Colder Winter Forecast, Heating Bills to RiseWASHINGTON, DC, October 24, 2005 (ENS) - Household budgets in the northern half of the country will be stretched to cover higher home heating costs this year, during a winter forecast to be colder than last year. In an update to the U.S. Winter Outlook, NOAA meteorologists predict this winter to be warmer than the 30 year norm, yet people can expect, on average, more cooler days this winter than last.
NOAA's heating degree day forecast for December, January and February projects a 0.7 percent warmer winter than the 30 year normal, but 6.5 percent cooler than last year.
"With the absence of El Niño and La Niña this year's winter outlook presents a challenge to seasonal forecasters," said Jim Laver, director of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center. "Shorter term climate fluctuations that are best predicted week-by-week are expected to play the dominate role on the weather patterns this winter."
The 2005-2006 U. S. winter outlook calls for warmer than average temperatures for much of the central and western United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.
The Midwest, the Mississippi Valley, the Southern California coast and the East Coast have equal chances of above, near, or below normal temperatures.
The precipitation outlook calls for wetter than average conditions across most of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, northeastern Texas, Hawaii and northwestern Alaska.
The remainder of the country has equal chances of above, near or below normal precipitation. An equal chance, either for temperature or precipitation, is predicted when there is no strong or consistent climate signal for either an above or below normal conditions during the season.
Meteorological winter begins December 1 while astronomical winter begins December 21, NOAA says.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) expects that there will be an increase in home heating costs this winter due to an overall increase in the price of heating oil and natural gas.
The impact of this year's hurricanes on oil and natural gas production, oil refining, natural gas processing, and pipeline systems have strained already-tight natural gas and petroleum product markets on the eve of the 2005-2006 heating season.
This winter, the DOE's Energy Information Agency projects residential space heating expenditures will increase for all fuel types compared to year-ago levels.
On average, households heating primarily with natural gas are expected to spend about $350 (48 percent) more this winter in fuel expenditures.
Households heating primarily with heating oil can expect to pay, on average, $378 (32 percent) more this winter.
Households heating primarily with propane can expect to pay, on average, $325 (30 percent) more this winter.
Households heating primarily with electricity can expect, on average, to pay $38 (5 percent) more. Should colder weather prevail, expenditures will be higher, the agency says.
The DOE says to save money on home heating costs, weatherize now, before the cold weather begins. Make sure that cracks leading to the outside are sealed. Put storm doors and windows up and make sure that all doors and windows fit tightly.
The EIA's Short Term Energy Outlook is online at: http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/steo/pub/contents.asp
Portable Antenna Tower Enables Post-Hurricane CommunicationsWASHINGTON, DC, October 24, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Coast Guard restored full maritime radio communications in the Venice and Port Sulphur areas of Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by using a new Disaster Recovery System portable antenna tower that enabled search and rescue operations to continue in the devastated region, even though normal communications channels were knocked out.
"The tower was designed as a critical component of the Rescue 21 command and control system to provide emergency communications following a crisis," said Captain Robert Mobley, Rescue 21 project manager.
Proving that the new system was operational, a few days after deployment, the Coast Guard received a distress transmission from the motor vessel Douglas after the vessel struck an object in the southern portion of the Mississippi River. The clear communications transmitted via the system allowed the Coast Guard to respond to the vessel’s emergency.
The fully functional, temporary disaster communications system is self-sufficient and has its own generator and satellite connectivity to the Coast Guard’s Operations Systems Center, in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
"Martinsburg is a natural choice for a downlink site because it is the Coast Guard’s central communications hub," said Mobley. "Seven successful search and rescue cases since deployment have already proven the tower’s worth."
The success of the system and subsequent cases is due to collaborative efforts of engineering teams from both the Coast Guard and the prime contractor, said Mobley. General Dynamics C4 Systems is the prime contractor for the Rescue 21 project, of which the Disaster Recovery System portable antenna tower is a part.
"It’s one thing to work on a project such as this in the lab, but to see it operating in the field and providing needed support, is gratifying," he said.
The Disaster Recovery System would not normally be deployed until the full Rescue 21 communications system is functional, but contingency planning efforts allowed the Coast Guard to deploy the system early and ensure communications for mariners in the storm-ravaged area.
Currently entering the full production phase, Rescue 21 has been developed to replace outdated communications technology and will become the Coast Guard’s command and control system along 95,000 miles of coastline, including navigable rivers and lakes, in the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico. The system is intended to improve communications with 78 million boaters who use U.S. waterways.
