AmeriScan: September 11, 2003

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InterAmerican Development Bank Will Fund Camisea Project

WASHINGTON, DC, September 11, 2003 (ENS) - The InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB) on Wednesday approved $135 million in financing for the controversial $1.6 billion Camisea natural gas pipeline project in Peru.

The Camisea project involves the development of two natural gas deposits in the Peruvian Amazon and the construction of two pipelines to deliver the gas to Lim and Callao, Peru.

The project seeks to tap into reserves of some 13,000 billion cubic feet of gas, but there is fierce opposition to the project.

Environmental and human rights groups say the project is already scarring the Peruvian Amazon and affecting the Nahua-Kugapakori Reserve - home to previously uncontacted and isolated indigenous populations.

The IDB's decision is "a terrible precedent," said Kathryn Fuller, U.S. president of World Wildlife Fund.

Rejection of the funding request by the IDB " could have forced pipeline supporters back to the negotiating table to fix the plan's serious ecological flaws," Fuller said. "Economic development in Peru and around the world can be accomplished without sacrificing natural treasures, but [this] decision makes that a lot harder to do."

"It is a throwback to the times before we came to appreciate the inextricable link between economic development and a healthy environment," Fuller said.

The funding from the IDB supports the transportation component of the project.

The United States abstained from the vote of the 14 member board of the IDB, a multilateral organization with some 27 member countries from the North and South America as well as the Caribbean

Amid growing criticism from some U.S. lawmakers, the board of directors of the U.S. Export-Import Bank voted last month to reject some $213 million in financing for the project.

An internal report by the US Export Import Bank, obtained by environmental and human rights organizations through the Freedom of Information Act, proposals to mitigate the environmental impacts of the project are "woefully inadequate" and the project will likely lead to landslides, destroy critical natural habitats, and spread diseases among indigenous peoples.

Groups are also concerned about an export terminal for Camisea will also be built in the Buffer Zone of the Paracas National Marine Reserve, Peru's only marine sanctuary for endangered birds and mammals.

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Enviros Petition NRC to Shutdown Indian Point

WASHINGTON, DC, September 11, 2003 (ENS) - Environmental groups have formally petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to order the immediate shutdown of both nuclear power reactors at the Indian Point Energy Center. The reactors at the nuclear plant, located 22 miles outside New York City, should remain closed until vital safety systems are fixed, according to the petition filed this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Riverkeeper, Inc.

The petition cites recent studies by the Los Alamos National Laboratory that concluded the chances of a reactor meltdown increase by nearly a factor of 100 at Indian Point because the plant's drainage pits - also known as containment sumps - are "almost certain" to be blocked with debris during an accident.

"The NRC has known about the containment sump problem at Indian Point since September 1996, but currently plans to fix it only by March 2007," said David Lochbaum, UCS nuclear safety engineer. "The NRC cannot take more than a decade to fix a safety problem that places millions of Americans at undue risk."

In an accident at a nuclear plant, water and steam rushing out from a broken pipe can blow insulation and coatings off of equipment.

The water can carry this debris to the containment sump and clog the mesh screens that cover the sumps. When this happens, the emergency pumps cannot receive the water needed for sustained cooling of the reactor core, and it becomes only a matter of time before the reactor core overheats and releases a radioactive cloud that threatens people downwind of the plant.

After reviewing the petition, the NRC will take one of three actions. It could accept the petition and order both Indian Point reactors to be shut down; accept the petition but order the containment sumps to be fixed at the next scheduled refueling dates; or deny the petition without requiring the safety hazard at Indian Point to be addressed.

The NRC's goal is to reach decisions on petitions within 180 days.

New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat, called on the NRC to urgently and thoroughly review the petition.

"A plant like Indian Point, set in such a densely populated area, should be required to meet the highest standards for safety and security and that it is essential that NRC take concrete steps to ensure the safety of the Indian Point reactors," Clinton said.

