AmeriScan: September 19, 2003

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New York Sends Crews South to Help Isabel Victims

ALBANY, New York, September 19, 2003 (ENS) - The millions of electric customers in Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland who lost power as a result of Hurricane Isabel will get help from New York electric repair crews. New York Governor George Pataki today announced that he has dispatched to southern utilities to help speed restoration efforts there.

The storm claimed at least 14 lives due to traffic accidents and falling trees, and left millions of people without power along the Eastern Seaboard.

President George W. Bush declared disaster areas in North Carolina and Virgina releasing federal funds to people and businesses impacted by the storm.

Classed at first as a Category 5 hurricane, Isabel weakened to a Category 2 before making landfall on North Carolina's Outer Banks Thursday. Shortly after reaching land, Isabel was downgraded to a tropical storm.

Currently, all tropical storm warnings have been discontinued, according to the National Weather Service, which warns that storm surge flooding is still occurring in many areas, and a coastal flood warning is in effect.

As of 11 this morning Isabel was classed as a tropical depression. The center of the storm was located about 50 miles northeast of Cleveland, Ohio and was moving north.

Governor Pataki praised emergency workers across New York state for a rapid and effective emergency response effort and overall disaster preparedness, which has helped to minimize the impact of Hurricane Isabel on New York. He has directed the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) to send mutual assistance restoration crews to any area of the state that should require assistance.

Governor Pataki said, "In times of crisis, New Yorkers have been the beneficiaries of an outpouring of support from people across America. Now, we have an opportunity to reciprocate by sending our expert electric repair crews south, to assist Conectiv and PPL in recovering from the more devastating effects of Hurricane Isabel there.

"Our emergency management office has reached out to the states most affected by this storm and offered any assistance needed to supplement state response," Governor Pataki said. "Under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact enacted in the wake of the September 11th attack, states impacted by disaster may request assistance from other states to help deal with events such as Hurricane Isabel. New York is a full partner in this multi-state compact agreement."

The LIPA crews will be dispatched after all LIPA customers have been returned to service. The crews will be sent to Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania over the weekend. Ten tree trimming crews have been assigned to the Delmarva Peninsula and 32 line crews to Pennsylvania Power & Light.

Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner today reduced the scope of the state of emergency following Hurricane Isabel, keeping the National Guard activated and retaining the ability to control unsafe areas, but allowing Delawareans to return to normal if conditions permit at noon.

“Our state was fortunate in sustaining as little damage as it did," Governor Minner said. "Things were predicted to be much worse and I am thankful that those forecasts did not come true." Still, she said, “Over the next few days, power will continue to be out in many parts of the state and people will need to be careful."

The American Red Cross is operating or supporting more than 200 shelters for hurricane victims in Virginia and North Carolina alone, which provided at least 25,000 people with safety from the storm.

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Florida Seeks Financial Guarantee from Phosphate Miners

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, September 19, 2003 (ENS) - The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today proposed a new rule to require that phosphate companies provide the department with financial assurance to fully manage and close phosphogypsum stack systems in the event of business failure or abandonment. Phosphogypsum stacks, a by-product of the manufacture of phosphoric acid for fertilizer, are radioactive.

The concentrations of uranium and radium-226 in phosphogypsum samples taken in central Florida were about 10 times the background levels in soil for uranium and 60 times the background levels in soil for radium-226.

DEP Secretary David Struhs said, “The proposed rule will establish a higher level of confidence that Florida’s phosphate companies have the financial capacity to clean up and close their facilities and not place those costs on the public."

Phosphate mining companies are currently under no obligation to provide the department with financial assurance to cover the cost of water removal and long term water management in the event of business failure or site abandonment. Water removal represents the highest potential cost associated with closing a phosphogypsum stack.

Phosphate companies currently need not provide the department with plans to manage phosphogypsum stack systems in the event of business failure or abandonment.