Energy Corridors to Be Opened on Western Federal LandsWASHINGTON, DC, October 24, 2005 (ENS) - The Energy Policy Act passed this summer requires federal agencies to identify possible corridors on federal lands in the West for new oil, natural gas and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution facilities. The agencies are also requred to perform environmental reviews for designated corridors.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will join the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management to host 11 public meetings over the next two weeks on the multi-purpose energy corridors.
Kevin Kolevar, director of DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, said, “As our nation grows, so do our energy needs. So we must be forward looking as we map out energy transmission corridors in order to get energy to places that need it.”
The energy corridors will be threaded with multiple pipelines for oil, gas, or hydrogen, electricity transmission lines, and related infrastructure, such as access and maintenance roads, compressors, and pumping stations.
The public meetings will be held in each of the 11 Western states named in the act - Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
“We want to make sure that the public is involved early on in this process and we look forward to this dialogue,” Kolevar said.
The corridor designation process requires input from federal and state agencies, local governments, native American tribes, energy companies, businesses, affected landowners, and others. At the public meetings people can express their views on the corridor designation process as the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) is being prepared.
Kolevar says energy corridor designation will streamline and expedite the processing of energy-related permits and projects.
The designation will provide applicants for individual rights-of-way within designated corridors with a clear set of actions required by each of the agencies to implement projects in the corridors.
Further impact assessment will not be generic, but will be site-specific. On-the-ground environmental studies will determine route suitability and appropriate mitigation.
Inter-agency coordination is expected as part of the application process, and the DOE is looking for new and innovative technologies to increase corridor capacity.
Dates for the public scoping meetings are:
Interested parties may participate in the public scoping process by attending any of the above-mentioned meetings, or by submitting comments to: http://corridoreis.anl.gov.
Written comments can also be mailed to: Corridor EIS Scoping Process, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Ave., SW, Room 8H-033, Washington, DC 20586.
New Jersey Classifies Carbon Dioxide as an Air ContaminantTRENTON, New Jersey, October 24, 2005 (ENS) - Not waiting for federal action to fight global warming, New Jersey has classified carbon dioxide as an air contaminant, one of the first states in the nation to take such a step. This action enables the Garden State to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a program to stabilize and reduce the emission of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas responsible for global warming.
“As a coastal state, New Jersey is especially vulnerable to climate change,” said Acting Governor Richard Codey. “In the absence of federal action, it is critical that New Jersey be a leader in the fight to reverse the effects of global warming.”
The adopted regulations amend several air pollution control rules, reflecting current scientific consensus that carbon dioxide is an air contaminant. The revision lays the groundwork for regional initiatives to reduce carbon dioxide.
“Today’s announcement is a critical first step in New Jersey’s ongoing efforts to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell.
“Because the federal government has failed to take action to address the issue of global warming, the states are left to confront the serious consequences of rising greenhouse gas levels. New Jersey is pleased to be part of a nine-state team that is working diligently to develop a regional strategy for controlling carbon dioxide emissions," Campbell said.
The RGGI is a cooperative effort by nine states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, started in 2003. Other participating states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
In addition, Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia, the Eastern Canadian provinces and New Brunswick are participating as observers in the initiative.
RGGI has prepared a draft greenhouse gas reduction plan centered on a multi-state carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program with a market-based emissions trading system.
The proposed program would require electric power generators in participating states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. After the cap-and-trade program for power plants is implemented, the states may consider expanding the program to other kinds of carbon dioxide sources.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps the sun’s heat in the atmosphere, contributing to a rise in the Earth’s average temperature and in sea levels. The state’s designation is based on existing and projected adverse impacts on the environment, ecosystems, wildlife and human health resulting from climate change, Codey and Campbell said.
Global warming is a serious threat to New Jersey, with projections forecasting average temperature increases between two and 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Such a severe climate change could contribute to air quality problems by worsening smog and ozone problems in the summer.
New Jersey is especially vulnerable to sea level rise due to thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of polar ice caps. The state's gently sloping, highly developed coastline makes it vulnerable to increases in the intensity of extreme weather events.
These consequences could have serious impacts on New Jersey’s environment and coastal communities. There is a strong scientific consensus that severe consequences would result if action is not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The adopted rules will appear in the November 21, 2005 New Jersey Register.
