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AmeriScan: September 30, 2004

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EPA Sued Over Lax Plywood Air Pollution Rule

WASHINGTON, DC, September 30, 2004 (ENS) – Environmentalists have filed a lawsuit challenging a federal rule for harmful air emissions from plywood manufacturing plants. The groups contend the rule is too lax and will allow more than half the nation’s 223 plywood plants to avoid taking any steps to control emissions of toxic chemicals.

"This rule marks a new environmental low for the Bush administration," said Jim Pew, attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing Sierra Club in the suit. "It will allow the wood products industry to emit tons of toxic pollution, uncontrolled, into scores of communities across the country.

All plywood manufacturers together emit 18,000 tons of toxic air pollutants each year, including formaldehyde, methanol, acrolein, acetaldehyde, phenol and propionaldehyde.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates its rule will cut these emissions by some 35 to 58 percent.

That falls short of what is needed to protect public health, say the plaintiffs, who are challenging the rule’s loophole for "low risk" sources.

Under the regulation, these plants can avoid taking any steps to control emissions and the EPA has estimated that its loophole will likely be used by 147 of the 223 plywood plants.

"EPA's claim that there are any 'low risk' plywood plants in this group is a fraud," said Jane Williams, who chairs the Sierra Cub's National Air Toxics Task Force. "Among other things, the agency is claiming that the cancer risk from many of the toxins that plywood plants emit is zero – even though the agency knows it can't support that claim."

Plywood manufacturers are located throughout the country in California, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin, among other states. They can be found in low income communities as well as middle class suburbs.

"Because of this loophole, a lot of people are being deprived of the protection that the Clean Air Act was enacted to guarantee,” Williams said. “They are going to be exposed to toxins so the Bush administration can deliver a handout to its industry friends.”

“The Environmental Protection Agency obviously fudged its accounts to declare those emissions to be 'risk free',” Pew said. “The agency knows it can't support that claim; it might as well insist that two plus two equals five."

The Natural Resources Defense Council has also challenged the rule.

The agency did not comment on the lawsuit.

Lead Hazard Control Funded for Lower Income Housing

WASHINGTON, DC, September 30, 2004 (ENS) - Grant funding of nearly $168 million to remove toxic lead from lower income homes and raise public awareness of the dangers posed by lead was announced Monday by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson.

"Every family deserves a safe and healthy home to raise their children," said Jackson. "The funding we announce today will help protect children from dangerous lead, fund important research into healthier housing and will create other public and private investment to improve the living conditions of thousands of homes."

Lead paint is no longer used in the United States, but it still exists in older homes. Lead is present in batteries, solder, ammunition, and roofing materials.

For children five years old and younger, lead levels of 10 micrograms or more in a deciliter of blood can damage their ability to learn. A microgram is one millionth of a gram. A deciliter is about half a cup of liquid.

At levels higher than 10 micrograms per deciliter, lead can damage people's kidneys and reproductive systems. At very high levels, lead poisoning can cause mental retardation, coma, convulsions, and death.

The grants awarded this week will fund 72 local projects in 28 states.

More than $145 million will be spent to eliminate lead paint hazards in thousands of privately owned, low income housing units.

HUD's Lead Elimination Action Program will provide $8.9 million to stimulate private sector investment in lead hazard control.

In addition, $1.9 million in Lead Outreach grants will be spent to support public education campaigns on the hazards of lead-based paint and what parents, building owners and others can do to protect children.

Grants totalling $1.7 million will assist local research institutions to study ways to drive down the cost and increase the effectiveness of lead hazard identification and control. HUD is also investing more than $2.6 million to support scientific research into new ways of identifying and eliminating health hazards in housing.

The funding includes more than $6.7 million in demonstration grants to identify and eliminate housing conditions that contribute to children's disease and injury, such as asthma, lead poisoning, mold exposure, and carbon monoxide contamination.