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Energy Bill Renews ANWR Debate

WASHINGTON, DC, September 11, 2003 (ENS) - The Bush administration and some Congressional Republicans say pending energy legislation should include a controversial provision to allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

A provision to open ANWR was passed within the House energy bill, but there is no such language in the Senate bill. Senate Democrats have vowed to defeat future efforts to open ANWR, yet the administration and its allies are convinced such a measure is a vital part of the nation's energy future.

"The ANWR debate has been dominated by emotional rhetoric, instead of honest debate on policy," said California Republican Representative Richard Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee and a member of the conference committee tasked with forging a final energy bill. "Until we change that, we are doing ourselves and the American people a real disservice."

Pombo and other supporters contend that the oil and gas within the 1.5 million acre coastal plain of the 19.5 million acre refuge can be explored and developed without harming the environment.

"Advanced American technology will enable us to produce energy in ANWR with incredible environmental safety," Pombo said. "As the world leader in environmental protection, it is irresponsible for us to import oil from third world countries with virtually zero environmental laws."

Including the ANWR provision in the energy plan "will have profound benefits for the economy, jobs, national security, and the global environment," Pombo said. "There is no viable argument to the contrary."

Conservationists, most Democrats - and some Republicans - take issue with that position.

Opponents believe the coastal plain is the biological heart of the refuge and that oil drilling would have devastating impacts to its wildlife.

And the amount of oil within ANWR's coastal plain is very much open for debate. Advocates and opponents of drilling cite both ends of the range estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which runs from under three billion barrels to more than 16 billion barrels.

Critics of opening ANWR say the nation could save far more oil through modest conservation efforts and note that it would take a decade to develop the oil in the coastal plain.

Seven Republicans and one Independent joined 43 Democrats in defeating the provision in March.

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Bush Administration Keen to Limit Clean Water Act

WASHINGTON, DC, September 11, 2003 (ENS) - A brief filed Wednesday with the U.S. Supreme Court by the Bush administration argues that a Florida municipal water management district should be allowed to pump water contaminated with agricultural runoff into the Everglades without a Clean Water Act permit.

Environmentalists, who have been sharp critics of the administration's interpretation of the Clean Water Act, are alarmed by the brief, which they say could have serious impacts on federal protections for the nation's waters.

The case before the Supreme Court concerns contaminated water that the South Florida Water Management District pumps across a levee between urban and agricultural areas and the Everglades.

The water contains pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer from agriculture, as well as oil, grease, and heavy metals from roads and urban developments.

The amicus brief filed Wednesday by the U.S. Solicitor General supports the position of the water management district, which says that no Clean Water Act permit is needed because the water it pumps into the Everglades was not polluted by the pumps themselves.

Two lower courts have disagreed with this view and have supported the position of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and Friends of the Everglades, an environmental group. These groups argue that pumping dirty water into clean water meets the definition of a discharge of pollutants under the Clean Water Act, and therefore requires a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the water district has now asked the court to decide whether conveying dirty water into clean water should be considered an "addition" of pollution under the Act.

The amicus brief means the federal government has "sided with polluters who want to avoid any responsibility for the dirty water they dump into our drinking water supplies, our natural lakes, streams and wetlands," said David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice's Tallahassee office. "Trying to establish this exemption would overrule a string of legal precedents that protect clean water."

In its brief, the Bush administration argues that no Clean Water Act permit should be required if a water management district is pumping water from one place to another, regardless of how polluted the water is or how much damage is caused.

Guest and others fear this position, if adopted by the Supreme Court, would have broad implications for the jurisdiction or reach of the country's primary water pollution control law, impacting a host of other lakes and rivers around the United States.

Many water districts or similar entities collect polluted surface runoff waters and dump them into clean waters.

"Water management districts should not be allowed to contaminate the Everglades or places like Lake Okeechobee without at least complying with the Clean Water Act like everybody else," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

"When the District recently dumped polluted canal water into Lake Okeechobee, it contaminated the lake so much that residents in some cities were forced to switch to bottled water," Fuller said. "The pollution was so strong that the water could not be safely treated to drinking water standards. There is no excuse to create a new exemption from the Clean Water Act for this kind of pollution."

