FEMA Director Pulled Off Katrina Response EffortWASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2005 (ENS) - Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Michael Brown was removed late Friday from his role managing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
Criticized for FEMA's sluggish response to the hurricane disaster, Brown was sent back to Washington from Baton Rouge, where he was the principal federal official managing the federal government's response.
Brown has been replaced by Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, who was overseeing New Orleans relief and rescue efforts. Vice Admiral Allen is third in command of the Coast Guard.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who has jurisdiction over FEMA, did not publicly criticize Brown, but said a seamless interaction with military forces is required for the next phase of cleanup and recovery.
"At the same time, we are still in hurricane season and need to be prepared to deal effectively with the possibility of future hurricanes and other disasters," Chertoff said. "Therefore, I have directed Mike Brown to return to administering FEMA nationally."
"Hurricane Katrina will go down as the largest natural disaster in American history and Mike has done everything he possibly could to coordinate the federal response to this unprecedented challenge," Chertoff said.
Public confidence in Brown, already weak from his bungled response to Katrina, was shaken further when "Time" magazine reported Thursday that Brown had even less experience managing emergency services than his slim resume indicates.
Before being appointed to head FEMA as the first Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response in the newly created Department of Homeland Security in January 2003, Brown's only previous experience in emergency management, according to his biography posted on FEMA's website, was "serving as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight."
An attorney, Brown was appointed FEMA general counsel in February 2001, and acting deputy director in September 2001.
The White House press release from December 2001 nominating Brown as FEMA deputy director states that "from 1975 to 1978, Brown worked for the City of Edmond, Oklahoma, overseeing the emergency services divisions."
But in an interview with Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond, "Time" reporters learned that Brown was an "assistant to the city manager" from 1977 to 1980, not a manager himself, and had no authority over other employees.
Brown himself has made no comment on his reassignment.
Frauds and Scams Arise in Katrina's WakeWASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2005 (ENS) - The American Red Cross has raised about half of the $503 million that has been donated for the Hurricane Katrina relief effort online, but the frontline organization says online donors should be wary to ensure that they are not taken advantage by a scammer looking to capitalize on the misfortune of others.
"Online fundraising is critical, especially during times of disaster, because it immediately provides the Red Cross with the resources that it needs for effective disaster response," said Sue Woodward, director of direct response fundraising for the Red Cross.
The American Red Crosskeeps its donation website www.redcross.org secure with layers of protective measures including, but not limited to, blocking and filtering technologies, surveillance, system updates and anti-fraud measures, and the organization performs system vulnerability assessments to detect and fix weaknesses.
Email solicitation is another tool used by the Red Cross in its fundraising efforts, but only sends emails to people who chose to receive the organization's monthly electronic newsletter, "One Minute Update," or to donors who previously made a contribution.
"Do not respond to any unsolicited e-mails asking for money. It is most likely a scam," Woodward warns. The Red Cross never asks for personal information in an email. This is done only at our official site.
The Red Cross also partners with Amazon.com, Apple's iTunes Music Store, Convio, Microsoft/MSN, Network for Good and Yahoo. Donors may give to one of our official partners or through our website. To see a list of our official national donation sites and their URLs please visit, http://www.redcross.org/officialdonationsites.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also warns those affected by Hurricane Katrina to be extra cautious in dealing with anyone who calls or comes to the door seeking work, information or money.
Recent reports that FEMA officials confiscated diesel fuel from a hospital in Louisiana are false, the agency says, explaining that FEMA does not have the authority to confiscate property. This incident has been turned over to the FBI for investigation.
All FEMA inspectors and FEMA contractors performing their work wear distinctive photo identification cards. The FEMA logo shirt, jacket or hat by itself is not sufficient proof of identity. The laminated card, always with an identifying picture, is the ultimate validity check. The same is true for the U.S. Small Business Administration employees.
The agency advises people to make sure to see photo identification before trusting anyone representing themselves as a government or law enforcement official.
