AmeriScan: October 26, 2005

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NOAA Rejects Fishing in Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

HONOLULU, Hawaii, October 26, 2005 (ENS) - In the midst of a public process to designate the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as the nation's 14th marine sanctuary, NOAA has rejected a fisheries proposal for the 1,200 mile long island chain from the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council (WESPAC).

NOAA Administrator Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher told conservation advocates on a videoconference call Tuesday that he had just signed and delivered a letter to WESPAC informing them that NOAA rejected their proposed fishery plan for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as "incompatible with proposed sanctuary goals and objectives."

Stephanie Fried, an Environmental Defense senior scientist based on Oahu, called Lautenbacher's decision, "a significant and very welcome breakthrough."

fish

A diver explores French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
WESPAC's draft fishing regulations for the proposed Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary would allow bottomfish and deepwater fisheries to continue under existing federal regulations.

Under existing federal regulations up to 17 bottomfish vessels of under 60 feet length are permitted to fish in the far-flung archipelago. Nine bottomfish vessels are currently active. They provide about one-third of Hawaii’s commercial landings of opakapaka, onaga and other snappers, groupers and jacks from what WESPAC calls "healthy stocks fished well below biologically safe levels of harvest."

But on Tuesday's videoconference call, Native Hawaiian fishers and cultural practitioners and local environmentalists presented experiences from around the islands and a detailed accounting of the public sentiment throughout the islands regarding the need for strong protections, no commercial or recreational fishing, limited access, and recognition of traditional cultural Native Hawaiian practices.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are currently considered a Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve by Executive Order of President Bill Clinton. The Order specifically directed the Secretary of Commerce to initiate the process to designate the reserve as a national marine sanctuary.

NOAA is currently formulating a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the sanctuary designation that will be released later this year or early next year for public comment.

Fried said environmentalists now want to ensure that the proposed sanctuary DEIS "promotes a preferred alternative in line with the wishes of the people of Hawaii, expressed during 30 hearings, more than 100 meetings over the past five years."

Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, a Republican, signed regulations September 29 creating a marine refuge in the three miles of state waters surrounding each small island and atoll in the remote island chain.

At the same time, Lingle announced a shift in state government policy to request and support a ban on commercial and recreational fishing in federal waters of the proposed sanctuary.

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Court Overturns EPA’s Refusal to Veto State Air Pollution Permits

NEW YORK, New York, October 26, 2005 (ENS) - A New York federal appeals court ruled Monday that the Clean Air Act requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take immediate action to reduce air pollution at facilities that have been notified by the state that they are exceeding their emission limits.

In a case involving pollution from two of the largest coal fired electric generating plants in New York state, the court ruled that Title V of the Act requires the EPA to veto state air permits for those plants because the permits fail to include requirements limiting the very pollution that prompted the state violation notices.

The challenged permits were issued to two NRG Energy power plants - Huntley and Dunkirk - by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC

The plants are two of the state’s most notorious polluters, responsible for 38 percent of sulfur dioxide and 21 percent of nitrogen oxide emitted by all power plants statewide. Because EPA is responsible for reviewing and vetoing any permit that violates the law, the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) petitioned EPA to veto the permits.

After EPA denied NYPIRG’s request, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of NYPIRG in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Keri Powell, the Earthjustice attorney who represented NYPIRG in the case, says the appellate court's decision is one of national significance.

“This case confirms the vital principle that the federal government cannot postpone the Title V process for monitoring and controlling emission reductions at plants that have been cited for air quality violations by the state,” said Powell.

“It also upholds the central intent of Congress in enacting Title V by ensuring that the public will be able to access all relevant information about plant emissions in a timely fashion,” she said.

Under Title V of the Clean Air Act, major air pollution sources such as power plants, incinerators, and large factories must obtain a permit that governs their day-to-day operations. This Title V permit must include all air pollution limits that apply to the facility, as well as monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements that will assure the facility’s compliance with those limits.