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Forest Service Battles Fire Fighting Costs

WASHINGTON, DC, September 11, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service's heavy dependence on contract firefighting services is causing the agency's budget to spin out of control, according to agency records released by the Forest Service Council of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The agency has already overspent its $360 million annual firefighting budget by more than $240 million and the latest agency estimates indicate the overrun will exceed $500 million by the end of the fire season.

Because Congress has not approved supplemental appropriations, the agency is covering the fire overruns by diverting money from its other programs.

Some 70 percent of Forest Service fire suppression expenditures are for contracted resources, such as aircraft, hand crews, engines, caterers, water tenders, bulldozers, camp crews and casual hires.

"These firefighting contracts are eating the Forest Service alive," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Contract firefighting is sucking all available funds, preventing the Forest Service from the restoration, habitat protection and even fire prevention work it is supposed to be doing."

PEER and NFFE say the Forest Service's 2003 Accountability Report and Action Plan cites unacceptably high fire suppression costs directly related to the high number of current contractors.

Forest Service documents show that contract hand crews receive a daily rate that is approximately twice that of the agency's best in-house crews and indicate that the agency lacks sufficient personnel to adequately oversee current contracts.

This inability to manage its firefighting contracts has led to contractor abuses and fraud, thus further driving up costs, according to the watchdog groups.

These findings come as the Forest Service - under a government-wide Bush administration proposal - is considering the replacement of between 5,000 and 10,000 fire fighters with private contractors by fiscal year 2006.

"It is clear that the heavy dependence upon contractor firefighting resources is a major contributing factor to the high costs of suppressing wildfires," said Bill Dougan, president of the Forest Service Council of NFFE. "It does not make economic sense to continue to promote and even increase the use of contract crews when the government can go out and hire government employees to do the work cheaper."

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Cinergy Agrees to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

CINCINNATI, Ohio, September 11, 2003 (ENS) - Cinergy Corporation has pledged to voluntarily take actions stabilizing its greenhouse gas emissions at five percent below 2000 levels by 2012.

The coal burning electric utility, which serves some 1.5 million customers in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, is the first in the United States to publicly commit to make absolute reductions of its greenhouse gas emissions. Cinergy made the announcement in partner with Environmental Defense, which will help the Cincinnati based utility develop a program to reach its goal.

"Cinergy's action to control global warming is the type of corporate leadership that will help break the paralysis in Washington on this issue," said Environmental Defense President Fred Krupp.

The company will spend some $21 million from 2004 to 2010 on internal actions and investments to reduce or offset power plant emissions.

Cinergy executives say the company will strive to spend at least $14 million of this sum on projects that have the potential to reduce emissions from its generation, transmission and distribution systems.

To meet its GHG emission reduction goal, Cinergy plans to use a combination of programs that will include new technologies, carbon sequestration, demand side management, energy conservation, improved efficiency of its existing generating fleet, and emission offsets.

"We know that there is no silver bullet or single answer to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, so we will have to rely on a variety of steps to meet our goal while continuing to serve the growth in electric demand by our customers," said James Rogers, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Cinergy. "We are also participating in new technology development to find ways to burn coal without emissions."

Cinergy will also report annually its emissions of the six greenhouse gases -- carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbon and sulfur hexafluoride. It will also report annually on progress toward the 2010 goal by comparing its reductions and offsets to its 2000 baseline.

As part of the voluntary program, the company will evaluate its emissions goal in 2010 and determine an appropriate voluntary goal for 2013 through 2015.

Cinergy's core operations account for about one percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, or about 67 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year.

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The Fate of Toxic Pollutants in Arctic Waters

NEW YORK, New York, September 11, 2003 (ENS) - New analysis of pesticides that accumulate in Arctic waterways is giving scientists insight into the fate of such pollutants once they settle in polar regions.

The Arctic waters act as a sink of sorts, as chemicals used in industry and agriculture worldwide slowly migrate to and settle there in sizeable quantities within water, snow, ice, soil and vegetation.