The FBI has reported a stream of fraudulent online entities seeking funds for Katrina relief. The FBI suggests that recipients not respond to any unsolicited e-mail or telephone calls seeking donations, and go directly to well-known websites to donate.
"Be aware, scammers will attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the relief efforts along the Gulf Coast," warn FBI officials. Should you suspect a scam, file a complaint at www.IC3.gov.
FEMA uses a number of methods to detect fraud among the applicants. An automated system crosschecks information with other agencies and insurance companies to weed out duplicate applications. Field inspections are conducted to verify losses and damages for every person who applies. Potential cases of fraud or misuse are referred to the U.S. Justice Department for prosecution.
EPA Fine Particle Air Rule Called Gift to Power IndustryWASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a new air quality rule proposing the steps that state, local and tribal governments can take to reduce fine particle pollution (PM2.5) in areas that do not meet the EPA's standards.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said, "New clean air rules will reduce pollution from power plants, industrial facilities, and on and off road vehicles and equipment. As these rules take effect over the next decade, EPA projects that air quality will improve across the country, helping to ensure that all Americans can work, exercise and play in cleaner, healthier air."
The proposed rule, known as the PM2.5 Implementation Rule, describes the planning framework and requirements for state, local and tribal governments to consider when developing their plan to reduce air pollution to meet the fine particle pollution standards.
Areas meeting the standard must show how they will ensure that fine particle pollution levels remain below the standards.
Reducing fine particle pollution is a critical element of the administration's comprehensive national clean air strategy and will result in deep and sustained reductions in air pollution, Johnson said. The strategy includes EPA's recent Clean Diesel Program to reduce pollution from highway, nonroad and stationary diesel engines, the Clean Air Interstate Rule to reduce pollution from power plants in the eastern United States, and the Clean Air Visibility Rule.
Fine particles, about 1/30th the size of an average human hair, are emitted by power plants and factories burning fossil fuels such as coal, automobiles, and diesel powered vehicles such as buses and trucks.
These fine particles are also formed in the atmosphere when gases such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds - all of which are also products of fuel combustion - are transformed in the air by chemical reactions.
These particles, known as PM2.5 because they are 2.5 micrometers or smaller in size, have been associated with serious health problems including cardiovascular disease, chronic bronchitis and asthma attacks.
EPA issued the PM2.5 standards in 1997 and designated areas as attainment or nonattainment with the standard in December 2004. Nonattainment areas must meet the standards by 2010.
Johnson estimates that meeting these standards will prevent at least 15,000 premature deaths; 75,000 cases of chronic bronchitis; 10,000 hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiovascular disease; hundreds of thousands of occurrences of aggravated asthma; and 3.1 million days when people miss work because they are suffering from symptoms related to particle pollution exposure.
But clean air advocates became suspicious when the EPA issued the 464 page rule proposal late on a Friday afternoon at a time when few people will read it.
Frank O'Donnell of the non-profit Clean Air Watch says he has begun reading it, and soon found that the EPA is proposing to give another break to the electric power industry. EPA is proposing new loopholes that could permit electric power plants in dirty-air areas to avoid tough pollution controls, O'Donnell said.
Under this proposal, power companies would NOT have to install “reasonably available” pollution controls as long as they are located in states that participate in the “cap and trade” program that EPA calls the Clean Air Interstate Rule.
"This is yet another gift to the electric power industry," O'Donnell said, "one that could subject breathers to unnecessarily high levels of fine-particle pollution, which has been linked to premature death and numerous health problems."
Last year, the EPA listed areas of the country out of compliance with the national health standard for fine particle pollution that was set in 1997. This is a companion rule which is supposed to outline for states how they are supposed to meet those standards.
"One glaring loophole," says O'Donnell, is that the EPA is proposing that power plants, EGUs in the jargon of the bureaucracy, would not have to install reasonably available pollution controls if the state in question participates in the regional cap-and-trade program under the Clean Air Interstate Rule.
Installation of reasonably available pollution controls has been a minimal requirement in the past for big sources of pollution located in areas that violate public health standards.