In addition, a permit issued to a facility that is already violating an air pollution limit must include a “compliance schedule” consisting of enforceable measures designed to bring the facility into compliance with the law.

Prior to issuing permits to the Huntley and Dunkirk plants, the New York DEC had already issued a “notice of violation” to the plant owners declaring that the plants had been violating air pollution limits for many years. But the permits were issued without including the relevant emission limits, or a compliance schedule.

“While this is absolutely a victory for the people living near the Huntley and Dunkirk power plants, it is also a victory for every American,” said Jason Babbie, senior environmental policy analyst at NYPIRG.

"Today’s court decision upholds the government’s responsibility to act quickly to address violations that threaten our health and environment, and requires that the public be included in that process,” Babbie said.

In a settlement entered last January between the New York DEC and NRG Energy, the company agreed to reduce pollution levels from the plants. But that settlement was entered without utilizing Title V procedures, which ensure that the public has an opportunity to evaluate the agreed-upon compliance measures and challenge those measures if they find them to be inadequate.

“It is laudable that the parties have reached a settlement that significantly reduces emissions," the appellate judges wrote. "But because that agreement does not erase the very real dispute between NYPIRG and the EPA over the Congressionally authorized method for enforcement of the Act, our conclusions are unaffected by that settlement. The EPA may choose to enforce the Act by any additional channels it deems strategic, but an enforcement proceeding does not relieve the EPA of its obligations under the permitting process.”

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Arctic Refuge Oil Estimated at Over 10 Billion Barrels

RESTON, Virginia, October 26, 2005 (ENS) - At least 70 percent of the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil resources assessed in the combined areas of the federal portion of the 1002 area of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Native Lands inside the boundary of the 1002 area, and the lands beneath adjacent Alaska state waters can be found, developed, produced and transported to market, the U.S. Geological Survey said in its latest update, released Tuesday.

The agency's estimate is based on assuming a market floor price of $30 per barrel in 2003 dollars.

In the report, "Economics of 1998 U.S. Geological Survey’s 1002 Area Regional Assessment: An Economic Update," the USGS based the update on the estimates of technically recoverable resource volumes from the 1002 area regional geologic assessment prepared in 1998. The USGS did not prepare a new geologic analysis.

Results of the 1998 geologic assessment showed there is a 95 percent probability that the undiscovered volume of oil will exceed 5.72 billions of barrels (BBO) and a five percent probability it will exceed 15.96 BBO.

The mean or expected value of the technically recoverable resource volume was 10.36 billions of barrels.

In the updated economic analysis, the USGS estimates that at sustained market prices of $42 per barrel using the 95 percent probability factor volume estimate, 88 percent or 5.1 billion barrels of the oil is economic to find, develop, produce and transport to market.

The USGS report is based on the technology and cost data of the 2003 base year, the latest available year for actual cost data.

This analysis includes new technologies that have become standard operating procedures on the North Slope such as horizontal development wells and satellite/cluster field development. The upper end of the price range evaluated is $55 per barrel in 2003 dollars, or about $60 in 2005 dollars.

The results of this economic analysis and those reported in earlier studies were similar because advances in production technologies have largely offset the increased costs.

The complete economic analysis report is online at: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2005/1359/.

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U.S. Air Force Is Top Federal Purchaser of Renewables

AUSTIN, Texas, October 26, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Air Force was honored Monday as a recipient of a 2005 Green Power Leadership Award for its organization-wide commitment to renewable energy. The Air Force is now the largest purchaser of renewable energy in the federal government, accounting for 41 percent of all green power purchases by the government.

The annual awards, presented during the National Green Power Marketing Conference, are sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Energy and the Center for Resource Solutions. They recognize organizations whose actions help advance the development of the nation’s green power market.

“This past fiscal year the Air Force purchased more then 1,059 gigawatt hours of renewable energy. That’s enough to power 70,000 average sized homes for a year,” said Gary Hein, Air Force Energy Team manager.

