AmeriScan: September 9, 2003
In a decision unearthed by the release of an internal memo, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last month reversed the 25 year ban on selling PCB contaminated property.
The agency said it determined the ban was "an unnecessary barrier to redevelopment [and] may actually delay the cleanup of contaminated properties."
According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) the Pentagon, which is preparing for the biggest round of base closure in history, will reap the major rewards from this policy shift.
"Now the Pentagon can dump contaminated properties on hard pressed communities and walk away without a dime of financial responsibility," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "The Pentagon has been pressuring EPA for a blanket exemption and EPA complied in the most gutless way possible - with an unannounced, internal ruling by a resigning mid level official."
The EPA memo says the agency did not make the change public because it was simply a reinterpretation of the law. The memo was written and sent by EPA General Counsel Robert Fabricant on August 14 - the same day Fabricant, who came to the agency with former EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, submitted his resignation from the EPA.
PCBs were banned in the United States in the 1977 and are among the "dirty dozen" chemical contaminants slated for global phase out under the United Nations treaty on persistent organic pollutants. PCBs are highly persistent, and they have been linked to cancer and impaired fetal brain development.
Many of the older buildings on U.S. military bases contain liquid PCBs in their heating and lighting systems as well as in the surrounding soil from years of spills and residue buildup.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, has introduced legislation to reverse Fabricant's ruling and environmental groups are preparing suit, but PEER says Pentagon transfers may begin occurring immediately unless these actions are successful and apply retroactively.
The organization finds that payment concentration is on the rise - in 1995 the top 10 percent of recipients received 55 percent of total subsidy payments, which totaled $3.98 billion. In 2002, the top 10 percent collected 65 percent of total subsidies, a share worth $7.8 billion.
Over the time period from 1995 to 2002, the top 10 percent received 71 percent of total subsidy payments.
These numbers are part of EWG's first major upgrade to its Farm Subsidy Database web site, which tracks more than 108 million payments by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that total $114 billion. EWG posted the updates today.
The group determined that from 1995 to 2002 some 80 percent of the $114 billion was paid to boost the incomes of crop and livestock farmers, 12.5 percent went to farmers and ranchers through conservation programs some 7.5 percent went for weather-related disaster programs.
Conservation's share decreased during this period, EWG explains, as funding to conservation programs remained level while commodity programs increased drastically - at a time when they were supposed to decline.
"Why should we continue to provide direct payments to the overwhelmingly largest producers of certain, favored crops? These data reinforce our view that more federal assistance, in the form of conservation program support, should be made available to farms of all sizes, regardless of what they grow," said EWG President Ken Cook.
EWG says the peanut quota buyout has been a taxpayer funded windfall for the largest quota holders. The top 10 percent of peanut subsidy recipients in 2002 collected 62 percent of the payments. The top recipients included John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance, which collected $2,124,760 in peanut subsidies in 2002.
The group reports that the dairy subsidy program is much more equitable than most commodity programs. In 2002, the first year the program took effect, the top 10 percent of recipients collected only 33 percent of the dairy subsidies.
EWG's updated site provides thousands of new analyses, including top-recipient listings and payment concentration analyses at the state and county levels, and within each major USDA program. EWG has also added, for the first time, information provided by USDA on ownership interests in subsidized farms.
The groups says its database is "by far the most detailed accounting of federal farm subsidy payments ever attempted." But EWG adds that gaps in USDA's data inhibits a complete understanding of the distribution of its payments.
For example, EWG was unable to trace most payments to individual recipients that were made through rice cooperatives that are listed as recipients of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies since 1995.
USDA has not revealed, and may not track, full recipient-level information for payments made to most co-ops, partnerships, corporations and other forms of business organization. In addition, payments assigned to recipients that are banks, state agencies, or Indian tribes also do not reveal individual recipients of subsidy payments.
EWG's Farm Subsidies Database can be found at http://www.ewg.org/farm.
The threats to the species "as identified in the 1999 proposed rule are not as significant as earlier believed," said Ralph Morgenweck, director of the agency's Mountain Prairie Region.
"Survey data do not demonstrate that the population is in decline and the best available information does not indicate that the species is in danger of becoming an endangered species in the foreseeable future," said Morgenweck.
Conservationists blasted the decision and say that the species declined some 63 percent from 1966 to 1991 with subsequent losses of an additional three percent every year. Habitat loss is cited as the chief threat to the mountain plover, a grassland bird found in the mountain west.
"The mountain plover is rapidly declining and desperately in need of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act," said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, endangered species coordinator for Forest Guardians. "The Service's withdrawal of the plover's listing rule is an intentional choice by the Bush administration to usher in extinction for this bird."
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the current total population of mountain plovers is estimated to be between 5,000 and 11,000 individuals.
Historically, breeding mountain plovers were widely distributed in the Great Plains region from Canada south to Texas. The Fish and Wildlife Service says mountain plovers occur today in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, California, Arizona, and Nevada.
Most breeding occurs in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming, and an estimated 85 percent of the population winters in the Imperial and San Joaquin Valleys of California.
The agency says its decision was reached based on new information indicating that in some areas of the species' breeding range, croplands provide alternate nesting locations. It also says that declines in local population numbers at specific locations are not supported by statewide estimates throughout the range, which suggest that the continental population has not changed significantly in the past decade.
In addition, states are pursuing adequate conservation measures to safeguard the future of the species, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Conservation groups are likely to sue over the agency's decision, which many believe reflects the Bush administration's opposition to the ESA. The Bush administration has listed fewer species on the ESA than any other administration since the law was enacted in 1973 and all of those listings have been ordered by federal courts.
Billing residents only for their actual water usage can help save water, says EPA's Assistant Administrator for Water G. Tracy Mehan III.
