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AmeriScan: September 18, 2002

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PCB Assessment Planned for Hudson River

ALBANY, New York, September 18, 2002 (ENS) - Federal and state trustees have released a comprehensive plan for studying the impacts of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the Hudson River.

The trustees from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Park Service (NPS) and the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said the assessment will examine the toxin's effects on the region's natural resources, and look at ways to restore the river.

The Hudson River Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Plan describes studies that have already been completed, are under way, or will be undertaken as part of an assessment of potential PCB related injuries to living resources. The assessment will be used to help evaluate actions to mitigate damages to these resources, including projects to protect and restore wildlife, surface water and river sediments, geological resources including flood plain soils, groundwater and air quality.

"For decades, the New York public has not had full use of the Hudson River natural resources," retired NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. "The damage assessment plan is a roadmap for renewing the Hudson River and eliminating the contaminants."

According to Dr. Mamie Parker, regional director for USFWS, the NRDA plan represents an "important milestone in the Hudson River's trip back from PCB contamination."

"We believe this plan points the way toward a thorough assessment of PCB contamination to our resources," Parker added.

The public will have the opportunities to provide comments on the plan in a series of public availability sessions in October. The trustees will review the comments and may incorporate them into the plan, which will continue to be developed and revised as the damage assessment progresses.

"As we continue our efforts to restore the Hudson River, we must ensure that we clearly understand how the river environment has been impacted by the release of PCBs and how we can best address these impacts," said DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty. "Through the NRDA process, we are undertaking a range of scientific studies that will provide us with valuable information on the nature and extent of damages to our natural resource that will help us move forward with a strategy for restoring the historic Hudson River and its ecosystems."

The NRDA Plan for the Hudson River is the third step in the damage assessment process. The first step, a pre-assessment screen of Hudson River PCB contamination, was completed in 1997. The second step, a request for ideas on potential restoration projects, began in 2000 and is ongoing, with trustees continuing to accept proposals.

Under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund), parties that have released hazardous substances to the river and caused injury to natural resources can be held responsible for the costs of restoring the environment. The federal government has determined that the PCB contamination of the Hudson River came largely from General Electric plants along the river that used the chemicals to make transformers and other electrical items before the chemicals were banned in the U.S.

Following an evaluation of the PCB contamination, the trustees will determine whether to pursue legal action against GE and other polluters under the Superfund law. All funds recovered must be designated to the restoration of the river's ecosystem.

For more information on the assessment, visit any of the following sites: http://www.darp.noaa.gov/neregion/hudsonr.htm; http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/hudson/index.html; http://contaminants.fws.gov.restorationplans/HudsonRiver.gfm

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Energy Efficiency Reaches Subsidized Housing

WASHINGTON, DC, September 18, 2002 (ENS) - A new partnership will help to make federally subsidized housing projects more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) signed a formal partnership Tuesday to promote Energy Star products throughout HUD's affordable housing programs.

Energy Star is a voluntary program managed by the EPA and DOE that identifies and labels energy efficient appliances, electronics, office equipment, lighting, heating and cooling equipment, buildings and new homes.

"President [George W.] Bush directed the federal government to find ways to promote energy efficiency and conservation," said HUD Secretary Mel Martinez. "Today's agreement is a major step towards ensuring that our agencies work together to improve the energy efficiency of new and existing homes by promoting the use of Energy Star."

The agreement commits the three agencies to working together to improve the energy efficiency of HUD's public, assisted and insured housing as well as housing financed through HUD's formula or competitive grant programs.

"EPA's Energy Star program provides government agencies, businesses and consumers, with the opportunity to buy energy efficient products that conserve energy, save money, and protect the environment," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "We have seen the success that can be had when agencies come together with shared resources and knowledge to achieve our goals."

The three agencies will work together to help the nation's housing authorities purchase Energy Star labeled appliances for subsidized housing, and promote the use of Energy Star products in HUD's inventory of privately owned assisted housing. The agreement will also promote the construction of new Energy Star labeled homes through HUD programs.

The EPA estimates that an individual apartment renter can save 15 percent to 20 percent with the installation of Energy Star appliances such as refrigerators, window air conditioners and lighting. An Energy Star labeled new home can save 30 percent or more on heating and cooling bills, or about $200 to $400 a year.

HUD assists more than five million renters and home owners each year through its various programs, affecting about five percent of the nation's total housing. HUD spends an estimated $4 billion each year on energy on behalf of renters and home owners.

The new partnership will impact existing and new HOPE VI public housing developments, housing for the elderly and persons with disabilities, FHA insured housing and HOME Investment Partnership Program developments. It will also help educate the 1.8 million holders of housing vouchers whose landlords also can take advantage of the efficiency of Energy Star labeled products.

For more information about Energy Star, visit: http://www.energystar.gov

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Salmon Trucking Plan Called Expensive, Unnecessary

MEDFORD, Oregon, September 18, 2002 (ENS) - Fifty conservation, commercial and recreational fishing groups have signed a letter opposing plans to use taxpayer funds for a permanent salmon trucking scheme at the Elk Creek Dam in Oregon.