In January 2001, the DEP had to assume responsibility for two abandoned phosphate sites - Mulberry Phosphates in Polk County, and its sister plant Piney Point Phosphates in Manatee County - after the owners, Mulberry Corporation, informed the state that financial difficulties would prevent the company from providing environmental security at the sites.

Abandonment of the sites by the Mulberry Corporation left the department with responsibility for the management and cleanup of phosphogypsum stacks and billions of gallons of process water.

The proposed rule requires companies to provide the department with an “owners manual” to manage, operate and maintain phosphogypsum stack systems in the event of business failure.

"While we cannot eliminate the risks associated with the unanticipated closure of a phosphate production facility," Struhs said, "we can do a better job of predicting and minimizing the environmental and financial risks in the future."

The agriculture industry uses large amounts of chemical fertilizers to replenish and supplement the nutrients that growing plants take up from the soil. The demand for fertilizers and animal feed additives accounts for about 95 percent of the 10 million metric tons of phosphoric acid that is made each year across the country.

The production of each ton of phosphoric acid from phosphate rock is accompanied by the production of 4.5 tons of the by-product calcium sulfate, also known as phosphogypsum.

The phosphate rock, which is processed to make phosphoric acid, contains high concentrations of naturally occurring radionuclides. Even high grade ores, which contain about 70 percent calcium phosphate, also contain a large number of impurities, such as calcium fluoride, chlorides, chromium, rare earths, and radionuclides. At the end of the production process, the radionuclides end up in the phosphogypsum.

In Central Florida, one of the major phosphoric acid producing areas, the industry generates about 32 million tons of phosphogypsum each year. They have a current stockpile in stacks of nearly one billion metric tons.

A workshop to discuss the rule is scheduled for October 22, in Bartow. The rule can be modified based on public input. The department will seek final adoption of the rule in 2004.

Read the proposed rule at:

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Kerry Calls for Investigation of 9/11 Air Quality Issues

NEW YORK, New York, September 19, 2003 (ENS) – Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, is calling for an immediate investigation in both Congress and the Department of Justice on whether the White House deliberately altered findings made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerning the quality of the air in New York City following the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Kerry called for an investigation on whether environmental health was compromised by White House interference into air quality issues following the collapse of the World Trade Towers in Lower Manhattan which released clouds of toxic materials for at least six weeks.  

“A week after the attacks on September 11th, the head of the EPA went before the nation to say the air around Ground Zero was safe to breathe,” said Kerry. “Now we are learning that was far from the whole truth."  

A report released in August by the EPA's Inspector General said the White House pressured the agency to remove cautionary statements from news releases distributed after the attacks and to include statements that would reassure that the risks to public health were minimal.

The report said the agency did not have sufficient data to support its announcement on September 18, 2001 that the air in Lower Manhattan was safe to breathe.

"Political appointees in the White House edited the EPA findings and changed the conclusions for reasons that have nothing to do with real science," Kerry charged. 

"Firefighters and construction workers and parents of school children all relied on these Bush administration reports. They thought they were getting an assurance of safety – instead they got an environmental cover-up. Americans deserve a safe environment," Kerry said, "and they deserve an administration that tells the truth.”

Calling Kerry’s environmental agenda “bold and visionary,” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. endorsed Kerry for President Wednesday in New York City.   

“I am proud to endorse one of America’s great environmental leaders, John Kerry for President of the United States,” said Kennedy.  “And I hope that every American who cares about the environment will unite behind John Kerry. He is the candidate with the best environmental record.  He is the candidate with the best ability to beat George Bush. And he will be a President who will give us the environmental leadership we so clearly need.”

“Bobby Kennedy Jr. is an environmental hero, and I am humbled to have his support for my campaign,” said Kerry. “Bobby is someone who hasn’t just talked about preserving our environment but gone out and done it, and we are all fortunate to have such a dedicated public servant fighting every day for America’s future.”