"We have seen that consumers use less water if they are billed not on just a flat rate but on what they actually use," Mehan explained. "Americans can save substantial amounts of water through water efficiency programs - helping to make them aware of how much water they are using and the cost is one of the steps to produce environmental benefits."
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the national primary drinking water regulations apply to public water systems (PWS) that have its own water source, treat or sell water.
EPA has previously issued guidance stating that any building or property owner who meets the definition of a PWS and receives water from a regulated public water system, but bills tenants separately for this water, is selling the water and is independently subject to safe drinking water requirements.
As a way to promote full cost and conservation pricing to achieve water conservation, the EPA now proposes to change the policy as it applies to a limited aspect of submetering and direct billing of residential tenants.
The 60 day comment period on this proposed policy change ends October 28.
The targets of the new technique are organohalides, a class of compounds used in pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing. They pose health risks to humans and have been linked to environmental problems such as ozone depletion and climate change.
The compounds are very difficult to break down chemically. Some instances of organohalides in the environment today can be traced back to the dry cleaning industry of the 1920s and 1930s.
Seventeen of the top 25 organic groundwater contaminants in urban areas are organohalides, according to a 1997 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This new cleanup approach combines an extremely thin film of titanium dioxide with a compound found in life known as hemin. After exposure to ultraviolet light, the hemin and titanium dioxide can break up organohalides at surprisingly high rates.
"It is safe to say that we do not fully understand why this approach works so well, but we will take it and develop it and figure out the details as we go," said Gerald Meyer, professor of chemistry in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at The Johns Hopkins University.
The new method was developed by Sherine Obare, a postdoctoral fellow in Meyer's lab.
Meyer says there is still a lot of development work to be done, not the least of which is figuring out exactly how the chemistry of the new system works. But he speculated that scientists might someday be able to insert a similar system in drinking water - down a well, for example - and power the removal of organohalides with sunlight.
"It is important that everyone be provided access to a safe and clean supply of drinking water," said Corine Li, manager of the EPA Pacific Southwest Region's Drinking Water Office. "The improvements that the County of Hawaii will make with the spigot stations and upgraded water lines will help provide access to safe drinking water for all the residents of the Big Island."
Residents in certain areas of the state are dependant on water catchment systems, with most residing in Hawaii County. Volcanic gases from Kilauea Volcano have caused lead to leach from roof paint, solders and lead nails into catchment systems.
Due to the concern for lead contamination and to provide access to water for owners of catchment systems during periods of drought, the county has been providing emergency drinking water via temporary public water spigots. But these sites, which are located next to fire hydrants along road ways, pose a traffic hazard, along with health and safety concerns.
The first project funded by the EPA will provide six sanitary water spigot sites for the public to obtain drinking water for household use in Puna, Kau, South Kona, North Kona and Hilo. The spigot stations will have a permanent structure, lighting and security.
The second project will upgrade the existing waterlines along the Mamalahoa Highway to provide access to water supplies from the Keahuolu Well to the Kailua-Keahole areas of North Kona. The new waterlines will reduce the area's dependency on the current water supply from the Kahaluu Water shaft, which is being over used, resulting in deteriorating water quality.
Both projects are estimated to begin construction in the fall of 2004 and completed by summer of 2005.
Located at 20 River Terrace in New York's Battery Park City is the first new residential construction to be completed in downtown Manhattan since September 11, 2001, and was the first beneficiary of the state's green building tax credit.
The 27 story, 293 unit building has been environmentally engineered to consume 35 percent less energy, reduce peak demand for electricity by 65 percent, require 50 percent less potable water, provide healthier indoor air quality and offer more natural light than typical residential buildings.
The Solaire was constructed using green building materials that either have high recycled content, or were manufactured with renewable or rapidly renewable resources, free of formaldehyde and containing low or no volatile organic chemicals.
It contains photovoltaic cells, integrated within the exterior walls, that are capable of generating five percent of the building's base electric load. Fresh air supplies to each residence are filtered to remove 85 percent of particulate matter and the building's air conditioning system are fueled by natural gas and free of ozone depleting refrigerants.
The Solaire has an onsite black water system to eliminate the use of potable water for the building's flush system and supply the heating, ventilation and air conditioning cooling tower. It also contains a storm water catchment system to irrigate the rooftop garden.
"The Solaire stands as a model for future residential development in New York City and across the nation," said Pataki. "The Solaire's dedication to energy efficiency, air quality, water conservation and preservation of natural resources is groundbreaking, establishing it as a benchmark for urban sustainable development and for "green" buildings worldwide."
One of the state's most renowned natural landmarks, Grandfather Mountain is the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is the only privately held property on the United Nations' list of biosphere reserves.
Last month the North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy bought a conservation easement on Boone Fork Creek from Grandfather Mountain, Inc. The easement covers 925 acres and 12,408 linear feet of Boone Fork Creek from its headwaters to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Nature Conservancy says the easement will protect the entire upper Boone Fork Creek watershed.
The purchase was made possible through a $3.3 million grant from North Carolina's Clean Water Management Trust Fund.
The Nature Conservancy has been working to protect Grandfather Mountain since 1991 and this latest easement expands its Grandfather Mountain Preserve to 3,590 acres.
Grandfather Mountain is considered one of the most biologically significant sites in the Southern Appalachians. Biologists believe it provides habitat for more globally rare species than any U.S. mountain east of the Rockies. It is home to 66 rare and endangered species, including 25 that are globally imperiled.
The mountain contains 16 distinct ecosystems - it is the the mountain's abrupt rise above the valley floor, which causes the change in elevation and climate conditions that supports such diversity.
Rock formations on Grandfather Mountain date back 1.2 billion years and the mountain - as a geological formation - is some 620 million years old.