Many states and environmentalists have pointed out that the interstate rule will not be adequate to meet public health standards in many areas.
Under this new proposal, O'Donnell says, a power plant would not necessarily have to be controlled at all, even if it is contributing to local pollution problems.
The rule is found at: http://www.epa.gov/pmdesignations/documents/Sep05/PM25_impl_rule_and_preamble_090805.pdf
Basic information about the Clean Air Interstate Rule is found at: http://www.epa.gov/CAIR/basic.html
The EPA will accept public comment on this proposal for 60 days from the date the notice appears in the Federal Register. For more information, visit: http://www.epa.gov/pmdesignations
Suit Filed to Stop Army Corps Draining Rare Woodpecker HabitatLITTLE ROCK, Arkansas, September 12, 2005 (ENS) - In an attempt to protect the habitat of the recently rediscovered ivory-billed woodpecker, two conservation groups Thursday filed a lawsuit in federal district court here to halt construction of the Grand Prairie Irrigation Project.
The National Wildlife Federation and the Arkansas Wildlife Federation are seeking a judgment that two federal agencies violated the law when they failed to fully consider the project's potential damage to the bird's habitat, and used a cursory review to conclude that Grand Prairie poses no risk to the critically endangered woodpecker that was believed for 60 years to be extinct.
In April, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced a sighting of an ivory-billed woodpecker in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, the first in nearly 60 years. Historically, the large bird was found throughout the southeastern United States but had been considered extinct.
The news was hailed across the nation and greeted with pledges to do all that would be necessary to assure the ivory-bill's future. Secretary Norton said, "It is science, alongside on-the-ground conservation, that will give this bird its second chance."
However, before May ended, and acting only after a formal request was lodged for scientific review of the project’s potential impact on the ivory-bill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a Biological Assessment claiming Grand Prairie "is not likely to adversely affect" the bird, a conclusion the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to 15 days later. Construction of a Grand Prairie pumping station about 20 miles from where the first ivory-bill sighting was reported continued without interruption.
"This so-called review was nothing more than paper pushing, and that does not meet the law’s requirements," said John Kostyack, National Wildlife Federation senior counsel and lead attorney on the case.
"We are asking the court to stop the rush to judgment by federal agencies more determined to build the irrigation project than to consider the damage it will do to the bottomland hardwood forests where the ivory-bill was found," said David Carruth, a National Wildlife Federation board member and president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation.
The conservation groups want the court to find that the Army Corps of Engineers, which began construction on the $319 million Grand Prairie project in December, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with lead responsibility for protecting imperiled wildlife, violated the Endangered Species Act.
"This project is designed to draw 158 billion gallons of water from the White River each year, effectively draining the wetlands habitat where the ivory-bill was first sighted," Carruth said.
"Despite ample scientific warning, the Corps took less than a month, and without any new study or even a second glance, decided that diverting this enormous amount of water from the wetland habitat that evidently sheltered the bird all these years won't do it any harm," said Carruth. "The Fish and Wildlife Service is content with letting them get away with it. We're not."
The legal action asks the court to vacate the agency findings that the project poses no risk to the ivory-bill, to order a formal Endangered Species Act consultation and an environmental assessment on the project, and to enjoin the Corps from further construction on the pumping station until the required consultations and analyses are completed.
"Both common sense and solid science tell us that withdrawing substantial amounts of water from a habitat can harm the wildlife there," Kostyack said. "The Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged this fact in their own early Grand Prairie reviews, noting that changing the hydrology in the Cache River and White River National Wildlife Refuges will affect 'overall habitat values there.'"
Duke Energy Gives $2.5 Million to New Climate Change PartnershipDURHAM, North Carolina, Setpember 12, 2005 (ENS) - Duke Energy has pledged $2.5 million to Duke University to support the Climate Change Policy Partnership, Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead announced today.
The new industry-university collaboration will develop and apply policies to address the problems of global climate change.