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Park Service Prohibits Snowmobile Demo in DC Park

WASHINGTON, DC, September 30, 2004 (ENS) - The National Park Service has denied a conservation group a permit to run 11 snowmobiles in a Capital District park across the street from the main entrance to the U.S. Interior Department building at C Street and 18th NW.

The Campaign to Protect America's Lands says it applied for the permit last week to demonstrate the noise and pollution impact of 11 snowmobiles since that is how many of the machines the Bush administration is proposing to allow to run as a pack in Yellowstone National Park.

The 11 snowmobiles, which were to be the new and supposedly more environmentally friendly machines approved for Yellowstone, still produce a deafening noise and clouds of air pollutants, that the Campaign to Protect America's Lands (CPAL) wanted to demonstrate for the Interior Department officials responsible for the National Park Service (NPS).

CPAL Director Peter Altman said, "It is mind boggling to me that this permit was rejected. If 11 stationary snowmobiles with their engines running are inappropriate for an urban environment with cars, trucks, buses, planes and trains, what on earth makes NPS think that 720 machines a day make any sense in a pristine natural place like Yellowstone?"

The NPS told Altman his application had been turned down because, “It’s a resource issue,” the term NPS uses to refer to use of park space that is judged to be incompatible with the environment in question.

Altman said, “A National Park Service supervisor even called back after we were turned down to suggest we should have the snowmobile demonstration outside the park. And that’s funny, because that’s precisely what we’ve been suggesting when it comes to snowmobiles at Yellowstone."

"It’s an absurd double standard under which already polluted Washington, DC park space is somehow considered to be more deserving of protection from the ravages of snowmobiles than the pristine environs of America’s first national park,” Altman said.

In August, the Interior Department announced plans to allow 720 snowmobiles per day into Yellowstone National Park. But critics say National Park Service officials failed to disclose the harmful impacts of their plan on human health and the environment that the latest Environmental Assessment shows..

"This was not full and fair disclosure of the implications of this proposal to allow snowmobiles back into America's first national park," said Bill Wade, a former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park and a Spokesman for the Coalition of Concerned NPS Retirees (CCNPSR).

"The National Park Service spelled out very clearly in its study that, under the Bush administration's proposal to increase snowmobile use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, visitors may want ear plugs to avoid hearing damage and that they may not be completely safe breathing the park's air when it is polluted by snowmobiles," said Wade. "Those startling conclusions should have been disclosed in any official announcement."

The NPS Environmental Assessment (EA) says that higher traffic volumes associated with the snowmobiles will result in greater risks and impacts to air quality, natural quiet, employee and visitor health, and wildlife. Minimizing harassment and displacement of Yellowstone's wildlife "is not expected to be accomplished," the EA states.

CCNPSR spokesman Rick Smith, a former Yellowstone acting superintendent, said, "Just imagine how the American people would react if the Bush administration acknowledged that its new proposal for snowmobile use may harm visitors and employees, Yellowstone's wildlife, and the natural ambience people expect to find in their national parks."

"That is precisely what the administration learned in the National Park Service's latest study, but did not share with the public," Smith said. "Its manipulation of the truth on this issue is shameful and sets a dangerous precedent for our National Park System."

The National Park Service Environmental Assessment is online at http://www.nps.gov/yell/planvisit/winteruse/winteruse-ea.htm

The snowmobile public comment period is open through October 7. Comments are welcome at: http://www.greateryellowstone.org/take-action/action-alerts/snomo-rule/snomo-rule-aa1.php

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Forests Emit High Levels of Smog Forming Chemicals

PRINCETON, New Jersey, September 30, 2004 (ENS) - When President Ronald Reagan said in 1980, "Approximately 80 percent of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation," he was not as wrong as critics made out at the time, according to new research led by Princeton University scientists.

While the researchers do not provide any evidence that responsibility for air pollution can or should be shifted from humans to trees, they do demonstrate that tree production of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) has increased in some parts of the country.

"The increase stems from intensified tree farming and other land use changes that have altered the mix of trees in the landscape," said Drew Purves, lead author of the study that included scientists from four universities.