The next closest federal purchasers were the General Services Administration with about 500 gigawatt hours, the EPA with 247 gigawatt hours and the Department of Energy with 145 gigawatt hours. The closest military purchaser was the U.S. Army with 52 gigawatt hours.

Jim Snook, Air Force renewable energy program manager, calls the policy "very aggressive in pursuing renewable energy because it makes economic sense."

Snook said the Air Force strategy is to lock in long-term contracts at fixed prices to ensure reasonably priced rates in the future.

“Industry has seen that the Air Force is committed to renewable energy and they are bringing ideas and projects to us and making more renewable purchasing opportunities available,” he said.

Two bases, Dyess AFB, Texas, and Fairchild AFB, Washington, now receive 100 percent of their energy from wind or other renewable power sources provided by local utility companies.

In addition, the Air Force has begun generating its own power and operates a 2.4 megawatt wind farm on Ascension Island and a 1.3 megawatt wind farm at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. Wind farms are being considered at several other bases.

While wind power is the largest contributor so far in the Air Force’s renewable energy plan, the portfolio also includes the use of biomass at Hill AFB, Utah and the installation of more than 3,500 ground source heat pumps at various installations. Energy management officials said they are also trying to increase the use of solar energy, which in the past was considered cost prohibitive.

During fiscal year 2004, 10 Air Force bases collectively purchased over 320 gigawatt hours of renewable energy certificates, accounting for 41 percent of all green power purchased by the federal government.

In early 2005, the Air Force completed a Renewable Energy Study commissioned by Congress with the recommendation to increase use of renewable energy while increasing commercial development of new renewable power. The Air Force is turning recommendations into reality through power purchasing initiatives that include landfill gas, wind and solar power opportunities.

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Longline Fishermen Barred From Catching Atlantic White Marlin

WASHINGTON, DC, October 26, 2005 (ENS) - A federal judge has approved a settlement agreement between environmental organizations, sportfishing representatives, and the National Marine Fisheries Service designed to protect the Atlantic white marlin from longline fishing.

The settlement was approved earlier this month by Judge Richard Roberts in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia over the objections of the longlining fishing industry.

It resolves a lawsuit brought by two nonprofit conservation organizations - Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network - against the National Marine Fisheries Service, also called NOAA Fisheries. The agency, under the Department of Commerce, is charged with managing fisheries and protecting marine species under the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit sought to overturn a previous determination by NOAA Fisheries that protecting the Atlantic white marlin under the Endangered Species Act was "not warranted."

The environmental groups argue that the agency reached this conclusion despite the findings of its own scientists that current harvest levels are unsustainable and that, even under the most optimistic management scenarios, this species of top ocean predator would continue to decline to dangerously low levels.

The settlement requires NOAA Fisheries to conduct analyses of the effects of longline fishing on white marlin and make a new finding by the end of 2007 as to whether the species warrants the protections of the Endangered Species Act.

NOAA Fisheries is currently amending its fishery management plan for highly migratory species such as marlin, swordfish, tuna and sharks. The settlement requires the agency to analyze as part of this plan amendment process whether closing five areas along the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico to longline fishing would reduce white marlin bycatch and mortality.

"Absent major changes in the fishery management plan, the decline of white marlin will continue and Endangered Species Act listing for the species will be inevitable," said Brendan Cummings, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "National Marine Fisheries Service has the opportunity in the next few months to make the right management decisions that will truly protect the white marlin."

In 2002, NOAA Fisheries conducted a status review of Atlantic white marlin. "According to the best consensus of the world’s scientific community, the Atlantic white marlin population has declined precipitously, dwindling to only 13 percent of what is considered a sustainable level," said Todd Steiner, executive director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network. The population was last considered to be at a long-term sustainable level in 1980.

"If current morbidity rates are not significantly reduced, the Atlantic white marlin is likely to become functionally extinct within the next five years," Steiner said. "We believe the white marlin should be listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and we anticipate suing the U.S. government for its failure to list this species, shortly."

