclear weapons testing.

From Vietnam where he is meeting with Asia-Pacific leaders, President Bush applauded the Senate vote. He said civilian nuclear trade will "bring India into the international nuclear non-proliferation mainstream and will increase the transparency of India's entire civilian nuclear program."

Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware said the endorsement moves America "a giant step closer" to a major shift in U.S.-Indian relations.

"If we are right, this shift will increase the prospect for stability and progress in South Asia and in the world at large," Biden said.

But critics said the world's non-proliferation regime would be compromised and India would be able to use its domestic uranium to build its nuclear arsenal.

The region's two other nuclear powers - Pakistan and China - might then increase their own nuclear stockpiles, leading to a regional arms race.

Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, said the proposal is "a horrible mistake" that "provides a green light" for India to build nuclear weapons.

In other India-U.S. news, the U.S. led Methane to Markets Partnership, an international initiative to reduce global methane emissions is establishing a clearinghouse in India.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, with other federal agencies, is providing assistance to develop the information center on coal bed and coal mine methane projects in India, the world's third largest coal-producing country.

The information center is intended to become the initial point of contact for domestic and international investors and developers of coal bed and coal mine methane projects in India.

"The clearinghouse will help us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase our energy generating capacity and to increase private investment, both foreign and domestic,” said Ambassador Raminder Singh Jassal, deputy chief of mission at the Indian Embassy in Washington.

EPA has established coal bed methane clearinghouses in other countries, including China, Russia and Ukraine.

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EPA 2006 Compliance and Enforcement By the Numbers

WASHINGTON, DC, November 17, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, said today that it has obtained commitments from industry, governments and other regulated entities to reduce pollution by nearly 900 million pounds in fiscal year 2006.

Issuing its annual enforcement and compliance report, the agency said that as a result of criminal enforcement actions completed this year, defendants will serve 154 years in jail and pay almost $43 million in fines, as well as another $29 million for environmental projects imposed as part of the sentences.

The EPA referred 286 civil cases to the U.S. Department of Justice, the highest total in the past five years.

The EPA number crunchers report that as a result of Superfund enforcement actions, parties held responsible for pollution will invest $391 million to clean up 15 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and 1.3 billion cubic yards of contaminated groundwater at waste sites.

On top of paying penalties in 2006, regulated entities will also be required to invest $4.9 billion to reduce pollution and achieve compliance with environmental laws.

As a result of EPA's work to reduce pollution from petroleum refineries, 85 refineries, representing 77 percent of domestic refining capacity, are now subject to enforceable orders and consent decrees, and negotiations are ongoing with refiners representing an additional 11 percent of capacity.

EPA's efforts to control overflows from sewers and runoff from stormwater and concentrated animal feeding operations resulted in a more than 230 million pound decrease in water pollution, including sediment, bacteria, raw sewage, untreated industrial wastes and animal wastes.

More information on EPA's FY 2006 enforcement and compliance program, including details of enforcement and compliance activities and data, is online. Click here.

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22 States Write Mercury Controls Stricter than Feds'

WASHINGTON, DC, November 17, 2006 (ENS) - Twenty states have adopted or are pursuing their own plans to address mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants because they are dissatisfied with the federal Clean Air Mercury Rule, adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in March 2005.

These state plans are calling for such provisions as stronger emission limits, shorter deadlines and limitations on trading in mercury emission - measures which address deficiencies that states have identified in the federal rule.

States are required to submit their mercury plans today to the EPA.

“State and local clean air agencies are deeply concerned about the serious public health and environmental dangers posed by power plant mercury emissions, and are determined to put in place programs that will provide an adequate measure of protection to the citizens they serve,” said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, NACAA.

“Many have concluded that the federal mercury rule is simply not up to the task of tackling this tremendous problem. Therefore, nearly half the states in the nation have moved to adopt programs that will yield greater mercury reductions on a faster schedule.”

In considering strengthening alternatives to CAMR, many states have relied upon a model rule that NACAA developed in November 2005 to guide them.

Becker says 22 states have adopted or are pursuing programs more stringent than the federal rule, 24 state programs are largely consistent with the federal model, and the remainder are uncertain or are not required to participate.

Among the more stringent state programs, 15 states call for greater reductions - most in the 80-90 percent range, as compared to 70 percent under the federal rule; 18 will require the reductions to be obtained years sooner; and 17 will prohibit or restrict trading of emissions, which is allowed by the federal rule.

States that have adopted or are pursuing more stringent programs are: Arizona, California Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

NACAA is the national association of air pollution control agencies in 54 states and territories and over 165 metropolitan areas across the country. Until recently the association was known as the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators, STAPPA, and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials, ALAPCO.

