AmeriScan: October 13, 2005

* * *

New York Attorney General Opposes New Source Review Test

WASHINGTON, DC, October 13, 2005 (ENS) - A proposal to allow a test of hourly emissions by power plants that increase their generating capacity floated today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is already running into resistance from the New York State Attorney General's Office.

The EPA is proposing the draft rule "to ensure the New Source Review (NSR) program is more compatible with current air pollution control programs that protect public health and the environment," the agency said in a statement today.

New source review means that when a power plant adds a new source of generating capacity, it must ensure that polluting emissions do not exceed federally mandated levels.

The proposed rule would establish a uniform emissions test for existing power plants nationwide by adopting the test used under the Clean Air Act's New Source Performance Standards (NSPS).

A uniform nationwide emissions test for the NSR program provides regulatory clarity and certainty needed to aid the smooth and effective implementation of these programs, the EPA says.

As a result of a U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, an NSPS style emissions test currently applies for the New Source Review program in five states. Today's proposed rule addresses the court decision by ensuring that the NSR program is implemented consistently across the country, the EPA says.

The trouble arises from a "second option" that the EPA is offering to power plants to meet the emissions test requirement.

The agency said today it is proposing "a second option that would adjust the NSPS test to compare maximum hourly emissions achieved after the change to those that actually had been achieved before the change." The change refers to the increase in generating capacity.

In a statement today, Peter Lehner, bureau chief in the Environmental Protection Bureau in the New York State Attorney General’s Office, said, "The changes would impose a new emissions test based on the hourly rate at which pollutants are emitted, rather than the total amount of pollutants emitted. The utility industry has been pressing for this scheme for years. Until today, EPA had rejected it."

Lehner said, "If this proposal is adopted, state Attorneys General will challenge it in court."

Lehner said the proposal is the same as measures removed from the post-hurricane energy bill passed by the House last week.

"Less than a week ago, Representative Joseph Barton removed crippling changes to the New Source Review program of the Clean Air Act from a refinery bill passed in the House of Representatives by a narrow vote of 212-210," Lehner said.

"Congressman Barton wisely recognized that his bill would not have passed if it contained provisions to weaken the Clean Air Act. The EPA’s proposed changes to New Source Review mirror what Representative Barton recognized Congress would reject," said Lehner.

State attorneys general have jointly sued to uphold the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act several times in the past five years. Lehner said, "New Source Review enforcement actions, brought by state Attorneys General and the EPA, have led to substantial reductions in air pollution. If the federal government devoted half as much energy to enforcing the Clean Air Act as it has spent attacking this vital statute, we would all be breathing cleaner air.

Today's EPA proposal solicits public comments on revising the NSPS emissions increase test using options two or three. The third option is an NSR emissions test based on the mass of emissions per unit of energy output instead of hourly emissions.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said, "We are committed to results and making sure we achieve 70 percent emissions reductions from power plants. This rule will provide facilities clearer and simpler rules for operating safely, efficiently and affordably. We'll see deeper, faster, and more efficient emissions reductions."

An emissions test is used to determine if a physical or operational change at a power plant will lead to emissions increases that could potentially require a facility to install pollution controls.

The proposed rule applies only to existing electric generating units. New electric generating units will continue to be subject to current NSR preconstruction review requirements.

The EPA will accept comment on this proposal for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register. For more information on this proposed rule, visit: http://www.epa.gov/nsr

* * *

Political Loyalty New Test for National Park Service Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, October 13, 2005 (ENS) - The National Park Service has begun to use a political loyalty test for selecting all its top civil service positions, according to an agency directive released Tuesday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national organization of government employees of natural resource agencies.

Under the new order, all mid-level managers and above must also be approved by the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, and Wildlife, and Parks, Craig Manson, the number three official in the Department of the Interior.

Formerly a judge of the Superior Court of California in Sacramento from 1998 to 2002, Manson previously served as General Counsel of the California Department of Fish and Game from 1993 to 1998. He practiced law in Sacramento from 1989 to 1993. A graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, he is presently a colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

The order issued by NPS Director Fran Mainella mentions twice that the new policy is to assure "diversity" in the Park Service staff, but no diversity criteria are stated.

Instead, the directive requires that the selection criteria for all civil service management slots - Government Service grades or GS-13, 14 and 15 - include the “ability to lead employees in achieving the …Secretary’s 4Cs and the President’s Management Agenda.”

In addition, candidates must be screened by the Park Service "WASO," or the Headquarters Washington Office.

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch objects to the order, which he says, "represents a complete centralization of Park Service promotion and hiring in what has traditionally been a decentralized agency. More strikingly, the order is an unprecedented political intrusion into what are supposed to be non-partisan, merit system personnel decisions."