The study examined VOCs, a class of chemicals that are emitted as unburned fuel from automobile tailpipes and as vapors from industrial chemicals, but also come naturally from tree leaves.

In the presence of sunlight, VOCs react with other pollutants to form ozone, a bluish, irritating and pungent gas that is a major form of smog in the lower atmosphere.

The study may help explain why ozone levels have not improved in some parts of the country as much as was anticipated with the enactment of clean air laws, Purves said.

Environmental technologies such as catalytic converters and hoses that collect fumes at gas pumps have reduced VOCs emitted by human activities.

But in the area extending from Alabama up through the Tennessee Valley and Virginia these improvements have been outweighed by increased VOC emissions from forests due to tree growth in abandoned farmland and increases in plantation forestry, the study found.

The scientists analyzed data collected by the U.S. Forest Service, which measured and cataloged 2.7 million trees on 250,000 plots of land across the country. They calculated the VOC emissions for each tree and each plot and used their findings to map VOC levels nationally. The scientists compared survey data taken in the 1980s with data taken in the 1990s to determine how levels were changing over time.

They found that areas where farmland was abandoned during the last century have early generations of trees that produce higher levels of VOCs than older growth forests.

In the South, pine plantations used for their fast growing supplies of timber are filled with sweetgum trees, which are major producers of VOCs. The researchers found that every tree that grows quickly, a desirable quality for wood production, is a heavy emitter of VOCs.

"It's just one of those biological correlations," said Purves. "What you want is a fast growing tree that doesn't produce a lot of VOCs, but that doesn't seem to exist."

The findings raise questions about potential strategies for developing alternative biofuels from renewable tree plantations. These plantations may lead to increased ozone levels, the authors note.

The research demonstrates the pervasive effect of human activities on the environment, when planting forests can have a substantial adverse impact on air quality.

Purves emphasized that reducing human sources of VOCs may have been worthwhile even if ozone levels did not decrease. "Even keeping the air quality the same might have been an achievement because if we hadn't done anything it might have worsened," he said.

Purves, a postdoctoral fellow, wrote the article with Stephen Pacala, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, John Casperson of the University of Toronto, Paul Moorcroft of Harvard University and George Hurtt of the University of New Hampshire. It will be published later this fall in the journal "Global Change Biology."

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New Hampshire Workers Less Productive on Bad Air Days

DURHAM, New Hampshire, September 30, 2004 (ENS) - Poor outdoor air quality lowers worker productivity, but most people do not change their behavior despite suffering symptoms that include trouble breathing. These are among the findings of a survey conducted by researchers at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) to evaluate the impact of outdoor air quality on worker productivity in New England.

Weekly surveys conducted all summer tracked participants' workplace and behavior changes, and the researchers correlated these to air quality data. On many of the test days, workers experienced high smog and carbon monoxide levels.

"We expected to see an impact. However, our initial survey data suggests a stronger impact than anticipated," said management professor Ross Gittell, the study's primary investigator.

Study participants included members of the UNH and Durham communities, and volunteers with Cisco Systems, Exeter Health Resources, Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, Portsmouth Regional Hospital, and New Hampshire's Departments of Environmental Services, and Health and Human Services.

The survey initially found that one in every three participants felt worse on poor air quality days, experiencing symptoms including watery eyes, throat irritation, and trouble breathing.

One in every four participants showed lowered work productivity. Of this group, 70 percent attributed the lower productivity to not feeling well, yet fewer than 20 percent changed their behavior - spent less time outside or reduced physical activity - because of the poor air quality.

The findings suggest there is potential to improve public health and worker productivity with behavioral and workplace responses to air quality. It also indicates the potential value of informing those responses with air quality information and forecasts, Gittell said. The final report goes to the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration next year.

The survey is one part of a multifaceted study known as the International Consortium for Atmospheric Research on Transport and Transformation http://www.al.noaa.gov/ICARTT/ that began July 1 and ran through mid-August. Seacoast New Hampshire was the center of operations for the research partly because of UNH's Atmospheric Investigation, Regional Modeling, Analysis, and Prediction program.