The new partnership will pool the expertise of Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Center on Global Change and Duke Energy, as well as other corporate and academic partners from across the Southeast, Brodhead said.
Duke Energy's gift will come in two segments: $1.5 million to fund Phase I of the partnership, expected to be completed by January 2007; and an additional $1 million to fund Phase II, which depends on the successful completion of the first phase and the recruitment of other corporate partners.
During the partnership's first phase, researchers will assess the environmental and economic costs and benefits of federal policy options for addressing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which most scientists view as the cause of global warming.
These policies include market-based cap-and-trade programs and a nationwide tax on the carbon content of fossil fuels. Cap-and-trade programs are those that set overall authorized caps on emissions for sources and allow the buying and selling of those emissions authorizations. Researchers at the Nicholas Institute will lead these initiatives.
Researchers at the Center on Global Change will assess the potential for using carbon sequestration to store atmospheric carbon dioxide in forests, soils or underground reservoirs.
The Climate Change Policy Partnership will fund more than 30 Duke Energy Research Fellowships for graduate students from Duke and other North Carolina universities to work with researchers on these projects.
Partners will share findings with government, corporate and environmental leaders nationwide, including the North Carolina Climate Change Task Force.
"In the absence of mandatory federal policy, many corporations and state governments are moving forward with their own climate change initiatives and corporations face questions every day, including those involving long-lived investments, with little understanding on how the country will proceed on this issue," said Paul Anderson, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Duke Energy, which is a founding participant in the Nicholas Institute.
"A cohesive approach, informed by sound science and economics, is needed to align these efforts," Anderson said.
"Duke Energy and Duke University share a common conviction that the purpose of this partnership must be to apply, not merely accrue, knowledge," said William Schlesinger, James B. Duke Professor of Biogeochemistry and dean of the Nicholas School. "Providing decision makers with factual, timely counsel, free of political spin, is critical."
Much of the data used by researchers in the Climate Change Policy Partnership will be specific to North Carolina, but their reports and research findings will have broad applicability to policy considerations at all levels of government.
As the partnership expands and recruits more academic and corporate participants, researchers will begin studies of the carbon-reducing potential of other options such as renewable energy and enhanced vehicle fuel efficiency technologies.
"By expanding the scope of the Climate Change Policy Partnership, we bring more partners to the table and gain a broader perspective of the challenge and opportunities ahead," said Richard Osborne, group vice president of public and regulatory policy at Duke Energy.
"We are eager for other partners to join us in this endeavor, particularly those involved in agriculture, forest products, energy and transportation," Osborne said. "A viable policy to address global climate change must encourage reduced carbon emissions from all sources and segments of our economy, not just a few."
Enviros Win Inquiry Into Catskill Mountain Resort Development
ALBANY, New York, September 12, 2005 (ENS) - New York state environmentalists are pleased with an administrative judge's ruling Wednesday that the proposed Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park in the Catskill Mountains must undergo further inquiry that will explore 12 environmental issues.
Riverkeeper and the Catskill Preservation Coalition called the decision of Administrative Law Judge Richard Wissler of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation a "huge legal victory" in their effort to fight the resort development.
The proposed resort includes two 18-hole golf courses, two large hotels, several hundred time-share units, single-family houses, and other commercial facilities. A total of 99 separate buildings, including two sewage treatment plants, would be built on 600 acres of steep slopes and mountain ridges. The project, as proposed, threatens the Catskills’ unique economic, aesthetic, and environmental resources, the environmental groups said.
In his ruling on September 7, the judge found that the issues raised by the CPC and its experts met the legal standard of being “substantive and significant” and would “require further inquiry” in a trial-like proceeding with witnesses delivering sworn testimony and being subject to cross-examination.
Judge Wissler found that the legal standard was met for issues ranging from water supply to quality of life and community character, and from impacts on wildlife and their habitats to the developer’s failure to propose alternatives to a mega-resort.