Ruch says the President’s Management Agenda includes "controversial policies and proposals such as aggressive use of outsourcing to replace civil servants, reliance on faith-based initiatives and rollbacks of civil service rights."

Interior Secretary Gale Norton’s “4Cs” is a slogan she uses to express her management approach: “4 Cs: communication, consultation, cooperation, all in the service of conservation.”

“It is outrageous that park superintendents must swear political loyalty to the Bush agenda and parrot hokey mottos in order to earn a promotion,” said Ruch. “The merit system is supposed to be about ability, not apple polishing.”

The order applies to all hires for park superintendents, assistant superintendents and program managers, such as chief ranger or the head of interpretive or cultural programs. Overall, the policy applies to more than 1,000 mid-level management and supervisory positions in the Park Service.

Read the October 11 “Revised Procedures for GS-13, GS-14, and GS-15 Selections” at: http://www.peer.org/docs/nps/05_13_10_hiring_directive.pdf

Read the President’s Management Agenda at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2002/mgmt.pdf

* * *

Hall Confirmed as Fish and Wildlife Service Director

WASHINGTON, DC, October 13, 2005 (ENS) - Dale Hall has been confirmed by the Senate to be director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton was pleased with the confirmation last Friday. "Dale Hall is an exceptional biologist with vast experience managing our nation's fish and wildlife resources, from the Everglades to the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest to the high desert of the Southwest," Norton said.

"He will be an outstanding director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as we seek more effective ways to conserve and restore our nation's fish and wildlife and their habitat."

Hall replaces Steve Williams, who resigned to become president of the Wildlife Management Institute. Matt Hogan, the Service's deputy director, has been acting as director during the confirmation process.

A 27 year career employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hall has served in Albuquerque, New Mexico as the Southwest regional director since 2001. He has been honored with the Department of the Interior's Meritorious Service Award.

Norton said that during his tenure as regional director, Hall helped in bringing consensus to the Multi-Species Conservation Plan for the Lower Colorado River. That plan is a 50 year conservation initiative that provides more than $620 million in federal and local funding to protect fish and wildlife along 400 miles of the lower Colorado River, while meeting the needs of farmers, tribes, industries and urban residents who rely on the river for water and power supplies.

Hall was confirmed over the objection of some environmental groups. In September, a coalition of three groups released a letter to Congress charging that Hall gave illegal orders to his staff not to make scientific findings protective of wildlife, rewrote scientific conclusions for political reasons, and issued a questionable policy forbidding biologists from considering genetic information about species’ recovery.

The coalition of groups opposing Hall’s nomination includes Forest Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

"We are not questioning his education or training, we are questioning his integrity," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, a national organization representing government employees at natural resources agencies.

Hall's experience includes a term as deputy regional director in Atlanta, Georgia and one as assistant regional director for ecological services in Portland, Oregon. He started his career with the Service in 1978 when he did field work in wetlands ecology in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

He continued in ecological services in Galveston and Houston where he worked as Outer Continental Shelf Coordinator with responsibility to work with Minerals Management Service to protect sensitive areas in the Western Gulf of Mexico. He was also the office supervisor in Texas for four years. Along the career path he worked as deputy assistant director for fisheries in Washington, DC.

A native of Harlan, Kentucky, Hall served in the Philippines and Italy during his duty with the U.S. Air Force. He managed catfish farms in the Mississippi Delta after returning to civilian life. His education includes a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry from Cumberland College in Kentucky and a master's in fisheries science from Louisiana State University.

* * *

Most Nuclear Power Plant Neighbors OK With New Reactor Construction

WASHINGTON, DC, October 13, 2005 (ENS) - Eighty-three percent of Americans living near nuclear power plants favor nuclear energy, and 76 percent are willing to see a new reactor built near them, according to a new public opinion survey commissioned by the nuclear energy industry's policy organization, the Nuclear Energy Institute.

The pollsters questioned only residents within 10 miles of an operating nuclear power plant. The telephone survey of 1,152 randomly selected plant neighbors of 64 nuclear power plant sites was conducted in August by Bisconti Research Inc. with Quest Global Research Group. Electric company employees were excluded from the poll.

The survey, with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, found that 85 percent of those questioned give the nearest nuclear power plant a "high" safety rating, and that 88 percent are confident that the company operating the power plant can do so safely.

The survey is the first time that nuclear power plant neighbors have been surveyed nationally for their attitudes about nuclear energy.

"The survey confirms what some utilities have seen in their own public opinion surveys and interactions in the community - that is, that most nuclear power plant neighbors support their local plant," said Ann Bisconti, president of Bisconti Research.

"NIMBY (not in my back yard) does not apply at existing plant sites because close neighbors have a positive view of nuclear energy, are familiar with the plant, and believe that the plant benefits the community," Bisconti said.