"This summer, the largest air quality study ever conducted is occurring right here in New England," Gittell said. "We want to use this summer's air quality data and build on existing research by surveying people who might not feel as well as they usually do during poor air quality days and finding out what impact outdoor air quality has on their health, behavior and productivity at the workplace."

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Legality of Hemp Food, Cosmetic Products Affirmed

WASHINGTON, DC, September 30, 2004 (ENS) - Time has run out for the Bush administration to appeal a court ruling earlier this year protecting the sale and consumption of hemp food and cosmetic products in the United States.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on February 6, 2004 in the case of the Hemp Industries Association v. the Drug Enforcement Administration that the agency ignored the exemption in the Controlled Substances Act that excludes hemp fiber, seed and oil from control.

"They cannot regulate naturally occuring THC not contained within or derived from marijuana," the three judge panel ruled, noting that it is not possible to get high from products with only trace amounts of the psychoactive chemical.

THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, but sterilized hemp seed and oil are exempted from the Controlled Substances Act under the statutory definition of marijuana.

On October 9, 2001 the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued an Interpretive Rule banning any edible item containing hemp seed or oil that contains "any THC."

The DEA confiscated truckloads of hemp seed imported from Canada and prosecuted the Hemp Industries Association on the grounds that industrial hemp varieties of cannabis contain trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

The administration's allotted time to appeal the Ninth Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court expired earlier this week. "The mandate of the Ninth Circuit is final and their decision will now be the law of the land," said Joseph Sandler, lead attorney for the Hemp Industries Association.

"Removing the cloud the DEA put into the marketplace will spur a dramatic surge in the supply and consumption of healthy omega-3 rich hemp seed in America," says David Bronner, chair of the HIA's Food and Oil Committee and president of ALPSNACK/Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. "This is a huge victory for the hemp industry."

"More and more health foods containing omega-3 rich hemp nut and oil will be appearing on store shelves since the legal status is no longer an issue," said Alexis Baden-Mayer, director of government affairs for Vote Hemp.

"Americans are looking for healthy alternative sources of omega-3 to supplement their diets due to concerns regarding trace mercury in fish and fish oil supplements," said Baden-Mayer.

Currently, the U.S. marketplace is supplied by hemp seed grown and processed in Canada and Europe, but Baden-Mayer said the Hemp Industries Association will lobby Congress to again allow American farmers to grow industrial hemp and "participate in this lucrative growth market."

U.S. hemp food companies voluntarily observe reasonable THC limits similar to those adopted by European nations and Canada. These limits protect consumers with a wide margin of safety from workplace drug testing interference.

The United States granted the first hemp permit in over 40 years to Hawaii for an experimental quarter acre plot in 1999. The license has been renewed since. Twenty-two states have introduced legislation to permit the cultivation of industrial hemp. Vermont, Hawaii, North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Illinois Virginia, New Mexico, California, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland and West Virginia have passed legislation for support, research, or cultivation. The National Conference of State Legislators has endorsed industrial hemp.

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Oil Well Proposed for Roadless Grassland in Wyoming

LARAMIE, Wyoming, September 30, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service is considering a proposal to drill an exploratory oil well inside the Duck Creek Roadless Area, one of six officially recognized roadless areas on the Thunder Basin National Grassland.

The Duck Creek Roadless Area, north of Gillette in the Little Powder River valley, encompasses pristine grasslands and groves of ponderosa pine, are area the Laramie based Biodiversity Conservation Alliance calls "some of the finest wildlife habitat in northeast Wyoming."

"Disappearing wildlife like the ferruginous hawk and black-tailed prairie dog still hold sway here," the conservationists say. "But Yates Petroleum wants to move into the roadless area with bulldozers and drilling rigs, employing the highest-impact drilling techniques."

The Biodiversity Conservation Alliance is asking the Forest Service to choose a low-impact alternative instead. "The agency should move the proposed well site to the very edge of the roadless area, and require that access roads be built outside roadless lands," the group says.