Though construction of the dam on Elk Creek, a key salmon spawning tributary of the Rogue River, was abandoned in 1987, some lawmakers are now proposing to spend more money on the unused dam. A rider on the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill that is now being drafted in the U.S. House of Representatives would establish a permanent program to trap salmon at the base of the dam and drive them around it in trucks.

The plan, backed by Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, would block a cheaper, more effective alternative: cutting a notch in the unfinished dam and allowing the fish to swim past it on their own. Money already set aside for notching would be diverted into the salmon trucking scheme, but once it runs out American taxpayers would be left to foot the bill for the project.

The letter from the groups asked Senator Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, to speak out against the proposal when it is brought before a joint House-Senate conference committee.

"Millions of tax dollars have already been squandered on the failed Elk Creek Dam project," said Peter Raabe of the conservation group American Rivers. "We urge Senator Smith to restore the Rogue and its endangered salmon by putting a stop to this boondoggle."

The salmon trucking proposal is the latest chapter in the troubled history of the Elk Creek Dam project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opposed its construction because the dam did not make economic sense. The Corps has pointed out that if they were required to complete it, they would not operate the dam to store water because they have no customers who need it.

The dam was never designed to generate any electricity, and would provide only marginal flood control benefits for the Rogue River valley downstream.

A report by the U.S. General Accounting Office concluded that the benefits of the dam project were overstated from the start, and noted that if taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for completing the dam, we can expect a return of about 20 cents for every dollar spent.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency in charge of protecting America's threatened salmon runs, has said that the salmon trucking scheme may violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which means it could end up generating more conflict and lawsuits. According to the agency, the best way to bring Elk Creek Dam into compliance with the ESA is to notch it.

"Senator Smith needs to do the right thing for U.S. taxpayers, and give this 'salmon trucking' scheme the thumbs down," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

More information on the Elk River Dam controversy, including the groups' letter to Senator Smith, is available at: http://www.onrc.org/info/elkcreekdam

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Lead Poisoning Awareness Campaign Targets Hispanics

WASHINGTON, DC, September 18, 2002 (ENS) - A new lead poisoning awareness campaign was launched Tuesday to coincide with National Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 - October 15.

The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness among Latino parents of the importance of routine lead screenings for their children.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) first joined efforts in 1999 to raise awareness about lead poisoning in the Hispanic community. The EPA is providing $297,000 for the groups' newest joint campaign, which will include a public service announcement developed by EVS Communications and a wall poster encouraging families to have their children tested for lead.

"Lead poisoning is a serious problem because it strikes at the most vulnerable in society, our children," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "Working together in partnership is one of our best tools to achieve real results in reducing the number of Hispanic children who suffer from lead poisoning. Our efforts today will ensure that Hispanic children continue to thrive and contribute to our society for years to come."

The EPA has produced a number of its lead poisoning prevention educational materials in Spanish, including the lead disclosure document "Protect Your Family from Lead in the Home" and the brochure, "Fight Lead Poisoning with a Healthy Diet."

Lead, a toxic metal used for many years in products found in and around homes, has been linked to a range of health effects ranging from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children six years old and under are most at risk, because their bodies are growing so fast.

The primary sources of exposure to lead for most children include deteriorating lead based paint, lead contaminated dust and lead contaminated residential soils.

"Lead poisoning is not an issue of the past but a real and present danger to millions of children, particularly in the Latino community," noted Raul Yzaguirre, president of NCLR. "Lead poisoning can have serious and profound consequences including hearing loss, learning disabilities and even mental retardation."

Since the 1980s, the EPA and its federal partners have phased out lead in gasoline, reduced lead in drinking water, reduced lead in industrial air pollution, and banned or limited lead used in consumer products, including residential paint.

In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Centers for Disease Control, EPA operates the National Lead Information Center, including a toll free hotline that can be reached at 1-800-424-LEAD.

More information is available at: http://www.epa.gov/lead/

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Chesapeake Bay Teachers Get Environmental Lessons

WASHINGTON, DC, September 18, 2002 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has awarded four grants totaling $250,000 to provide environmental education experiences for Chesapeake Bay area teachers.

The grants will be used by NOAA Sea Grant programs located in the Chesapeake Bay region to provide teachers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed with courses that use a hands on approach to learning about the Bay watershed environment.

"We are encouraging teachers to learn how to better use the Chesapeake Bay environment as a teaching tool that makes a student's environmental education experience more meaningful," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. "We hope our courses in environmental education reinforce a teacher's ability to in turn inspire young people to connect to their watershed and strengthen an ethic of responsible citizenship - which may improve the Bay ecosystem."

This award comes as part of a larger effort of the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office's Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Program. The B-WET Program provides environmental education to students, teachers and communities throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Funded projects support organizations that provide meaningful outdoor experiences to students, as well as professional development opportunities for teachers in the area of environmental education.

This educational initiative spans the Chesapeake Bay watershed by partnering NOAA Sea Grant programs and universities in four Bay watershed states: Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The program includes seven courses, five seminars, and 14 research fellowships, led by scientists at university campuses and environmental laboratories around the watershed.