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Energy Department May Sell Surplus Mercury Stockpile

WASHINGTON, DC, November 17, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, is considering selling some 1,300 tons of surplus mercury on the international market, prompting urgent warnings from health organizations that the toxic metal would find its way back into the domestic food chain from the developing world.

Word of the potential sale has prompted a formal request to the agency by Senator Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, to keep the mercury in storage and out of the environment.

“Given that mercury is a trans-boundary pollutant that is deposited both locally and globally,” he wrote to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, “any strategy to reduce mercury in the environment must also include reducing the volume of mercury traded and sold in the world market.”

The senator was joined by the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, and the Mercury Policy Project in warning that U.S. mercury exports will “boomerang” back to the United States.

The DOE stockpile is nearly five times the amount exported in 2004 by all U.S. companies combined. Once used in weapons and energy technologies, the mercury is now obsolete for DOE functions and no longer of any use to the government.

Mercury exports often go to poorly regulated industries in developing countries, which release it into the atmosphere. Some of that air pollution wafts over the ocean and back to the United States, contaminating ocean and freshwater fish.

“There is no question that mercury from this sale would find its way up the food chain, onto our plates, and into our bodies,” said Dr. Linda Greer, an environmental toxicologist and director of NRDC’s Environmental Health Program.

“Inviting less developed countries to a close out sale on surplus American poison is sheer lunacy given what we know about how easily mercury moves around the globe," she said.

Prenatal and infant mercury exposure can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness. Even in low doses, mercury may affect a child's development, delaying walking and talking, shortening attention span and causing learning disabilities.

In adults, it can adversely affect fertility and blood pressure, and cause memory loss, tremors, vision loss and other problems. Growing evidence suggests exposure to mercury may lead to heart disease.

Mercury poses a direct health risk to workers around the world, said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project.

“As many as 15 million gold miners in more than 40 countries, for example, are at risk from high concentration mercury vapors and mercury intoxication, which can lead to severe nervous system poisoning,” he said. “The U.S. government has a moral obligation to restrict its exports to developing countries, as the European Union recently proposed to do by 2011."

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Senate Protects New Mexico's Valley of Life

WASHINGTON, DC, November 17, 2006 (ENS) - Late last night the U.S. Senate passed the Valle Vidal Protection Act to safeguard the northern New Mexico wilderness treasure from oil and gas drilling.

The Valle Vidal is a 100,000 acre mountain basin in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Donated to the American People in 1982 by the Pennzoil Company, the Valle Vidal is managed by the Carson National Forest for its wildlife and its scenic and recreational opportunities.

The area became known as the Valle Vidal unit, named after what the Indians and Spanish referred to as the valley of life.

The Carson National Forest has been under pressure from the Bush administration's energy task force, and the oil and gas industry, to "fast track" the opening of Valle Vidal for energy development.

Carson forest officials have been conducting studies in order to lease 40,000 acres on the eastern portion of the Valle Vidal for coalbed methane development.

Congressman Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, introduced the Valle Vidal Protection Act in the House of Representatives on September 15, 2005 where it passed unanimously on July 24, 2006.

Now that the Senate has given its approval, the measure is on its way to President George W. Bush for his signature before it can become law.

Udall said that protecting the Valle Vidal was "truly an effort that rose from the ground up."

“Community members living near the Valle, sportspeople from around the country, and Boy Scouts who come every year to earn natural resources stewardship badges in the Valle Vidal all worked together to express their desire that this unique piece of land and its unparalleled wildlife populations be protected in perpetuity," the congressman said.

“It is rare for an issue on our public lands to have such unanimous agreement from across the state and the country.”

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Fire Ecologists Adopt Climate Change Declaration

SAN DIEGO, California, November 17, 2006 (ENS) - Members of the Association for Fire Ecology, AFE,have decided that climate change must be considered in fire control and also in land management activities to prevent and deal with the consequences of wildland fires.

At the Third International Fire Ecology and Management Congress held this week in San Diego, delegates adopted the "San Diego Declaration on Climate Change and Fire Management." The document supports a wide range of alternatives for planning and management to enhance ecosystem resiliency to wildland fire in a changing global climate.

Robin Wills, president of the international association of fire science professionals, said "The Declaration makes a powerful statement by the fire science community that future land management activities must consider climate change."

"As temperatures increase, fire will become the primary agent of vegetation change and habitat conversions in many natural ecosystems," the Declaration reads. "For example, temperate dry forests could be converted to grasslands or moist tropical forests could be converted to dry woodlands.

"Currently, we are observing serious wildland fire conditions, such as increasing numbers of large and severe wildfires, lengthened wildfire seasons, increased area burned, and increasing numbers of large fires in fire-sensitive ecosystems (e.g. tropical rain forests and arid deserts)," the Declaration states.

Among the Declaration's provisions are:

The "San Diego Declaration on Climate Change and Fire Management" is available here.

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