Seventy-six percent of residents near nuclear plants said it would be acceptable to add a new reactor at the site of the nearest nuclear power plant, if a new power plant were needed to supply electricity. Twenty-two percent of respondents said it would not be acceptable, and two percent said they don't know.

The survey's findings come at a time when several energy companies, in response to enactment in August of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which supports construction of the nation's first new nuclear power plants since the 1970s, are taking steps to test the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's new licensing processes for new plants.

The law includes limited incentives for new nuclear power plant construction and measures to protect companies against delay in the federal government's review of new reactor licenses.

"It's obvious that people living near nuclear plants have a high degree of familiarity and comfort with nuclear energy and would welcome the economic and environmental benefits of new nuclear plants," said Scott Peterson, NEI vice president for communications.

"The poll's results show that support for new nuclear plants is strong among those residents who live near nuclear plants," Peterson said. "This bodes well for the prospect of new plant construction, particularly for those companies considering adding new reactors at existing nuclear plant sites."

By a margin of 83 percent to 16 percent, plant neighbors said they favor the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States. And by a margin of 87 percent to 10 percent, they said they have a favorable impression of the nearby nuclear power plant and the way it has operated recently.

When asked about the company that operates the nearest nuclear power plant, 83 percent agreed that, "this company is involved in the community as a good citizen," and 84 percent agreed that, "this company is doing a good job of protecting the environment."

Eighty-one percent of plant neighbors said they are "very well informed" or "somewhat well informed" about the nearest nuclear power plant. Seventy-one percent have lived in the area for more than 10 years; 86 percent have lived there for at least five years.

Opponents of nuclear energy warn that problems with the technology include nuclear plants as terrorist targets, and nuclear plants as more expensive and less safe than other power generating facilities. And they point out that the problem of nuclear waste disposal is not yet resolved.

* * *

Dell and Goodwill Partner for Free Computer Recycling

LANSING, Michigan, October 13, 2005 (ENS) - Goodwill Association of Michigan and Dell Computers today introduced RECONNECT Michigan, a computer recovery, reuse and recycling opportunity for Michigan consumers.

The pilot program offers drop-off recycling and reuse options for unwanted computers at no charge to consumers across the state, and gives them the opportunity to support a local charity.

The launch of this program follows a recent decision by the Michigan Department of Information Technology to have Dell manage asset-retirement services for state-owned computer equipment. That program is also available to local governments, schools and other nonprofit organizations statewide.

RECONNECT Michigan uses the donations infrastructure of a nonprofit and the experience and recycling resources of a technology company to offer a proactive, community-based solution designed for environmentally responsible computer disposal.

The partnership's goal is to divert at least 3.3 million pounds of used computers and computer equipment from landfills over one year. Other goals are to provide education on the importance of proper computer disposal while creating job opportunities for individuals with disabilities and other employment barriers throughout Michigan.

"Michigan consumers are both community-minded and environmentally conscious, so this public-private program makes great sense," said Teri Takai, chief information officer for the state of Michigan. "This effort will help create shared solutions to the challenges of electronics disposal and make our state a safer, healthier place to live."

Goodwill Industries of Central Texas and Goodwill Industries of San Francisco have partnered with Dell on similar pilot programs. Success of these pilots has prompted Dell and Goodwill to implement a regional version of the program across Michigan.

The 11 Goodwill members of the Goodwill Association of Michigan will accept donations of residential computer equipment of any brand. The unwanted computers will be collected, sorted and consolidated by Goodwill.

"This is an exciting opportunity for Goodwill to bring convenient computer recycling to consumers across Michigan and further Goodwill's mission of job creation at the same time," said Susanne Fredericks, executive director of the Goodwill Association of Michigan. "Partnership with Dell will help us ensure we are implementing environmentally sound practices for unwanted computer equipment to Michigan while creating job opportunities for the individuals we serve."

Equipment with resale value will be separated and entered into Dell's Asset Recovery Services value-recovery processes. Proceeds from equipment recovery will be returned to the Goodwill Association of Michigan for re-investment in a variety of job-creation and other community programs.

Equipment without resale value will be recycled; responsible recycling will be handled by Electronic Partners Corp. (ePC) under stringent Dell guidelines. ePC is a part of Chasm Industries, a firm that specializes in electronic asset management and recycling services.

Consumers are responsible for removing data from their hard drives and other storage media before making their donation; neither Dell nor Goodwill takes any responsibility for that data.

A survey of Michigan consumers showed that 49 percent of consumers do not know how to dispose of unwanted computers and that 70 percent would prefer an option to donate unwanted computer equipment to a charitable organization. This project will offer Michigan consumers the convenience of permanent drop-off locations and the ability to support a local charity.