"The Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries should be considered a living classroom," said Lowell Bahner, director of the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office. "The Bay provides a source of environmental knowledge that can be used to help advance student learning skills and problem solving abilities across the entire school curriculum."

More information is available at: http://noaa.chesapeakebay.net

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Cleanup of Radioactive Soils Begins in Louisiana

ST. GABRIEL, Louisiana, September 18, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is beginning an environmental cleanup of radiation contaminated soils at the Coastal Radiation Services site in St. Gabriel, Louisiana.

Contaminated material will be excavated and transported to a land disposal facility permitted to receive low level radioactive waste. The EPA is now preparing the site for excavation activities which are expected to begin in several weeks.

"It's important that we remove all pathways for human exposure from the soil in and around the site so that the community is protected," said EPA regional administrator Gregg Cooke.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) is assisting in the cleanup by providing laboratory and community relations support during the removal action.

"We are pleased to see the removal of contaminated material initiated at the site," said Hall Bohlinger, secretary of LDEQ.

In the late 1970's, a radioactive source leaked on the ground at the site. Storm runoff later spread the contamination to adjacent properties.

Coastal Radiation Services removed about 18 55 gallon drums of contaminated soil from the site and poured a concrete slab over the area in 1979. The company continued to remove contaminated soils from the site into the mid-1980's, and went out of business in 1990.

Concerns remain about residual radiation in the soil at and around the site. The EPA expects to alleviate any remaining health concerns by removing about 1,820 cubic yards of contaminated soil and 259 cubic yards of debris in the area.

The EPA says its scans have detected no ionizing radiation in nearby residences.

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High Tech California Car Competes Internationally

DAVIS, California, September 18, 2002 (ENS) - A high mileage, low pollution car built by students at the University of California at Davis, will drive from Hockenheim, Germany to Paris, France this month.

The trip, which will run from September 22 to September 25, is part of the Challenge Bibendum, a competition run by tire manufacturer Michelin to promote new technology in automobiles.

UC Davis is the only university represented among the competition's 70 participants, who include auto industry giants Ford, DaimlerChryser and Honda. Graduate students Eric Chattot, Thomas Dreumont and Charnjiv Bangar from the university's Hybrid Electric Vehicle laboratory will drive the car.

The UC Davis vehicle, "Coulomb," is a Mercury Sable converted to a gas electric hybrid engine with a continuously variable transmission. An electric motor drives the wheels at lower speeds for city driving.

On the highway, a 660 cubic centimeter gas engine provides extra power and also maintains battery charge. The batteries can also be recharged from a domestic power supply. Coulomb has an all aluminum body to reduce weight with additional streamlining to reduce wind resistance.

Coulomb is designed to achieve fuel economy of over 50 miles per gallon of gasoline, and acceleration of zero to 60 miles per hour in 11 seconds while meeting California's Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) standards.

Competitors in the Challenge Bibendum - named after Michelin's "tire man" mascot - are judged on pollution, noise, fuel economy, performance and safety under normal road conditions as well as on design. The competitors will visit the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France and display their vehicles at the Paris Motor Show on September 26.

Coulomb was the UC Davis team's entry for the 1998-99 FutureCar competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. auto makers. The team won awards for Best Design Review, Best Application of Advanced Technology and Best Technical Report in that competition.

For more information on the UC Davis Hybrid Electric Vehicle Center, visit: http://www.team-fate.net/index.html

For more information on Challenge Bibendum, visit: http://www.challengebibendum.com/

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Professor Counts Sheep Along the Grand Canyon

BLACKSBURG, Virginia, September 18, 2002 (ENS) - A Virginia Tech wildlife sciences professor has developed a new field survey that will help improve counts of wild bighorn sheep in Arizona's Grand Canyon.

The research requires a two week long rafting trip twice a year down the Colorado River. Professor Michael Vaughan, along with some Virginia Tech graduate students, surveys the 200 mile stretch by land, followed by a helicopter count. This method helps Vaughan figure in any miscalculations or errors in his estimates.

"Prior to our research, there had always been strict helicopter restrictions in the Grand Canyon," Vaughan said. "As a result, the National Park Service had no information on the Grand Canyon's sheep population."

While the restrictions are still in place, the Park Service allowed Vaughan's research team to fly low enough in the Canyon to count sheep, determine population density, lamb production, and survival rates of the Grand Canyon bighorn sheep population.

Vaughan uses a land based population research technique to look at the age and sex distribution of the Grand Canyon's bighorn sheep. This lamb to ewe ratio gives Vaughan an idea of how well reproduction is going for a given year.

"Basically, I count and estimate the lamb to ewe ratio in April right after they are born," Vaughan explained. "Then, I come back three to six months later and do a recount of the area."

The data provides Vaughan with an analysis of the animals' survival rates, which is important information for wildlife managers.

It was not difficult for Vaughan to find graduate students willing to participate in the research project.

"We spent the days hiking up the surrounding canyons in search of hidden sheep," said Virginia Tech fisheries and wildlife sciences graduate student Daniel Lee. "The nights were spent camping under the stars."

A group of 18-20 other scientists joined Vaughan on the rafting trip to work on other research projects, including a Mexican spotted owl search, mule deer pellet surveys, and frog and lizard surveys.



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