Kennedy, who led the fight to protect New York City’s water supply, has a long career as a defender of the environment. He is the vice president and chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance. At Pace University School of Law, he is a clinical professor and supervisor supervising attorney at the Environmental Litigation Clinic in White Plains, New York. Earlier, Kennedy served as assistant district attorney in New York City.  

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Hells Canyon Hydropower Dam Relicensing Challenged

BOISE, Idaho, September 19, 2003 (ENS) - The Idaho Power Company is not meeting its responsibilities to protect the Snake River and its fish and wildlife, stakeholders in the Hells Canyon Complex relicensing said today. The 1166 megawatt three dam project provides power over a 20,000 square mile region to over 814,000 potential customers in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon.

The Hells Canyon Hydroelectric Complex, located on the Snake River between Idaho and Oregon, impounds 95 miles of the Snake River and blocks salmon and steelhead from much of their historic habitat. The current license for the dam complex expires in 2005.

Pointing to significant gaps in the company's draft license application, Idaho Rivers United and American Rivers today submitted formal requests to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) asking that the company perform the needed studies to complete the application. American Rivers is a national nonprofit conservation organization, and Idaho Rivers United is a statewide river conservation group.

The conservation groups detailed the extensive holes in Idaho Power Company's (IPC) current studies on how the three Hells Canyon dams impact water quality and fish and wildlife in the Snake River.

The Hells Canyon Hydroelectric Project Complex is the largest non-federal hydroelectric facility that will be relicensed on National Forest System lands in the Pacific Northwest. The project occupies or potentially affects lands and resources including 71.5 miles of Congressionally designated Wild and Scenic river administered by the Forest Service below the Hells Canyon Dam.

"Idaho Power gets an incomplete grade on its application," said Connie Kelleher of American Rivers. "Idaho Power hasn't done the studies that will tell us what needs to be done to make up for the dams' impacts on the river and salmon. Before FERC gives Idaho Power another 30 year license to generate power at these dams, we need to have the facts and the science so we know how best to protect the river and its wildlife," said Kelleher.

"Without critical information about the very real economic and ecological impacts of Idaho Power's operation of these dams, the licensing process becomes a bureaucratic exercise that wastes time and money and does nothing to benefit the Snake River ecosystem," said Jenna Borovansky of Idaho Rivers United.

Idaho Power filed a draft license application in January 2002. In their comments on that draft, state and federal resources agencies, tribes, and conservation groups notified Idaho Power that its scientific studies were inadequate for a number of key issues, such as fish passage and water quality.

Despite this, Idaho Power failed to include most of the information requested in the final application it filed with FERC in July. FERC allows interested parties to file formal study requests if the final license application is deficient.

"Idaho Power has enjoyed enormous benefits at the expense of a public resource - the Snake River," said Borovansky. "The company owes the citizens of Idaho a comprehensive, accurate analysis of how it can mitigate for the harm it continues to cause to the river and its resources."

The U.S. Forest Service has also criticized the Hells Canyon Complex (HCC). "The damming of the Snake River by Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams, and the continued operation of the HCC is altering the flow regimes, nutrient cycling, and sediment delivery and transport processes within the main stem of the Snake River," the agency said in its January response to the Idaho Power relicensing application.

"There are still many areas where Forest Service conclusions differ with IPC’s conclusions which point to minimal or no project effects to National Forest Service lands and resources, or where the Forest Service maintains that PM&E [participatory monitoring and evaluation] measures proposed by IPC will not fulfill the management requirements for the Payette and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests," the Forest Service wrote.

Conservation groups and other stakeholders want the power company to conduct studies on ways to pass fish over the dams so that salmon and steelhead populations can be reintroduced to their historic habitat above the project.

The stakeholders also want studies on how the Hells Canyon dams impact water quality in the Snake River, and the impacts of the dams on sediment supply downstream.