For more about the effort by Northeastern states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, visit the RGGI website at: www.rggi.org.
Pennsylvania Extends Manure Discharge Rules to More Large FarmsHARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, October 24, 2005 (ENS) - To protect Pennsylvania waterways, Governor Edward Rendell today announced stronger regulations for large-scale farming operations and new manure management requirements for all agricultural operations.
“Pennsylvania has been a leader in working with the agricultural community to address nutrient management issues,” Governor Rendell said. “These regulations were crafted in partnership with the state’s farmers and designed to protect the rural quality of life while supporting commercially competitive agricultural production. Implementing these new rules will keep our environment clean and ensure farming remains a critical part of Pennsylvania’s economy.”
Pennsylvania was the first state to enact nutrient management laws for farms, as well as a leader in setting up a federally approved permit program for large-scale farming operations.
These new requirements, issued by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), go beyond federal regulations, expanding the number of farming operations considered Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) from 165 to 350, thus requiring more operations to obtain permits.
CAFOs are large farming operations with a high number of animals. These operations produce large amounts of animal waste, which must be properly managed to protect water quality.
Together with nutrient management regulations developed by the Department of Agriculture and currently being implemented by the State Conservation Commission through county conservation districts, the number of highly regulated farms will jump by 600 percent.
More than 5,000 farms soon will have full nutrient management plans as well as vegetative buffers or setbacks along the edge of streams to protect Pennsylvania waterways.
“Throughout the regulatory process, our goal was to provide agriculture with the opportunity to grow and adapt to business changes, while also addressing the needs of communities to protect the environment,” said Pennsylvaia Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolf. “These regulations are a careful balance between the two.”
To enhance water resource protection and water quality, revisions were made that clarify and strengthen requirements related to agricultural operations, including provisions for manure storage facilities and land application of manure. This includes minimum setbacks and buffers along the edge of streams where no manure can be applied.
Under the new regulations, CAFOs now are required to set up either a 100 foot setback or a 35 foot vegetated buffer from water bodies for manure application. Farms that import manure must meet the same setback and buffer requirements as the farm that produces the manure. More large manure storage systems also will require DEP permits.
In addition, these revisions bring Pennsylvania’s program in line with the federal CAFO rule, enabling the commonwealth to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program for CAFOs.
High Levels of Toxic Chemicals Found in Minnesota Fish
ST. PAUL, Minnesota, October 24, 2005 (ENS) - The livers of smallmouth bass caught in the Mississippi River near a 3M wastewater disposal site contain “the highest concentration" of perfluorochemical compounds (PFCs) in any fish tested to date, and the second highest concentration for any animal species tested worldwide, a Minnesota state scientist has found.
The new record fish concentrations were reported to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency forum by Dr. Fardin Oliaei, the coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) program on emerging contaminants.
The PFCs found in the latest study were manufactured by 3M, which used the chemical in products such as Scotchgard, Teflon, Stainmaster and Gore-Tex.
3M began phasing out use of the chemical in 2000, but through 2002, 3M dumped as much as 50,000 pounds of the chemical per year into the Mississippi River from its Cottage Grove wastewater treatment plant.
Classified as a toxic, PFCs have caused birth defects and deaths in animal studies. While not yet categorized as a human carcinogen, the chemical has been associated with increased risks of liver and bladder cancers.
Dr. Oleaei recommends an aggressive expansion of biomonitoring, more extensive sampling to pinpoint chemical hot spots and a review as to whether fish advisories are needed.
But according to a federal civil rights suit filed in August by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Dr. Oleaei has been forbidden to answer questions submitted by legislators or accept invitations to speak at scientific conferences about the public health threat from emerging contaminants such as PFCs.
The federal suit filed in Minneapolis names as defendants Sheryl Corrigan, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and her top deputies. Corrigan is a former 3M environmental health and safety manager, who PEER alleges has tried to block further investigations into the chemicals.
Corrigan worked in the MPCA as a pollution control specialist between 1987 and 1990, managing and coordinating local water planning programs and the analysis of environmental regulations.
Dr. Oliaei has been reprimanded for expressing opinions in media interviews that do not match official policy, forbidden from speaking at scientific seminars and had her funding cut off for investigations into chemical contaminants.
The suit cites the First Amendment, federal civil rights statutes and the Minnesota Human Rights and Whistleblower Acts. Dr. Oliaei is seeking to have agency gag orders lifted and to be allowed to complete her scientific research free from further harassment.