White marlin are prized by big game recreational sports fishing enthusiasts, but today, virtually all billfishing by sport fishers is catch-and-release.

A copy of the original petition to list the white marlin under the Endangered Species Act, as well as additional information on the status of the species can be found at www.BigMarineFish.com. A copy of the settlement agreement and the judge's order entering the settlement can be found at www.biologicaldiversity.org.

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Glen Canyon Dam Impacts Clarified in USGS Report

TEMPE, Arizona, October 26, 2005 (ENS) - Too little sediment is making its way down the Colorado River to replenish the river channel and sandbars important as habitat for endangered fish, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on the impacts of the Glen Canyon Dam. The report assesses scientific studies of aquatic, riparian, fish, sediment, recreation, and cultural resources from 1991 through 2004.

"The State of the Colorado River Ecosystem in Grand Canyon," details the impacts of the operation of Glen Canyon Dam and other management actions on downstream resources within Grand Canyon National Park.

It was prepared at the request of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Work Group (AMWG), a federal advisory committee that makes recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior on the operation of Glen Canyon Dam and other management actions.

"We live in an age when science allows us to clarify what is happening in complex natural systems like Grand Canyon," said Dr. Ted Melis, acting chief of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center in Flagstaff, Arizona and one of the report’s authors and editors.

The major findings are:

"This report proves the vital importance of science-based adaptive ecosystem management," Melis said. "Its analysis and results can help managers fine tune dam operations and identify other actions to benefit downstream resources, from native fishes to camping beaches, that the public values in Grand Canyon."

The report is a focus of discussion at a USGS symposium in Tempe, Arizona that winds up tomorrow. To download the report go to: www.gcmrc.gov/products/score/2005/score.htm.

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Sunoco Again Fined for Air Quality Problems at Marcus Hook Refinery

NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania, October 26, 2005 (ENS) - Oil giant Sunoco Inc. will pay a total of $123,730 to the state of Pennsylvania for air quality permit violations and past emission fees for its petroleum refinery in Marcus Hook Borough, Delaware County.

Joseph Feola, Southeast regional director with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Tuesday announced that the agency "has documented numerous environmental problems at Sunoco’s Marcus Hook Refinery during the past several years."

Penalties against the refinery have totaled more than $4 million.

“We will continue to monitor the facility closely and expect the company to install additional control equipment mandated by a previous enforcement action," Feola said.

This settlement addresses violations noted during a DEP facilitywide compliance evaluation that began in May 2003 at the refinery. Violations include numerous recordkeeping errors; incomplete reports; under-reporting emissions; and exceeding permit limits for air toxics and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

A total of 12 notices of violation were issued during the course of the inspections, one of which was issued in March 2005 and settled in May for $825,236. Tuesday'sagreement settles violations noted in the remaining 11 violation notices.

In June 2005, DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty announced Pennsylvania’s participation in a $6.9 million federal consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, other city and state environmental agencies, and Sunoco for violations at the Marcus Hook refinery as well as the company’s refineries in Philadelphia; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Toledo, Ohio.

Pennsylvania will receive $900,000 of the $3 million cash portion of that settlement and an additional $300,000 of the $3.9 million slated to fund supplemental environmental projects.

Terms of the June federal consent decree also require Sunoco to install additional control equipment at its Marcus Hook refinery by 2010, further reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions. Nearly $60 million worth of environmental control equipment is scheduled for installation at this refinery over the next eight years.

The current penalty and terms of Tuesday's agreement are not included in the federal action.

In September 2002, the Pennsylvania DEP assessed a nearly $3.5 million civil penalty against Sunoco for failing to install reasonably available control technology air pollution control equipment on a timely basis on two nitrogen oxide-emitting boilers in Marcus Hook. Although initially appealed by the company, the Environmental Hearing Board upheld DEP’s action and penalty amount in April 2004.

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