The conservation groups also requested a study on the economic benefits of improved recreational opportunities that might arise from better environmental conditions in the new licenses.

"Recreation and tourism is the third largest industry in Idaho and sport fishing makes up a substantial portion of that industry," said Borovansky. "The Hells Canyon area affected by the hydropower project is popular for private and commercial boating and fishing. This is important information for FERC to have and for Idaho Power to recognize as it operates its dams."

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California Governor to Sign Pipeline Only Oil Transport Bill

SANTA BARBARA, California, September 19, 2003 (ENS) - In an effort to diminish the possibility of a catastrophic oil spill off California's coast, Governor Gray Davis Thursday indicated his intent to sign legislation that would require oil produced offshore from new or expanded oil extraction operations be transported by pipeline only.

"This legislation builds on California's rich tradition of providing environmental stewardship of our precious coastline," said Davis. "By ensuring that all offshore crude oil is transported onshore via pipeline only, we provide additional protections for California's marine environment and coastal communities and diminish the odds of a catastrophic accident."

The bill sponsored by Assembly member Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat, requires that where new oil and gas development is permitted offshore of California, all oil would be transported to onshore processing facilities by pipeline only.

Additionally, all pipelines used to transport this oil will utilize the best achievable technology to ensure maximum protection. The bill provides a limited exception where the crude oil is so highly viscous that pipelining is infeasible, and in times of emergency.

This measure is supported by organizations such as The Sierra Club, Vote the Coast, the California League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Center.

"This measure is necessary to protect California's coast from a potentially devastating oil spill that could destroy our local economy," said Hannah-Beth Jackson. "There have been numerous spills in different parts of the world that have had devastating impacts on the local economy, the fishing industry, tourism and the environment. We must do what can be done to prevent such a disaster off California's coast."

The majority of oil currently extracted offshore is already transported onshore via pipelines. But, there is one company, Veneco, that currently transports its oil via barge, solely for its platform off the Santa Barbara coast, where the company is planning to expand production.

A barge, like those used by Veneco, was responsible for the oil spill in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts in May that released 15,000 gallons of oil.

Transporting oil by pipeline is considered by scientists and environmentalists to be much safer than tankers because, should a leak occur, pipelines can be shut off.

This measure does not impact existing drilling operations, but ensures that if additional drilling occurs in the future that California's vital coastal economy is not threatened by a devastating oil spill.

Currently, no new offshore drilling is allowed in California, except under existing leases.

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California Electronics Waste Bill Disappoints Green Groups

SAN JOSE, California, September 19, 2003 (ENS) - Computer takeback advocates expressed disappointment today that legislation headed to Governor Gray Davis’ desk does not do more to require computer producers to take back obsolete equipment, redesign them to be more environmentally friendly, and recycle then responsibly.

The bill does not prohibit export of toxic electronic waste from California to developing countries, though it may at first appear to do so, says the Computer TakeBack Campaign, a coalition of local, state and national organizations promoting producer responsibility as the solution to America’s growing electronic waste crisis.

On the positive side, the bill will provide some needed funds to local governments that are working to manage electronic waste.

Senate Bill 20 (SB 20), passed on September 12, establishes a recycling fee of between $6 and $10 on the sales of new televisions and computer monitors that contain cathode ray tubes to help fund the recycling or management of discarded television and computer cathode ray tubes and hazardous displays.

Although environmental and recycling advocates were able to include a provision that allows the California Integrated Waste Management Board to increase those fees, should they not cover the cost, it is likely that taxpayers will be left to pay the bill for the mess created by the electronics industry.

California State Senator Byron Sher, a Stanford Democrat, was able to win initial State Senate approval for a bill with stronger language to involve electronics producers in the solution to the mounting crisis of electronic waste, but this language has been lost in the political turmoil surrounding the California recall vote said attorney Ted Smith who heads the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

“Unfortunately, the legislative process was short-circuited by the scheduling of the recall election, and IBM and TV manufacturers such as Panasonic and Sony, took advantage of the political chaos in Sacramento,” said Smith. “These companies advanced their narrow self-interests at the expense of the taxpayers, consumers, local government, the public health and the environment."