In this latest study, researchers have determined that the pollutant breakdown process in the Arctic depends largely on the type of dissolved organic matter residing in a body of water, as well as the presence of sunlight.

"Once pollutants enter the water column, their behavior is poorly understood - particularly the processes that govern their lifetime and concentrations," said Amanda Grannas, a postdoctoral researcher in chemistry at Ohio State University. "Such pollutants are now being found in wildlife, from fish to seals to whales, and even in people living in the Arctic."

Grannas and her colleagues reported their findings today at the meeting of the American Chemical Society.

They analyzed the behavior of two pesticides - lindane and hexachlorobenzene (HCB).

Both are persistent organic pollutants and are prominent in Arctic waters.

HCB was banned from use in the United States in 1984, but is still used as a pesticide in many developing countries. Farmers in the United States use lindane to treat seeds prior to planting.

In this study, HCB rapidly broke down into at least two detectable compounds, while lindane remained nonreactive. Aside from their ubiquity, the researchers chose these substances because of their water solubility - lindane's solubility in water is higher than that of HCB.

Grannas and her colleagues collected surface water samples from several waterways in the Alaskan Arctic. The organic matter detected in each waterway was primarily from plant material that washed into the water.

Although the source of organic matter was similar in each water sample, the researchers found that HCB degraded at the highest rate in the presence of organic matter containing the highest nitrogen levels.

"Nitrogen levels can vary even within a body of water, and may be an explanation for why pollutant degradation is higher in some areas," Grannas said. "Other researchers have found that pollutant levels can spike in otherwise similar areas."

The fact that some pollutants do degrade may lead to a false sense of security, Grannas said.

"There is a belief that if a pollutant degrades via natural processes, then it is okay to still emit it and let nature take care of the mess," she said. "Other studies analyzing different pollutants have found that their breakdown products in some cases are more toxic than the original pollutant."

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Solar Cells Get Organic Boost

PRINCETON, New Jersey, September 11, 2003 (ENS) - The promise of solar power has been overshadowed by high costs, but a new technique developed by electrical engineers at Princeton could turn solar cells into a highly economical source of energy.

The results, reported in the today's issue of the journal "Nature," move scientists closer to making a new class of solar cells that are not as efficient as conventional ones, but could be less expensive and more versatile.

Solar cells - or photovoltaics - convert light to electricity and are used to power many devices, from calculators to satellites. These new photovoltaics are made from "organic" materials, which consist of small carbon containing molecules, as opposed to the conventional inorganic, silicon based materials.

The materials are ultra thin and flexible and could be applied to large surfaces.

Organic solar cells could be manufactured in a process something like printing or spraying the materials onto a roll of plastic, explains study coauthor and Princeton graduate student Peter Peumans.

"In the end, you would have a sheet of solar cells that you just unroll and put on a roof," Peumans said.

Peumans and Princeton electrical engineering professor Stephen Forrest cowrote the paper in collaboration with Soichi Uchida, a researcher visiting Princeton from Nippon Oil Co.

Researchers have pursued organic photovoltaic films for many years, but have been plagued with problems of efficiency, said Forrest.

The first organic solar cell, developed in 1986, was one percent efficient, meaning that it converted only one percent of the available light energy into electrical energy.

That number stood for about 15 years, until the Princeton researchers changed the organic compounds used to make their solar cells, yielding devices with efficiencies of more than three percent.

The most recent advance reported in "Nature" involves a new method for forming the organic film, which increased the efficiency by 50 percent.

Researchers in Forrest's lab are now planning to combine the new materials and techniques, with the hope that doing so could yield at least five percent efficiency. This level would make the technology attractive to commercial manufacturers, although by comparison, conventional silicon chip based solar cells are about 24 percent efficient.

"We think we have pathway for using this and other tricks to get to 10 percent reasonably quickly," Forrest said.

And organic solar cells "will be cheaper to make," Peumans added, "so in the end the cost of a watt of electricity will be lower than that of conventional materials."