"The partnership with Goodwill Association of Michigan underscores Dell's commitment to environmentally sound recycling and to making the process easy and affordable for consumers," said Shawn Dennis, vice president of global branding for Dell. "The chance to test this pilot on a statewide basis in Michigan should help us learn how to expand similar programs across the United States more quickly."

Beginning today, residents across Michigan can call toll free, 866-48-REUSE (866-487-3873), or visit www.reconnectpartnership.com to learn about drop-off options for unwanted computers and computer equipment at any of 73 Goodwill locations.

* * *

Florida Halts Dredging on Apalachicola River

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, October 13, 2005 (ENS) - Conservationists are applauding the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for saving the Apalachicola River from further dredging. The 109 mile long river stretches from the Georgia border through the Florida Panhandle to the Gulf of Mexico.

On October 11, the DEP denied a request from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to resume dredging the river to maintain commercial shipping.

For decades, the Corps has spent many millions of dollars trying to keep the river artificially deep enough to float a handful of commercial barges each year. Dredging the river not only disturbed the habitat of bottom-dwelling river species, but the Corps’ custom of disposing mountains of sediment along the river’s banks and in wetlands also damaged the surrounding floodplains.

In 2002, the conservation group American Rivers designated the Apalachicola River as one of America’s most endangered, calling on state and federal authorities to put an end to the dredging.

“Florida has stood up to the Corps and given the river a new lease on life,” said Melissa Samet, senior director for water resources at American Rivers. “As the river recovers from the damage that has been done, people can look forward to a healthier resource for themselves and their children to enjoy.”

Samet said, the destruction "was particularly senseless" because the Apalachicola River sees very little commercial barge traffic. In 2000, the Corps acknowledged that barge traffic on the river returned only 40 cents to the nation for each federal dollar spent, and since then commercial barge traffic has dropped to virtually zero.

As early as 2002, Florida Governor Jeb Bush publicly opposed dredging of the Apalachicola. On June 12, 2002, the governor and the Florida Cabinet voted unanimously for a resolution to end dredging in the Apalachicola River,

The resolution asked the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from dredging the waterway to maintain a shipping channel for barges, a project that costs American taxpayers $20 million annually or about $30,000 per barge.

“Dredging is incredibly expensive,” said Governor Bush at the time. “With all the environmental damage, and the cost, it simply doesn’t make sense.”

Florida’s decision eliminates a major threat to the Apalachicola River, one of the most biologically productive rivers in North America, says Samet. The river and its floodplain forest support commercial and sport fisheries, endangered species, and populations of amphibians and reptiles.

The Apalachicola’s waters also sustain Apalachicola Bay, which offers the largest oyster harvesting area in the Gulf of Mexico, providing nearly 90 percent of Florida’s oysters. Together, the river and bay support thousands of commercial fishing, recreational fishing, and ecotourism jobs, forming the cornerstone of the economy of six Florida counties.

* * *

Pennsylvania Requires Underground Storage Tank Cleanup on 92 Sites

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, October 13, 2005 (ENS) - Governor Edward Rendell today announced the cleanup of 92 contaminated properties, mostly retail gas stations, to protect the public health and the environment. The cleanup, which will take place over the next three years, involves underground storage tanks at locations in 23 Pennsylvania counties.

The state will be working with Motiva Enterprises LLC, Jiffy Lube International Inc. and Pennzoil-Quaker State Co., doing business as SOPUS Products, under a consent order and cooperative multi-site agreement.

The consent order requires Motiva, Pennzoil-Quaker State and Jiffy Lube to pay a collective civil penalty in the amount of $212,000, and provide oversight costs to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in the amount of $195,000 per year from 2006 through 2008.

"Cleaning up these sites is good for the public and good for the environment," Rendell said. "We are taking action to protect our citizens and communities. At the same time, the cleanup will improve the sites for existing business operations and prepare vacant sites for future use.

About half of the sites contain operating retail gasoline stations, and six house wholesale operations. The remaining sites have other operating businesses on them, or plans are being made for redevelopment to hold businesses other than retail gas stations.

"The multi-site approach gives DEP and the companies a comprehensive, statewide strategy to address environmental problems at these sites," said DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty. "This agreement ensures that remediation work will be prioritized, scheduled and completed in a timely fashion and in accordance with stringent cleanup standards."

Sites with the highest risk will be addressed early in the process. The companies will begin cleanups at all sites no later than April 2008, and agree to clean up each site to meet Pennsylvania's Land Recycling Program standards under Act 2, making the sites environmentally safe for current and future job producing uses.

McGinty said the companies have identified pollution releases from their underground storage tanks at these sites and have started to identify the contaminants in the soil and groundwater.

* * *