The Computer TakeBack Campaign does not view the legislation as a model bill to be replicated in other states or at the federal level. The campaign prefers a program modeled after the European Union's way of handling obsolete electronics.

“While we support the effort to end disposal of e-waste, we have serious concerns about how SB 20 changed in the eleventh hour from a bill that would require manufacturers to take back their product waste to a government managed program that is insufficient to safely manage hazardous electronics waste,” concluded David Wood, executive director of the GrassRoots Recycling Network.

One strong provision remaining in Senate Bill 20 is the phase out of the use of some hazardous chemicals in products over time, tracking new European directives.

“What is perhaps most galling of all, the very same companies that had a hand in gutting the producer takeback provision of the legislation - IBM, Panasonic, and Sony in particular - have supported legislative efforts that establish manufacturer responsibility requirements for electronic product waste in Europe and Asia. BM and Sony are blatantly advocating double standards in the USA,” said Alexandra McPherson of Clean Production Action.

But Panasonic is proud of its recycling efforts which have attracted national acclaim. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cited Panasonic as a Partner of the Year in its WasteWise program at a ceremony held last October in Washington, DC. The company was honored for its achievements in waste reduction and recycling efforts as part of the EPA’s WasteWise program Electronics Challenge. Panasonic also received a special legislative proclamation in 2002 from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for its electronic recycling efforts in that state.

IBM says its environmentally conscious products (ECP) program focuses on the entire life cycle of its products, from their design through their end-of-life management. For $29.99, the IBM PC Recycling Service allows consumers and businesses to recycle any manufacturer's PCs, including system units, monitors, printers and attachments.

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Streamside Management Zones Filter Nutrients, Not Herbicides

ATHENS, Georgia, September 19, 2003 (ENS) - A swath of trees left alongside streams to filter runoff from adjacent clearcuts, are more than 70 percent effective at filtering sediment and phosphorous, but not herbicides, new research by University of Georgia (UGA) forestry researchers has found.

Funded by a $475,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the UGA scientists are now in the fourth year of a five year study to assess the effectiveness of current best management guidelines - and to shed light on how they might be improved.

"If we can find a pattern to how and where breakthroughs occur, we can make corrections," said Rhett Jackson, a forest hyrdrologist in UGA's Warnell School of Forest Resources and principle investigator in the study. "Best management guidelines are always under revision as we gain more insights."

Best management practices (BMP) have been in use for more than two decades, and most forest product companies follow them. But new pressures to regulate sediment levels in waterways prompted research to quantify the impacts of forestry activities on water quality.

Weyerhaeuser, Plum Creek Timber and International Paper made lands available for the research. With their cooperation, and help from the Georgia Forestry Commission, researchers designed a series of experiments to demonstrate cause and effect.

They studied 30 different clearcuts on commercial timberlands across the Georgia's Piedmont, totaling more than 3,700 acres. Where they found evidence of breakthroughs - areas where there was obvious soil erosion and runoff moving through stream buffers after heavy rains - they recorded the depth of the sediment in the flow area as well as instances of mud staining on leaves where the water level had risen, then receded.

An analysis showed about five percent of the land within these clearcuts allowed sediment to reach streams. Erosion from clearcuts occurs in the first two years after harvest. So, researchers say that over a typical 30 year rotation, about one-third of one percent of commercial timberlands contribute some sediment to streams at any given time.

"Some of our industry cooperators were genuinely surprised we found breakthroughs," said Jackson, "because they had followed the BMP guidelines closely. On the other hand, some environmentalists were surprised that so little commercial timberland contributes to problems."