The conservationists want Yates Petroleum to employ low-impact techniques like using two-track routes for vehicle access rather than building high-standard roads.

They suggest using "closed-loop" drilling techniques to reduce wellpad size, laying down removable mats for initial heavy equipment access, heliporting drilling rigs, and removing oil by pipeline instead of trucking it out.

In 1994, the Forest Service prepared the Thunder Basin Oil and Gas Leasing EIS and issued a Record of Decision for future oil and gas development on the Thunder Basin National Grasslands. The BLM then offered the federal lease for sale. Yates Petroleum purchased the lease in 1997.

Under the Service's Preferred Alternative in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement there would be road building and pad construction. Direct effects on the land would be soil erosion and displacement. Less than three acres of land would be disturbed for the life of the well, the Forest Service says.

Indirect impacts would be probable short term decreases in soil productivity within the cutting units and in association with newly disturbed roads and pad. There will be some short tem erosion until disturbance is stabilized, the Forest Service says.

Building of the improved road to access the well would occur outside the months of March-July to avoid disturbance to wildlife during the birthing and nesting seasons. Weekly travel and activity to and from the well would disturb and perhaps displace antelope and mule deer during fawning and winter seasons, the EIS states.

No significant project effects on fisheries, aquatic habitats and populations, or watershed resources are expected. Effects of the development on sage-grouse, Swainson's hawks and golden eagles near the project area are discussed in detail in the EIS.

Under this alternative, 1,742 feet of new road would be constructed and 2,693 feet of existing road would be widened and improved. Mitigation measures may include buffer strips, avoidance, stabilized fill slopes and culvert crossing, road locations may affect stream courses.

The project area provides yearlong sagebrush and grassland habitat for the North Black Hills antelope herd. Cattle and horses also graze this grassland.

Road construction and increased traffic from exploratory drilling activities would temporarily disturb and displace antelope and mule deer from the project area. Increased hunter access would increase antelope and deer kills, but, the Forest Service says, "hunting mortality is controlled by the State to meet herd population objectives."

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is online at: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/mbr/projects/mineral/adobepdf/yates.pdf

The agency is taking public comments on the proposal and has extended the comment period until October 15. Send comments to Liz Moncrief, Medicine Bow – Routt National Forest, 2468 Jackson Street, Laramie, Wyoming 82070, emoncrief@fs.fed.us

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Nominations Open for County Land Managers Award

WASHINGTON, DC, September 30, 2004 (ENS) - County officials now have another incentive to conserve the public lands they manage. The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) have issued a call for nominations for a new national award, recognizing leadership in countywide land conservation programs.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization which conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and other natural places.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) is a full-service organization that provides legislative, research, technical and public affairs assistance to the nation's 3,066 county governments.

This new TPL-NACo award - the County Leadership in Conservation award - recognizes leadership, innovation, benefits to underserved populations, and successful implementation of park and recreational investment by county leaders.

"Counties across America are taking more responsibility for maintaining the character of their communities," said Will Rogers, president of the Trust for Public Land. "Our partnership with counties - and the National Association of Counties in particular - is not new, but our formal recognition of the best efforts to think strategically about how best to grow is an exciting opportunity to highlight conservation models for the rest of America."

At least three awards will be presented each year to officials representing governments of NACo-member counties based on small, medium, and large county populations. The awards will be presented in partnership with the National Association of County Planners and the National Association of County Parks and Recreation Officials.

"County officials understand the increasing need for land conservation programs," said NACo President and Lake County, Illinois Board Member Angelo Kyle. "This new award, in which NACo is proud to present with the Trust for Public Land, will showcase the efforts of several county leaders and hopefully spur more county officials to recognize the importance of land conservation programs."

The deadline for submissions is November 19 and the awards will be presented at an annual conservation awards program, as part of the NACo National Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. in March 2005.

More information and nomination forms are online at: http://www.tpl.org/awards or http://www.naco.org/conservationawards or by calling 617-367-6200.

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