“Government scientists are protected on the job by the First Amendment precisely because they work for the public,” said Rockford Chrastil of the Minneapolis firm of Chrastil and Steinberg who is serving as the lead attorney in the case. “Forcing public science through the screen of politics does a dangerous disservice to the people whose drinking water and health may be at risk.”
PEER is submitting the new findings to the Minnesota Health Department for an evaluation as to whether an immediate advisory about fish caught near the 3M Cottage Grove facility is prudent.
On Tuesday, Dr. Oliaei and other MPCA scientists are scheduled to testify before the Minnesota Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources
Mercury Warnings in Markets Urged, Mercury Comment Period Reopened
WASHINGTON, DC, October 24, 2005 (ENS) - Safeway and Albertsons have joined Wild Oats Natural Food stores in providing information about mercury in fish at seafood counters nationwide. Encouraged by the actions of these grocery chains, environmental groups are asking why other national supermarkets, including Whole Foods Market, have not posted similar warnings.
"When you link on to Whole Foods Market website, they provide information about mercury in fish, the FDA advisory, and the list of fish that pregnant women should limit consumption of or not eat at all," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project, based in Washington, DC. "So why aren't they willing to inform customers directly at their stores?"
Last month, a coalition of environmental groups led by the Mercury Policy Project released the results of a 22 state mercury testing project, showing that store-bought swordfish and tuna contain levels of mercury that the federal government has determined may be hazardous to human health, particularly the health of children and pregnant women.
Mercury concentrations in fish tested from Whole Foods Market were among the highest. Swordfish tested from a Whole Foods stores in Providence, Rhode Island came in at 2.143 parts per million of mercury - twice the Food and Druge Administration's (FDA) action level of 1 ppm.
A swordfish sample from a St. Paul, Minnesota Whole Foods store had a mercury concentration of 1.633 ppm.
Samples of tuna from Whole Foods Markets also tested high for mercury. A Washington, DC Whole Foods store sample of tuna came in at 0.603 ppm mercury, and a Whole Foods market tuna sample from Anne Arundel County, Maryland had a mercury concentration of 0.591 ppm.
"Based on our test results, a 44 pound child eating six ounces of tuna weekly from the Washington, DC Whole Foods Market would be four times over the EPA's reference dose," said Bender.
The EPA reference dose is an estimation of the amount of methylmercury that, if consumed, would not be expected to cause an appreciable risk of adverse health effects over a lifetime.
"A 120 pound woman eating just six ounces of tuna weekly from the Anne Arundel County, Maryland Whole Foods store would be eating one and one-half times EPA's reference dose," he said.
The results released in the group's report, "Fair Warning: Why Grocery Stores Should Tell Parents About Mercury in Fish" were more comprehensive than any recently released by the FDA, said Bender.
Tests were conducted at the University of North Carolina's Environmental Quality Institute between July 7 and August 11 on samples purchased at supermarket chains such as Safeway, Shaw's, Albertsons and Whole Foods in 22 states.
An average mercury concentration of 1.1 parts per million (ppm) was found in the 24 swordfish samples tested. That level exceeds the FDA Action Level of 1.0 ppm for commercial fish, which is the amount at which the agency can take legal action to remove a product from the market.
Mercury concentrations in 31 samples of fresh or frozen tuna steaks averaged 0.33 ppm, a level comparable to that of canned albacore tuna, a fish specifically targeted for limited consumption by women of childbearing age and children in the 2004 joint advisory from the FDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Meanwhile, the EPA has granted the public additional time to comment on portions of its cap-and-trade rule to regulate mercury emissions from coal fired power plants.
Environmental and citizens groups have objected that the new rule would give these power plants eight additional years to emit mercury over and above existing regulations under the Clean Air Act.
The public will be allowed to comment on the methods EPA used to assess the amount of utility-attributable mercury levels in fish tissue, the public health implications of those levels, and the legal issues underlying the decision.
The agency will also take comment on certain aspects of the Clean Air Mercury Rule, the cap-and-trade approach that EPA will use to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Finalized in March, 2005, the new mercury rule will result in approximately 70 percent reductions in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants when fully implemented in 2018, according to the EPA.
The EPA will take comment for 45 days after the notices are published in the Federal Register and will hold a public hearing two weeks after publication. For more information on this action, visit: http://www.epa.gov/air/mercuryrule/rule.htm