Specifically, the judge found that the following issues required further inquiry: “(1) Water Supply and Groundwater and Surface Water Impacts; (2) Aquatic Habitat Impacts; (3) Stormwater Impacts; (4) Impacts to the Catskill Forest Preserve; (5) Impacts to Wildlife; (6) Noise Impacts; (7) Traffic Impacts; (8) Visual Impacts; (9) Impacts to Community Character; (10) Secondary and Induced Growth Impacts; (11) Cumulative Impacts; and (12) Alternatives (to the current proposal).”
The Catskill Preservation Coalition (CPC) raised these issues in a legal challenge to the resort. The CPC represents a collective membership of some 100,000 and reflects a wide range of interests including the environment, economic development, conservation, community, and landscape preservation.
The coalition includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.; the Catskill Heritage Alliance; the Pine Hill Water District Coalition; Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, Inc.; the Zen Environmental Studies Institute; Friends of Catskill Park; the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development; Trout Unlimited, the New York Public Research Interest Group and Riverkeeper, Inc.
The Sierra Club has joined with the CPC in its petition for party status in the hearing on the proposed development.
Citrus Disease Scares Florida Growers
GAINESVILLE, Florida, September 12, 2005 (ENS) - A bacterial plant disease that could endanger Florida's $9 billion citrus industry has been found for the first time in the United States, agriculture officials said Friday. The disease affects the vascular system of plants and causes infected trees to die in a few years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the first U.S. detection of Liberibacter asiaticus, or citrus greening, on pummelo tree leaf and fruit samples collected, tested and submitted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).
The samples were collected from two separate locations in the Homestead, Florida area and after initial testing in the USDA's Gainesville laboratory, were sent to APHIS for confirmatory testing.
Using several different tests, APHIS’ National Plant Germplasm and Biotechnology Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, confirmed the samples were infected with the bacterial disease, which already affects citrus in India, Asia, Southeast Asia, the Arabian Peninsula and Africa. The disease does not pose a threat to human health.
Citrus greening, or huanglongbing, attacks the vascular system of plants. Once infected, there is no cure for a tree with citrus greening disease. In areas of the world where citrus greening is endemic, citrus trees decline and die within a few years. There are three forms: Asian, African and Brazilian. The strain found in South Florida appears to be the Asian form.
The bacteria are transmitted primarily by insect vectors, citrus psyllids, and through infected planting materials. In June 1998, the insect that carries the Asian strain of citrus greening, Diaphorina citri Kuwayama, was found for the first time in the United States in Delray Beach, but no citrus greening infection was found at that time. Because of the extreme threat to Florida citrus, the Department has been conducting a citrus greening survey for many years. Once the Asian citrus psyllid was discovered in 1998, citrus greening survey efforts were intensified.
The diseased trees were found in Homestead by an entomologist with the Florida Division of Plant Industry during a Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey, part of a cooperative effort between the state and APHIS.
Communities with concentrations of people from countries where citrus greening is endemic may be at higher risk of receiving infected plant material, and these areas have been targeted in survey activities, APHIS said.
State and federal officials will begin a comprehensive survey of the area to identify the extent of disease spread. A team of experts, including scientists, state and federal agricultural officials and academia, has been established to quickly mobilize a response.
“We are assessing the situation to determine exactly what course of action will be taken. We will provide the citrus industry and public with information as soon as it becomes available,” said FDACS Commissioner Charles Bronson.
A joint science panel is being convened by APHIS and FDACS to obtain expert advice on the most effective surveillance and control strategies based on the current detection. If the disease was discovered early enough, eradication may be possible.
Symptoms of citrus greening disease are similar to plants with severe nutritional deficiencies including yellow shoots, twig dieback, tree decline and reduced fruit size and quality, often affecting only a single branch at first. Older leaves develop a characteristic mottling, or patches of discoloration. The inside of the fruit is lopsided and is inedible due to poor taste. The fruit drops off before ripening and has poor color.
Where the disease exists, management strategies rely on preventing its spread into uninfected areas by regulating the movement of propagating material, destruction of infected trees, and control of insect vectors.