The study showed breakthroughs occurred primarily where large areas of a clearcut drain to a single point, where slopes are steep, and finally, where there is a high percentage of bare ground. Half of all breakthroughs were a result of road runoff.

Jackson said the research shows why it is not necessarily helpful to increase buffer width around waterways uniformly when 95 percent of the time, current buffers are working. "The most effective thing would be to increase the buffer only where problems are likely to occur," he said.

The buffers captured more than 70 percent of clay and phosphorous but almost none of the soluble herbicides atrazine and picloram, which are commonly used in agriculture and forestry. Researchers say the herbicide molecules will not attach to organic material and soil fast enough to be filtered in streamside management zones.

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U.S. Scientists Find Ancient Settlements in the Brazilian Amazon

GAINESVILLE, Florida, September 19, 2003 (ENS) - A team of University of Florida anthropologists working with members of an indigenous Amazonian tribe have identified and mapped two large ancient settlements now covered by rainforest in north central Brazil. Evidence of the settlements was found in the Upper Xingu region in Brazil's state of Mato Grosso.

Each settlement in the remote region was occupied from as early as A.D. 800 until about 1600 and was composed of eight to 12 villages connected with roads - some as wide as 50 yards - and dotted with causeways, plazas, and other structures or earthworks.

The research, which appears today in the journal "Science," contradicts the traditional idea that the Amazon was a pristine, sparsely inhabited wilderness before the first colonialists arrived after 1492.

By integrating conventional archaeological practices with satellite mapping techniques, and by tapping the current knowledge and practices of descendants of the settlements' ancient inhabitants, the work sheds light on the little known region.

"This place had an economy that supported a large number of people in multiple large villages integrated across the region into a grid-like system," said Michael Heckenberger, a University of Florida professor of anthropology and the lead author of the paper. "Their rotational agricultural and settlement cycle essentially transformed the entire natural landscape."

Jim Petersen, a professor of anthropology at the University of Vermont, called the findings outstanding and important. "This research provides some of the very first concrete evidence of large, socially complex, politically stratified Amerindian societies in the Amazon," he said.

Heckenberger said the area remains occupied today by a people known as the Xinguano, who are divided into smaller groups or tribes with similar customs and practices.

Heckenberger and six colleagues, including two members of the native Kuikuro tribe who could neither read nor write but proved adept field researchers, identified 19 villages in two large clusters in a 386 square mile study area. They found two to three mile broad, straight roads connected the villages in each cluster, part of an "elaborate regional plan," the scientists report.

"The earthworks include excavated ditches in and around ancient settlements, linear mounds or 'curbs' positioned at the margins of major roads, and circular plazas and bridges, artificial river obstructions and ponds, raised causeways, canals and other structures, many of which are still in use today," they write.

The villages were arranged in a "galactic" pattern around a hub that did not appear to have been occupied and probably was ceremonial, Heckenberger said. The biggest villages had residential areas as large as 200 acres, and the clusters supported populations of 2,500 to 5,000. "Virtually the entire area in and between major settlements was carefully engineered and managed," the authors write.

Scientists had long believed the Amazon rainforest is ecologically incapable of supporting the number of people that apparently lived in the large settlements. They thought that manioc or cassava, a potato like root crop that serves as a staple in the region, did not contain enough nutrients to support large populations, Heckenberger explained.

But he said pots unearthed in the study, and observations of the contemporary Kuikuro practices, show the root is prepared in a way that provides ample nutrition when consumed with other regional foods, such as fish.

Since he began working with the Kuikuro in 1991, Heckenberger has lived almost two full years with the tribe. He said the people were familiar with the earthworks and other peculiarities of their landscape but didn't know their ancestors created the structures.

The Upper Xingu region is so remote that Europeans did not reach the area until the mid-1700s, more than two hundred years after the first colonists arrived in Brazil, Heckenberger said. By then, many of the villages had been abandoned, the people most likely decimated years earlier by the spread of European diseases such as smallpox, measles and influenza.